"...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, July 31, 2017

Malice Domestic: The Case of Philip Stanfield

...Wherein we perceive malice domestic incite to midnight murder."
~William Roughead, "The Ordeal of Philip Stanfield"

Even by the robust standards of 17th century Scotland, the household of Sir James Stanfield was gloriously dysfunctional. But was it a murderous family, as well?

Sir James was a Yorkshireman by birth. During the English Civil War, he fought for the Parliamentarians, rising to the rank of Colonel. After Cromwell's victory at Dunbar, Stanfield purchased some land near Haddington, and settled in Scotland. He built a cloth manufacturing company, which was extremely successful. His business acumen eventually earned him a knighthood from Charles II. He was wealthy, respected, and respectable.

Sadly, his home life was a far different story. It was, in fact, a domestic Hell. His wife made no secret of her disdain for him. Sir James's main source of unhappiness, however, came from his two sons. The younger one, John, was merely a garden-variety wastrel, but the elder, Philip, was a menace straight out of one of John Webster's darker plays. A contemporary described Philip as "a profligate and debauched person," who committed "several notorious villainies both at home and abroad." One of these "villainies" earned him a death sentence from a German court, but--rather unfortunately for all concerned--he managed to escape his prison cell. Philip was very close to his mother--so much so that lurid gossip spread about their relationship--and despised his father. He was known to "most wickedly and bitterly to rail upon, abuse, and curse his natural and kindly parent," and, on at least two occasions, actually tried to murder his sire. Small wonder that Sir James told friends that his family was "very wicked," adding mournfully that it was "sad that a man should be destroyed by his own bowels."

Philip was not just an emotional burden to his parent, he was a financial one as well. In 1682, Philip was sued by an Edinburgh merchant for failure to pay him for £1100 worth of clothing. Sir James was included in the lawsuit, on the grounds that although his son was a married adult, Philip and his wife were living with him, and were thus Sir James' responsibility. The court ruled against Philip, but discharged his father, "because he made it appear that he had paid 5000 merks of debts contracted by Philip during that very space, and that his son was a prodigal waster." Sir James' wife and sons were such spendthrifts, that he was forced to sell some of his lands just to keep up with their debts. By 1687, Sir James had finally had enough. He announced his intention to disinherit Philip in favor of the slightly less nauseating John. Philip responded by spreading allegations that his father was going insane.

Whenever a wealthy man starts talking about rewriting his will, trouble frequently follows. This was no exception. On November 27, 1687, Sir James traveled to Edinburgh to conduct some business. After returning home, he dined with a longtime friend, a minister named John Bell. Bell later said that Sir James appeared calm, rational, and in reasonably good spirits. After the meal, Stanfield escorted Bell to the guest bedroom, and then he himself went to bed.

It was the last time Bell saw his friend alive. During the night, the minister "slept but little, I was awakened in fear by a cry (as I supposed,) and being waking, I heard for a time a great din and confused noise of several voices, and persons sometimes walking, which affrighted me (supposing them to be evil wicked spirits); and I apprehended the voices to be near the chamber-door sometimes, or in the transe [hallway] or stairs, and sometimes below, which put me to arise in the night and bolt the chamber-door further, and to recommend myself by prayer, for protection and preservation, to the majestie of God; And having gone again to bed I heard these voices continue, but more laigh [low], till within a little time they came about to the chamber-window; and then I heard the voice as high as before, which increased my fear, and made me rise again to look over the window, to see whether they were men or women; but the window would not come up for me, which window looked to the garden and water, whither the voices went on till I heard them no more; only towards the morning I heard walking on the stairs, and in the transe above that chamber where I was lying. I told the woman who put on my fire in my chamber that Sabbath morning that I had rested little that night, through din I heard; and that I was sure there were evil spirits about that house that night."

Mr. Bell may have spoken only too accurately. At daybreak, it was found that Sir James had disappeared some time during the night. Later that same morning, a man passing by a small pool of water not far from the Stanfield house, noticed a disturbing sight. Philip Stanfield was standing on the edge of the pool, staring down at something floating in the water.

That "something" was the dead body of his father.

Although Sir James' friends had no trouble coming to the conclusion that he had been murdered by his family, Philip immediately asserted that his father, in a fit of mental derangement, had killed himself. With his usual filial affection, he declared that Sir James "had not died like a man but like a beast." Within an hour of his father's body being discovered, Philip had secured all the dead man's valuables, including Sir James' silver shoe buckles, which he promptly placed on his own feet.

This dodgy behavior only served to confirm the common suspicion that Sir James' nearest and dearest had something very serious to hide. Sir James' friends contacted the Lord Advocate in Edinburgh, who agreed that the circumstances of Stanfield's death warranted a closer examination. He sent a letter directing that "two or three discreet persons" should examine the corpse for signs of foul play. However, the messenger carrying this letter was intercepted by Philip, who took this message and destroyed it. That very night, he secretly arranged a hasty burial of his father's body.

When the Lord Advocate heard of this clandestine funeral, he sent another letter ordering that Sir James be exhumed and autopsied. After conducting their examination, the surgeons requested Philip to help them place the body in the coffin. This was done to put Philip through the "ordeal by touch"--the ancient superstition that a corpse of a murder victim would bleed when handled by the killer. When Philip lifted his father's head, witnesses were "amazed"--if probably not particularly surprised--to see blood "darting out" from the left side of Sir James' neck. The horrified Philip dropped the head, and staggered backwards, crying for mercy and collapsing in a faint.

What they had just seen, the onlookers instantly concluded, was "God's revenge against murder."

Philip Stanfield was arrested and put on trial in February 1688. The Crown, naturally, made much of the defendant's frequent instances of verbal and physical abuse against his father. Witnesses testified that if his father dared to disinherit him, Philip swore he would have Sir James' life, "though he should die in the Grass Mercat [gallows] for it." Only a few weeks before Sir James' death, Philip had been heard to boast that he would be "laird of all before Christmas." On another instance when Lady Stanfield lay ill in bed, Philip comforted her by promising, "my father shall be dead before you!" It was rumored that Lady Stanfield "had the dead-clothes all ready" while her husband was still very much alive.

The medical report on Sir James' autopsy was presented to the court. It stated that "a large and conspicuous swelling" was found on the side of the neck. The neck was also dislocated. The body was otherwise uninjured, and no water was found in the lungs. It was the opinion of the surgeons that Sir James died of strangulation, not drowning.

The scenario laid out by the Crown was this: Philip organized a private murder squad consisting of his mistress, "Janet Johnstoun, spouse to John Nichols," one George Thomson (charmingly nicknamed "The Devil's Taylor,") and Thomson's wife Helen Dickson. It was, according to the prosecution, the evil doings of this gang that caused the nighttime noises which so alarmed John Bell.

Unfortunately for the Crown, they initially had a hard time proving it. Philip's alleged accomplices stoutly maintained their innocence, even after being "tortured with the thumbikins." Sir James' servants were also tortured, with the same negative results. (Since these people failed to say anything incriminating, none of them were charged with the crime.) However, questioning thirteen year old James Thomson (the devilish tailor's son,) and Janet Johnstoun's ten year old daughter Anna Mark produced more interesting results.

According to young James, around nine o'clock on the night Sir James died Philip and Janet came by the Thomson house. He heard Philip tell the others, "God damn his own soul if he should not make an end of his father, and then all would be his, and he would be kind to them." Around eleven, Philip and Janet left, and soon afterward James' parents also went out. About two hours later, George and Helen returned. George told her, "the deed was done; and that Philip Stanfield guarded the chamber door with a drawn sword and a bendet pistol, and that he never thought a man would have died so soon." The murderers then dumped the body in the pool where it was found. James added that Philip had given George the dead man's coat and waistcoat, which left Helen "affrighted," as she felt "that some evil spirit was in it." From then on, Helen refused to be alone after nightfall.

As for little Anna Mark, she stated that on the fatal night, Philip visited her home as well. He sent her to find out of Sir James had returned from Edinburgh. That question being answered in the affirmative, he and Anna's mother left at about ll p.m. After a while, Anna's father sent her to fetch her mother, as they had a baby who needed nursing. Anna found Janet and Philip at the Thomson home. When Janet arrived, Anna heard her father greet his wife with the loving words, "Bitch and whore, where have ye been so long?" "Wherever I have been," Janet retorted, "the deed is done!" Ever since that night, Janet, like Helen Thomson, "was feared, and would not bide alone." Like their fellow murderous Scotswoman Lady Macbeth, these ladies suffered from uneasy consciences.

Despite all this damning testimony, the supreme jewel of the prosecution's case was the bleeding of Sir James' corpse, which Crown counsel triumphantly described as "the Divine Majesty, who loves to see just things done in a legal way," furnishing "a full probation in an extraordinary manner." This proved to be the last time in Scotland that the "ordeal by touch" was admitted as evidence in a murder trial, but it is doubtful the defendant would have appreciated the distinction.

The case for Philip's innocence depended entirely on the assertion that Sir James drowned himself while "in a frainzie or melancholy fit." (To which the prosecutor replied tartly that it strained belief that "after he had strangled himself and broke his own neck, he drown'd himself.") No witnesses were called by the defense.

As a curious sidelight on 17th century Scottish legal practices, before the jury retired to conduct their deliberations, the Lord Advocate called for "an Assize of Error against the Inquest," should Stanfield be acquitted. In other words, if the jurors were unaccommodating enough to free the defendant, they themselves would be fined and imprisoned for "wilful error."

To the shock of no one, such a proceeding was unnecessary. The jury unanimously found Stanfield guilty of high treason (it emerged during the trial that the defendant had made anti-royalist toasts,) "cursing of parents," and "murder under trust." (This last was a crime peculiar to Scottish law, where the guilty party is charged with killing someone who had reposed confidence in them, such as a family member or a servant. Such a murder was seen as particularly heinous.) Stanfield was, accordingly, sentenced to death.

Stanfield was hanged on February 24, protesting his innocence to the last. His execution was a particularly ghoulish spectacle. The noose loosened around his neck, forcing the executioner to manually strangle him. The tongue he had used to curse his "natural and kindly parent," was cut out and burned. His right hand was cut off and nailed to the East Port of Haddington. Finally, his dead body was left to hang in chains at the "Gallow Lee," between Edinburgh and Leith. However, after a few days, someone secretly removed the corpse and flung it into a nearby ditch. It was seen as poetic justice that, like his father, Philip was strangled and then thrown face-down in a body of water. The authorities ordered that the corpse be strung up again, but it soon disappeared, "and no more heard thereof."

It all provided excellent fodder for the superstitious.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by another of our Cats From the Past.  This is one of my aunts standing in front of her home in Minneapolis.  Wish I could say who the cat was.

What the hell is the Bermuda Triangle?  This guy thinks he knows.

What the hell was the Thing in the Woods?  Now we know!

Watch out for those eyeless ghosts!

Watch out for those Mad Gassers!

Watch out for those sharks!  They love parasols!

Watch out for those Wampus Cats!

Watch out for those paranormal pterodactyls!

Watch out for those competitive table-setters!

Oh, just another drunk Swedish king being kidnapped by dwarves.

The murder of the Colleen Bawn.

Pseudoscience vs. pseudometaphysicians.

The world's oldest lunch box.

Vehicle folklore.

Betting on Kitchener's life.

The colorful life of a vaudevillian.

The moon is all wet.

Contradictory surnames.

A 16th century law student's ghost story.

Charlemagne's canal.

Memoirs of a 19th century soldier in India.

How one man overturned 150 years of biology.

This week in Russian Weird: how the whole country was influenced by an American soap opera.  (I watched "Santa Barbara" for two years in the mid-80s, but solely because I was crazy in love with Lane Davies.  Had little use for the show otherwise.  Considering how SB got such consistently low ratings in the U.S., it's fascinating how it became such a cultural phenomenon overseas.)

The early days of the Jockey Club.

Napoleon vs. insects.  Napoleon lost.

You can buy a Scottish lighthouse that was also the scene of a notorious murder.  (Hey, Paula Bryner, care to pool our pennies and put in a bid?)

If you need a few extra bucks and happen to be an expert in ancient Chinese script, do I have the job for you.

A brief history of chimneys.

The execution of an abused wife.

Where Beowulf was read.

Manatee conspiracy theories.

The problems with Georgian water.

The Case of the Twinkling Intestines.

An ancient Indonesian record of tsunamis.

An attempted assassination of Napoleon.

The letter that revealed a murder.

The wife of Lafayette.

And that's it for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at murder in 17th century Scotland.  What could be more delightful?  In the meantime, here's my favorite "summer song."

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This installment of the "Boston Post's" "Famous Cats of New England" pays tribute to a feline who refuted the popular notion that cats are selfish creatures:
Peter Pan Wass lives in East Boston. Peter Pan Wass's name has appeared in the lists of many worthy charities and public movement funds, such as the Sacred Cow fund and the Santa Claus fund. Peter Pan Wass is East Boston's charitable cat.

Peter has a purse. Some admirer gave it to him. This purse Peter carries about in his mouth very often when in the house. Callers upon his mistress bestow pennies for Peter's purse; therefore Peter through his own effort is able to contribute his pence for whatever interests him.
~January 7, 1921

All went well until the day it dawned on Peter that charity begins at home. He scooped up his store of donations, booked a flight to the Caribbean, and was last heard of on a beach in Aruba, drinking beer, smoking a fat cigar, and surrounded by beautiful, scantily-clad admirers.

Sorry to have to be the one to tell you that.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Female Stranger

One of American history’s most romantic mysteries centers around a grave found in St. Paul’s churchyard in Alexandria, VA. The gravestone's epitaph reads:

Whose mortal sufferings terminated
on the 14th day of October, 1816
Aged 23 years and 8 months 
This stone is erected by her disconsolate husband
in whose arms she breathed out her last sigh, and
who, under God, did his utmost to soothe the cold,
dull ear of death. 
How loved, how honored once, avails thee not,
To whom related, or by whom begot;
A heap of dust alone remains of thee—
‘Tis all thou art and all the proud shall be. 
“To whom gave all the prophets witness, that through His name, whosoever believeth on Him shall receive remission of sins.”
-Acts, 10th, 43rd verse

Trying to discover the true story behind this enigmatic epitaph—let alone the identity of the “stranger”--is enough to give any historical detective the vapors, as accounts of this young woman’s stay in Alexandria show a wearying lack of consistency. All that can be said with reasonable certainty is that sometime either in the summer or the fall of 1816, a young woman and a man who identified himself as her husband arrived in the busy port city. She was (depending on whose story you believe,) either already ill, fell ill soon after her arrival, or she delivered a child sometime after reaching Alexandria, only to die of complications from childbirth. Some accounts state she remained heavily veiled until her death, others that her exceedingly beautiful face was visible. All stories agree that the couple insisted on keeping themselves anonymous.

After the woman died, some accounts say the husband ordered a monument, with the inscription quoted above, and disappeared. Or was it that he left town indigent, leaving a trail of debts behind him, and the townspeople, out of the goodness of their hearts, gave the mystery woman a tombstone? Some say he continued to visit the grave every year on the anniversary of her death for about a dozen years. Others claim he was never seen again.

One tale has it that the mystery woman’s grave gradually deteriorated from neglect, until some years later, when an elderly, gentlemanly-looking man and two equally aged women suddenly appeared and ordered the sexton of the churchyard to see that her burial place was properly attended to. Under his questioning, the trio finally admitted they were related to the dead woman, and that her husband had been a British officer. Then they fled. Is this story true? Who knows? Unexplained oddities such as the grave of the Female Stranger tend to sprout myths-related-as-fact the way an untended yard grows weeds.

This is all we have to work with. Who was this woman, and why was her identity so earnestly protected?

The most popular local legend is that she was Aaron Burr’s daughter Theodosia, who was lost at sea early in 1813. Presumably, the man was either her husband Joseph Alston (never mind that Alston died in September 1816,) or some pirate who had rescued her and subsequently become enamored of the young lady. As oft-told as the story is—and it is only one of dozens of wild theories regarding the “true fate” of Theodosia Burr—its many manifest improbabilities forbid one from taking the idea seriously. Some speculate they were an eloping couple, of such high birth as to make it imperative to keep their names hidden. Or that they were a pirate and his lady fair. Or Napoleon Bonaparte in disguise! One can choose between any number of different tales. Naturally, it is also said that "Gadsby's Tavern," the reputed site of this woman's death, is still haunted by her nameless spirit.

My favorite solution to the mystery appeared in the “New Orleans Crescent” in 1848. The writer of the article claimed to have been in Alexandria at the time of the mystery couple’s sojourn. He asserted that the man calling himself the woman’s husband (the legality of their union was seen as highly dubious) was a con artist named Clermont who executed various swindles and ran up a staggering amount of bills. After the lady’s death, Clermont “vamoosed,” without paying any of his debts, and was last heard from doing a stretch in a New York prison for forgery.

I have my doubts if this tale is any more accurate than the others, but a blogger can dream, can’t she?

In any case, it is difficult to even guess why this couple would be so anxious to stay anonymous—even into the grave—but I have the sneaking suspicion that if we knew the answer, it would be something quite distressingly uninteresting.

History has a way of playing jokes on us all.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by another of our Cats of the Past.  Meet Pongo.  In 1982, some SOB dumped this tiny kitten in the alley behind our house.  He lived to the age of 18.  He was a kindly, good-natured guy, but with a very strong personality.  You couldn't push him around in the slightest.

He also liked to spy.

And sit in the kitchen sink.

Watch out for those Untoos!

A phantom carriage.

What it's like to be struck by lightning.  (Spoiler:  Not good.)

The difficulties of the French revolutionary calendar.

"Poet, Philosopher, & Failure."  Quite an epitaph.

An eyewitness look at the Halifax Explosion.

Science tells us that dogs are good.  Well, thanks so much, Science. We'd never have guessed that on our own.

Father and son hangmen.

The dashing Poe.

The folk-healing cobbler of Bexhill.

Napoleon visits the Pyramids.

An ancient curse tablet.

A roundup of 18th and 19th century vehicles.

Eyewitnesses to the Great Los Angeles Air Raid.

The 75-year-old case of a missing couple has finally been solved.

A ghost's revenge.

A highly unusual "close encounter."

When your surgeon really is a butcher.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  The Drunken Dutchman's Guts; or, How Not to Induce Yourself to Vomit.

London's orphaned art.

Mars now has weather forecasters.

The famous 18th century horse "Eclipse."

Victorian golf etiquette.

A 1928 ghost scare.

Michelangelo's hidden drawings.

More in the world of sound archaeology.

More in the world of drunk archaeology.

Examining Otzi's axe.  (On a side note, is the Iceman the most remarkable case of posthumous fame in history?)

The murder of the Romanovs.

Ring legends.

The "fatal sisters."

The brief life of Edward of Middleham.

That time Miss Jenny the Cheetah visited England.

A deadly insult.

This week in Russian Weird:  Siberia's copper mummies.

And we're done! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a mysterious early 19th century woman. In the meantime, here's some Moondance.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This cautionary tale about the Fortean dangers of second-hand clothes comes from the "Louisville Courier-Journal," August 14, 1897:

The residents of Muldraugh, a summer resort much frequented by Louisville people and located about twenty-eight miles from this city, on the Illinois Central railroad in Meade county, are just now in the midst of a six weeks sensation in which spirits other than the kind Kentucky has made famous figure.

Tom Gill, who occupies a cottage near the town, is the present possessor of a rough wooden coffin filled with clothes and trinkets which formerly belonged to his brother, but about which there has been from time to time considerable controversy.

For the past six weeks mysterious knockings have proceeded from the coffin, and in spite of watchful investigation, both by the enlightened and the ignorant of the neighborhood, no one has yet been able to account for the noises.

The story back of the rappings and the one upon which the theory of spirits is built is quite an interesting one.

Nine years ago Zach Gill got into a quarrel with Widow McCarthy about a cow. He waylaid her on the road and shot her dead with a shotgun. He was arrested and convicted, but through the testimony of the late Dr. B.K. Fusey he was adjudged insane and sent to the asylum for the insane at Lakeland. He died two years after he was taken to the asylum and his remains were placed in one of the rough wooden coffins provided by the State and sent to the man's widow. In the box were placed the man's clothes and other belongings. The body was placed in a coffin provided by the family, and the clothes and trinkets were left in the rough wooden box.

Tom Gill, a brother of the unfortunate man, claimed all these things, but the dead man's widow refused to give them up. She set the gruesome relics in the attic, and there they remained up to a few months ago, when she died. Tom Gill at once took possession of the coffin and its contents and removed them to his home a short distance away. At the same time a son of the late Zach Gill claimed that the things belonged to him, but Tom would not listen to his contention. 
After Tom had the things he was put to some trouble to dispose of them. He finally set the coffin out on the porch in plain sight of the people who pass the house daily. For some time nothing out of the ordinary occurred. About six weeks ago, however, about the time of the arrival of summer boarders, strange noises began to be heard. Tom Gill, indeed, was awakened by rapping apparently on his door, which is immediately behind the coffin. The rappings disturbed his sleep. He got up and opened the door, and was not a little surprised to find no one about. He shut the door and again retired. He had hardly stretched himself when the rapping were repeated. He again got up and still found no one at the door. He believed that someone was playing a practical joke on him, so instead of going immediately back to, he stood up behind the door, which he left unlocked. As soon as the rapping were repeated he jerked the door open, leaving no time for any practical joker to get out of the way. No one was there. 

Then it was that his attention was attracted by a peculiar tapping in the coffin. He got a lantern and opened the coffin, taking out all the clothes and examining them carefully. His search was unrewarded. As soon as he shut down the coffin lid the rapping was repeated. By this time he was in a highly excited and nervous state, so he hastily sought refuge in the house and tightly locked the door. Since then not a day or night has passed that the knocking has not been heard. The story that spirits had begun to visit Tom Gill's home soon attracted every villager to the haunted spot, and scarcely a day passes that a group of curious people can not be found about the coffin waiting to hear the strange noise. These mysterious sounds have afforded diversion for about fifty Louisville boarders at the Twin Caves Hotel a short distance away. They hold nightly ghost parties and sit about the coffin in solemn state waiting for the spirit to materialise. They have opened the coffin, but have been unable to discover any cause for the peculiar phenomenon. The ignorant say that it is the spirit of old Zach Gill trying to tell to whom the clothes should be given. Of course the enlightened visitors and the intelligent inhabitants of Muldraugh do not believe a spirit is responsible for the sounds, but they admit that they are unable to discover just what does cause them.

The story appeared in a handful of newspapers for a few months, apparently without any resolution.  It is unknown what finally happened to those all-too-lively relics.

As a side note, I miss the days when hotel entertainment included haunted coffins full of rapping clothes.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Malloy the Invincible

If murder had its own joke book (and really, if it doesn't, it should,) one of the most popular selections would begin, "A psychotic cab driver, a syphilitic ginmill owner, and a crooked undertaker walk into a bar..." It would be a fitting tribute to an epic tale that is arguably true-crime's most grimly hilarious assassination plot.

Our story opens in the speakeasy run by Tony Marino on New York's Third Avenue. The year was 1932. Marino had recently suffered a crushing personal loss. His girlfriend, Betty Carlsen, had died of what the medical examiner ruled was a combination of pneumonia and chronic alcoholism. It would perhaps be insensitive to mention that word on the street had it that Miss Carlsen's fatal illness came about when she was encouraged to drink herself into unconsciousness, after which she was placed overnight in an freezing-cold room, stripped naked, and had buckets of icy water poured over her insensible form. It is also probably not worth mentioning that Marino's sorrow was greatly eased by the $800 in life insurance he collected upon her death.

Tony Marino

Marino shared news of this palliative to grief with his friends: A taxi-driver named Harry Green, Marino's bartender Joe Murphy, an all-purpose professional robber named Dan Kreisberg, and perhaps the most indispensable member of the group, undertaker Frank Pasqua.

This tidy little windfall stirred the group's ambitions to new heights. Death is the great inevitability in this world, they reasoned. Happens eventually to us all. Since that is the case, it seemed silly to have people slip from this life without benefiting others. If you're going to die, do so in a way that brings joy and financial aid to others!

These men were true humanitarians.

One day in December 1932, as Marino and his cronies pondered the enticing potentialities of life insurance, their eyes happened to land on one of Marino's most frequent customers, an aging, homeless ex-fireman named Michael Malloy.

Malloy was one of those sad specimens of humanity found in such depressing numbers in any large city. No one seemed to know much of anything about him, and worse, no one cared. He had no known family, friends, or interests in life other than drinking. He was the sort of person who passes in and out of this life completely unnoticed.

Well, on this particular evening, he was certainly noticed by Tony Marino. To the rest of the world, Malloy looked like an uninteresting, valueless figure. To the Marino gang, he resembled a potential gold mine. "He looks all in," Marino's practiced eye proclaimed. "He ain't got much longer to go anyhow. The stuff is gettin' him."

Their first act was to get Malloy's life insured. Just the sensible, practical thing to do. Through the good offices of the less reputable employees of Metropolitan Life and Prudential, our little crew managed to get three different policies on Malloy's life (under the name of "Nicholas Mellory,") for a total of $1,788. There were double indemnities on the policies in case "Mellory" met his death by accident.

After all, life is hazardous, and full of nasty surprises. Best to be prepared for anything.

The gang then moved on to Phase Two. They obviously had in mind that Malloy should die from perfectly natural, if greatly accelerated, causes. To Malloy's delight, he found that the previously ungenerous Marino was more than happy to serve him drinks on the house. In fact, the bar owner seemed positively eager for Malloy to drink his fill. The whisky, gin, scotch, and bourbon was poured into him like it was water. "Ain't I got a thirst?" he told his new pals gleefully.

To the Marino gang's astonishment, these free drinks had no more visible effect on Malloy than if they had been water. For days, the elderly man guzzled enough cheap hootch to stun an elephant and rather than impairing him, it seemed to give Malloy a new lease on life. This non-stop liquid diet made him blossom like a rose. There was a vitality and good cheer about him that gave great unease to anyone with a financial interest in his life expectancy. Besides, all this free liquor--not to mention the monthly insurance premiums-- made a serious dent in their profit margin.

While the Marino gang understandably did not leave detailed notes on their next moves, neighborhood gossip had it that they took to giving Malloy drinks that are not on standard cocktail menus. Wood alcohol on the rocks. Turpentine with a twist. Horse liniment with an antifreeze chaser. Shots of rat poison. No matter what he was served, Malloy happily gulped it down and asked for seconds.

By January 1933, Green and Pasqua decided it was time for more direct measures. One dark and cold night, they poured Malloy glasses of various hellbrews until he was in a stupor, hauled him to the Bronx Zoo, took off his coat and shirt, poured cold water over him, and left him to become a human popsicle.

The next day, as the gang at Tony Marino's optimistically scanned the newspaper obituaries, their hopes were dashed when Malloy cheerfully strolled in. He had caught a bit of a chill last night, he said. He'd be as good as new once he had a few drinks.

The escapade, however, left Pasqua with a bad case of tonsillitis. He feared that murdering Michael Malloy was going to be the death of him.

The gang turned to more scientific methods. Bartender Murphy offered Malloy oysters soaked in denatured alcohol. Finger-lickin' good, as far as the Irishman was concerned. Murphy then opened a can of sardines and waited until they had quite thoroughly spoiled. He spread the ptomaine-rich delicacy on some bread and threw in a garnish of metal shreds and carpet tacks. He then offered this sandwich of death to his favorite customer. Malloy found it a rare treat. All it needed was a pint or so of turpentine to wash it down.

The Marino gang began to feel like they had been plunged into a nightmare. They were going bankrupt trying to kill a man who appeared to be more invincible than Superman. However, they had invested too much in Malloy to turn back now. There was nothing for it but to try, try again.

Late on the night of January 30, a policeman came across an unconscious form lying in the intersection of Baychester Avenue and Gun Hill Road. The man had been run over. Several times. Authorities did not know it at the time, but the victim had been hit by a taxicab.

One very particular taxicab.

At the hospital, they determined that the injured man--in addition to being a severe alcoholic--had suffered a concussion, a fractured skull, and a broken shoulder. Considering his already frail physical condition, it looked very doubtful that he would survive.

Given all that, one can imagine the disappointment when just one week later, the still-bandaged Malloy walked gratefully into Marino's speakeasy. After what he had been through, he told his friends, "I'm dying for a drink!"

If only Malloy could have known that he had uttered one of the greatest punchlines in crime history.

The gang decided to try a different tack. Rather than killing Malloy--something that was looking like an impossible dream--perhaps they could murder a more cooperative substitute? They found a particularly luckless local drunk named Joe Murray, slipped into his pocket some papers establishing that he was "Nicholas Mellory," and Green ran him down several times with his cab. Fortunately, another driver came along before Green could finish the job, and Murray eventually recovered. Malloy's invincibility seemed to be contagious.

It has been estimated that by this stage of the game, our little Murder, Incorporated had spent about $1800 trying to murder a man who was worth, at best, $1788. By this point, however, the money had almost ceased to matter. This had become personal. The would-be killers' amour propre and sense of professional pride was at stake. The Marino troop could not look themselves in the mirror as long as Michael Malloy walked this earth. They promised two men named McNally and Salone $400 if they would kill Malloy. This offer was rejected.

Finally, on February 22, 1933, the gang celebrated the Washington's Birthday holiday by putting Malloy into a drunken stupor. Then, they brought him to a room in a Fulton Avenue flophouse. One end of a rubber hose was attached to the gas-tap. The other end was placed in Malloy's mouth.

By morning, the gang saw to their deep satisfaction that Malloy the Invincible was only human after all.

Naturally, Pasqua the undertaker was brought in to deal with the corpse. He contacted a Dr. Frank Manzella, who, for a payment of $100, was quite willing to issue a death certificate stating that the cause of Malloy's demise was "pneumonia."

The Marino gang had won the battle, but soon found they lost the war. When the time finally came to collect that hard-won insurance money, most of the confederates were in prison on various unrelated charges. When this interesting fact came to the attention of the police, it caused them to take a second look at Malloy's death. The more they looked, the more they found. Malloy's body was exhumed--his killers, feeling they had already spent quite enough money on their victim, had given him a $12 funeral in the local Potter's Field--and it was easily determined that he had died from inhaling illuminating gas. The Marino gang--quickly dubbed by the newspapers, "The Murder Trust" were charged with Malloy's death.

It was one of the least suspenseful murder trials New York has ever seen. After the inevitable verdict, Marino, Murphy, Kriesberg and Pasqua all took a seat in the state's electric chair. Green was given a long prison sentence. Pasqua's crooked doctor friend, Dr. Manzella, was convicted as an accessory.

And Michael Malloy took his most unusual place in history.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by these two Cats From the Past.  These two handsome fellows belonged to neighbors of my family once upon a time, before I was even born.  I don't know their names or anything else about them, but here's to you, guys.

Who the hell built the Shell Grotto of Margate?

Who the hell killed Lord Darnley?   (One of my favorite historical rabbit holes...)

What the hell happened to Amelia Earhart?  Here's the solution du jour.

Watch out for the Sand-Walker!

Watch out for the White Lady!

Watch out for those gnomes!

Watch out for those Arcadian werewolves!

The trials of James Joyce's "Ulysses."

High Strangeness in an Indian village.

A map of Hell.

Gallows folklore.

The life of Madame de Stael.

John Quincy Adams really should have stayed on dry land.

The story behind La Marseillaise.

Scaring the life out of a murderer, in every sense.

Cats and dogs: guardians against Victorian spousal abuse.

Some lovely color photos of two Edwardian girls.

The latest research into Easter Island.

A vaudeville midget's tragic end.

Charles Dickens throws a detective party.

How to make 2,000 year old bread.

And follow that up with 9,000 year old cocktails.  (Incidentally, "alcohol archaeologist" is one of the greatest job titles ever.)

Jane Austen in her contemporary newspapers.

I love this obituary.

An 18th century courtesan and Charles James Fox.

real Tintin.

The case of Typhoid Mary, America's most notorious cook.

It turns out that Abraham Lincoln's dog was assassinated, too.

The death of the Duke of Orleans.

A Versailles in North Germany.

Florence Bearse:   hero of the week.

A Georgian educational reformer.

How the Black Death may have affected the environment.

A turnpike tour of London.

A cache of ancient Roman letters has been discovered.

A kiss from a fairy.

The Sun is getting weird.

Imprisonment in Early Modern England.

Oh, just another "live lizard in your stomach" story.

Oh, just another "flaming belches" story.

Well, if your clothes closet is haunted, help is on the way.  Or you could just buy some mothballs.

Mapping Emperor Norton.

In search of St. Columba.

Witches in the fields and little people dancing in the moonlight:  Just another day in Buckinghamshire.

Mystery stone-throwing in Africa.

The sad case of Adele Hugo.

A jilted medieval princess.

The mysterious Jane Fool.

And that's the end for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at one of the nuttiest murder cases of the 1930s.  In the meantime, here's some Telemann.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This installment of the "Boston Post" series, "Famous Cats of New England" looks at a pampered Vermont baby:
What's the fun of ever being a grown-up cat and roaming far afield to acquire a fighting record when right at home's so comfy and there's milk in a nice little bottle, and a dear mistress to see to one's breakfast each day?

That's what Sam, two-year-old tiger cat of Norwich, Vermont, wants to know. Sam thinks he's pretty famous, too, for he has heard his little mistress, Grace Ferrin, say that she's sure he's the only two-year-old cat in New England that has nursed from a bottle all his life. Moreover Sam holds the bottle from which he breakfasts daily all by himself. He lies, baby fashion, in his missy's arms and supports the bottle with his hind feet, at the same time clutching it up near the neck with his fore-paws.

"No scrapper, but very bright," is the way Sam is characterized up in Norwich. He knows perfectly well how to answer the question. "Sam do you want your bottle?" and he willingly leaves a saucer of milk to take it from the bottle instead. Sam was born in Hebron N.H., but this fall came to add to the famous cat population of the Green Mountain State.
~January 6, 1921

I do like a cat who knows he has the good life.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Golden Ghost of Goblin Hill

Tales of ghosts haunting the site of buried treasure is a common theme in folklore, but it is rare that one comes across an instance where such a story has roots in historical fact. For that reason, it is my great pleasure to welcome through the gates of Strange Company HQ the Golden Ghost of Goblin Hill.

Goblin Hill--or, to give its proper Welsh name, Bryn yr Ellyllon--was a prominence near the town of Mold. For many, many years, locals talked of how the area was haunted by a spirit they named "Brenin yr Allt" (King of the Hillside.) It was described as the figure of a giant man, "glittering and shining in gold." Legend had it that around 1810, a woman was leading her drunken husband home through the "Goblyn field," when they encountered the Golden Ghost towering menacingly over a large stone mound known as the Tomen. The mammoth apparition was "clothed in a raiment of gold which shone like the sun." It crossed the road before her, rested momentarily on the Tomen, and then disappeared. The sight "scared the woman into fits and the man into sobriety." In 1828, a dressmaker had an even more fateful encounter with the ghost. The experience left her "crazed."

The most detailed and well-attested sighting of the Ghost dates from 1830. We are told that one summer evening, "a respectable woman" was riding home from the marketplace at nearby Mold. When she approached the Tomen, she saw that some of the trees on the opposite side of the road were weirdly illuminated. As she gazed at this oddity, she was confronted by "an apparition of unusual size, and clothed with a suit of golden armour." The spirit emerged from the wood, crossed the road, and disappeared into the mound. The woman was so stunned by the extraordinary vision, she immediately returned to Mold and related her experience to the vicar, C.B. Clough. Clough wrote down what she told him, and got "three other respectable persons" to witness it.

The origins and possible meaning behind the Ghost remained a mystery until October 11, 1833. On that date, one John Langford, who was renting the land where the Tomen was located, directed that the mound be destroyed, in order to level the field for ploughing. Underneath the mound, four or five feet from the surface, workers discovered a large stone grave. Inside that grave were a few long-crumbled bones, some amber beads, decayed scraps of cloth, and the Welsh equivalent of King Tut's riches. It held the largest piece of prehistoric goldwork ever uncovered in all Europe.

The Bronze Age goldwork, now commonly known as the "Mold Cape," is an elaborately decorated breastplate designed to rest upon the shoulders of some ancient chieftain or priest. Unfortunately, this amazing artifact's value was not immediately recognized, and it was thrown aside like so much rubble. Worse still, when workers identified it as gold, the laborers tore large chunks off the cape, leaving this priceless item badly disfigured. (It now resides in the British Museum.)

"Wide World" magazine, 1908

From "Journal of the Architectural, Archaeological, and Historic Society for the County and the City of Chester and North Wales," Volume 1 (1849-1855)

Locals were delighted to learn that their neighborhood phantom had been archaeologically vindicated. Soon after the excavation, a man who had personally witnessed the discovery wrote, "I certainly heard it rumoured a year or two before 1833 that Bryn yr Ellyllon and Cae'r Yspryd (Field of the Ghost) were haunted as well as the adjacent main road by an apparition--'A Headless Warrior riding a grey horse.' You may imagine the excitement which arose when something was found."

He added, "The great lesson I learned from that discovery was that through a labyrinth of old ghost stories, miracles, poetry, and legend there is more real history than we have yet comprehended."

It is a great lesson for us all.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Maurice Boulanger's Cats of July!

What the hell were the lights of Lough Erne?

What the hell is the Shroud of Turin?

What the hell happened to Amelia Earhart?  And why does this not surprise me?

What the hell happened to MH370?  Yeah, they're still working on that one,too.

Who the hell wrote the Voynich Manuscript?

Where the hell is this catastrophic volcano?

Watch out for those London sharpers!

If you're planning on moving to Mars, think again.

The 3,000 year old horse.

A tale of the Fourth Dimension.

The Amazon rain forest and a "lost civilization."

What it's like to find seven skeletons in your dining room.

Ancient tourist graffiti.

Ancient urban smells.

The man who hid from the devil.

An 18th century mayor goes to the gallows.

A bizarre tale of infanticide.

Plague and one village's self-sacrifice.

The case of the Amphibious Infant.

Meeting the Devil.

Neanderthal DNA.

The face of an ancient female leader.

The Victorian omnibus and the indecent actor.

Hare folklore.

The Dutch lion breaks English chains.

The founding fathers of English horse racing.

A survey of 16th century Spitalfields.  Sorry, "Spittle Fields."

A tower of Aztec skulls is causing historians a bit of trouble.

The brothel and the ghost.

That time it rained cats and soap bubbles.

That time a boy was zapped by a UFO.

How fireworks came to be associated with the 4th of July.

Paul Revere, forensic dentist.

The man who never slept.

How to talk to plants.

The Fortean Somme!  The Fortean Canada Day!  The Fortean Gettysburg!

Out-of-this-world laughter.

Fishing with Edward II.

The French aristocracy liked to put stickers on their faces.

In which we learn that the U.S. and Canada are at war over lobster sandwiches.

The truth about the Donner Party.

What happened when the European ice sheet collapsed.

Want to get to Heaven?  All you need is a black rooster and a strong grip!

Our galaxy's strangest stars.  No, this isn't about Johnny Depp.

An 18th century architects' engraver.

An 18th century Brighton celebrity.

Elizabeth Blount, mother of Henry VIII's son.

Napoleon's ice machine.

The legend of smuggler Lovey Warne.

A plot to save Marie Antoinette.

This week in Russian Weird:  Siberia is still creating portals to Hell.

And Russian soldiers have gone sci-fi.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at buried treasure and a Welsh ghost.  In the meantime, here's my current favorite thing on YouTube.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Newspaper Clipping(s) of the Day, Annual Independence Day Edition

As we all know, nothing gets the good old-fashioned holiday spirit going like endless tales of death, terror and destruction. And as anyone who has perused old newspaper archives can attest, nothing says "death, terror, and destruction" like a vintage American Fourth of July celebration.

Yes, indeed, it's time for Strange Company's annual Independence Day party. (Our proud boast: "No one gets out alive.")

Look up old newspapers for "July 5" of any year and be prepared for what reads like casualty statistics from a particularly brutal war, all presented with a barely disguised glee.

Harrisburg Courier, July 5, 1908

If I have learned anything from compiling these annual July 4th posts, it's that there are few phrases more terrifying than "homemade fireworks." The "Arizona Republic," July 4, 1939:
New York, July 3--Five youths playing with homemade fireworks were injured today, two probably fatally, in an explosion of 50 giant crackers touched off inside a large tin container.

One victim lost his left hand. Two others suffered the probable loss of one eye each. The accident occurred in a boathouse on Jamaica Bay, Queens.

Fragments of flying metal inflicted deep cuts on the pre-Fourth celebrators, and all suffered severe burns.

Police said the youths had tied together 50 highly explosive "cherry bomb" firecrackers and touched them off to make "one big one."

Put railroad flares together with a lighted match, and what do you get? Yes, of course. This headline.

Wilmington News, July 5, 1944

When you come across the words "boy chemist," around the beginning of July, you just know the story will not end well. The "Akron Journal," July 2, 1928:
New York, July 3--Because of a boy chemist's efforts to make his own Fourth of July explosives one lad and a fireman were in a hospital today.

An explosion in the home laboratory of Philip Rosenblatt, 17, wrecked the apartment. Philip's skull was fractured. Robert Withers, inspector of the bureau of combustibles, was burned severely by another explosion when he was investigating the first.

Four other persons received minor injuries.

A month ago Philip graduated from an evening trade school. He is a cripple. Barred from play he became something of an expert in chemistry.

"Wait until you see the fireworks I'm making for the Fourth," he boasted to a friend.

A policeman heard an explosion yesterday and dashed up the stairs to the Rosenblatt flat. In the small front room the boy was prone from injuries. His 16-year-old sister had been blown from her bed and was bruised. In the adjoining flat a baby was thrown from bed and bruised.

Five hours later as Inspector Withers was wrapping torpedoes which Philip had made, one of them exploded and set off several others. Withers' hands were mangled.

Louis Rosenblatt, Philip's 11-year-old brother, was severely burned by the second blast and a patrolman was struck in the eye by flying debris.
You don't have to be an "expert in chemistry" to send yourself to a hospital. The amateurs manage that very well on their own. The "Pittston Gazette," July 19, 1934:
Barnesville, O.--Matthew Van Fossan, 14, wanted to invent some fireworks of his own. He tried using carbide of the type which fills mine lamps, put a quantity in a fruit jar, was blinded in one eye when water reached the chemical, exploded it.

Well, kids will be kids, right? Once a person reaches maturity, they put things like DIY explosions behind them, right?

Medford Mail Tribune, July 6, 1936

The lesson is clear: don't set off fireworks yourself. Go out and enjoy a professionally-run city-sponsored display instead.

Oops. ("Deseret News," July 5, 1904)
Tacoma, July 4--The fireworks, which wee to have been set off here this evening in Wright park to make a finish to the big Fourth of July celebration, caught fire from almost the first rocket that was sent up, and in an instant the entire heap of explosives was flying in every direction. About four dozen eight-pound rockets flew through the audience of 30,000 persons, creating quite a panic, in which many were injured. Others were struck by the flying explosives, and it is estimated that as many as 50 were more or less injured, none fatally.

Van Allen Smith, who was assisting with the fireworks, stood his ground in an effort to scatter the fire, and was terribly burned. One arm was broken by an explosive. It is believed that he will survive.

Miss Hattie Braizeman was struck in the stomach by a rocket and seriously injured. One child is reported to have lost the sight of both eyes. J.H. Davis, chairman of the committee, had his right hand severely burned. Two children of E.S. Squires, who superintended the firing of the explosives, were burned about the face.

The audience was congregated along the slopes of the hill on which the fireworks were to be set off, and had crowded in a circle around the men at work, being only a few feet from them. Only slight precautions had been taken to protect the fireworks from flying sparks.

About 50 children were lost in the panic, and the police were busy at a late hour tonight trying to restore them to their parents.

More proof that July 4th is the most lethal of holidays, and in ways you'd never expect. The "Los Angeles Herald," July 7, 1908:
Chicago, July 6--Suffering all the agony, physical and mental, and exhibiting many of the symptoms that accompany death by poisoning, John Nerisa is dead, the victim of hallucination and auto-suggestion. It is believed his condition resulted from worry because of Fourth of July noise.

A weak mental state is believed responsible for the self-hypnotism. It was asserted by several physicians that scores of deaths occur annually in every large city from such conditions.

And then there's this odd little item from the "Pacific Commercial Advertiser," July 14, 1909:
The first Fourth of July fatality in Seattle was recorded when Louis Rohs, aged ten years, died of tetanus, caused by the premature explosion of a toy pistol.

Just another Independence Day celebration in Hillsboro, Ohio? Or guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan? Who can tell the difference? From the "News-Herald," July 7, 1898:

Some one must have taken Johnny Ervin for a Spaniard on the night of the Fourth. At any rate they tried to blow him up. He was passing along North High street when a sub-marine mine or other dangerous explosive exploded. He was just stepping over it and the concussion came near taking his pants leg off. A large hole was torn in his shirt, his hat was knocked off and almost torn in two and his clothes and himself were otherwise mutilated. Johnny, though, is able to be about and still swears allegiance to the American flag.
[Note: Many thanks to Chris Woodyard for bringing the above item to my attention.]

These next three items just seemed to go together:

"Deseret News," July 5, 1904: Paterson, N.J., July 5--Aaron Vandebrink, 6 years old, was accidentally killed by his aunt, Mrs. Mary Demarest, who was celebrating the Fourth. She was firing a revolver from a window in her house, and one of the bullets struck her nephew, who was standing on the sidewalk. Mrs. Demarest was arrested.
"Norfolk News-Journal," July 5, 1921: Paris, Ill., July 5--While celebrating the Fourth with a revolver last evening Everett Whalen, 15 years old, shot and instantly killed Luis Mullenix, the 12-year-old daughter of John Mullenix, a wealthy farmer.

Not all the Independence day dangers come from gunpowder. Insulted cooks are among the unexpected hazards of the day. From the "Buffalo Commercial," July 5, 1890:
Brooklyn, July 5--Patrick Landrigan and Philip Kavanagh, a boarder in Landrigan's house, celebrated the Fourth by visiting saloons and getting drunk. They returned to the house last night, and when Kavanagh sat down to supper he made disparaging remarks about the food.

Mrs. Landrigan resented this and demanded the money for board which Kavanagh owed. Kavanagh struck Mrs. Landrigan in the face, knocking her down. Her husband rushed to her assistance, when Kavanagh knocked him down also. When Landrigan regained his feet he rushed at his assailant and a desperate struggle ensued. Mrs. Landrigan, seeing her husband was getting the worst of it, went to his assistance and succeeded in separating the men. Kavanagh again rushed at Landrigan and struck him a powerful blow on the jugular vein which knocked him to the floor unconscious. An ambulance was summoned, but the man expired before its arrival. Kavanagh was arrested.

Another story illustrating how holiday festivities bring out the best in people comes from the "Los Angeles Times," July 6, 1902:
Cattlettsburg (Ky.) July 5--Jesse Rule, a retired merchant of this city, was stabbed and killed at a Fourth of July celebration here yesterday. Fred Burnett has been arrested and charged with the murder.

And finally, let's end on a cheery note. Meet Bertha Rice, who took the spirit of the holiday exceptionally literally:

Los Angeles Herald, October 11, 1905