"...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

Friday, March 16, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by a school of well-educated cats!

Why the hell are all these dentists dying?

I've wondered about this myself:  Why the hell are gay men called "fairies?"

What the hell became of Queen Zenobia?

What the hell became of USS Cyclops?

Another of those evergreen questions:  What the hell happened at Dyatlov Pass?

Who the hell did Alfred Arthur Rouse murder?

Watch out for those blue flame ghosts!

Watch out for those Demon Cats!

Eighteenth-century gambling at White's.

You wouldn't want to go to Alfred Hitchcock's dinner parties.  But you probably already knew that.

You wouldn't want to go to a 17th century sailor's dinner party.  You probably already knew that, too.

A Buddhist monk may have set himself on fire in ancient Greece.  Yeah, history is weird.

An 18th century nobleman goes on trial for rape.  Surprise, surprise, he skated.

An interesting theory about ghosts.

The New Orleans riot of 1817.

A brief history of aftershave.

The brutal murder of a mysterious woman.

Some anecdotes from the court of Napoleon.

Speaking of Napoleon, the man himself gives us English As She Is Spoke.

The lynching of Cattle Kate.

Hey, let's listen to rats playing a theremin!

A Roman mermaid.

Necromancy turns out to be a pretty expensive hobby.

Eesh. It seems that a famed archaeologist was nothing but a scam artist.

Victorian advice about perfume.

The world's worst roommate.

Victorian "penny beds."

Encounters with unicorns.

Hieronyma and the incubus.

Yet another Roman Emperor comes to a nasty end.

A useful guidebook for merchants and smugglers.

Hate tofu?  Blame Ben Franklin.

The monster of Drumate Lake.

The tale of the bullock and the gold ring.

Abraham Lincoln in Greenwich Village.

The legend of Vortigern.

So, let's talk about George Washington's bedpan.

A deadly duel in the bedroom.

Astronauts return to earth with altered DNA.

A fairy who likes cake.

And finally...um, I'll just leave this one here.

That's all for this week! Join me on Monday, when I'll present a man and his homemade family. In the meantime, here's some Praetorius:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Just call this one, "Bert's Wild Weekend." "The Tennessean," April 3, 1979:
Memphis--The modest four-room house where Bert Gross lived for the past 13 years was never anything special until objects began flying around the home.

The frame house sitting on a small hill just across the city limits in Desoto County, Miss., looks ordinary from the outside, but Gross said strange happenings transformed it over the weekend.

The former construction worker, 54, said he and his five children were sitting in their bedroom-living room watching television Saturday night when a swarm of insects suddenly entered the room and began buzzing around their heads. Then a pillow flew off the couch and landed eight feet away.

That was just the beginning of a weekend of mystery, Gross said.

Over the next two days, a coal-burning heater in the same room collapsed, a portable television set crashed to the floor, and an upright freezer turned itself around in the kitchen, Gross said.

He called neighbors and Desoto County sheriff's deputies over to watch when drawers began opening and closing and items ranging from cans of spaghetti sauce to an alarm clock hurled through the air.

A reporter for the Commercial Appeal said he witnessed the bizarre happenings while spending several hours in the house Saturday.

Gilbert Hines, 58, who lives behind the Gross house, said a pillow made him a believer.

"I'm a hard believer, especially when it comes to what people tell me," Hines said. "But a pillow came from a corner and hit me on the leg. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it."

While no one could explain the phenomenon, friends urged Gross to move his children ranging in age from 13 to 24 out of the mysterious house. Gross convinced his family to stay over the weekend, but said he might change his mind later unless things begin staying where they belong.

A follow-up story appeared the next day in the "Tampa Tribune":
Bert Gross said Tuesday he was going to wait until things "calm down" before doing any more talking about the ghostly events that he says have been happening in his Memphis, Tenn., home.

"I'm not letting anybody into the house for a couple of days until I have time to think it all over," said Gross, refusing to be interviewed.

Carloads of sightseers have been driving past the modest home since reports circulated last weekend about a freezer moving itself, tennis balls flying through the air and objects --ranging from cans to alarm clocks--tumbling from counters. Unable to cope with the phenomenon, Gross took his five children and went to stay with relatives. "There have been television crews out there filming without my permission and people on my porch trying to get in," Gross said. "I just don't know what to think about it all."

The frame house has been locked and a rusted lawn chair stays propped against a sagging screen door. to keep it shut and the spectators away. Outside sits a portable black-and-white television that Gross said crashed to the floor during the bizarre weekend.

Gross said the strange events started Saturday night. While watching television, Gross and his children were surrounded by a swarm of flying insects. A few moments later, he said, a pillow flew off a couch and landed two yards away. A reporter who was asked to witness the mysterious events said he was talking with Gross when a pillow on a couch flew across the room and hit him on the leg.

"I can't explain any of it," Gross said.
The family returned to their home, but strange events kept up for at least several more weeks. On the 15th, the stove suddenly collapsed, forcing the family to cook meals on an outdoor grill. Dirt mysteriously flew around the house, and the refrigerator and freezer moved during the night. The family finally moved, and, so far as is recorded, the exploits of the Gross Poltergeist came to an end.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Doctor and the Deadly House Call

Helen (or Helene) Knabe's life was remarkable, in the best sense of the word. Unfortunately, her death was also remarkable, but in the worst possible way.

Knabe was born in 1875, in Rugenwald, an area by the Baltic Sea that is now the Polish city of Darlowo. She grew up bright, fiercely ambitious, and determined to become a doctor. Feeling that her native land offered her few opportunities to follow her chosen profession, she decided to move to America. Her destination was Indianapolis, Indiana, where several relatives had already emigrated. Upon her arrival, she found work in the household of an Indianapolis doctor, acting as cook and general housemaid. She learned English, and through sheer hard work and self-denial, saved enough money to enter the Medical College of Indiana.

Knabe proved to have a great natural aptitude for medical research--so much so that by the time she graduated in 1904, she had become an instructor at the college. She eventually became the state board of health's assistant pathologist, then Indiana's very first official bacteriologist--an incredible career trajectory for a woman of her day, and a solid tribute to her skill and discipline. She was a recognized expert in rabies and sexually transmitted diseases. In 1908, she resigned in order to open her own medical practice, which was an immediate success. By the time Knabe was thirty-five, she was personal physician to many of Indianapolis' elite. She had an unblemished reputation, and was highly and justifiably respected; the ideal example of a "self-made woman."

So the obvious question is: Why would anyone want to murder her?

On the morning of October 24, 1911, Katherine McPherson, Knabe's assistant, entered the doctor's apartment house (which also served as her office.) The front doors had been locked from the inside, and everything in the outer rooms seemed completely normal. However, Knabe herself seemed to be absent. The puzzled McPherson searched the apartment for her employer.

The mystery of Knabe's silence was quickly solved when McPherson entered the doctor's bedroom, and found her dead body. The corpse lay on a blood-soaked bed. It was immediately obvious that this was a murder, and a particularly brutal one.

Unfortunately for the course of the investigation, McPherson completely lost her head. Instead of immediately phoning the police, she summoned some of Knabe's friends and relatives to gawk at the horrid sight and generally do a splendid job of contaminating the crime scene and wasting valuable time.

When the police finally arrived--more than an hour after McPherson's initial discovery--they found that someone had cut Knabe's throat so viciously that she was nearly decapitated. As the body was wearing a nightdress, it was presumed she had been attacked while she slept, probably very quickly and efficiently. (Incidentally, there were no signs that she had been sexually assaulted.) Only one item was missing from the apartment: an instrument called a microtome, which was used to cut extremely thin sections of material for microscopic examination. It was presumed that this had been the murder weapon.

Investigators soon realized they faced a twin mystery: the question not only of who had murdered Knabe, but how the crime had been committed. All the doors and windows were locked from inside, with the exception of the windows in Knabe's bedroom. These were open, but securely covered by screens. The outside windowsills were coated with a thick layer of dust, indicating that the murderer had not entered or exited through them. It was thought Knabe must have let her killer into the apartment, although no one was able to say who this person might have been, or why the doctor would admit this person into her apartment in the middle of the night.

This inability to satisfactorily explain how anyone could have gotten into, then out of, Knabe's apartment, coupled with the lack of any evident motive for murder, led William Holtz, the chief of detectives, to argue that the doctor had not been killed at all: she had committed suicide. He pointed to the fact that Knabe's launching of a private practice had left her heavily in debt, something that had worried the normally financially prudent doctor. Working against this theory was the fact that the knife used to slash Knabe's throat was never found. It was pointed out that even the most determined suicide would have trouble nearly cutting off their own head and then disposing of the weapon. The body also had a defensive wound in one forearm.

Two days after Knabe's death, police received their first lead: a man named Joseph Carr told them that on the night Knabe died, he had walked past her apartment at about 1 a.m. He heard two screams, which were followed by a man exiting the alley behind the building and running up the sidewalk. When this man realized he had been seen, he quickly covered his face with a handkerchief and dashed off. Carr thought the man was about forty years old, and was dressed in a dark suit. Another witness came forward to state that around 8 p.m. on that fatal night, a man who fit the description of the one encountered by Carr asked him for directions to Knabe's apartment building. A woman who lived near Knabe stated that at the same time Carr saw this mystery man, she heard someone running past her house.

The particularly baffling circumstances of Knabe's death proved to be an excellent breeding ground for increasingly crackpot theories. Some stubbornly clung to the suicide scenario. A letter of Knabe's where she discussed her interest in Buddhism caused others to mutter of crazed Buddhist death squads. My favorite suggestion came from another female physician, Dr. Carrie Gregory. Gregory stated that one of Knabe's female patients had been suffering from "an ailment that was drying up the blood." Knabe opted to treat this woman by transfusing the patient with two quarts of blood from the Knabe's own body. Sadly, this novel treatment wound up killing the doctor. In order to cover up this embarrassing turn of events, Knabe's fellow physicians simulated a murder by slashing her throat and smuggled the body into her apartment.

I do not know how successful Dr. Gregory was in her chosen profession, but she would have wowed them as a Gothic novelist.

Knabe's murder soon went into the police's "cold case" files, and it remained there, getting chillier by the day. The Indianapolis chapter of the Council of Women hired a private detective named Harry Webster to look into the mystery, but he seemed to have as little success as the police. Then, in March 1912, a sailor named Seth Nichols was arrested for public drunkenness in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Before Nichols had a chance to sober up, he told police that a man he only knew as "Knight," had paid him $1,500 to murder Dr. Knabe. However, it soon became disappointingly evident that Nichols' story simply did not stand up under examination. When records proved that Nichols had been on board his ship the night Knabe died, authorities quickly lost interest in him. Nothing more was heard of the mystery until December 1912, when a grand jury was convened to debate the question of just how Dr. Knabe died. During this hearing, a vital piece of evidence was presented that had, inexplicably, been ignored until that time: a bloody handprint had been found on Knabe's pillow. Harry Webster also presented his findings. The result of all this was that the grand jury returned two indictments in Knabe's death: Dr. William Craig, president of the Indiana Veterinary College, was charged with murder, with an undertaker named Alonzo Ragsdale being named as Craig's accessory.

Craig and Dr. Knabe had been "an item" since soon after they first met in 1908. However, shortly before Knabe's death, their romance had hit a rocky patch, evidently over Craig's assumption that she would give up her career after they married. According to some of their acquaintances, Craig had decided to break off their relationship--in fact, he was seeing another woman. Knabe, it was suggested, was not going to take the breakup quietly, thus giving Craig a motive for murder. A man named Harry Haskett claimed that he had seen Craig leaving Knabe's apartment building around 11 p.m. on the night Knabe died. (Of course, if you wish to pin the murder on Craig, this testimony clashes with the other witnesses who allegedly saw a man fleeing the scene two hours later.) One Dr. Eva Templeton stated that Craig's housekeeper told her that on the night of the murder, Craig arrived home late and had immediately changed his clothes. (Curiously, it is not clear if the housekeeper herself ever verified Templeton's story.)

As for Alonzo Ragsdale, he had been the administrator of Knabe's estate. Found in his possession was a kimono that had belonged to the dead woman. Tests showed that it had been bloodstained, then washed in "a strong chemical solution." The assumption was that he had helpfully removed this bit of evidence, as a favor to Craig. (It was never explained why Ragsdale would keep such a massively self-incriminating item.) For his part, Ragsdale said that he had a number of Knabe's more unimportant possessions, and there was no evidence that this kimono was even in Knabe's apartment at the time of her death.

Craig stood trial in November 1912. When Harry Haskett was put under oath, he suddenly became much less certain that he had seen Craig leaving Knabe's apartment. Several of Knabe's neighbors testified to hearing screams around midnight--one hour after this alleged sighting of Craig. In short, the prosecution so signally failed to present any evidence that Craig was the murderer that on December 9, the judge instructed the jury to dismiss the case. Accordingly, the charges against Ragsdale were also dropped.

The ignominious failure of the case against Craig was the end of any formal investigation into Helen Knabe's death. The question of who murdered the pioneering female doctor, and why, will almost certainly remain unknown. Indianapolis psychics and leaders of "ghost tours" insist that Knabe's spirit still haunts the city. If such is the case, the lady's wraith has shown a disappointing failure to elucidate the mystery.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by another of our celebrity cats!

And Buster Keaton.

Why the hell did ancient people drill holes in their heads?

What the hell is an island?

Who the hell made the Portolan Charts?

Watch out for those owls!

Watch out for those phantom hitchhikers!

A court case involving ghosts and bleeding corpses.

Watch out for those cursed vases!

The woman who thought she was married to Napoleon.

Shorter version:  water is weird.

A princess' generous ghost.

The diary of a 17th century vicar.

So maybe it's true that elephants never forget.

The donkey who starred in St. Patrick's Day parades.

Recent cases where airplanes encountered UFOs.

That time San Francisco rioted over a beer-drinking actress.

A quack's peculiar disappearance...and equally peculiar reappearance.

The captain whose sea was the desert.

The heroic voyage of Mary Patten.

A dinner with the Alexander Hamiltons and the Bonapartes.

Letters from ancient women.

When you have three brothers nicknamed "Newgate," "Cripplegate," and "Hellgate," you know you're dealing with a fun family.

A brief history of hair transplants.

A magnetic anomaly in Africa.

Blood and the Shroud of Turin.

A Chinese poltergeist.

The odd case of the Black Pig of Kiltrustan.

The (relatively) forgotten Garfield assassination.

The mystery of the appendix.

Folklore and psychotherapy.

Etiquette rules from 19th century France.

A forgotten aviation pioneer.

When father is very unlike son.

The world's oldest tattoos.

How wild animals self-medicate.

The once-renowned Wyld's Globe.

A woman who was framed for witchcraft.

Because I know you've been dying to ask me what London weather was like in the late seventeenth century.

The Coker Hill haunting.

Why it was a bad idea to invite Horace Walpole to a cricket match.

This week in Russian Weird looks at Siberian "wild people."  And what really became of this Soviet spy?

Captain Halpin meets a ghost.

Is this the world's oldest writing?

The serial killer of elephants.

That's it for this week!  We meet again on Monday, when I'll look at a doctor's mysterious murder.  In the meantime, here's some classic Irish music.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

It's another Talking Cat Week at Strange Company! From the "Baltimore Sun," December 21, 1949:
Kiki, of Charles Street avenue and Chesapeake avenue, withheld comment yesterday afternoon on his guardian's claim that she regularly regularly holds conversations with him. Kiki is a cat.

The claimant is Dr. Clara B. Fishpaugh, Ph.D., D.Sc, a former professor of education and psychology at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Kiki wandered into Dr. Fishpaugh's Towson home about six years ago, she recalled. The first time that she learned of his superfeline faculty of speech, Dr. Fishpaugh said, was not until about two years later. "I had brought him some lamb kidneys from the market. He's very fond of lamb kidneys.

"'Kiki,' I said. 'Mr. Will gave you these. Do you think you ought to thank Mr. Will?'

"Kiki distinctly replied. 'Yeah.' He never has managed to pronounce pronounce his S's."

Since that astonishing exchange. Kiki's vocabulary has been enormously increased, or. at least, more fully demonstrated, Dr. Fishpaugb recounted. On a hot summer day, the cat is likely to come crawling into the house, apparently hot and tired, collapse on a cushion and exclaim. "Aw in," which, Dr. Fishpaugh explained, means, "I'm all in."

One recent inclement afternoon, Kiki returned dripping rain and informed the psychologist, that he was "cold-wet."

A great lover of crabmeat, Kiki recently surprised Dr. Fishpaugh by scorning a dish of it and strolling airily out of the dining room. "What's the matter?" Dr. Fishpaugh inquired. "Don't want it," Kiki reportedly replied.

Dr. Fishpaugh was afraid for a moment that Kiki was talking nonsense until she observed that he had neglected food only because he had caught sight of one Suzie, another cat, with whom he is on good terms.

"Kiki is not very friendly with strangers." Dr. Fishpaugh pointed out. "But, after all, there is no other animal as individualistic as a cat, is there?" Like a child coaxed to perform for the benefit of visitors. Kiki is likely to seal his lips and utter not a word when on show. This childlike obstinacy fits Dr. Fishpaugh's theory that animals in some ways resemble human infants. "It has always been my opinion," she said, "that animals learn like children, only more slowly. The trouble is that few animals are given the chance to learn."

Furthermore, Dr. Fishpaugh contends that animals learn not only by association but by their reasoning power and intelligence. Although occasionally inclined to be moody and even rude, Kiki usually calls Dr. Fishpaugh "mom," she said fondly.

As an indication of the high regard in which he holds her, Dr. Fishpaugh told of Kiki's reaction to a recent picture taken of the two together. "Kiki looked at the picture intently. He looked at me intently. He looked back at the picture, and took his paw and knocked the picture out of my hand. He evidently didn't think that the camera had done me justice."

Although most of Kiki's conversation seems reserved for Dr. Fishpaugh. she says her pet once amazed a brush salesman and on another occasion caused a plumber to observe Kiki had "a lot more sense than some people." The brush salesman had been in the house a half hour and Kiki obviously didn't like him, according to Dr. Fishpaugh. She said Kiki finally burst out with: "Man." "Do you have a parrot?" she quoted the brush man. "No, a talking cat," she said she replied.

Kiki apparently looks after his own health quite carefully. He retires for the night promptly when the clock strikes 8 P.M. He wears a snug sweater which Dr. Fishpaugh has provided for him. He carefully avoids the lawn when he is warned that dead grass is being burned there. He stays at home when Dr. Fishpaugh tells him that dogs are at large outside.

Dr. Fishpaugh said that some of Kiki's sentences are almost complete, such as, "Dog out now." There are times, on the other hand, when Kiki's remarks are limited to cryptic monosyllables and nods of the head.

He apparently tends to be reticent when his feelings are hurt. One of the times that Kiki really seemed to be offended was when Dr. Fishpaugh told him about a talented cat that could sing "Silent Night" and earn large sums doing so. "Kiki warbled a few notes," Dr. Fishpaugh said. "It didn't sound like much. When I asked him to try again he just shrugged, as though to say, 'I already showed you I can do it.' "

Yesterday, Kiki wouldn't even shrug.

A side note: to date, I haven't been able to find out anything about the cat who sang Christmas carols, but rest assured, the search goes on.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Haunted Rest House; Or, The Dangers of Developing Cursed Real Estate

Frank Hives

In the days of pre-World War I Colonial Nigeria, a man named Frank Hives served as District Commissioner on the upper regions of the Cross River. Some years later, his livelier reminiscences of this period were collected in a 1930 book, "Ju-Ju and Justice in Nigeria." It contains many colorful and curious anecdotes, of which the weirdest was related in the chapter titled, "The Haunted Rest House." It is a memorable first-hand account of someone who does not believe in ghosts, does not want to believe in ghosts...but concedes that on one particular night, he met one very angry ghost.

Hives' brush with The Weird began with a tour of the communities under his rule. Nothing of any importance happened until he approached the town of Isuingo, in the Bende district. The place had "none too good a reputation." The residents were unfriendly and hostile to any outside interference. The roads and water supply were bad, and although the "rest house" had been built only two years before, it too was decrepit. Accordingly, Hives sent ahead of him instructions to have the house cleaned and repaired for his use.

When he arrived at Isuingo, he found that the rest house had indeed been cleaned, but not with any willing spirit on the part of the locals. Hives noted that they looked "sulky and decidedly unfriendly." He was told that the local chiefs had been most reluctant to have the rest house repaired. In fact, Hives noticed, no one wanted to be anywhere near the place. When he summoned the town's chiefs to meet with him, they very clearly looked as if they'd rather be anyplace else in the world. When Hives asked them about this curious reluctance, one of the patriarchs said hesitantly, "We do not mean to be disrespectful; but we did not want you to come here--it means trouble." Hives was not able to get them to say just what sort of "trouble" they were expecting.

After a day of dealing with routine administrative duties, Hives had dinner and retired to the rest house. The two-room dwelling had walls of red mud six feet high and a palm-leaf roof, with servants' quarters about thirty yards away. All seemed perfectly ordinary until evening, when Hives began to notice a "particularly unpleasant odour." He was unable to find any source for the smell, but it somehow pervaded the entire house. It reminded him of the odor of decomposing bodies. Hives instructed his servants to find where the awful smell came from and, hopefully, get rid of the source, but after a very perfunctory search--the servants shared in the unexplained universal antipathy to the house--they announced that they could find nothing. The men all escaped to their own quarters as soon as they possibly could.

Hives found himself wishing he could join them. In addition to the mysterious smell, he was feeling "an unnatural something about the place that gave me an eerie feeling. I found myself peering into the gloomy corners, though what I expected to see I could not have described." He forced himself to ignore his increasing unease and went to bed.

Sleep, however, proved impossible. He kept hearing what he could only describe as "inaudible sounds" coming from the darkness around him. He kept listening for something--"for what, I could not have said." Then he heard a knock outside his veranda. It was his cook, standing outside the house holding a lantern, and trembling from fright. The cook begged Hives to sleep elsewhere. It was a "bad place," he stammered. Men have died there. A "bad thing" lived there.

Hives was beginning to find that all too believable. The "corpsey" smell was becoming stronger and stronger, and the whole atmosphere was giving him a fine case of the creeps. He would have most happily slept elsewhere, if there had been anyplace else to go. Besides, if he were to flee, he feared this act of cowardice would lower his "prestige" among the people he had been assigned to rule. Hives decided there was nothing to be done but stick it out, and if that meant enduring the most unpleasant night of his life, well, so be it.

After his cook had fled to barricade himself in his own hut, Hives felt more uncomfortable than ever. He could not shake the feeling that someone--some thing was watching him. He took up his lamp and made a tour of the house, finding nothing. The sensation of being spied on persisted, however. After making sure his lamp was burning well--the idea of being in complete darkness was unthinkable--he loaded his revolver, put it under his pillow, and lay himself down. He felt like he was in the middle of "a tiny oasis of light in the midst of a desert of black nothingness." The night was completely silent. Hives longed for sleep, yet feared losing consciousness amid such a menacing atmosphere. He was not a superstitious man, but he had to acknowledge that there was something uniquely eerie about the rest house. The locals' aversion to the place was completely justified. And it was so quiet. Too quiet. "The stillness was appalling. I could have yelled with the horror of it."

Time passed. Hives must have managed to drop off into sleep, because he suddenly found himself jerked wide awake. He felt a sudden sense of panic--at what, he could not say. He heard a noise at the end of the veranda. He grabbed his gun and warily sat up in bed. As he stared into the gloom, he saw a chair suddenly dragged back against the wall, and toppled over by an invisible hand.

By this point, Hives would have been very happy to use his gun, if he could only have seen something to shoot.

He assumed--he hoped--that this was just some unfriendly townspeople trying to scare him away. He stepped outside and grabbed a handful of sand. He scattered it around the floor of the rest house. Anyone who entered the dwelling would leave tracks, and Hives would finally know his enemy. He settled back on the bed, and was just drifting back to sleep when he noticed that the nauseating smell had suddenly become stronger. It seemed to be approaching him. Hives began to feel "a sense of some impending horror that sent cold shivers down my spine." He was too terrified to even move. After a moment, he saw something moving just outside the veranda. It appeared to be the head of a very old native man. The rest of the body gradually appeared, crawling slowly on hands and knees, and trailing a length of rope behind it. It was utterly silent. The being eventually came within the radius of the lamplight, enabling Hives to see the intruder clearly.

Hives desperately regretted this closer look. It was the most appalling thing he had ever seen. The creature's face was mottled with pock marks. The nose had been eaten away. The naked body was "like old and mouldy leather, shrivelled and grey in patches." The lifeless, staring eyes were even worse. Hives soon realized that he was staring at a partly decomposed corpse.

A partly decomposed corpse that was crawling in his direction.

As Hives trembled in terror, the creature slowly got to its feet, until it stood upright. Still holding the rope, it lifted its withered arms, gripped the wall plate of the veranda, and began to climb the post supporting the roof. Hives finally found the power to speak. He yelled at the creature to stop. It ignored him. Hives fired two shots at the intruder. They had absolutely no effect. It continued to climb. Hives moved within only three or four feet of the thing and fired again. Useless.

Hives finally had to accept that he was dealing with something not at all of this world. He fled the house, screaming for his servants, for the police, for anyone at all. Hives' entourage was not at all eager to come anywhere near the house. They all were in such a state of fear that they looked ready to flee for their lives.

Hives declared that a thief had entered the house, and ordered that the dwelling be surrounded. Then, accompanied by two servants, he made a thorough search of the residence. Nothing was found, although he noticed that the horrible smell had somewhat dissipated. The sand "traps" he had laid did not have a single mark on them. He found bullet holes where the "thing" had been crawling, proof that the shots must have gone right through the creature. It "made the whole thing more mysterious than ever."

What was it that had entered his room that night? A ghost? Hives found that hard to believe. The thing had certainly looked solid enough. And he had never heard of a smelly ghost before. On the other hand, what he had seen--and shot at--was clearly not human.

When morning finally came, he was determined to find out anything he could about that rest house. He sent his interpreter into town to find someone who might be willing to tell him about the house's history. The interpreter came back with a young man named Benjamin Oku, a clerk at a trading firm in Calabar.  He spoke English and was willing--in return for a "present" of money--to tell all he knew about the rest house.

The story Oku told was this: Long ago, before the arrival of the white men, the site of the rest house had been a "ju ju sacrificial grove." The ju ju priest was a "very, very bad man," and had sacrificed many people in the name of his spiritual practices. The priest was greatly feared in the area, as "he was not at all particular" about how he chose his victims. About two years before Hives' visit, some British troops had camped out for some weeks in Isuingu. It was their commander who had ordered that the rest house be built on this "sacrificial grove." The locals had begged him to pick another site for the house, but, thinking that this was the best way to stamp out "the superstitious and savage customs," the officer refused to change his mind.

The old priest went into a fury when he learned how his sacred ground was being violated, and he protested vehemently. The officer retaliated by forcing him to assist in the site's demolition. That night, the priest cast spells putting a curse on the place. No white man, he vowed, would ever have a peaceful moment in that sacrilegious rest house. On the day after it was completed, the priest was seen pacing around the house, repeating his spells and wailing loudly. The next morning, he hanged himself inside the dwelling. The locals had been too terrified to even cut down the body, so it simply hung there until it rotted. It eventually fell piece-meal to the ground, where it was eaten by pigs.

Afterwards, many people returning to their farms after dark would see the ghost of the old man, dragging the rope he had used to commit suicide. No one ever willingly went near the rest house.

Hives had to admit that he couldn't blame them. He summoned the local chiefs.  Without mentioning anything of his horrific experience the previous night, he announced that the rest house was in appalling condition. He proposed to burn it down, and build a new house on a different site.

The men enthusiastically agreed that it was an excellent idea.

Hives personally torched the cursed rest house, watching it burn until only a few charred uprights remained, and oversaw the construction of the new dwelling. He slept peacefully in it on a number of occasions. The former sacrificial grove forever remained a shunned place, and grew overgrown and decrepit.

"What was it I saw that night?" Hives wondered. "An elemental? The earth-bound spirit of the old priest paying for the crimes he had committed during his life? And how to account for the horrible and indescribable stench that pervaded the house when the apparition was 'appearing?'

"I cannot."

Friday, March 2, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the International Order of Bookplate Cats!

Why the hell do witches ride brooms?

Why the hell are four-leaf clovers lucky?

How the hell was the moon formed?  Here's the latest theory.

Watch out for the monsters of Monterey Bay!

Watch out for those Victorian pleasure gardens!

Watch out for those phantom teeth!

A notorious "witchcraft murder."

A forgotten royal wedding.

Fortean party crashers.

Fortean photography.

Fortean storms.

Francis I of Austria: your go-to guy for sealing wax.

The island without wheels.

When you grow up never realizing you're on the run from the Mob.

Buying and selling wives.

A Welsh botanical excursion.

The English courtesan and the French emperor.

The Golden Age of fake backsides.

A talking Sasquatch.

The hell known as Nineteenth-Century Knitting.  (Although to be honest, I've found modern patterns on Ravelry that are written in a far more incomprehensible fashion.)

The hazards of using your own body as an experimental poison laboratory.

A medieval female sheriff.

A Regency female husband.

An elaborate 19th century "Christmas" circus.

Searching for the author of a message in a bottle.

Stalin's ill-fated meteorologist.

Oklahoma City has a bearded lady.

Egypt has a screaming mummy.

The man who transformed the health of Londoners.

In which Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein star in "The Odd Couple."

An accused witch comes to the usual bad end.

Hannah Lightfoot:  history or hoax?

So it turns out that pigeon racing is A Thing.

Harbingers of disaster.

A really, really bad employee.

Anomalous objects from ancient Egypt.

The man who claimed to be kidnapped by Bigfoot.

A chocolate-colored mermaid.

A 19th century Animal House: Opprobrious epithets and cherry rum.

This Week in Russian weird:  The strange case of the Moscow radio mistakes.

And let's also talk about UFOs and the Russian Navy.

This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "in the soup."

Modern-day fairy sightings.

The world's worst real estate.

Africans in Tudor England.

A Degas painting has been found in a French bus.

A Polish poltergeist.

The life of a very rich--and very dreadful--socialite.

The man who lived in a tomb.

A variety of petrified corpses.

The many illnesses of Mary Tudor.

The legend of Mrs. Nightingale's ghost.

Victorian beauty tips.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a gruesome ghost story from Nigeria.  In the meantime, here's some medieval dance music!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

An article from the "Baltimore Sun," April 29, 1950, told of a rocking chair with a mind of its own:
Muscatine, Iowa, April 29. The Floyd Holladays don't know what makes their old rocking chair rock, but they wish it would stop.

More than 200 persons have seen the empty platform rocker rocking. Some say the chair is haunted. Holladay says he doesn't believe believe in the supernatural. But he can't explain why the chair has rocked almost steadily for 37 days. Holladay's wife says the rocker scares her.

The Holladays bought the chair in 1942. It was just a chair until the family moved into a house they rented from their relatives, Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Brossart. Brossart died March 17. Six days later the chair started rocking.

Visitors suggested the rocking was caused by vibrations from a refrigerator motor or hot air from a register. But Holladay says they moved the chair into every room in the house. They have even examined its insides. The chair rocks anyway. Holladay says the ghost "will have to put up with me sitting on its lap when I feel like using the chair."

A follow-up story appeared in the "Baytown Sun" on May 2:
The Floyd Holladays said today they are going to sell their rocking chair that rocks by itself, "if the price is right."

It's not that the chair is getting on their nerves, they said, only that the mysterious rocking is attracting too many visitors to their home.

Hundreds of curious from all parts of Eastern Iowa flocked to the six-room frame home of Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Holladay to see for themselves whether the rocker really rocks.

The throngs went away convinced, and so were hard-bitten newsmen who poked at the chair and moved it around, but failed to stop its rocking.

The Holladays said the chair was just an ordinary, red-upholstered rocker for eight years. It rocked when someone sat down and moved it back and forth. But for a little more than a month now, they said, the chair has been rocking of its own accord, particularly when someone was talking about it. No matter where the Holladays moved the chair in their house, they said, it kept up its rocking.

Roy Luce, news director of Radio Station .KWPC in Muscatine, said he gave the chair a close eye and found that "it rocks most of the time." Luce and other newsmen moved the chair outside the house, and it continued to rock. Luce said it "tried" to rock when he sat down in it, and others who tested it said the same thing.
Later in May, the rocking chair made a special appearance on the TV show "We the People." It...well, it rocked. A "where are they now" story on the rocker appeared in the "Des Moines Register" on November 25, 1954:
Remember the mysterious rocking chair of Muscatine which made a spectacular television appearance appearance four years ago in New York? The chair !s still rocking, just as mysteriously, but not quite as persistently.

On May 12, 1950, Mr. and Mrs. Floyd Holladay of Muscatine presented their rocking chair on the National Broadcasting Broadcasting Company's "We the People." The vast TV audience throughout the country saw just what an almost continuous stream of.people at the Holladay residence in Muscatine had been seeing: the rocking chair, rocking violently. Without a push to start it, the red upholstered platform rocker rocked back and forth, slowly at first, then energetically. It would slow down, then speed up, while continuing to rock hour after hour in its special exhibition space at the NBC studio.

No one ever gave a satisfactory explanation of why the chair rocked, although several seers and magicians inspected it. After its TV debut the chair was crated up and taken to the airport for shipment back to Muscatine. Mr. and Mrs. Holladay left on an early plane and the chair followed. When it arrived,and was uncrated, the Holladays discovered that vandals had ripped the upholstering and torn up the inside web and bracing of the back.

"I tried to straighten the inside material out and I tacked the upholstering back again," Mrs. Holladay said. "The chair would still rock, but just for short periods. It would not start up by itself, or gain speed in rocking as it formerly did.

"It still rocks, perhaps for periods of five to 10 minute duration. But it hasn't been the same since it was torn up."

The chair, which originally cost about $70 at a Muscatine furniture store, had been insured for $1,000 by sponsors of the TV show. The insurance covered its air shipment. An investigation disclosed the damage had been done by unidentified persons at the air freight depot at New York.

The insurance company offered to pay the full amount of the $1,000 policy and keep the chair, or settle for $700, with the chair remaining in the Holladay's possession.

"We decided to keep the chair, and we settled for the $700," Holladay said.

At present the chair is just another piece of furniture in an upstairs bedroom at the Holladay residence. The bedroom is used only occasionally and most of the furnishing there, like the chair, is in the room principally for storage.

It was in March of 1950, about six weeks before the TV presentation, that the chair began its uncanny rocking. Mrs. Holladay said the chair began rocking five days after her brother-in-law, Floyd Brossart, died Mar. 17. It was his favorite chair when he visited the Holladay residence, she said. Day after day, the chair rocked. It might slow down, but soon it would start up.

News of it spread throughout the neighborhood and across town. Dozens of visitors began to arrive. The story flashed across the nation and long lines of the curious appeared at the Holladay residence. Mrs. Holladay, a pleasant woman with an exceptional amount of patience, admitted all comers and answered all questions. She declined to charge admission as some suggested but neighbors finally insisted that provisions be made for a collection. They placed a glass jar at the door, with a card suggesting donations. About $60 in coins were collected, just enough to cover dry cleaning costs for rugs and furniture and minor damage inflicted by the steady procession of visitors.

Among those who inspected the rocker was a Muscatine High School science teacher. He advanced a theory which dealt with vibrations from traffic and the characteristics of the house's foundation. At the New York demonstration, Joseph Dunninger, "mentalist" and chairman of the Universal Council for Psychic Research, inspected the chair. "This chair rocks. So what? It's a rare physical phenomenon, not a psychic one. Perfect balance, that's why."

Mrs. Holladay did not accept this theory. She recalled the chair had been knocked about a bit, used in different places, and at one time repaired by some home carpentry which was pretty amateurish and unbalancing. "I don't think delicate balance, traffic vibrations, or anything like that could account for the rocking," Mrs. Holladay said.

Another observer at the New York demonstration, Henry Roberts, editor of the Prophecies of Nostradamus, said he, too, disagreed with the explanations based on physical nature. "The basis is purely psychic," he said. "That chair, I feel, has a psychometric quality of the person who sat in it, a fourth dimensional objectivity."

Mrs. Holladay has no psychic theory of her own. But she recalled that it was five days after her brother-in-law's death that the chair began began to rock. Correspondence about the chair poured into the Holladay's mailbox. The letters saved would fill a bushel basket. Some wanted to buy the chair; others were just curious. Mail still comes in and sometimes there is a caller who wants to see the chair. But for all practical purposes the old platform rocker now is just another piece of furniture in an upstairs bedroom.

What finally became of the once-celebrated rocker is unknown. Many years later, one of the Holladay children recollected that the family eventually gave the chair to a relative, and it subsequently disappeared from history.

So for all I know the damn thing is still rocking somewhere.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Case of the Elusive Editor

Although he is now long-forgotten, Samuel Stillman Conant was one of 19th century New York’s leading literary figures. His father was a professor of languages; his mother a successful magazine editor and author. Young Samuel was given an extensive education worthy of two such erudite parents. He became a successful magazinist, achieving his best-known position as editor of “Harper’s Weekly.”

By the start of 1885, the fifty-three year old Conant was enjoying the happy fruits of a long and distinguished career. He had been editor of “Harper’s” for sixteen years, and, for all anyone knew, would be at the popular journal’s helm for sixteen more. He was happily married, proud of his young son, and comfortably well-to-do. He had no known enemies, or serious troubles of any kind.

On January 15, Conant spent a pleasantly uneventful evening at the Authors’ Club. The next day--a Friday--he went to work as usual, and towards evening, left his offices cheerfully telling his colleagues he would see them all on Monday. He and his son were about to go to Albany to spend the weekend with a fellow editor.

He never made it to his Brooklyn home. His wife and son, knowing he had always been punctilious about appointments and keeping them apprised of his activities, became understandably frantic, and immediately suspected foul play. However, they were unable to find any sign of what had happened to him.

Conant’s whereabouts remained a mystery until the following Wednesday, when a man matching the missing editor’s description pawned a watch in a shop in Coney Island. Conant’s son later identified the watch. The receipt for the transaction was signed “T. P. Stevens.” “T. P.” happened to be the initials of Samuel's son Thomas Peters, and “Stevens,” the maiden name of his wife Helen.

Investigation revealed that the man who pawned this watch spent the night on the beach at Coney Island. He then struck up an acquaintance with a storekeeper, who invited the stranger to stay for dinner. The guest gave his name as Conant, the editor of “Harper’s Weekly.” He then went on his way, saying he was going to catch the seven o’clock train for Brooklyn.

A week after Conant—or this man claiming to be Conant—appeared in Coney Island, a friend saw the editor leaving a Fulton Street hotel. When the man tried to detain him, Conant evaded his grasp, snapping, “Don’t you see, I’m going down the street!”

A man matching the description of the wandering editor was traced to a hotel in Long Island, but he checked out only an hour before the arrival of the detectives who had been put on his trail.

And he has never been seen or heard from since. Some contemporary news stories gave the unverified claim that Conant had bought a train ticket to Florida, but that ticket was never used.

Conant’s desolate wife remained in their home, hoping against hope that one day he would return. Thomas Conant spent the rest of his life following leads all over the globe to find his father, but these clues were all fruitless. When he died twelve years after his father’s disappearance, Helen Conant was left completely unknown to suffer all the agonizing pains of uncertainty felt by anyone who has experienced the unexplained absence of a loved one. She died in 1899.

It is hard to know what to make of all this. It seems most likely that Conant disappeared voluntarily, but if so, why? It is certainly true that he might have had troubles or dissatisfactions unknown to us, or even to his intimates, but it is still difficult to picture a man with a successful, congenial career and a loving family giving it all up for an uncertain future on his own. And if he did choose to abandon his life, why did he volunteer his name to that Coney Island shopkeeper, and continue to hang around New York, where he was almost certain to eventually be recognized? Also, he had no significant amount of money on him when he vanished, and there is no record of him having withdrawn anything from the bank either just before or after his disappearance.

If Agatha Christie wrote this story, the solution to the mystery would probably be that the editor was murdered, with a lookalike staging “sightings” to give the impression Conant was still alive. But that sort of thing is unlikely in real life.

Isn’t it?

Friday, February 23, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Exalted Order of Parachuting Cats!

What the hell is the Forrest Fenn treasure?

How the hell did Florida get flamingos?

Watch out for the White Dogs of Death!

Watch out for the Batsquatch!

Watch out for those underground monsters!

Watch out for that haunted ice!

Watch out for that maternal imagination!

Watch out for those portals to Hell!

Watch out for those aliens who need new heads!

Canada is really humming!

That time you could have Wellington knocking at your door.

The man who--however reluctantly--beheaded Charles I.

Is there a pyramid in North Dakota?

Neolithic spider web stones.

A pre-Victorian guide to perfect posture.

Dining with the dead.

The world's loneliest tree.

Madame Tussaud and the beheaded politicians.

A brief history of gin.  Including the time it was dispensed by a cat!

Ireland's Fabulous Folbanes.

A merchant ship uses boiling oil to fight off pirates.  If you think this is a story from the 17th century, read on.

China is taking the "fun" out of "funeral."

NASA reveals a gravesite on Mars.

The life of an 18th century actress.

This week's "Neanderthals weren't all that Neanderthal" link.

This week's "pushing back human plant history" link.

The origin of Albion.

A woman disappears on the Appalachian Trail.

The Milk Bottle Murder.

Never a dull moment in 9th century Mercia.

18th century tennis.

18th century attorneys.

The last woman to be legally hanged in Australia.

19th century infanticide trials.

The Devil and tort law.

A remarkable Stone Age bracelet.

Another illusion shattered:  John Quincy Adams did not really own an alligator.

The mysterious death of a Thai king.


The execution of a Georgian brothel keeper.

A Georgian sex manual.

King Arthur in Poland.

The man with a fairy foot.

A piece of music that hid a coded message.

The Countess of psychedelic science.

Mesopotamian medical writings.

The world's oldest boxing gloves.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: Men, this is what not to do with a fork.

Whiny Egyptian ghosts.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an editor's odd disappearance.  In the meantime, here's a truly remarkable concert:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

This is a banner month for Strange Company HQ.  First there was Blackie, the talking and litigious cat, now...

...Puffy, the cat hypnotist.

From the "Cincinnati Enquirer," April 9, 1945:

Puffy, a cat that hypnotizes people, was named honorary President of the American Feline Society, Inc., today today and officially dubbed "King of All Cats."

Citing the cream-colored Persian for devoting his "phenomenal psychic powers" to War Bond sales and entertaining wounded veterans, Robert Lothar Kendell, the society's President, declared: "We truly believe you to be the greatest living feline, with powers never before possessed by a cat or, so far as we can learn, by any living creature other than a human being."

Puffy, credited with putting more than 300 persons into a hypnotic trance with his huge, unblinking eyes, was all puffed up over the honor, reported his owner-assistant, Arthur Newman, "He's autographing pictures with his paw print like crazy," said Newman.

It was one night last fall that Puffy, then a kitten, first demonstrated his powers. "He was sitting on the end of a night club bar," Newman recalls, his voice becoming hushed, "and a couple of girls came up to pet him. I didn't pay much attention until one of the girls nudged me and whispered, "Look at my friend!'

"Well, sir, that girl was simply out on her feet. It wasn't from drinking, either. I'm something of a hypnotist myself and I quickly realized that she was in a real hypnotic trance, brought on by Puffy's staring into her eyes."

Newman, who had bought Puffy in a pet shop for purposes of demonstrating that people should relax like cats, immediately started training him to stare even more fixedly, with such success that Puffy now can stare Newman down any time.

Thousands of servicemen in hospitals and canteens have seen Puffy perform. He stares into a subject's eyes while Newman slowly counts out loud. In less than 10 seconds the subject closes his eyes, goes rigid or relaxed, and has to be awakened by Newman. 
Skeptics to the contrary, Newman insists it's Puffy and not himself that does the hypnotizing. "If that cat could only talk," he says, "I'd quit working and just manage Puffy."

People always feel better--headaches gone, and the like--after being hypnotized by Puffy, Newman says, because they have become relaxed in spite of themselves. Several have taken the pledge after watching Puffy do his act in a bar.

Here is a news item from the "Pottstown Mercury," December 16, 1944, showing Puffy's formidable talents in action:

This may be my blog's finest hour.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Too Many Skeletons: The Ringstead Mystery

Lydia Atley was born into a sad life, which makes her sad death tragically unsurprising. She was born in the small and largely impoverished English village of Ringstead around 1826. Her father, a miller, disappeared from her life early on, whether from death or desertion is not clear. Her mother was a pauper, meaning that from a very young age, Lydia and her sister were forced to scrape together a bare living any way they could. Lydia made simple lace, and did whatever errands and odd-jobs she could find in the village. It all kept her alive, but did little else.

Nature did not give the girl any additional advantages. Contemporary accounts bluntly describe Lydia as exceptionally plain, slow-witted, and easily led. (This last characteristic was believed to explain how she came to have an illegitimate child of unknown paternity, who was placed in the local workhouse.) However, for all her difficulties, she was a good-natured girl who seems to have inspired a certain protective fondness from many of her peers.

Unfortunately for Lydia, she brought out much uglier qualities in the local butcher, William Weekly Ball. Despite the fact that he had a wife, in 1850 he was conducting a open liaison with Atley—so open, that it was no secret that in the summer of that year she was about to give birth to his child. Ball was, for Ringstead, fairly wealthy, and although he could not marry Atley, she expected him to at least provide financial support for the upcoming child. She told her brother-in-law, Joseph Groom, that if Ball did not give her money, “there would be a row.”

It was to arrange this aid that she met with Ball in his orchard on the evening of July 22, 1850—and there was indeed a row, although it was not like anything the poor woman could have anticipated. Groom, who was near the orchard at the time, later testified to overhearing a fierce argument between the two, culminating with Atley crying, “Get off me for I believe you mean killing me tonight, Weekly Ball. The lord have mercy on me, if I am going to die in the state that I am in.” He then heard an odd screaming sound.

Whether Groom was miserably cowardly, incredibly callous, or simply an idiot is unrecorded, but for whatever reason, he ignored what he had heard. Another neighbor also heard the sounds of Atley and Ball fighting, with Lydia insisting that her upcoming child was Ball’s, and she would see to it that he would take responsibility. This witness, like Groom, said nothing about it until much, much later. Clearly, the residents of Ringstead were overly anxious to disprove the stereotype of “nosy villagers.”

This was the last anyone knew of Lydia Atley. Her disappearance was a perplexing mystery, for at this point, Groom and the other neighbor were still keeping what they had heard to themselves. The local police made some attempts to investigate, and hand-bills were circulated asking for information about her, but these efforts proved futile. A local resident then received a letter from her son saying that he had just seen Atley in Northampton, and this was enough to make the authorities shrug and forget the matter.

The citizens of Ringstead were not nearly so easily convinced there was no foul play afoot. We know little about Ball’s reputation before Atley vanished, but local opinion had no difficulty in assuming the very worst about her fate, even though diligent searches failed to uncover her body. There was even a ballad, “The Cruel Butcher of Ringstead,” which became a local sensation:

“About that time we all do know
Up to the Black Horse that man did go
And for to have a glass of ale
And there he told a dreadful tale
A cruel Butcher he hung should be
For killing of Lydia Atlee…”

Admittedly, the lyrics weren’t exactly Cole Porter, but they had their effect. In 1851, Ball wisely packed his bags and moved to the village of Ramsey. Atley’s disappearance was never forgotten in Ringstead, but as the years went on, it naturally faded into the background.

It was not until fourteen years went by that the missing woman was brought back to everyone’s attention. On February 4th, 1864, a local man was cleaning a dike. As he was digging, his spade hit something hard about two feet from the surface. It proved to be a human skeleton. Examination established that it was of a female, who had been buried for some years. The skull had a missing tooth.

The citizens of Ringstead had been convinced from the start that Ball murdered Atley, and they felt they now finally had the means to prove it. They were quickly able to convince magistrates to issue a warrant for Ball’s arrest, and he was put on trial. There was a parade of witnesses with fourteen-year old memories. Groom and the other neighbors who heard the fight between Atley and Ball finally revealed their information. Another brother-in-law of Atley’s stated that, about two weeks before she disappeared, he had extracted one of her teeth—in the same place, he believed, where this skeleton was lacking a tooth. The man who had written the letter claiming he had seen Atley in Northampton now admitted that Ball himself had persuaded him to write it.

The public was convinced that poor ill-used Lydia Atley would finally get some justice. And then, something unexpected happened that pulled the rug out from this seemingly air-tight case. In the spot where the skeleton had been discovered, another set of bones was unearthed. And then, in the very same place, another skeleton was found. And yet another.

This sudden superfluity of skeletons doomed the prosecution. The case against Ball was withdrawn, and he triumphantly left the courthouse a free man, if not exactly one without a stain on his character. He returned to Ramsey, where he seems to have been considerably more popular than in Ringstead, and led a quiet and prosperous life until his death in 1896.

Lydia Atley’s fate remains a mystery. Was Ball, as many people believed, a murderer, or did the unhappy woman commit suicide when she realized her lover refused to help her? In either case, where is her body? If Ball did kill her, how could he have disposed of her remains so quickly and thoroughly? Who were all those skeletons that were discovered in 1864? Was Lydia's among them?

Unsurprisingly, Atley’s spirit was believed to be a restless one. Local legend describes her haunting the village for many years later. The more colorful accounts state that she would appear in front of amorous couples hoping to make a trysting-place of the area where she was last seen, as a way of warning other women not to follow her “immoral” example.