"...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, November 29, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Camille Pissarro, "Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich"

This "true ghost" story--a classic example of what are known as "crisis apparitions"--was told by Dr. Margaret Vivian in the "London Evening News" of December 23, 1954:

Many years ago when I was a medical student Mr. X., an old friend, would call occasionally at the college to take me out to lunch. One day a letter from him asked me to meet him off the 1:30 train the next day at a small country station nearby. Later, a telegram was handed to me telling me Mr. X. had been killed in a street accident. It was unsigned and I thought it might be a hoax. Next morning I cycled to the station, leaned my bicycle against the bridge across the lines and leaned on the parapet. As the 1:30 train pulled up at the platform, I watched anxiously to see who alighted. There were three passengers, two men and a girl, and to my relief I saw that one was my old friend, in his familiar raincoat and bowler hat rather far back on his head. I shouted to him and he looked up smiling, waved his hat and hurried out of sight towards the station exit. I ran to meet him there. The two other passengers emerged, by not Mr. X. I went on to the platform but there was no sign of him.

I spoke to the ticket collector. He said only two passengers had gotten off the train, a 'gent' and a young lady.

"But the other gentleman--wearing a bowler hat," I insisted. "I saw him from the bridge!"

"I never seen but two," he replied, and he showed me the two tickets he had taken from them.

I rode back to college, fearing now the telegram must be genuine, and I learned later that Mr. X. had been knocked down by a hansom cab, and had been taken unconscious to hospital, where he died as the result of a fractured skull.

I never discovered who sent me the telegram.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Bridge King Gets a Bad Hand

Even if you're not a fan of detective novels, you are surely familiar with the "locked-room murder," that classic example of the genre. However, you might not necessarily know that this staple of fiction was inspired by one notorious true crime.

The difference is, the real-life killing had no detective neatly wrapping things up in the last chapter.

The first part of Joseph Bowne Elwell's life was decidedly ordinary, even dull. He was born in New Jersey in 1876. After graduating from Andover, he worked as an insurance agent and a hardware salesman. He married Helen Derby in 1904.

However, Elwell only found real success because he was one of the fortunate few who found a way of turning a beloved hobby into a career. Elwell had a passion for the fashionable new card game called "Bridge." He also discovered that he was an excellent player. He became a teacher of the game. Then, Elwell came out with a number of highly successful handbooks (although his name was on the cover, they were actually written by his wife.) He parlayed his love of gambling into profitable side careers speculating on Wall Street and owning a string of race horses. Before long, he was not only the world's leading Bridge expert, he was an exceedingly wealthy man. He owned fine homes in New York, Palm Beach, and Saratoga, and moved in high society.

Elwell in "fancy dress."

Unfortunately for his marriage, Elwell's favorite "socializing" was with attractive women, and in a manner that went far beyond just playing cards. His womanizing became so open and frequent that his wife finally had enough, and left him for her own house and her own life. Neither party was devastated by the separation.

Elwell's life chugged along very pleasantly until June 10, 1920. That night, he dined at New York's Ritz with a small group of friends: Mr. and Mrs. Walter Lewisohn, and Mrs. Lewisohn's sister, Viola Kraus. Viola was in a celebratory mood: On that very morning, her divorce from Victor von Schlegell had been finalized. In fact, Victor and his fiancee, Emily Anderson, were dining at the next table, in a similarly merry mood. If you believe the word of everyone involved, this was one of the most convivial divorces on record.

Viola Kraus

After dining, the Elwell party moved on to see a show at the New Amsterdam. This lasted until about 2 a.m., when the group broke up and left for their own homes. The Bridge King was in notably high spirits that night. And why not? He had money, fame, and the inestimable good fortune of being able to monetize activities he loved. His play was his work. He must have seen himself as blessed.

Elwell took a cab to his home on West 70th Street, stopping at a newsstand to buy a copy of the "Morning Telegraph." Despite his late night out, he did not immediately go to bed. Phone records would show that Viola Kraus phoned him soon after his return home. She later claimed it was over some unspecified triviality. Perhaps that was the case. At 4:30, Elwell phoned his stables in Far Rockaway, but got no answer. About an hour and a half later, he phoned a number in Garden City, New Jersey. We know no details about this call, other than that it was practically the last thing Joseph Elwell ever did.

Elwell's apartment building

At 6:15, the milkman left his usual delivery at Elwell's door. He noticed nothing amiss. An hour later, the mailman left letters in the vestibule. He brought the bottles of milk in, as well.

All was quiet at the Elwell residence until shortly after 8, when his housekeeper, Marie Larsen, unlocked the front door and let herself in as usual. When she came in, she glanced into a small room near the front door, and got the shock of her life when she saw a bald, pot-bellied, pajama-clad stranger sitting in a chair.

It took her a few seconds to realize that this intruder was, in fact, her employer. Without the wig, corset, and dentures he always wore when he faced the world, he was almost unrecognizable. (It later emerged that Elwell had no less than forty wigs hidden away in his home.) He had a prominent bullet hole in his forehead. Elwell was still alive, although unconscious. There was nothing anyone could do for him. He died shortly after being brought to the hospital.

The "how" of the murder proved to be the one explicable part of this crime. Elwell had been found with his recently-delivered mail by his chair. He had obviously come out of his bedroom sometime after 7:30 and collected his letters. He was reading one of them--an innocuous message from his Kentucky racing stable's trainer--when someone shot him with a .45 automatic that had been manufactured for the U.S. Army. The weapon was never found.

The killer had been only a couple of feet from his or her victim, and, judging from the trajectory of the bullet, had fired in an upwards direction, either from the hip or from a crouching position. From the fact that Elwell allowed his visitor to see "the real him," so to speak, it can be assumed that he/she was someone he knew very well, but that this person was not among his numerous lady friends. Elwell also trusted this person well enough to casually glance through his mail in their presence, feeling no hint of danger. He probably literally never saw his death coming.

One would think these factors would considerably narrow down the number of people who could have shot Elwell, but the police seem to have been completely stymied from the start. Not only could no one think of any plausible reason for anyone to kill Elwell, no one could come up with any plausible suspect. Although he must have been shot just a short time before Mrs. Larson's arrival, no one on his very busy street saw anyone else enter or leave the house. All of Elwell's possessions--including $400 in cash--were untouched, suggesting that robbery was not a motive. Further complicating the puzzle is the fact that the housekeeper found the front doors locked. The rear and basement doors were also secured. The two keys to the house were in the possession of only Mrs. Larson and Elwell himself. The victim almost had to have willingly let his murderer into the residence.

The investigation took an initially hopeful twist when police discovered that after Mrs. Larson discovered the wounded Elwell, she removed women's lingerie from her employer's closet and hid them in the basement. (When confronted with her deception, the housekeeper muttered feebly that "I thought it would not be nice for them to be found there.") She denied knowing who was in the habit of wearing this intimate apparel. However--again putting discretion over veracity--Mrs. Larson knew perfectly well who owned the lingerie: Viola Kraus. It later emerged that after doing her little bit of crime-scene tampering, the housekeeper phoned Kraus to tell her of the shooting and assure her that the lingerie had been removed. This caused police to give another look at both Kraus and her newly-divorced husband, Victor von Schlegel, but unfortunately for investigators, both their alibis remained irritatingly watertight.

In the near-century since the murder, it cannot be said that the armchair detectives have made any further progress in solving the mystery. It has been suggested that Elwell actually shot himself, and Mrs. Larson--who obviously wished to spare her boss any posthumous scandal--disposed of the gun, but that theory smacks too much of desperate "reaching" to be taken seriously.

In his 1988 book about the case, "The Slaying of Joseph Bowne Elwell," Jonathan Goodman made what was, to date, the most exhaustive effort to explain the murder. He seized upon the fact that two years after Elwell died, Walter Lewisohn became violently insane and was institutionalized. What if, Goodman argued, Lewisohn, suffering from incipient madness, became irrationally jealous of Elwell over some joint female friend, and either killed his imagined rival or had him killed?

Goodman's theory is well-argued, but too dependent on a chain of "What-ifs" to be ultimately convincing. On the other hand, there was the sweet simplicity of the conjecture offered by the lead investigator into the Elwell murder, Inspector Arthur Carey. He proposed that some common thief secretly followed the mailman into the vestibule in the hope of executing some quick robbery. He found the inner door ajar, and made his way inside. When he unexpectedly came across Elwell, the burglar shot the man in a sudden panic and ran for it, shutting the door behind him.

That scenario is just tiresomely mundane enough to possibly be the truth.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the International League of Postal Cats!

What the hell happened to Boston Corbett?

What the hell are these Canadian carvings?

Who the hell wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?

Why the hell do birds rub ants on themselves?

Watch out for those hoodoo dogs!

Watch out for those ghost turkeys!

Watch out for those mean ghost turkeys!

Watch out for those winged devils!

Why you should not hop a ride on a passing carriage.

Two early 19th century village murders.

The mystery woman of the Bayeux Tapestry.

The famous true crime behind a famous crime novel.

John Quincy Adams and Madame de Stael.

One of those unlucky historical "firsts."

A sham curate comes to a bad end.

A murderous rector comes to a bad end.

What may be the earliest dog pictures.

The story behind Churchill's most famous speech.

The story behind Arlo Guthrie's most famous song.

A look at dog folklore.

New York's great Cable Parade.

How Joseph Lister saved countless lives.

The problem of Georgian era bread.

The "gentleman highwayman."

A foul-mouthed parrot.

The horrific tale of Australia's Murder Island.

A "love cult" murder.

The King of Quacks.

The education of an early 20th century Sultan.

Early medieval cats.

Some Thanksgiving myths.

The novelist and the UFO.

Egypt's cannibal year.

Let's talk about teleporting cats.

Let's talk about mysterious severed heads.

When pirates go to court.

The escape of a Jacobite.

Betting on Napoleon's assassination.

A medieval Chinese ostrich.

The man who collected books.  Not to mention witch skeletons.

The execution of an 18th century recidivist.

An assortment of "London characters."

This week in Russian Weird visits a robot cemetery.

And there you go for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at one of New York's classic murder cases.  In the meantime, here's my man Telemann:

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

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

Yes, the above headline has probably already made you guess what's coming next: another Strange Company Thanksgiving, where we Americans gather with friends and family to eat, drink, and nearly kill each other over the weight of turkey bones.

You think I kid? The "Alta California," November 25, 1887:
James Johnson and Charles Morris while celebrating Thanksgiving day in a Polk-street saloon yesterday afternoon differed as to the weight of a turkey bone. To make Johnson believe that his guess was away off, Marris struck his adversary with a beer glass over the head. The police interfered and locked Morris up on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon, while Johnson was booked for disturbing the peace and using vulgar language.

Thanksgiving isn't usually thought of as a "romantic" holiday.  Tell that to those lovebirds, David and Bertha:

"Day Book," December 1, 1911

Such festive disputes are traditionally followed by the Turkey Raffle of Death. The "San Francisco Call," November 29, 1895:
There was a turkey raffle at Twenty-second and Market streets last night, and as a result four men are in the City Prison to-day, charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The arrival of the police served to stop what was in a fair way to become murder.

John Maloney and James Conlan are friends. James O'Malia and Edward O'Malia are brothers. Each is prepared to fight for the other, and early this morning each pair did what it is prepared to do. Just how the affair started no one seems to know, but Thanksgiving morning was only an hour old when North Oakland was in a tumult. The O'Malias and Maloney and Conlan would not agree about the result of a turkey raffle. There was a dispute as to the winning.

One O'Malia held a ticket marked 9 and Conlan had a ticket marked 6. They were plain pasteboards, and 9 won. Now, a 9 upside down is a 6 and a 6 is a 9, and on this similarity four men prepared to take each other's lives, if need be, before they would consent to lose a prospective turkey.

The peculiar part of the affray is the fact that both contesting parties changed their cause of action as the number of beers increased. O'Malia had No. 9, but during the argument he turned it upside down and started in to argue and fight that 6 was the winner. Conlan was not going to submit to any compromise that would end in peace, so he vociferously declared that he had held his upside down all the time, and that it was not 6 but 9. James O'Malia backed his brother Edward and John Maloney sustained Conlan.

After satisfying themselves that arbitration was out of the question an attempt was made by Conlon to impress his views on the O'Malias by hammering their heads with a beer bottle. The indignity was returned and when the police arrived lacerated heads and clothes liberally adorned with blood and arms flourishing bottles were all mixed up.

After separating the combatants all four men were taken to jail and charged with "assault with a deadly weapon." Edward O'Malia will also have to account for carrying concealed weapons. John Maloney secured a bondsman this morning and was released. His companions and the O'Malias passed Thanksgiving day in durance vile.
It is not recorded who finally took possession of this priceless turkey, but I'm assuming it was not the O'Malias, the Maloneys, or the Conlans.

Another Thanksgiving turkey--this one simply unappetizing--was at the center of another public brawl. The "Carbondate Chronicle," December 19, 1885:
Officer Charles was called upon to quell a riot in a State street boarding house Monday night that grew out of the intolerable toughness and inexcusable resistance of a Thanksgiving turkey.

The boarding house is known among the denizens of the tough end of State street as the "Cheap Chuck Joint," which appellation, though more expressive than elegant, aptly describes this place which would be known in the larger cities as a "function" or second-hand hash house. Call it what name you will the reporter found it to be a most unsavory place, and exuded a swill barrel smell that indicated the source of the food before it was dipped in vinegar and fried over. One large frying pan is the principal and favorite means of preparing the food served to the patrons of this den. It appears, however, from the statement of the female that keeps the place that she had promised her boarders a rare treat on Monday night. To keep her promise she bought a dried up turkey that the public had rejected on Thanksgiving day, for a dinner. This gobbler had been a very large and old one, originally, but the flesh had all dried up and the breast bone appeared like the distant view of a lofty peak, some miles above timber line. The bird was duly dipped in vinegar, however, and contrary to the custom of the keeper of the joint, broiled instead of fried.

It was served, with some pretensions to style, on a large dripping pan, which also contained a number of boiled potatoes. When the hungry boarders, some twelve in number, had each deposited their dime into the horny hand of the hostess, they sat around the long table prepared to discuss the turkey. They had reckoned without the bird, however, for there was not a knife to be found in the house that could make the slightest impression upon even the formerly white meat on the breast of it. This suggested the idea to a carpenter to go next door and borrow a saw, while a young man who worked in a butcher shop not far off soon returned with a meat-axe. The collision between these tools on the breast of the unreasonably tough bird, sent the flour and water gravy flying out of the dripping pan over the guests, the jointers getting less than a quart on the lace kerchief jauntily arranged along her long, skinny neck.

Bedlam ensued, in which the turkey became a weapon of offense and defense, and all of the boarders were mauled with it at one time or another during the combat. Officer Charles put down the revolt of the boarders against the cheap chuck boarding mistress, and the carpenter set up the beer to his fellow-sufferers. This pacified them all, and none of them would make a complaint for assault against the others.
Month-old turkey boiled in vinegar. I love vintage recipes.

This story naturally brings us to my favorite Thanksgiving theme: weaponized turkeys. Fortunately, it seems to be popular with a lot of people this time of year. Witness this story from the "Pittsburgh Press," November 28, 1987:
A Tacoma, Wash., man was thrown in jail on Thanksgiving when accused of assaulting his girlfriend with a 21-pound turkey.

The woman told police she and her boyfriend were arguing outside the house and he lost his temper and used the turkey to shove her into the house, aggravating her poor back condition.

Police arrested the man on assault charges under the state's domestic violence act and booked him into jail.

The weapon "was not placed in evidence because it was roasting in the oven," the arresting officer noted.

Police did not identify the couple.

This item comes from the "Los Angeles Times," November 24, 1983:
Anthony J. Crew of Windham, Ohio, also used a turkey to get his name in the news, but it cost him $150 and a year's probation, said Jeanne Tondiglia, clerk of the Portage County court.

It seems Crew celebrated Thanksgiving a couple of days early last year by assaulting his brother-in-law with a 20-pound frozen turkey.

The "Southern Illinoisan," November 25, 1990:
Midwest City, Okla.--A man who became enraged that his Thanksgiving turkey was not defrosted was charged with assaulting his wife with the frozen bird, police said.

Scott Nelson, 33, spent part of Thanksgiving in jail after his wife, Jackie, signed a complaint accusing him of assault, said Police Maj. Brandon Clabes.

Mrs. Nelson, 24, told police her husband got angry and threw the turkey and a pie into the parking lot at their apartment complex after he discovered the bird was not thawed.

When she gathered up her child to leave, she said Nelson hurled the frozen bird at the car, breaking the windshield.

She said he then grabbed her and threatened to assault her with the turkey before she got away and drove to the police department.

Nelson was released later Thursday after posting $204 bond.
I can only hope Mrs. Nelson spent the following Thanksgiving celebrating her divorce.

After reading the above stories, you may be thinking that only men use turkeys as weapons of war. Let me direct your attention to an item in the "Allentown Call," September 4, 1909:
It remained for Whitehall township to produce the latest methods of warfare, in which dead turkeys are used. Mrs. Sallie Roeder and Mrs. Jennie Otto had a hearing before Alderman Bower last night in which each charged the other with assault and battery.

Mrs. Otto claims she was the owner of a flock of turkeys. One morning she found them dead and she charges Mrs. Roeder with having killed them. In her charge Mrs. Otto declares that the Roeder woman attacked her with a dead turkey in each hand. She held the turkeys by the neck and walloped her victim over the head with them until she was sure she wound never be able to enjoy another Thanksgiving dinner.

The Otto woman had a bunch of gruesome exhibits as evidence of the handling she received from Mrs. Roeder. Exhibit A was a big fist full of hair which she insisted the Roeder woman pulled out of her head. The hair certainly looked like her own. Exhibit B was the sad remnant of once peek-a-boo shirt waist. Nothing but the peeks was left of it. Mrs. Roeder showed the marks of somebody's teeth on her arm, which she said were Mrs. Otto's. The case was continued until Monday.

Of course, there are times when the lack of turkey leads to Thanksgiving trouble. The "Daily Times," October 7, 1938:
In San Francisco a husband took wife and family to a restaurant on Thanksgiving Day. He ordered turkey for himself, beans and cole slaw for the family. The lady sued.

A happy Thanksgiving to all my readers in the U.S. You might want to note that here at Strange Company HQ, we will be having a vegetarian feast. Scoff all you want, but I have yet to come across any newspaper items describing nut loaf and seitan ham being used as a deadly weapon.

And one more tip: If you're planning to boil your bird in vinegar, have plenty of beer on hand.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Talking Cat of Florida

via Newspapers.com

"Adelaide!" said Mrs. Cornett, "do you mean to encourage that cat to go out and gossip about us in the servants' hall?"
~Saki, "Tobermory"

Some of you may remember my post paying tribute to Kurwenal, Nazi Germany's most famous talking dog.

"But, Undine," you probably asked yourself. "What about cats? If there is any breed of animal that seems a natural for shooting off at the mouth and putting humans in their proper place, surely it would be our beloved masters, the felines. Where are your talking cats?"

Glad you asked.

On June 7, 1963, Mrs. Ruth Deem (some sources say "Deems,") of Lake Hamilton, Florida, heard mewing in some tall grass near her home. When her husband James went to investigate, he found a wet, bedraggled, and very unhappy white kitten. The little creature was in poor health--it was anyone's guess how long he had been abandoned--but veterinary care enabled him to pull through.

And so the Deems found they had acquired a new member of their household. As they already had a pure black cat named "Blackie," it seemed only natural to name the kitten "Whitey."

All was entirely normal until Whitey was six months old. One morning, he jumped on Mrs. Deem's bed and stared her straight in the eye. As is common with cats, he was demanding that his lazy human get up and provide him with breakfast. What is not so common is that, according to Mrs. Deem, Whitey then declared, "I'm hungry!"

"I thought I was hearing things," Mrs. Deem later recalled. "A cat can't talk."

She stared at her pet. "Mama," he said impatiently, "I'm hungry."

"What did you say?"

"I'm hungry."

I'm not sure what you would do if a cat suddenly began asking for a meal, but I would probably react in the same way as Mrs. Deem: get up and give the cat a meal. She said nothing about the incident to her husband or anyone else.

A few days later, Mr. Deem was lying on his bed. Whitey jumped up to join him. "Whitey," James said playfully, "you're a bad cat."

"I am not a bad cat," Whitey retorted. "I want to go out."

"Did you hear that?" Mr. Deem shouted to his wife. She then confessed that this was old news to her.

Whitey and the Deems

Whitey proved to be quite the chatterbox. Whenever Mrs. Deem returned from the store, he would greet her with "What did you bring me?" He would paw through the groceries until he found what he wanted, and then say, "Open!" One day when he was out by their front porch, he summoned her with "Come! Come! He's a big one!" She discovered that the object of Whitey's admiration was a large snake. When she screamed, the cat snorted, "Mama's a coward." (It must be said that our hero had his softer side. He was fond of telling Mrs. Deem "I love you, Mama.") Whitey was also a big fan of watching TV, although he seemed confused about whether the action he saw onscreen was real or not.

The Deems shared the news about their remarkable cat to the neighbors, who reacted pretty much the way you'd think. One friend, Marshall Ferguson, privately believed the Deems were "loose upstairs," until the day Whitey trotted past him, calling, "Where's Ma?" A few days later, Whitey marched up to Mrs. Deem tattling that Ferguson had once hit him with a newspaper. Ruth went over to the neighbor and asked if he had ever hit Whitey. He recalled that once, he saw Whitey and Blackie fighting. He had struck them with a rolled up newspaper to stop them.

But how did Ruth know about this? Then it hit him. "That damn cat told her."

Unfortunately, Whitey was fond of street brawls. Around this same time, another cat fight landed him in the vet's office. He told the vet's assistant, "I want to go home."

The startled man looked around him. There was nobody else in the room....except that cat. He told the vet what had happened. The vet presumed that it was his employee who really needed medical help. The vet went and took a peek at Whitey. Whitey said, "I want to go home."


Inevitably, word spread that there was something unusual about Mr. and Mrs. Deem's cat. Their home was soon overrun with newspaper reporters, paranormal investigators, and simple pesky looky-loos. In true cat fashion, Whitey generally refused to cooperate with these intruders, staying exasperatingly mute in their presence. There were, however, one or two exceptions. One day, a traveling preacher sought out the Deems, eager to meet their loquacious cat. As he was chatting with them, they were all disconcerted to hear Whitey tell the visitor, "Why don't you go home?" The cat added, "He's a stinker!"

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" the embarrassed Mrs. Deem told her pet.

"I am not!" snapped Whitey.

On another occasion, the Deems were on a road trip to North Carolina. Finding it difficult to get hotel rooms with two cats in tow, the couple slept in their car. One night, as a policeman walked past their car, he heard a voice from inside the car cry, "Help! Help!" When he approached the car, he found two sleeping humans plus a large white cat.

The cat informed this officer of the law, "I want out, please. No one loves me."

Perverse, demanding, manipulative, and utterly indifferent to the feelings of humans. In short, Whitey was said to talk exactly the way you would expect a cat to talk, if it ever wished to talk. The moral is becoming clear: if you have a cat, and he or she stays silent, be grateful.

Sadly, Whitey was a cat who made poor lifestyle choices. He refused to remain an indoor cat. He was constantly demanding to be let outside, where he would wander the world and find trouble around practically every corner. During his travels, Whitey got into fights, was catnapped by strangers curious about this celebrity feline, was poisoned (whether by accident or deliberate malice was never known,) and even, on one occasion, was shot. Poor Whitey was a regular visitor to the vet's office.

On one of his journeys, Whitey was seen lounging around a vacant lot by a neighbor, Joe Rhodes. Rhodes approached the cat with the intention of rounding him up and bringing him back to the Deems.

"You can't catch me," Whitey told him.

We are told Rhodes was so surprised, "he nearly fell down."

In 1964, "Fate" magazine published an article by Susy Smith about Florida's most loquacious feline. Smith wrote that while Whitey had, to date, remained silent in her presence, she was eager to pay the cat another visit. "I will never be satisfied until Whitey speaks to me."

I cannot say if Whitey ever did. As far as I can tell, by 1967 he had simply disappeared from the newspapers. I fear it's possible that around that time, Whitey's many vicissitudes took its toll on him, and he passed away. Hopefully, I'm wrong, and he instead spent many more years happily driving everyone around him stark staring mad.

In 1964, a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Deem, the Rev. Bennett William Palmer, told a reporter, "There is no element of rumor or hearsay or gossip in any of the stories regarding the talking cat. Every story which has gone to press has been vouched for by from one to three witnesses who have claimed to have heard the cat talk. Unbelievable as it is to many, it is as authentic as human testimony can make it."

Every now and then, I come across a story where I simply do not know what to say about it. The Talking Cat of Florida is one of them.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the League of High Society Cats!

Why the hell did the 1918 flu kill so many young people?

What the hell did 17th century food taste like?

What the hell was Mithraism?

Watch out for Jolly Jane!

Watch out for those naked Scottish mermaids!

Watch out for those false fashionistas!

Watch out for those hairy dwarfs!

Butchery on First Avenue.

Elizabeth Armstrong, who won the battle but really, really lost the war.

A murder and an early "paranormal investigation."

How a pigeon tendon confirmed Queen Victoria's chops as an art historian.  Never mind, just read.

R. Stevie Moore, the most prolific of musicians.

Byzantine science.

If you want to trace the steps of Lewis and Clark, just follow the mercury-laden latrines!

The man behind Gilligan's "Professor."   (Side note: I remember when I was 4 or 5 or so, watching "Gilligan's Island" simply because I had a major crush on Russell Johnson.  I thought the Professor was the best thing about the show.)

Peterborough folklore.

A "scandalous and formidable" lady.

A brief history of kitty litter.

Sammelbands and frisket-bites.

The last days of a 19th century poisoner.

A teenager's weird disappearance.

More proof of how life insurance has enriched the true-crime genre.

The dangers of "knitter's face."

Weird Wills of the Georgian era.

Wonderful photos of the old pubs of Wapping.

Tales from 19th century London prostitutes.

Tales from a 19th century Italian bandit.

People who got on Marie Antoinette's nerves.

A Mesopotamian marriage contract.

Because I know you're dying to discuss medieval toilet habits.

And then let's move on to Alexander Hamilton's secretions.  Not to mention his manicules.

And a bit of bodysnatching.

Unitarians, a Polish swamp, and a life-saving gnome.  Read on.

Thomas Cream: he wasn't Jack the Ripper, but he surely still deserved to hang.

Celebrating a WWII veteran on her 15th birthday.

The railroad telegraph version of Phone Calls From the Dead.

The tragic death of a 19th century stationer.

The murder of a society bootlegger.

The hazards of dating the dead.

Byron's manservant.

The executions of Old London.

An operatic parrot.

The execution of a famed Danish witch.

A ghost story from WWI.

The dreadful summer of 1816.

Postcards from the U.S./Mexico border, 1916.

The "Despard Plot."

Musical Renaissance knives.

And so yet another Link Dump comes to a close. See you on Monday, when we'll meet an unusually chatty cat. In the meantime, here's some Altan:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The mysterious "Woman in Black" is a classic variety of apparition. One English example was reported in the "Nottingham Evening Post," December 21, 1928:
The Shropshire village of Northwood, between Wem and Ellesmere, is in state of excitement, caused by a mysterious apparition.

Accounts have been given by independent witnesses of the appearance of a woman, dressed in black, who vanishes in an instant when approached.

A farmer named Morris and workman named Peate were returning home at night with a horse and trap, when they saw the woman, whom they thought they recognised as the wife of a local farmer. They stopped the horse to give her a lift, but she vanished, and they got out of the trap and searched in vain for her.

A man named Egerton, in the same district, was walking along the road at night, and saw the woman in the glare of a passing motor-car. The car passed over the spot where the woman stood and he ran forward expecting to find her body in the road. There was nothing to be seen.

Mr. Arthur R. Ellis, of Wem, a dealer in wireless apparatus, was driving his car in the same district, and saw the woman, whom he knew well, standing in the road. He put on the brakes and swerved to avoid her, and pulled up, but there was nothing to be seen.

Unfortunately, I haven't found any more information about this story.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Murder in Euclid Heights

William Lowe Rice was, on the surface at least, a classic American success story. The 47-year-old attorney and housing developer rose out of obscurity to become powerful, socially prominent, and one of the richest men in Cleveland, Ohio. His specialty was in "readjusting" the finances of failing businesses. His remarkable success in saving companies from extinction earned him massive fees. After he refinanced the John Hartness Brown Building, he even wound up with a controlling interest in the project. By 1910, he had acquired a magnificent estate in posh Euclid Heights, a beautiful wife, and four charming daughters. He was respected, but not loved--Rice was a notorious skinflint who, it was whispered, had not been entirely scrupulous about how he acquired his wealth. Still, there were no signs that anyone might have hated Rice enough to see him dead.

But someone did.

August 4, 1910, found Rice temporarily living alone. His wife, Elise, and their daughters were visiting the family's vacation home in Massachusetts. The day progressed normally for Rice. He spent most of the day at his downtown law office. After work, he played golf at his club. He had a good game, which pleased him enormously. After the match, he showered and had dinner with a few friends, who later described him as having been "in the best of spirits."

The Rice mansion

At about 10:30 pm Rice left the club to walk home, which was about 500 yards away. He never made it. Around ten minutes later, when he was only several hundred feet from the back of his property, someone came out of the darkness and shot him several times.

Earl Davis, a bellboy at Rice's club, heard the gunshots, as well as the sound of footsteps running along the building's west side. He went outside to see what was going on, where he saw a patrolman, C.L. Wahl, who had also heard the shots and was coming to investigate. Davis told him about the footsteps, which sent Wahl off in pursuit. He soon caught up to the source of these running steps, a man who was heading toward a streetcar stop. The man seemed nonchalant, commenting only, "You're a pretty good runner, Officer." Wahl saw no sign that his quarry was at all troubled to see him, and since, at that time, he was unaware a crime had been committed, he let the man go on his way.

Just before 11 pm, a Dr. W.H. Phillips and some friends were driving near the club when they spotted something deeply startling: a bloody body lying by the side of the road, so badly wounded that they assumed he had been hit by a car. When they stopped to examine the man, they found he was still alive, but unconscious and obviously in grave condition.

As they were loading the victim into their car, they were joined by someone who had just gotten off a nearby streetcar. Seeing the commotion, he came by to see what was going on. The man was John Hartness Brown. He was a neighbor of Rice's, but he could hardly have been called a friend--in fact, it was said that he held a strong grudge against Rice for taking control of his building. Oddly, although Brown asked what had happened, and offered assistance, he showed no sign of recognizing the injured man.

Phillips and his friends rushed to the hospital, but it was futile: Rice died before they even got there.

When the body was examined at the morgue, it was found that this was no accident victim. He had been shot twice in the face. Before being shot, Rice had also suffered several deep cuts to his hands and arms, and had evidently been bludgeoned so badly that he may have been unconscious at the time he was shot. Rice had been a tall, athletic man, and it was clear that he had put up a fierce fight against his assailant.

News of this seemingly senseless murder turned Rice's normally quiet, luxurious neighborhood upside down. His fellow millionaires all quaked in fear, wondering if they had a maniac running loose in their midst. A large reward was offered for any information about the crime, and a large flock of police and private detectives were assigned to track down the killer. And it all did no good whatsoever. Although any number of increasingly lurid rumors sprang up about who had slaughtered Rice, and why, solid leads in the case were bafflingly absent.

The initial assumption was that Rice was the victim of street robbers, who killed him when he put up a fight. However, this theory was easily shown to be ridiculous. For one thing, it was an astonishingly public murder. He was killed on a normally populous avenue, next to a line where streetcars passed by every ten minutes or so, and in front of a row of occupied homes--surely not a preferred place for footpads to lurk. Most importantly, when found, he was still wearing three gold rings, a diamond collar stud, gold cuff links, and carrying over $100 in cash. Whoever killed Rice had other motives than mere robbery.

The murder had all the hallmarks of a revenge killing, (particularly when the interesting fact emerged that for some weeks before his death, Rice had been sleeping with two loaded guns under his bed.) However, although investigators soon learned that very many people disliked Rice, and most of his nearest and dearest did not seem particularly surprised he had met a violent end, they could not find anyone who had what seemed like sufficiently strong motive, means, and opportunity to do such a savage deed.

The Rice mystery made its first true headlong leap into The Weird when on the morning after the murder, a bag of dead chickens was found near the crime scene. This led to speculation that the dead man had run into a gang of chicken thieves, who killed him in order to make a clean getaway.

Although "death by chicken thief" has a pleasantly bizarre ring to it, County Prosecutor John Cline thought otherwise. Virtually from the beginning of the investigation, he had only one suspect: Lowe's neighbor and former business partner John Hartness Brown. Cline was convinced Brown was Rice's murderer.

Now his only problem was to prove it.

Unfortunately for Cline, Brown had an alibi. He claimed he had spent the evening of the murder visiting friends in another part of town, and did not arrive in the area of the murder until nearly 11:30 pm, when he returned to his neighborhood via streetcar. Try as Cline might, he was unable to break this alibi. He was also faced with the inconvenient fact that no trace of blood was seen on Brown, which would be nearly impossible if he had committed such a savage crime. Also, while Brown had reason to resent Rice for his brutal business practices, so did a great many others.

One would be tempted to entirely discount Brown as the murderer, except for one very peculiar detail: Soon after Rice's body was brought to the morgue, the attendant received a phone call from Brown, asking if Mr. Rice's body was there. The attendant testified that he had not volunteered Rice's name--Brown had been the first to mention the identity of the dead man. So why, when Brown saw Dr. Phillips and his party with the body, did he act like the victim was a stranger to him? (It is conceivable Brown hired a hit man, but no evidence for that ever surfaced.)

The investigation into Rice's murder gradually came to a sputtering, inconclusive end. There is an anecdote that says it all about this strangely baffling case. In the 1950s, an attorney asked a couple of elderly lawyers who had known Rice what they thought about the murder. They both nodded sagely and said, "Everyone knew who did it."

These men each named a different person as the killer.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

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

Watch out for those Rolling Muffs!

A less famous example of "Devil's Footprints."

Teenage boys will be teenage boys.  Even if they're mammoths.

The "worst orchestra in the world."  Not to boast, but back in the day, I was associated with a country-rock band that I can proudly say was even worse.

The stone that could rewrite art history.

Vignettes of ordinary life in 18th century England.

The long history of Natchitoches, Louisiana.

A forgotten king of 20th century fashion.

The un-sheikhed Sheikh.

Ghosts wearing grave-clothes.

The Case of the Murderous Maid.

Pro tip: If you're about to be hanged, it's good to have an executioner with a lot of debts.

Personal documents of WWI.

Crows are being put to work as street cleaners.

The real history of the Orient Express.

A quiet Welsh brothel.

The "solitary and deluded vice."  Yes, it's just what you think.

Recreating the diet of a 17th century sailor.  No, you wouldn't want to eat it.

A handy guide to contacting the dead.

The girl who was supposedly kidnapped by Bigfoot.

Ancient pregnancy tests.

Saints really knew how to multitask.

The paranormal side of WWI.

Louis XVI's brother in Scotland.

The lives of children of some famous political figures.

The Rolands, among the many victims of the French Revolution.

Dragon folklore.

An early female archaeologist.

Some ancient reconstructed faces.

2017's strangest unsolved murders.

The 1817 death of Princess Charlotte.

The weird death of John Wheeler.

The "X-ray murder case."

Ireland's Witch Detectives.

The "peppermints on the beach" murder.

The "monks of emptiness."

When women didn't want women to vote.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  What to do with a pigeon's backside.  No, seriously.

Dreaming of the Sphinx.

Sex in the Medieval City.

The connection between "Don Quixote" and digital piracy.

Are we hardwired to see ghosts?

High-tech ghosts.

A Christmas earthquake.

Plots, gunpowder, and orange juice.

More on the Gunpowder Plot.

Patents for flying saucers.

A "new" portrait of Mary Queen of Scots.

Burke and Hare, murderers-for-profit.

The peculiar disappearance of a Japanese tourist in Canada.

This was a big week in Russian Weird: a Siberian time capsule.

And here's this Russian who's really a Martian.

There are no urban legends quite like Soviet Urban Legends.

That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at an unsolved Ohio murder. In the meantime, here's this little gem I found by a happy accident on YouTube:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Many writers incorporate elements of their personal lives in their fiction, but few go quite so far as Christine Sturm, nurse turned would-be Agatha Christie. Here is a UPI story from 1953:

Clovis, N.M., Jan. 29--Police disclosed today that the manuscript of a murder story led them to a shallow grave where a baby's body had been buried. They arrested the author and charged her with second-degree murder.

The infant had died six years ago shortly after its birth to Mrs. Christine Sturm, 27, an amateur mystery story writer, authorities said.

Mrs. Sturm was arrested and charged with the child's murder after Sheriff Val Baumgart had read a nine-page manuscript she had prepared for an "unsolved mystery" fiction writing contest. After reading the story the sheriff sent detectives to dig in a garage.

The investigators found the infant's skeleton wrapped in brown paper and buried eight inches beneath the surface of the dirt floor of the garage.

On instructions from the district attorney's office, Baumgart refused to make public any of the passages from the manuscript except for its closing sentence: "You can't lead a double life and be happy."

A two-count bill of information alleged that Mrs. Sturm killed the child sometime in February, 1947, by "exposure" with intent to take its life.

"It was an unsolved crime the way she wrote it and would have remained really an unsolved crime if it hadn't been written," Baumgart said. "It was a pretty good story for an amateur writer. It might have won the contest if we hadn't gotten our hands on it first."

The sheriff said the manuscript failed to say what caused the baby's death, but that the "story" described "all the details of how it was buried."

No attempt had been made to disguise the characters involved with fictional names, the sheriff said.

Baumgart said the manuscript was turned over to him by Mrs. Sturm's former husband, Dan Sturm, a carpenter. He said the couple were divorced three weeks ago after having been married since Dec. 24, 1946.

Baumgart said Sturm told him he did not know of the child's birth and was unaware his wife was seven months pregnant at the time of their marriage. Sturm said the child was not his.

The couple has one child of their own, a three-year-old son, who was placed in Mrs. Sturm's custody at the time of the divorce.

Baumgart said Sturm apparently "just happened" to find the manuscript. It never was submitted in the contest, he said.
Christine Sturm was charged with second-degree murder, but at the hearing, the Judge dismissed the case on the grounds that—by only a few months--the statute of limitations had expired. She left the courtroom a free woman, and vanished into obscurity.

The only positive thing that can be said about this story is that her baby finally got a decent burial.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Case of the Disappearing Bride

In August 1934, a beautiful 21-year-old redhead named Olga Schultz married handsome Wyoming oilman Carl Mauger. It had been a true whirlwind courtship, with the wedding taking place only a few weeks after the couple first met.

The newlyweds elected to spend their honeymoon elk hunting. It was a natural setting for Olga--she was a country girl who had spent her life hunting, fishing, and hiking. The wilderness was familiar territory for her. The Maugers pitched their tent at Togwotee Pass, 40 miles west of Dubois. On September 17, six days into their stay, Olga and Carl hiked off into the wilds, seeking a game trail. Olga carried with her a small hatchet and a bag of sandwiches. According to Carl, after they had been hiking for some time, Olga said she was tired. She opted to stop and rest while Carl climbed a ridge to "spot" elk. He estimated he was gone for about twenty minutes. When he returned, Olga had vanished. When Carl's search for her proved fruitless, he returned to camp and summoned help.

Within a couple of days, over 300 people were scouring the area, looking for some sign of Olga. Bloodhounds and trackers from the nearby Indian Agency were enlisted in the search. Not a single trace of the missing woman was ever found. The heavy clothing she was wearing, her hatchet, and the bag of sandwiches were never found, as well.

The cross marks the site where Olga vanished.

Carl Mauger was, inevitably, looked upon with some suspicion by the authorities--in fact, they kept him in jail for two months while they interrogated him repeatedly. But his simple, straightforward story remained consistent throughout, and police finally concluded that there was no evidence that he played any role in his new wife's peculiar disappearance.

However, it did emerge that the newlyweds had a complicated history. Before he met Olga, Carl had been courting a young woman named Ella Tchack for five years. While Ella was eager to marry him, Carl kept putting off setting a wedding date, using the excuse that they should wait until he had steady employment. One night, the pair attended a dance, where Olga happened to catch Carl's eye. And that, as they say, was that. Although Ella agreed to step out of the picture, Olga's sister Edith Thompson later said that after Olga and Carl married, Ella sent them a letter threatening to commit suicide.

Carl Mauger

Even more ominously, Mrs. Thompson also claimed that Olga personified that old adage about "marrying in haste." She stated that her sister regretted her marriage practically from the moment the ring was placed on her finger. She had read Ella's letter, and felt very badly about it. Edith recalled that as she was helping Olga pack for the honeymoon, her sister begged her to come with them.

"Why, Ollie," Edith replied, "three persons never go on a honeymoon." She noted that Olga's expression was terribly sad, "not at all like that of a bride."

Although Olga Mauger's disappearance is still remembered as Wyoming's oldest "cold case," no one to date has found any clues indicating what became of her. All anyone can offer is speculation.

Did Olga suffer a terrible accident in that notoriously rough, mountainous country? Did she fall into some ravine or gulch? Working against that theory is the fact that she vanished in a small area, every inch of which was repeatedly searched. For years after she vanished, hunters in the area kept a sharp lookout for some trace of the missing woman, but nothing was ever found. If she had been murdered or committed suicide, the same question applies: where is the body?

Edith Thompson was convinced that Olga disappeared voluntarily. She believed that her sister, fearing that she had made a terrible mistake by marrying Carl, bolted the camp the minute her husband was out of sight. She made her way to the nearby highway, where she could hitch a ride to virtually anywhere. Edith pointed out that Olga had $30 in cash when she vanished, and she was a skilled stenographer, which would have been enough to enable her to start anew. However, if Olga had run away, why did she not contact any of her family or friends? And if Edith was correct that Olga felt that Carl should have married Ella, why not simply divorce him?

Seven years after Olga went on that fateful hike in the woods, Carl Mauger obtained a divorce and remarried. His new wife was none other than the remarkably patient Ella Tchack. Out of deference to the feelings of Olga's family, he did not seek to have his first wife legally declared dead.

Edith Thompson professed to be delighted by Carl's remarriage, saying that it was what Olga would have wanted. She still believed her sister was alive somewhere. "I continue to haunt the mail box, expecting to hear from her someday."

Unfortunately, no one has ever heard from Olga Mauger again.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

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

Watch out for those British werecats!

Watch out for those Portuguese werewolves!

Watch out for those Georgian-era cocktails!

Watch out for those Halloween turnips!

A sudden death leads to some foul suspicions.

A German couple's...unusual way with costumes.

The last will of a 19th century Indian woman married to a British man.

The Great Pyramid's secret vault.

Why England celebrates the Gunpowder Plot.

Bartending in Antarctica.

Some smuggler folklore.

The link between Marilyn Monroe's diary and Aleister Crowley.  (Yes, of course it's JFK.)

Restoring a Pompeiian sundial.

Newly discovered Caribbean cave art.

The man who fought the real pirates of the Caribbean.

A brief history of forensic autopsies.

Napoleon Bonaparte gives a TED talk.

An infamous New Zealand "baby farmer."

The legendary "Sultan Massacre House."

Medieval monster scholars.

The French celebration of All Saints' Day.

The famed ghost of William Terriss.

One man's creative burial.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  What not to do with an egg-cup.

The face of a Scottish witch.

The death of a god.

The execution of Mrs. Chippy, ship's cat.

"Death with dignity," Regency style.

Fighting fire with fire in medieval times.

Geoffrey Chaucer, civil servant.

19th century Halloween superstitions.

We're getting a visitor from outer space.

Paranormal purples.

A New York Fire Dog.

While we're at it, meet Mickey the Fire Cat.  You're welcome.

History in a paper bag.

Bewitched dancing horses.

The rise and fall of "the most haunted house in Scotland."

And we're done!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a bride's mysterious disappearance.  In the meantime, here's the world's tastiest orchestra.