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

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Adventures of "Indian Peter"

Edinburgh, Scotland is a city with a long history of colorful characters. Among the most famous was Peter Williamson, better known to history as "Indian Peter." It is no small tribute to the man that being kidnapped by Indians was arguably the most normal thing about him.

Our main source of information about him comes from his autobiography, which was first published in 1758. This "accurate and faithful Account of a Series of Misfortunes" was enormously successful, going through several editions, the last of which appeared in 1812.

Peter was born in 1730 near Aberdeen, "if not of rich, yet of reputable Parents." In January 1743, he was playing "near the Key" with some friends. Being of "a stout robust Constitution," he caught the eye of two press-gangers, who lured him aboard their ship. Before he knew what was happening, he was sailing for America, destined to be sold as an indentured servant.

Before the ship could reach its destination, it wrecked off Cape May. The crew and its human cargo were rescued by a passing vessel bound for Philadelphia, where the captain sold his "villainous Loading." Peter was bought by a fellow Scot named Hugh Wilson. Being a former indentured servant himself, Wilson treated his "property" with unusual decency. He provided Williamson with an education and when he died a few years later, he left the 17-year-old with a horse, a wardrobe, and £120.

Williamson did well in his new life. He married the daughter of a prosperous planter, and his new father-in-law gave him 200 acres to farm in Berks County. All was well until the night of October 2, 1754. Peter was alone in his house when it was attacked by local Indians. They plundered the farm, set it on fire, and carried Williamson back to their village. One night, he managed to make his escape. Although his captors gave chase ("The bellowing of Lyons, the Shrieks of Hyenas, or the roaring of Tygers, would have been Music to my Ears in Comparison to the Sounds that then saluted them") he managed, after many misadventures, to return safely to his father-in-law's farm on January 4, 1755. Sadly, he was greeted by news of the recent death of his wife, which "greatly lessen'd the Joy and Rapture he otherwise felt at his Deliverance."

Feeling the need to get a bit of his own back against his tormentors, Peter enlisted in a regiment assembled to fight against the French and their allies, the local Indian tribes. In 1756, he was among the men taken prisoner at the siege of Oswego. He and his fellow soldiers were sent to England in a prisoner-of-war swap. Peter had been too badly wounded during the siege to be considered of any further use as a soldier, so the English discharged him with nothing to show for his army service but "the sum of Six Shillings paid."

Williamson attempted to go back to his hometown of Aberdeen, but could only make it as far as York. In that city, certain gentlemen took enough interest in him and his troubles to arrange to have his sole remaining possession--a manuscript detailing his adventures--printed. The pamphlet earned him enough money to continue his journey to his old home, which he finally reached in June 1758.

He did not exactly receive a hero's welcome. His memoirs had caused offense among certain of his former townspeople. No sooner had he arrived in Aberdeen that he was hauled before the town officers, charged with "publishing and dispersing this scurrilous and infamous libel, reflecting greatly upon the characters and reputations of the merchants in Aberdeen and on the town in general, without any ground or reason." He was found guilty, with the result that all available copies of his book were burnt in the town square by the public hangman. Williamson himself was ordered to make written apology for his offensive tome, fined ten shillings sterling, and banished from the city.

Peter was not the man to take such treatment quietly. He marched off to Edinburgh, where "A Gentleman versant in the Law" helped him to file a lawsuit against the Aberdeen magistrates. In their defense, the magistrates said that when Williamson arrived in Aberdeen, he appeared to be merely "an idle stroller," who sought to "draw money from the credulous vulgar" with an obviously fictitious pamphlet. Williamson countered this charge of dishonesty by producing numerous witnesses attesting to all the details of his early kidnapping. The root of the trouble was that the magistrates and town officers of Aberdeen had for many years been actively complicit in this human trafficking, and they resented Williamson's publicizing of that fact. It emerged during the trial that between the years of 1740-46, some six hundred boys and young men had been kidnapped to be indentured servants in the colonies--some of them sold by their own relatives.

After nearly two years of legal wrangling, the Court of Sessions ruled in Peter's favor, ordering the defendants to pay one hundred pounds sterling, plus costs. "It is the peculiar happiness of this land of liberty," Peter gloated afterward, "to be blessed with a Supreme Court wherein justice is dispensed with an equal hand to the poor and rich." (A quaint literary footnote: Sir Walter Scott's father was part of the legal team assisting the defendants.)

Williamson followed up his legal triumph with an action of damages against the particular bailies he believed were responsible for his kidnapping. The judge who was to arbitrate the matter was notoriously fond of drink, which led to both parties in the suit taking turns carrying off this estimable justice for rounds at the local pubs. Unfortunately, both sides carried their attempts at bribery a bit too far. After several days of the defendants and the plaintiff plying him with wine, punch, claret, rum, and other potent spirits, the judge, "very merry and jocose," took to his bed, and never got up again.

The suit was transferred to the Court of Session, where in December 1768, Williamson was awarded £200 damages, plus one hundred guineas costs.

Having finally won some measure of justice for his early trials, Williamson capitalized on his experiences by taking to the lecture circuit. "For several years," records one of his early biographers, "he used to exhibit himself in the dress of an American Indian, performing the war-whoop, etc., and by this, I believe, he obtained a very good livelihood." He appeared as far afield as London.

Williamson invested his new-found gains by turning vintner, opening a successful tavern near the courthouses, which became commonly known as "Indian Peter's coffee-room." His establishment was immortalized by poet Robert Fergusson with these lines:

"This vacance [vacation] is a heavy doom
  On Indian Peter's coffee-room
For a' his china pigs are toom [bottles are empty]
  Nor do we see
In wine the soukar biskets soom [sugar biscuits swim]
  As light's a flee."

I guess you had to have been there.

Williamson continued his career as an author, publishing an expanded version of his memoirs, along with political tracts and details of a device he had invented for reaping corn.

In 1769, his literary endeavors caused him to take the natural next step of becoming a printer. When announcing his new venture, he commented dryly on his qualifications for the job: "I was born in Aberdeenshire, where it is thought a crime to be honest; and I think such precepts the best lesson a Printer can get." In 1773, he had the proud achievement of publishing the first directory of Edinburgh.

He became so successful as a printer that he abandoned tavern-keeping altogether to devote himself to the congenial world of literature. In 1776, he set up Edinburgh's first penny-post system, which he managed until 1793, when it was taken over by the Government. It was the first continuous postal service in all of Britain.

Alas, Williamson's personal affairs were not as happy and prosperous as his professional endeavors. In 1770, he married a mantua-maker named Jean Wilson. The pair had nine children, of whom four lived to adulthood. For sixteen years, all apparently went well. However, then Mrs. Williamson seems to have gone through what we today would call a "mid-life crisis." As the subsequent divorce suit tells us, "the said Jean Wilson, casting off all fear of God and forgetting her conjugal vows and engagements, has for these several years bygone followed a tract of keeping fellowship, company, and society with godless, lewd, and abandoned men, known not to be the pursuer, one of more; treating, entertaining, and conversing with them privately...and other ways unseemly." Worse still, "the said Jean Wilson has been in the practice of frequenting different houses of bad fame both in this city and neighbourhood, where she used to meet with lewd and wicked men...in which houses she has often got herself intoxicated with liquor."

In short, Jean was having herself far too much fun.

Her husband--never averse to turning personal woes into profitable copy--edited, printed, and published a report on their divorce. To his wife's charge that he himself was not averse "to tippling and intoxication with mean and low people," he merely wrote haughtily that "These are reflections which in prudence she ought not to have made." He complained that when he insisted on a separation, his wife stripped their house of everything not nailed down, and removed herself and their children to her father's house. This despoliation forced Williamson to "leave his house, which he had possessed for thirty-three years with honour and credit, and betake himself to strange lodgings." Not content with robbing him blind, he asserted that his estranged wife and father-in-law spread slanderous reports about him and set up a rival penny-post office.

The divorce suit was heard in December 1788. Although Mrs. Williamson asserted that she had never been involved in anything other than innocent dress-making, her husband produced a plethora of witness testifying that her mantua-making shop was little more than a cover for her older, far less respectable, real profession. Tellingly, the defendant produced no witnesses in her behalf.

Peter's luck in courts of law continued to hold. His divorce was granted, along with custody of his children. Thereafter, his life was uncharacteristically quiet until his death in January 1799. His obituary described him as "well known for his various adventures." It has been theorized that he has gained a more lasting fame as the model for David Balfour in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped."

Friday, July 27, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

Note: this week's Link Dump has been compiled by one of Strange Company's crack team of assistant bloggers.

(via Providence Public Library)

This week's edition of, "What the hell is the Shroud of Turin?"

This week's edition of "What the hell was the Tunguska Event?"

My favorite historical rabbit hole:  What the hell happened to the sons of Edward IV?  (Incidentally, if you're at all interested in the topic, read Lewis' "The Survival of the Princes in the Tower."  It's terrific; one of the best books I've read on the mystery.)

The Duchesses of Devonshire did a lot to enliven the 18th century.

Beowulf and the Great Flame Dragon.

"Undine," you tell me.  "You know what this stupid blog of yours badly needs?  More icky cockroach stories."  Consider it done.

As I have repeatedly said, we don't know jack about our history.

A soldier's wife reports on the Crimean War.

There might be a lake on Mars.

Let's talk bodies in the cellar.

A lavish 14th century wedding.

Why you wouldn't want to be related to anyone who got on the bad side of a Chinese Emperor.

Why sailors in the British Royal Navy used to set rum on fire.

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

This week in Russian Weird: in complete disregard for every horror movie that's ever been made, they're reviving 42,000 year old worms.

Was King James I murdered?

Trade cards of 18th century businesswomen.

The Robin Hood of El Dorado.

The mystery of a Jamestown skeleton.

Viking skeletons in Italy.

The enigmatic George Nyleve.

Ancient texts and nuclear war.

Some myths about James Cook.

The only three humans to die in space.

A hanging in West Virginia.

The mystery of the La Salle Street murders.

Kittens, you magnificent bastards:

The "Shark Arm" murder.

The first morphine murder.

A selection of Victorian humor.  Includes, of course, cholera jokes!

Cries of London, 1803.

It seems that being shot in the head at point-blank range does wonders for the digestion.

"You don't want the skeleton juice to go to waste!"

I've noticed that archaeologists spend a lot of time discussing ancient toilets.

The bishop who was also a pirate and general scourge.

Jupiter's beautiful cloud formations.

The disappearance of the Salomon family.

Mourning tat.

Yes, this was a bad neighbor, but at least he didn't practice the trumpet like one of mine does.

And that's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the remarkable life of an "Indian" Scotsman.  In the meantime, let's dance!

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

On March 2, 1931, the (Bridgewater, New Jersey) "Courier-News" reported on an elderly woman's disappearance:
Bernardsville--Searching parties went over fields and woods on several local and nearby roads over the week-end, seeking Mrs. Anna Christopher, 80, who has been missing from the Order of the Eastern Star Home in the Mountain Colony since an early hour Thursday morning, but no trace of the woman was found.

Several Boy Scouts, under the leadership of the Rev. Vincent C. Bonnlander and Orrin E. Runyon, together with Police Captain Cavanaugh, were in charge of the search Saturday.

Yesterday, State Troopers Wallace and Carmody of the Morristown Barracks, with Captain Cavanaugh, Police Commissioner Joseph Dobbs and Fire Commissioner Edward S. Spinning, and 10 members of Congdon Lodge, F. and A. M., did the searching work, but without success.

Mrs. Christopher had expressed fears of "being killed" and had done considerable worrying about insurance papers supposed to be kept in Hoboken. She had left the home Wednesday afternoon, but was subsequently found along a road leading from the home into Bernardsville.

Mrs. Christopher was for some time a guest in the Isabella Home in New York up until about six months ago, having left that institution upon several occasions. She was sent to the nearby O.E.S. Home by Loyal Chapter, 77, O.E.S., Hoboken, for a probationary period.

No trace of Mrs. Christopher was found. Many years went by, and then...

"Courier News," March 6, 1947, via Newspapers.com

A mystery of 16 years was apparently solved yesterday with the identification of the body of Mrs. Anna Christopher, missing inmate of the Order of Eastern Star home for the aged, which was found in a closed space over a dormer window in the organization's former quarters in Mt. Airy Rd.

Workmen tearing away the ceiling of a second floor bedroom for the present owners, Dr. and Mrs. John Currence, observed a scrap of rag wafted down from between the laths. Probing further they made the gruesome discovery, finding the fragments of bones, clothing and other articles lying in a small space between two rafters over since 1931.

Police and Somerset County officials who were summoned, succeeded in establishing identification through a $3 check, a wedding ring and Mrs. Christopher's false teeth. Mrs. Christopher, who was believed to have come originally from Hoboken, entered the home for a three-months probationary period, after having been in similar Eastern Star institutions in New York. She was 78 years old at that time.

On Feb. 27, 1931, she was reported missing from the Bernardsville home, and a widespread search throughout the area ensued. Police, Boy Scouts and volunteers organized parties and combed the fields, woods and roads. Anxiety was heightened by Mrs. Christopher's frequently expressed fear of "being killed," and she had also openly worried over insurance papers she was supposed to have in Hoboken.

Considerable conjecture was expressed as to how the woman entered the cramped space, and why the entrance she had apparently used was later sealed. One theory was voiced that Mrs. Christopher had found the opening which workmen had temporarily left, and after she had crept inside, her means of escape was cut off.

There appeared to be some possibility that on entering the small area she had suddenly taken a drop of about two and a half feet to a second floor sub-ceiling, which knocked her unconscious, and prevented her leaving before her route was sealed off.

The case is under investigation by Prosecutor T. Girard Wharton and his assistants, with the skeleton--all that remained--in the possession of Dr. Edgar T. Flint of Raritan, county physician, for examination and reconstruction. Prosecutor Wharton said last night no evidence of foul play has been unearthed.

Information as to the woman and the circumstances of her disappearance are being sought through old records of the Order of the Eastern Star. The house stands in Nichols Rd. about three miles from the center of Bernardsville. It was given up by the Order of the Eastern Star in 1940 and recently was purchased by Dr. Currence. Considerable remodeling is being done by V. G. Hughes, contractor. Working on the ceiling when the discovery was made were Jack Ike of Gladstone. John Zovodny or Bernardsville, Henry Skinner of Bernardsville and Harry Sutton of Fairmount. They reported their discovery to Police Chief Clarence Pope of Bernardsville and the prosecutor's office was notified.

Detective Joseph Navatto and Assistant Prosecutor Leon Gerofsky reporting to Prosecutor Wharton on the finding of the remains, said that in the entry way to a bathroom on the second floor are two side panels about three feet high and 14 inches wide leading into attic spaces under a sloping roof. There is some flooring and then only 3 x 10 rafters. At the far end is an opening nine inches wide and three feet high, which runs along for a distance of six feet into a space over the dormer window. In this space there is no flooring, only rafters.

In this space, the remains were found--just the bones, some of which were broken away, and pieces of clothing. To the left lay a small purse and near it a wedding ring, inscribed "A. P. to L. P. May 21, 1887," which apparently had fallen from the woman's finger. In the small purse were three one-dollar bills of the small size and a check for $3, dated Feb. 13, 1931, payable to Mrs. Anna Christopher at the Hoboken Trust Company and signed "Loyal Chapter, 77, Order of the Eastern Star, Edwin G. Irwin, treasurer."

Prosecutor Wharton said that Loyal chapter made a report to the state convention of the Order of the Eastern Star in September, 1931, that the woman had been reported missing, which sets the date of her disappearance between February and September in that year. Dr. Flint has reported to the prosecutor that the bones are those of a small woman, also indicated that she passed into the space over the dormer window through passage only nine inches wide, the only means of ingress. Prosecutor Wharton said the woman was more than 70 years old at the time of her disappearance.
I couldn't find any later information about the mystery, which leads me to assume authorities concluded the poor woman was the victim of a tragic accident. Reading between the lines, it seems quite possible that Mrs. Christopher suffered from dementia, which might have led her to do something as inexplicable as crawling into the tiny space where her remains were found.

Still, I would like to know if Anna's fears of "being killed" were merely an pitiful delusion, or a clue to something more sinister.

[Cf. The disappearance of Carrie Selvage.]

Monday, July 23, 2018

A Tale of Two Murders

Herbert Bennett

In 1897, Herbert John Bennett, a poor but enterprising youth of seventeen, married his pregnant girlfriend, twenty-year-old Mary Jane Clarke. Not long after the wedding, the child which undoubtedly precipitated the wedding was stillborn, although they later had a daughter who survived.

The Bennetts, somewhat unusually for married couples of that era, went into business together. What made them even more uncommon was the nature of this business. To be blunt, Herbert and Mary Jane were grifters of a lowly, if energetic, variety. As Mrs. Bennett was a moderately talented musician, their favorite game involved violins. They would buy the cheapest variety of those instruments and sell them to the unwary for many times their value as "Excellent Strad models." They would also watch the want ads for people wishing to buy secondhand violins. Mary Jane would pick up a cheap violin and visit these people, posing as a young widow, or a clergyman's daughter, or something of that sort. She would explain plaintively that she was desperately in need of money, otherwise she wouldn't dream of selling this precious family heirloom, but...

Mary Jane Bennett

The young couple did so well from these swindles that Herbert was able to expand his larcenous horizons. He bought a small grocer's shop, which, just a week later, was mysteriously destroyed by fire. The insurance company obviously had its suspicions, because it refused to pay as much as the Bennetts were expecting. However, as Herbert had bought all his stock on credit, for which he never paid, the pair still made a tidy profit from the enterprise.

Immediately after collecting the insurance money, the Bennetts left their baby with relatives and traveled to Cape Town, South Africa under the names of "Mr. and Mrs. Hood." They stayed in South Africa only four days before returning to England. The purpose of this trip--surely a long one for such a brief visit--remains a mystery.

Back in London, the pair resumed their career of various petty con jobs, performed under different names. Their personal relationship, however, violently deteriorated. One landlady of theirs, a Mrs. Ellison, later described frequent bitter quarrels between the pair. During one fight, Mrs. Ellison heard Mary Jane warning her husband that if he was not careful, "I can get you fifteen years." Herbert responded with even more ominous words: "I wish you were dead. And if you are not careful you soon will be."

Before long, the Bennetts were living in separate residences, with Herbert taking up an uncharacteristically legitimate job with Woolwich Arsenal. In July 1900, Herbert met a parlormaid named Alice Meadows, and a romance sprang up between them. Miss Meadows had no idea her suitor was married--in fact, nothing he told her about himself was anything near the truth. She believed he had inherited some money from his late mother, which he supplemented with a perfectly honorable trade in used violins.

Alice Meadows

In August, Bennett and Alice took a holiday to Yarmouth. They traveled first-class, and engaged separate rooms at a fine hotel, the Crown and Anchor. The pair took several more brief trips around the country together. Later that month, Alice agreed to marry Herbert the following June. She, along with her family, did not see him as anything other than a kind, courteous, thoroughly decent young man who was always, she later insisted, a "perfect gentleman" to her.

Herbert Bennett was apparently genuinely in love with Alice Meadows, and had every intention of marrying her. This raises the obvious question: what did he intend to do about the current Mrs. Bennett?

On Saturday, September 15, Mary Jane left her lodgings, telling her landlady that "my old man" was taking her to Yorkshire. She took her little daughter with her. However, she traveled not to Yorkshire, but to Yarmouth. She found lodgings in the home of a Mrs. Rudrum. Mary Jane told her new landlady that she was a widow named "Mrs. Hood," and that she had been brought to Yarmouth by her brother-in-law. She went out nearly every evening, but where she went and what she did is unknown. On Thursday, September 20, Herbert told Alice that he had to travel to Gravesend to see his dying grandfather. Of course this story, like practically everything that ever came out of Bennett's mouth, was a lie. However, his exact movements are not definitely accounted for until the following Sunday.

On the evening of the 21st, "Mrs. Hood" stayed out later than usual. Mrs. Rudrum's daughter overheard her talking with a man, who said, "You understand, don't you? I am placed in an awkward position just now." This was followed by the sound of a kiss. Was Mary Jane's companion that night Herbert Bennett? Or some other man? No one knows.

When Mary Jane entered the house, Mrs. Rudrum gave her a letter that had come for her earlier. Accounts vary about what this letter said. Some say Mrs. Bennett told her landlady that it asked her to meet the sender at 9 p.m. the following evening. Other reports say that its contents remain a mystery. It is also unknown who sent it.

On Saturday, September 22, Mary Jane went out at around 6:30 p.m. She was wearing a long gold chain, along with other jewelry and a fine silver watch. She was also carrying a considerable amount of money in her purse. We know little of her movements until 10 p.m., when the owner of a Yarmouth pub saw her in the company of a man, whom he later identified as her estranged husband.

About an hour later, a man named Alfred Mason and his girlfriend, Blanche Smith, were sitting on a Yarmouth beach. Their tryst was interrupted by the arrival of another couple who settled near them. A few minutes later, they heard a woman moaning, "Mercy, mercy." About ten minutes later, Mason and Smith left, assuming the other couple was merely "skylarking." They saw the woman lying on her back. The man with her looked at them, but they were unable to see his face clearly.

It is a great pity the moonlight had not been stronger, because what Mason and Smith saw were a murderer and his victim. Early the next morning, a woman's body was found at that spot. She had been strangled with a bootlace tied in a distinctive knot. Her clothes were disarranged, but it was unclear if sexual assault had taken place. The woman was soon identified as the "Mrs. Hood" who had been lodging with Mrs. Rudrum. Among her belongings was a picture a beach photographer had recently taken of her and her baby, showing her long gold chain--a chain which was now missing. However, a search of her room found nothing to show who she really was, or where she came from. The coroner's jury could only rule that this unknown woman had been murdered by an equally mysterious man.

In the meantime, Herbert visited Alice Meadows on the afternoon of the 23rd. He later went to Mary Jane's lodgings in London, where he collected her belongings. He told a neighbor that his wife was in Yorkshire. He wrote to Mary Jane's landlord terminating her lease, explaining that she was going to America. He gave Alice Meadows jewelry and clothes which had belonged to Mary Jane, stating they had been given to him by a cousin who moved to South Africa. He got Alice to agree to move up their wedding date to December. Alice heard news of the shocking murder at Yarmouth, without giving it much thought. After all, tragic as the event was, it certainly was no concern of hers.

The true identity of the Yarmouth victim finally began to emerge on November 5th, when someone reported that Mary Jane Bennett was missing from her home. The laundry mark on some of "Mrs. Hood's" clothing was linked to her. From there, a Scotland Yard inspector sought out Mrs. Bennett's husband. He talked to a co-worker of Herbert's, who identified Mary Jane as the woman in the beach photo. This was enough to make the officer arrest Herbert for murder.

This arrest was a gamble, but it worked. When police searched Bennett's lodgings, they found their suspect had obligingly retained a wealth of evidence against himself. They found a woman's silver watch and gold chain, a receipt from the Crown and Anchor from when he had stayed there with Alice Meadows, a wig and false mustache, and a bundle of love letters from Alice. When Mrs. Rudrum was shown the watch and chain, she was certain they were identical to the ones worn by "Mrs. Hood." When Bennett was shown the chain, he paused, and then exclaimed that his wife had not worn that for over a year. He also claimed he had never been in Yarmouth in his entire life. (For such an experienced liar, he generally made a remarkably poor job of it.)

"Illustrated Police News," November 17, 1900

During Bennett's trial, the revelations of the sordid nature of his entire life, as well as his suspicious behavior after Mary Jane's death, was enough to convince most observers of his guilt. However, his lawyer, the legendary barrister Edward Marshall Hall, put up a surprisingly strong fight. In short, he managed to make a plausible case that all the prosecution witnesses were either half-witted or corrupt. He dealt with the gold chain found in Bennett's belongings by flatly stating that it was not the same one Mary Jane had worn in the beach photograph. Herbert's had a link chain, and Hall argued that Mary Jane's had been of a rope design. Witnesses for the defense and prosecution, unsurprisingly, gave differing opinions about what sort of chain Mrs. Bennett had worn, or what the type in the photograph may have been. Unfortunately, the photograph itself was not distinct enough for this crucial point to be definitively decided either way. He also introduced a surprise witness, a man who claimed to have talked to Bennett in a London pub on the night Mary Jane was murdered. Unfortunately for Bennett, this last-minute alibi witness was extremely unconvincing, and if he was telling the truth, it was, to say the least, highly curious that Bennett himself never mentioned him before. The prosecution produced other witnesses who claimed to have seen Bennett in Yarmouth on the night of his wife's death, and it is a fact that he was away from his London lodgings on the night of September 22nd.

Bennett himself did not take the stand. Hall later wrote that he had told his client, "If you will only go into the box and admit everything except the actual murder, I can get a verdict, but of course you must admit that when you saw the papers on the day after the murder you knew it was your wife, but that you were afraid to communicate for fear of losing Alice Meadows." Bennett replied, "I cannot say that, because I was not in Yarmouth on the 22nd, and I never knew that the murdered woman was my wife till I was arrested." Hall added, "I pointed out that this was hopeless, and he declined to give evidence at all." (Hall agreed that his client was "a worthless man," but "honestly and solemnly, I do not and cannot believe he murdered his wife.") Bennett's refusal to testify in his own behalf was seen as yet another damning, if indirect, piece of evidence against him.

The jury had little difficulty in finding this immensely unpopular defendant "Guilty." On March 21, 1901, Bennett was hanged, protesting his innocence of murder to the end. His orphaned daughter Ruby was taken in by her paternal grandfather.

Ruby Bennett

At the time, few people believed Bennett, and it does seem most likely that he did indeed kill his wife in a particularly stupid and bungling manner. However, in the years since his execution, some true crime writers have made earnest, if not entirely convincing, efforts to throw doubt upon Bennett's guilt. They point out that it was never proven that Herbert was the "brother-in-law" who had been with Mary Jane in Yarmouth, or that he was the man Mrs. Rudrum's daughter had heard her kissing. Could not this mystery man have been the real killer? Bennett may have wished to be rid of his wife, they argue, but would he have been likely to sexually assault her? Considering that he had recently made himself very well known at Yarmouth, and in the company of another woman to boot, would he really have been stupid enough to pick that town as the site for his wife's murder? Would he have been idiot enough to go to a pub with Mary Jane, in the presence of who knows how many witnesses, on the very night he planned to kill her?

The mystery novelist Julian Symons went so far as to present a possible alternative scenario for Mary Jane's murder. Symons hypothesized that Bennett brought his wife to Yarmouth with the intention of pulling one of their habitual swindles on some mark. He suggested that Mary Jane had spent the week making the acquaintance of this man, with the idea of luring him into some compromising position, after which Bennett would show up, play the outraged husband, and demand money from the victim. Instead, the man somehow caught on to the scheme, and in a fit of anger murdered Mary Jane. Bennett later came upon his wife's dead body on the beach, and decided the only way to save himself was to keep his mouth shut and deny everything.

Although one cannot prove that Symons' theory is wrong, it does smack rather too much of crime fiction than real life. However, there is one postscript to this case that does raise disturbing doubts about the Bennett murder. In July 1912, the body of a young woman named Dora Gray was found on a Yarmouth beach, very near the site where Mary Jane had died. She too had been strangled with a shoelace--a shoelace tied with the same unusual knot used in the previous killing. Also like Mary Jane Bennett, her clothing was disarranged without there being any definite sign of rape. Although some suspicion focused on a local man, no one was ever charged with Gray's murder.

Was this a "copycat" killing? A chilling coincidence? Or, perhaps, a sign that someone had gotten away with murder not once...but twice?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Marcus, a certain actor's Rebel With All the Claws.

What the hell happened to the marble corpse of G.W. Davis?

What the hell is in that ancient black sarcophagus?  

Watch out for those haunted bridges!

Watch out for those flying stones!

Watch out for those summer ghosts!

A real-life Dickens character.

A woman who was much more than Ernest Hemingway's third wife.

The World Cup war.

The rise and fall of the Tasmanian Nightingale.

Conjugal bliss leads to free bacon.

Not only can't we figure out who Jack the Ripper was, we don't even know for sure how many murders he committed.

Foxes and Japanese folklore.

17th century infertility remedies.

Hugh Astley and the doppelganger.

A newly-discovered shipwreck that may have carried gold.

A death by "brain fever," 1801.

The Nessie of Sweden.

A baby for each day in the year.  And yes, a curse is involved.

The "digester of bones."  No 17th century cook should be without one!

Annotations found in used books.

Two instances of Devonshire witchcraft.

The cow that inspired riots.

Long before Blondie and the Ramones, CBGB hosted canaries.

The long history of Sudeley Castle.

Physics is enabling us to read scrolls from Pompeii.

Remembering the "Bevin Boys."

Captain Anderson: did he fall or was he pushed?

Recidivists provide a busy day at Tyburn.

The Irish woman who was nanny to the Romanovs.

The murders at the lake: a Texas mystery.

A recently discovered "Irish Stonehenge."

The world's oldest sandwich.

The loudest sound ever heard.

Mary Todd Lincoln, spiritualist.

The British heatwave of 1808.

The palmist and the Czar.

2,000 year-old writing has finally been decoded.

An arsonist in 1907 Hollywood.

So humans are the real bird-brains.  As if you didn't already know that.

Jacopo Bonfadio, who died of indiscretion.

BREAKING:  The Romanovs are still dead.

An accidental amputation.

The first female member of Britain's Parliament.

Mysterious underwater stone structures.

The last of the Stuyvesants.

19th century afternoon tea etiquette.

Joan, Queen of Scots.

Bastille Day, 1792.

How to build a mountain range.

Ghosts and the Lord of Cool.

The oldest film footage of Paris:

And that's a wrap for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll be talking Edwardian Murder.  In the meantime, here's a song from back in the day that I remember very fondly.  They just don't make cheesy pop hits the way they used to.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Coloradohistoricnewspapers.com

These little chapters in the history of Colorado High Strangeness appeared in the "Colorado Weekly Chieftain," December 15, 1870:
That there exists in the mountains of Colorado beasts and animals unknown to the devotes of science, there cannot be the least shadow of a doubt. We have just learned of a trapper on the Greenhorn, a stream about twenty miles south of Pueblo, who, while hunting recently for elk and deer, saw a strange animal at the sight of which he was not only astonished but at first it caused him great fear.

The hunter was, however, in a position that afforded him protection, and after the first surprise and he had gained an assurance of his safety, he watched the beast, and the following is the description he gives of the thing: It was larger than an ox, and of a kind of mouse color, with a skin varied with light stripes similar to those of a zebra. Its head favored that of a rhinoceros, but much larger, and a bushy tail like that of a fox. The animal fed on grass, weeds, &c., and finally disappeared, crossing the creek and going up the mountains where it is likely the brute has a habitation of some kind. The next day our informant examined the tracks of the singular looking animal, and found them to be like those of a horse, but a great deal larger. We cannot but believe the assertions of the trapper to be entirely true, as the whole story is fully corroborated by Mr. Matt Riddlenarger, who lives in that neighborhood, and who has seen the same beast or one like it. We think that by the next issue of our paper we will be able to give more authentic information on this mater, as we learn that a posse of gentlemen are now in pursuit of this seeming monstrosity, and who are determined to capture or kill the animal, and thus give to the world and science another proof that there are still strange animals in existence which, although scarce, are not entirely extinct.
The newspaper was just warming up. Elsewhere on the same page was a far more bizarre tale:
TRINIDAD, C.T., Dec. 11, 1870, EDITOR CHIEFTAIN:—I have been sojourning a few days in this quiet little burg, and have visited all the points of interest in the neighborhood, among which was the celebrated haunted ground, on San Francisco creek, about fifteen miles southeast of here. The manifestations as related to me by Uncle Billy Bransford, are more wonderful than anything ever before heard of.

A short time ago, while Juan Vasques, a farmer on the creek, was digging a foundation for a residence, he struck an immense quantity of bones, which upon examination proved to be human remains, and of a very large size. Through superstition, operations were suspended, and that night was coinmenced the work of the ghosts. Loud and distinct knocks were heard upon the doors and roofs of all the houses in the neighborhood, and have continued every few nights since then.

The son of Mr. Bransford, a young man of twenty years of age, says he saw, standing on the threshold of his door, the form of an Indian chief, dressed in white and wearing a costume different from any he has ever seen; he turned in affright to call a friend who was sleeping in the room, but upon looking, it had vanished. The same form was seen the following evening, by a Mexican girl who resides farther up the creek. And now comes the most singular and most unaccountable sensation of all. The same night that the ghost made his appearance, the family were all sitting by the fire place, conversing about the nocturnal visitors, when suddenly two sticks of wood which were burning, commenced to dance; then one as if shot from a gun, went up the chimney, and was found in a few minutes about thirty yards from the house.

All of the above can be vouched for by at least twenty persons. In connection with the above, and which has never yet been accounted for is the following: About midway between the dwellings of Mr. Bransford and Juan Vasquez, is two small columns of smoke constantly issuing from the ground. It is not steam, and does not appear to because by chemical action. I will close this article until further investigation, hoping that the scientific gentlemen, now on a visit to Colorado, will give it their attention and render us a solution of the above facts. JAY G. KAY.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find any more about what promised to be a first-rate haunting.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Case of the Vanished Bride

Mary Shotwell Little. Photos via Newspapers.com

Tragedy has an extra level of poignancy if the victim is a young bride. However, when the tragedy is an unsolved mystery--and a particularly bizarre one, at that--it goes beyond merely "poignant" to "uniquely unnerving."

Small wonder that the following story is one that has lingered uneasily in the collective memory of Atlanta, Georgia for over fifty years.

Mary Shotwell grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. After graduating from college, she moved to Atlanta, where she found work as a secretary at the C&S Bank. During the Labor Day weekend of 1965 the pretty, outgoing twenty-five year old married a bank examiner she had been dating for the past year, Roy Little. She was prosperous, well-liked, and in love. In short, Mrs. Little seemed destined for a life of unremarkable contentment.

Destiny, however, had other ideas.

October 14, 1965 started off as utterly routine for the newlywed. She was living alone at the moment, as Roy was in LaGrange training to be an auditor for the state's Banking Department. After getting off work, Mary did some grocery shopping and met a co-worker, Isla Stack, for dinner at a cafeteria in Lenox Square, a popular open-air shopping center She was in the best of spirits and told her friend how much she was enjoying being married. At around 8 p.m., the two parted and Mary walked back to her car. "I'll see you tomorrow!" she told Stack cheerily.

Lenox Square in the 1960s

When Mary failed to come to work the next morning, her boss, Eugene Rackley, was immediately uneasy, as she was normally a conscientious employee. He phoned her apartment, but got no answer. By now thoroughly alarmed, Rackley called police, as well as Roy Little, who immediately prepared to return to Atlanta.

Meanwhile, a Lenox Square security guard took note of a silver Mercury Comet parked in the lot. It had been there all morning, which was somewhat unusual. He took a closer look, and saw grass stems and blood on the front seat and right front window. He contacted the police. It turned out to be Mary's car.

Police photo of Mary's car

Where had the Comet been all night? No one at the mall had seen it overnight or early the next morning. Also, it was soon discovered that someone had replaced the license plates with ones that had recently been stolen from a car in North Carolina. The car was covered with red dust, indicating that it had been driven in a rural area. The groceries Mary had bought the day before were still inside, along with a pack of her cigarettes. The car also contained something that had particularly frightening implications: Mary's slip, panties, bra, girdle, and one stocking. There were drops of blood on the underwear, and the stocking seemed to have been slashed with a knife. Tests indicated the type of blood found in the car was the same as Mary's. The other items of clothing Mary had been wearing, as well as her purse and car keys, have never been found. The supposition was that she had been kidnapped and driven elsewhere, after which her abductors were either stupid or incredibly brazen enough to return the car to its original parking place.

The police discovered that the day after Mary disappeared, her credit card had been used to buy gasoline at a station in Charlotte: coincidentally or not, her hometown. Twelve hours later, the card was used again at a gas station in Raleigh. The credit card slips bore what was believed to be Mary's genuine signature. Attendants at both the stations said the gas was bought by a young woman matching Mary's description. She was in the company of an unshaven middle-aged man who appeared to be telling her what to do. They also stated that the woman had a head wound and bloodstains on her hands and legs, but she made no attempt to ask anyone for help.

Adding to the puzzle was the long gap between the two gas purchases, as Raleigh is only about two hours away from Charlotte, and there were only forty-one miles on the car's odometer that were unaccounted for.

Shortly after the disappearance was publicized, Roy Little received an anonymous ransom demand: $20,000 in exchange for Mary's safe return. He was told to go to an overpass in Pigsah National Forest, where he would find further instructions. An FBI agent went to the place indicated, but found nothing. It is surmised that the caller, who was never identified, was merely a sick prankster.

When investigators spoke with Mary's friends, they learned that the missing woman's seemingly ideal life had recently taken a dark turn. Mary had spoken of being afraid to be alone--and, particularly, of being alone in her car. Co-workers stated that she had been getting phone calls at her job that left Mary deeply upset. Although she refused to discuss these calls with anyone, she had been overheard telling the person on the other line, "I'm a married woman now," and "You can come over to my house any time you like, but I can't come over there." She hinted to a couple of close friends that she had something important to tell them, but would not say what that was. Shortly before Mary vanished, she had received a delivery of red roses. They were sent anonymously, and police were unable to trace who was responsible.

Most people presumed that Mary's shadowy, sinister admirer was behind her disappearance, but police considered other theories. There was an ongoing scandal at her workplace involving claims of sexual harassment and a prostitution ring that allegedly operated on bank property. Although Mary was not personally involved, it was suggested that she might possibly have stumbled across some dangerous information relating to the dispute.

Although Roy Little's alibi seemed impeccable, he too came in for a share of scrutiny. It emerged that Mary's friends had heartily disliked Roy, finding him surly, cold, and remote. Some of them had even boycotted the wedding. Mary's husband seemed unsettlingly nonchalant about his bride's highly ominous disappearance--he appeared more concerned about getting their car back--and he refused all requests to take a lie detector test. When talking to investigators, he would drop odd little remarks about "perfect crimes," and appeared highly reluctant to discuss his wife at all. Jack Perry, the lead detective on the case, commented years later, "That boy wasn't right for some reason." On the other hand, by all accounts Roy and Mary were happy together, and investigators could find no motive for him to want her dead.

Or was Mrs. Little the random victim of some predator?  A few days after Mary vanished, a woman went to police with an alarming story.  She stated that she had been walking to her car parked at Lenox Square around the same time Mary was preparing to leave the mall.  She suddenly realized a tall, thin man was following her.  She rushed into her car, and just as she locked the door, the man grabbed the door handle.  When he saw he couldn't open the door, he tapped on the window and said, "Your tire is low."  The woman drove to a nearby service station.  Her tires were fine.  FBI agent Jim Ponder was convinced this never-identified man kidnapped Mary Little, raped and murdered her, drove her back to Lenox where he switched cars, and buried her body somewhere in the woods around Raleigh.

Some investigators, perplexed by the many incomprehensible clues surrounding the case, began to wonder if the missing woman had engineered her own disappearance. The amount of blood in the car was so small--less than you'd see from a nosebleed, according to someone in the state crime lab--that it was speculated that the blood had been deliberately planted in order to create a "fake" crime scene. Possible corroboration for this theory came from a woman named Margaret Fargason. She had been shopping at Lenox Square the evening Mary vanished. She claimed that she had seen Mary's car being driven out of the mall around 8 p.m. A woman matching Mrs. Little's description was at the wheel, and she was alone. She contacted the police, but investigators never bothered to interview her.

Months went by, with the riddle of what became of Mary remaining as puzzling as ever. Then, two years later, Atlanta saw another tragic event that investigators hoped might lead to solving the mystery. On May 19, 1967, 22-year-old Diane Shields, who had briefly been employed at the C&S Bank after Mary disappeared, left her new workplace after a routine day on the job. She was never seen alive again. Late that night, police on patrol noticed her car parked near an Atlanta laundromat, with a long trail of blood behind it. When the officers opened the trunk, they found the dead body of Diane Shields. She had been strangled. Shields had not been raped and her jewelry was intact, leaving the motive for her murder a puzzle.

Diane Shields

The links between the two women were intriguing. Like Mary, Shields had last been seen going to her car. At one time, Shields had been roommates with one Sandra Green. Green had shared an apartment with Mary before the latter's marriage. Most eerily of all, shortly before her death, Shields told an old friend that she was working undercover for the police in order to solve the disappearance of a woman called "Mary." (This startling claim has never been verified.) Unfortunately, these suggestive coincidences failed to help the police solve either crime. To date, Shields' murder is as stubbornly baffling as the fate of Mary Shotwell Little.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Weekend Link Dump

This Friday the 13th Link Dump is sponsored by the League of Lucky Black Cats!

Why the hell does Los Angeles have so many palm trees?

What the hell happened to North America's first dogs?

The world's oldest footprints.

A 1,000-year-old runic message.

The first murder to be solved by a fingerprint.

A Tahitian boy who joined Captain Cook's "Endeavour."

Madame de Stael in London.

How to beat the July heat, 17th century style.

It's not uncommon for the dying to see the dead.

Stone Age dentistry.

In defense of the semicolon.

More from the "pushing back human history" file.

A first-hand account of the Burr/Hamilton duel.

"At the 1887 Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association a surgeon from Sunderland, James Murphy, walked on stage brandishing a testicle."  Enjoy the blog lede of the week.

The real Dick Whittington.

A fortunate spy.

Murder in Australia's Blue Mountains.

An ancient library where everything is still under lock and key.

An ancient, mysterious black sarcophagus and a giant alabaster head have just been uncovered. I'm sure this will end well.

An abused Victorian maid seeks justice.

Saving Egypt's "Sistine Chapel."

Ice cream in the Georgian era.

A ghostly highwayman.

India's cursed ruins.

Some reports of spell casting.

Some significant Bronze Age chariots.

The understandably restless ghost of Mary Surratt.

An Empress and her magical ring.

Norway really doesn't fool around when it comes to rest stops.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a particularly baffling disappearance. In the meantime, here's a bit of Corelli:

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Some driving commutes are worse than others. If a fellow named Charlie Wetzel is to believed, on one of these drives home he encountered something even more annoying than traffic jams and potholes: a hitchhiking monster. From the "Greenville News," November 10, 1958:
Riverside, Calif.--A funny thing happened to Charlie Wetzel on the way home Saturday night.

A monster jumped out at him.

That's what he told authorities who planned to continue an investigation of the incredible story.

Wetzel, 24, a resident of nearby Bloomington, reported soberly that he was driving on a street near Riverside when a frightening creature jumped in front of his car.

"It had a round, scarecrowish head," he said, "like something out of Halloween.

"It wasn't human. It had a longer arm than anything I'd ever seen. When it saw me in the car it reached all the way back to the windshield and began clawing at me.

"It didn't have any ears. The face was all round. The eyes were shining like something fluorescent and it had a protuberant mouth. It was scaley, like leaves."

Wetzel said he became terrified when the creature reached over the hood of his car and began clawing at the windshield. He said he reached for a .22 pistol he had in the car.

"I held that pistol and stomped on the gas," he said. "The thing fell back from the car and it gurgled.

"The noise it made didn't sound human. I think I hit it. I heard something hit the pan under the car."

Sheriff's officers said Wetzel pointed at some thin, sweeping marks he said the creature made on his windshield. They went to the scene of the claimed apparition but said they could find nothing to prove or disprove Wetzel's story.

The scene is at a point where North Main Street dips and crosses the Santa Ana River bed, which is usually almost dry.

Wetzel said he told the story to his wife and she induced him to phone authorities. "I kept saying no one would believe a story like this," he said.

Sheriff's Sgt. E. R. Holmes said he thought perhaps a large vulture might have flopped on the hood of Wetzel's car--"Sometimes cars hit them when they're in the road eating rabbits cars have killed," he said. So he searched the area himself Sunday. "But," said Holmes, "I didn't even find a feather."

In a later story about the alleged encounter, Wetzel grumbled about the press coverage he had received. "They are trying to make me look like a fool," he complained, "and I don't believe I care to say anything more about it. But I did see something, and it wasn't a vulture, either."

So far as I can find, no one else reported seeing Wetzel's monster. However, as a Californian, I can vouch that far worse things can be seen on our roads.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Hexham's Hexed Heads

Some years ago, right after my family bought our current home, we were digging a hole in the back yard to plant a tree. We were dismayed when we unearthed the skeleton of a cat, presumably the previous owner's pet. For some time after this accidental exhumation, some mighty odd things went on in the house. Our cats would suddenly stop and glare at something...something we humans couldn't see. At night, one or other of us would feel and hear what we assumed was one of the cats jumping on the bed. However, we'd look to find...no one there. Objects would mysteriously disappear, only to reappear someplace else. On one occasion, I was in the house alone. I was sitting in the living room, minding my own business, when I saw, down the hallway, a book from my bedroom being hurled across the hall into another room.

I stared for a moment, wondering how one should react to such an occurrence. Then I saw another of my books being flung in the same manner.

Now I was getting annoyed. "Stop that!" I yelled. It stopped.

Things quieted down after that, although to this day the cats periodically react as if to some intruder, and every now and then small household items unaccountably get teleported about. We have always attributed it all to the "ghost cat"--perhaps that long-dead feline offended by having his eternal rest disturbed.

The point of my little autobiographical digression is that digging up unexpected objects often has unexpected results. One of the more contentious examples of this is that peculiar case of the "Hexham Heads."

Our story opens in the spring of 1971, at the council house of the Robson family in Hexham, England. One day, eleven-year-old Colin Robson was digging in the back yard, when he came across something very strange. It was a small, round stone head with a crude human face. Soon afterward, Colin's brother Leslie unearthed a second "head." Closer examination revealed that the objects were of a sandstone-like material, and clearly man-made. The two "heads" had distinctly different faces, but were both equally sinister in appearance.

If subsequent accounts can be believed, those heads were as malevolent as they looked. As soon as the objects had been excavated, the Robsons found themselves a target for some particularly nasty poltergeist activity. Paul Screeton, a local journalist who was one of the first chroniclers of the case, reported that "The heads would turn around spontaneously, objects were broken for no apparent reason--and when the mattress on the bed of one of the Robson daughters was showered with glass, both girls moved out of their room." The family would often see a mysterious light glowing over the spot where the heads had been unearthed. Later, a "strange flower" began to grow on that same place.

Curiously, their next-door neighbors, a family named Dodd, also experienced similar paranormal persecutions, with Mrs. Dodd undergoing the most frightening event yet: one night, she encountered a tall dark figure that she could only describe as half-animal, half-human. The experience so terrified her that the town council had to move the family to another home.

After a few months of this, the Robsons decided they had had enough of those damned--in every sense of the word--heads and donated them to the Newcastle Museum. After ridding themselves of the objects, peace returned to the family home, and the Robsons essentially drift out of our story.

This was not the end of the Hexham Heads saga, however. In fact, you might say the little guys were just getting warmed up.

Museum staffers, baffled by the strange objects, gave them to a Celtic scholar and archaeologist, Dr. Anne Ross, for examination. Dr. Ross was of the opinion that the stone balls dated from around the second century AD, and were examples of ancient Celtic "head worship."

Dr. Ross soon came to the conclusion that the heads were also outstanding examples of The Weird. In 1978, she gave an interview to paranormal researcher Peter Underwood where she described her frightening and uncanny experiences with the objects. She claimed that as soon as she saw the heads, she felt a strong instinctive aversion. When she brought them into her home, very disturbing things happened. Inexplicable crashes and other sounds were heard by the family. Doors opened and slammed shut by themselves. Early one morning, Dr. Ross awoke feeling an unnatural coldness in the room. When she opened her eyes, she was horrified to see a figure very like the one described by Mrs. Dodd--a large dark creature that appeared to be half-wolf, half-man. As she saw the eerie being creeping out of the room, she felt an irresistible urge to follow it.

When she came on to the landing, she saw the figure moving down the staircase. It vaulted over the balustrade--landing with a loud thud, indicating it was more than a mere apparition--then scurried out of sight. She and her husband searched the house, without finding the creature--which must have been rather a relief--and no sign of any forced entry or exit.

A few days later, Dr. Ross and her husband made a day trip to London, leaving their 15-year-old daughter to look after her younger brother. When they arrived back in Southampton, they found the poor girl practically in hysterics. When she returned from school about an hour earlier, she entered the house only to encounter the same bizarre man/wolf creature seen by her mother. The figure was crouched half-way up the stairs. When the girl came in, it leaped over the stair rail and trotted on all fours into a back room of the house. The teenager felt the same curious fascination Dr. Ross had experienced in the creature's presence. She was compelled to go search for it upstairs, but the being had vanished. It was only then that she began to feel increasing shock and fear. Soon afterward, the other two Ross children also saw the "werewolf-like" creature.

Oddly enough, it was only at this point that Dr. Ross began to link these strange events to the mysterious stone heads in her possession. Feeling that there must be something cursed about the objects, she returned them to the museum.

"Newcastle Journal," January 14, 1974

The next academic to make a study of the heads was G.V. Robins, an inorganic chemist from the Institute of Archeology. His book "The Secret Language of Stone" proposed that minerals are able to store information in the form of electrical energy. He suspected that the Hexham Heads, which contained a high proportion of quartz crystals, were acting as something of a paranormal tape recorder, "replaying" energies from the far distant past. Although Dr. Robins was spared seeing that sinister wolflike being who had stalked previous custodians of the heads, he noted his own share of peculiar events. He felt a "stifling, breathless" atmosphere in their presence, and when he first put the heads in his car to bring them home, the auto's electrical system suddenly and mysteriously died.

Around this time, a spoilsport named Desmond Craigie stepped forward to pour some cold water on everyone's Fortean fun. Craigie, the previous occupant of the Robson home, claimed that he had carved the stones in 1956 as toys for his young daughter. Eventually, they had lost them in the garden, never to be seen again until excavated by the Robson boys. He said cheerfully, "I have been laughing my head off about these heads and I cannot understand why all this attention is being paid to them."

As far as I can tell Craigie's story is neither proved nor disproved, although it must be said that primitive-looking stone heads seems like an odd toy for a small child. But if he was telling the truth and the now-infamous heads were merely innocuous playthings, how to explain the weird phenomena experienced by three different families--particularly that black, crouching wolfman?

Unfortunately, any discussion of the Haunted Heads of Hexham is now purely theoretical, not to mention futile. In 1978, Dr. Robins gave the stones to a dowser named Frank Hyde, who wished to do some experiments with them. The heads have never been seen again, and their current whereabouts are unknown. As a matter of fact, we can say the same about Frank Hyde.

Whether the heads were a harmless amusement or cursed Celtic idols, we're probably well rid of them.