"...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, May 31, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by a gloriously handsome creature.

Oh, yeah, and Errol Flynn.

Why the hell did medieval Europeans wear such stupid shoes?

Why the hell does anyone want to climb Mt. Everest?

Why the hell was Khufu's Ship built?

Medicinal herbs are making a comeback.

Hop-pickers go on holiday.

Newly-rediscovered film of Queen Victoria in Ireland.

A cemetery which attracted strange legends.  As cemeteries often do.

The geologist who found inspiration from his tortoise.

A famed needlework artist.

The link between a submerged forest and a mythical ancient kingdom.

Vienna's last public hanging.

The Thames delivers an early Christmas present: a bomb squad.

Remarkable pieces of ancient Egyptian jewelry.

This week in Russian Weird looks at one of the world's eeriest dance troupes.

Hilma Lewis Enander, a playwright whose work screams to be dramatized by Mystery Science Theater 3000.

A question of identity at the Old Bailey.

Trade between medieval England and Iceland.

Jonathan, the randy 187 year old tortoise.

An Iron Age bark shield.

The Georgian era and bad air.

A theatrical undertaker.

The holidays of Old London.

A murder that may be linked to the Manson Family.

India's oddly ignored Gilbert Hill.

Yet another stone-throwing ghost.

Recreating Biblical beer.

The theory that Arthur Conan Doyle was a murderer.

An 8,000 year old word we still use today.

One peasant's experience in the Hundred Years' War.  (Spoiler: it wasn't a good one.)

If you're consulting an oracle, it's best to get a second opinion.

Why you wouldn't want to find a crown of feathers in your bed.

A very large casket.

Why you wouldn't want to drink Regency era beer.

Why you wouldn't want to get between Voltaire and his coffee cup.

The Three Sisters of Nantwich and their Mummy.

An unusual aneurysm.

A voodoo killer.

A ghostly fireball.

Robin Hood, foundling.

A cannibalistic medicine.

A look at Princess Henrietta Anne Stuart.

A look at Victorian pawnbrokers.

A look at an African samurai.

A look at the history of pencils.

A look at ancient Roman banquets.

Forgery, murder, and suicide.  That pretty much says it all.

And that's it for this week's Link Dump.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the time Carl Jung spent his weekends with a ghost. In the meantime, here's some Bach.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

As I have mentioned before, I have a file of old newspaper stories that are "Mini Mysteries"--murders, mysterious deaths, or disappearances where there is just not enough information available to make a regular blog post out of them. This dual death reported in the "New York Times," December 10, 1871, is one of them. It sounds like something that would inspire a novel by Thomas Hardy or Theodore Dreiser:
The sudden and mysterious death, two weeks ago, of a young woman in Grangerville, Saratoga County, in this State, created a deep impression. This was due not alone to the sad event itself, but to the inexplicable nature of its cause. No one could throw any light on the matter, although there was room for a certain terrible suspicion. Within a few days of this poor girl's decease, or murder, another tragic circumstance occurred, and the two are now indissolubly connected together. Yet, to say that the last event proves anything definitely as to the character of the first, would be irrational. It simply renders a conjecture, which was thought of before, more plausible to some minds and less so to others. Let us, however, briefly recite the known facts:

During the evening of Saturday, Nov. 25, two persons were driving in a buggy on their way from a place called Wilton, to Easton, Washington County. These two people, now both dead, were one Frank Wilber, a widower of thirty-five, and a Miss Sarah Deyoe, his housekeeper. The girl had acted in this capacity for some years. It is proper to say that none of the accounts of the local Press suggest that any improper relation was supposed to exist between the two. Whatever may be inferred from the wretched end of their earthly careers, the tongue of scandal was silent while they lived.

Miss Deyoe had been visiting at the house of her parents, and Wilber went after her to fetch her home. Their intercourse, so far as known, had always been amicable, and nothing is known to have happened on this occasion to render it otherwise. It appears that on the fatal Saturday night several inches of snow lay on the ground, and the roads were very bad. At Grangerville, a place through which the buggy was to pass on the journey named, there is a saw-mill and a bridge. Now, according to Wilber's statement, a few rods before the vehicle came to this bridge the axle broke. The rear wheel got into a rut, and Miss Deyoe was flung out, striking on her head. There were marks on the snow showing this, and also marks as if her companion bad jumped out.

The wife of the miller, however, a Mrs. Proper, testifies that she was lying in bed awake that night near an uncurtained window. Through this she saw a horse and buggy with a man--no woman in it--dash furiously by. The horse was running away, the man trying, she thought, to check him. In a moment the buggy turned and tore back in an opposite direction. A few seconds later and the horse reappeared, flying again on his first course. This time he had nothing but the thills and the axle-tree attached to him. The body of the wagon was gone, but the man was on foot behind in pursuit. She alarmed her husband, who rose, went out, and confronted the man, who was Wilber. A Mr. Snyder, who lives hard by, also came up, and afterward a Mr. Thorn. Here comes the inexplicable part of the matter. The four men hurried to find the missing girl. Wilber professed total ignorance of her whereabouts or the extent of what had happened to her. A search took place, which was for some time unsuccessful. At last Mr. Proper saw a trace of blood on the rail of the bridge. He held his lantern over the aide, so as to throw light below, and saw the body of the girl, partly submerged, and lying on her face in about two feet of water.

The body was lifted out, Wilber helping quietly, and carried to the mill. He was frightfully lacerated, and the clothing, even to the under-garments, torn to shreds. Wilber showed no agitation, but was silent, as if dazed. After the corpse was placed in the mill, he started back on foot to tell Miss Deyoe's parents of what had occurred, and returned with tho dead girl's father, after walking ten miles, at about 4 in the morning. On the Monday following Wilber attended the funeral, and afterward returned to his home.

Now the question is how did Miss Deyoe come by her death. The body was found two hundred feet from where the marks in the snow show the girl was thrown out. The wounds on the corpse and the condition of the clothing were totally incompatible with the theory of a single fall and concussion. Besides this, blood and bit of clothing were subsequently found between the two places. Yet Mrs. Proper saw the buggy traverse just this intervening space with the man alone in it. Again, footprints were found along the side of the road extending from the spot where Miss Deyoe pitched out, or was supposed to have pitched out, for about twelve feet. Then there was a track, or trail, as if a body had been dragged under or behind the buggy. At the junction of two roads, a little further on, a pile of lumber stands, and around this the body of the girl must have been, by the signs on the snow, twice dragged. That the buggy was smashed, as Wilber said, there could be no doubt. The facts spoke for themselves. But there was and is a doubt whether or not he assassinated Miss Deyoe first, and then carried out tbe ensuing scene by way of accounting for her death. If we suppose, as has been suggested, that the young woman was caught by some extraordinary accident and swung under the buggy without Wilber's knowledge, and the body became detached, all bleeding and mutilated, at the bridge, how came it that Miss Deyoe could afterward, or should afterward, surmount the rail and throw herself into the water? The idea that she could have been kicked over by the horse is dismissed by those who have examined the locality as simply impossible. Besides, how is it that there were no screams, and that Mrs. Proper, although she could see horse, man. and buggy so distinctly, and the latter in two different conditions, saw nothing of a body clinging to it? The improbability of Wilber committing the murder rests on his previous good character, and on the fact that no bad feeling was ever known to exist between himself and the deceased; the probability that he did commit the crime is founded on the apparent impossibility that the different things that happened could have happened otherwise.

The last act of the dismal drama occurred two days after Miss Deyoe was buried. On the Wednesday succeeding that Monday, Wilber was himself found dead, his body was at the bottom of his own well, into which he had plunged headlong. Did he kill himself out of remorse, or because he knew he was suspected, and the circumstantial evidence was so strong against him? Heaven only can tell, for there are no other witnesses, and with Wilber's suicide the knowledge of the secret passes away from the earth. Theories there will be in plenty, and plausible conjectures without end, but the real heart of the mystery will only be known when we all meet at compt. and the sea gives up its dead.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Toothache and the Temple God; Or, The Hazards of Indiscriminate Souvenir Shopping

19th century ivory Ho-tei, via Buddhamuseum.com. Not guaranteed to come with a curse.

In 1928, travel writer Charles James Lambert and his wife Marie were visiting Kobe, Japan. While passing the window of a junk shop, a small statue of Ho-tei, the Japanese god of good fortune, happened to catch Mrs. Lambert’s eye. Although the exquisite little figure was obviously very old and made of pure ivory, it was available at a very cheap price. The only visible oddity about the figuring was that centered on the underside was a small hole where the nerve of the elephant's tooth had ended. This hole was plugged with an ivory peg. The Lamberts, congratulating themselves on finding such a remarkable bargain, purchased it on the spot.

All of you with any exposure to Ghost Stories 101 will have some idea of what came next.

After they returned to their cruise ship, Marie Lambert, who had the statue in her luggage, began to suffer horrible toothaches that were impervious to painkillers. Her husband came down with mysterious joint pains and fevers. When she went to a dentist, his drill accidentally hit a nerve on the tooth, which, of course, just made matters worse. The couple became so debilitated that they abandoned their planned destination of Manila, obtained passage to Sydney, "and crept on shipboard more dead than alive."

On the next leg of their cruise, the Ho-tei wound up in Mr. Lambert’s luggage. He immediately began experiencing severe tooth pains. At the first port they reached, he visited several dentists, only to be told there was nothing whatever wrong with his teeth. In desperation, he told the last one to start pulling out his teeth and just keep pulling them out until the pain went away. After the first tooth was extracted, his agony stopped, but resumed the minute he went back aboard his ship.

When they reached Sydney, the Lamberts left their luggage in storage, so they were "parted from Ho-tei" for several weeks. While on land, their pains ceased, only to return as soon as their belongings were in their cabin with them. This pattern continued for the rest of their voyage. The couple only found relief from their pain when the ivory figurine was not in their direct possession. It never occurred to them that this might possibly have been more than coincidence.

When they were back in America, Lambert’s mother was so taken with the Ho-tei figure that they gave it to her. Yes, of course, within a few hours she came down with a severe toothache. The elder Mrs. Lambert, clearly considerably sharper than her son and daughter-in-law, quickly returned the statuette to them, saying it was "bad medicine."

The Lamberts did not connect their dental miseries to their new acquisition until a short while later, when they were sailing from America to Britain. A fellow passenger, who was a collector of ivory, borrowed the Ho-tei overnight. The next day, she told them that she and her husband had both suffered from toothaches all the time the object was in their cabin.

Mr. and Mrs. Lambert, at long last, put two and two together. "We went over dates and symptoms carefully all the way back to Japan, and our hair rose in horror." Mrs. Lambert was all for throwing the sadistic little object overboard, but her husband, who by now had a thorough dread of the figurine, feared it might retaliate by "rotting every tooth in our heads." They decided the safest thing to do would be to return the Ho-tei to its compatriots.

In London, they brought the statuette to a Japanese art shop. The manager was anxious to buy it, but the Lamberts told him they could not take money for the object. They felt obliged to warn him of the troubles the god had brought into their lives. A strange expression came over the manager's face. Speaking in Japanese, he had an assistant bring in an elderly Japanese man. When this older man saw the Ho-tei, he gasped and extended his hands "in a kind of supplication." The three Japanese carefully examined the object, speaking to each other in short, excited bursts of their native language. The elderly man carefully placed the Ho-tei on a shrine at one end of the shop and lit a row of joss sticks at its feet. Then they all fell reverently silent. The Lamberts quietly left the shop, utterly relieved to see the last of the ivory god. Lambert later wrote, "I do wonder sometimes what has happened to that tiny ivory figure, but I have no intention of finding out."

Lambert was subsequently told that some Japanese temple gods were given "souls." The figures were engraved with characters which matched the one on the Ho-tei. Perhaps this particular god was offended at being removed from its rightful domain.

Lambert later described the incident in his 1953 book “Together We Wandered.” The travel narrative sold very well, largely on the strength of his story of being cursed by a temple god.

So, in the end, perhaps the little Ho-tei brought him good luck, after all.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the lovely and talented Princess Mickey.

Brooklyn Cat Show 1948, via New York Public Library

Some peculiar wedding ceremonies from the past.

A professional malpractioner.

First, it was the bones of Richard III.  Now, it's the remains of Queen Emma.

When Agatha Christie met true crime.

What the Chinese are discovering on the dark side of the moon.

We really don't know one damn thing about the universe.  Not even its age.

Going back to planet earth, we really don't know one damn thing about our own history.

The world's loneliest duck.

A "real life" children's book from 1819.

The birth of Queen Victoria.

A man who carried a bullet in his heart for 13 years.

The end of Uncle Tick-Tock.

A British gardening power couple.

The importance of cooking pots to Ottoman Janissaries.

The very strange Mirin Dajo.  (Warning: if photos of a guy sticking a sword through his body are not for you, I advise moseying along to the next link.)

What do you get when the War Food Administration decides to put on a play?  "Niacin Theater," of course.

A Crimean War nurse who "did not like the name of Nightingale."

As someone who was born in a rural area and has been forced to live in urban areas ever since, I believe this.

A life not untypical of 99.99 percent of us.

Crystal skull hoaxes.

When ravens spread bad vibes.

The first facial hair competition.

When the worst problem large cities had to deal with was horse manure.

Bee folklore.

The advertising of 18th century pleasure gardens.

Here's your big opportunity to own the most haunted house in Essex.

Warning bells for the newly-buried.

Research into the Nazi destruction of libraries.

A monument to a murdered stray dog.

More on Lillian Russell, the fishing golf cat.

Mark Olmsted just would not die.  This was a major problem for him.

Wodehouse goes Continental.

A very unsubtle poisoner.

India may once have boasted kangaroos.

A workhouse pauper and his remarkable tattoos.

A youthful female serial killer.

The beginning of the craze for cashmere shawls.

The mystery of the "jars of the dead."

One very cold murder mystery.

That's a wrap for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at the Great Toothache Curse. In the meantime, here's a bit of Renaissance dance music. Party like it's 1519!

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

Phantom cats and a mysterious death. Who can ask for more in an old newspaper story? The "Brooklyn Daily Eagle," March 13, 1886:
Ghost stories from the credulous and nervous gentlemen who draw salaries as guardians of the peace in the precinct covered from the Graham avenue station are becoming frequent. Last week they saw the ghost of an Italian. On Thursday night a brave officer sat watching the remains of Mrs. Maggie Madden, the woman who was found asphyxiated in her bed that morning in the rear of 895 Graham avenue, and whose husband is under arrest on a charge of having caused her death.

The officer's name is Carroll. He induced a man named James Davies to sit with him in the kitchen. The body was encased in an ice box and was in the front room. The officer asserts that while sitting near the stove quietly smoking, the front door was suddenly shut with a bang, and a moment later heavy footsteps were heard on the roof. When the officer went into the front room to investigate the matter, he saw, he says, the apparition of a colored man named Jackson, who had at one time been the husband of Mrs. Madden. The woman left him shortly before his death. On his death bed he said that she would soon follow him to the grave. The policeman lighted another lamp and placed it on the mantel in the room where the body lay. He then resumed his seat and Davies went out for a few moments. While sitting alone, the officer said, he was startled by a heavy knocking in the window and looking in the direction he said he again saw the grinning face of Jackson and heard the exclamation, "I have come back." The officer by this time was frightened and when Davies came back the two men opened all the doors and windows and began singing and stamping their feet. The officer positively asserts that he again saw Jackson's ghost two hours later and that a knocking was kept up until daylight. Tho neighbors share the nervousness of the police and claim to have seen the ghost of Mrs. Madden in the court yard shortly after dark last night.

The "Eagle" carried a follow-up on the following day:

The remains of Mrs. Maggie Madden, of 395 Graham avenue, who was found asphyxiated on Thursday morning, and who is supposed to have been murdered by her husband, were interred in Calvary yesterday.

The undertaker who took charge of the funeral had received the assurance that Mrs. Madden's life had been insured, and that his bill would unquestionably be settled.

It is not easy to describe the excitement into which Officer Carroll's stories of ghostly appearances thrilled the neighborhood. Some little fuel was added to the fire last night when a daughter of Mrs. Diamond, who lives in the floor underneath that formerly occupied by Mrs. Madden, declared that as she entered the hall she was saluted with a shower of stones from tho vacant premises above. She screamed lustily for her mother, and was with difficulty reduced to a frame of mind not bordering on the hysterical.

A further contribution came in the shape of a story from a Chinaman who declared in Celestial English that a white robed apparition had hurried through the back room of his laundry, notwithstanding tho obstruction of carefully bolted shutters.

When the funeral cortege departed for the cemetery, yesterday afternoon, Policeman Sprague locked up tho rooms and took the key to the station house. It was supposed that Officer Carroll monopolized the distinction of having been alarmed by the phantoms, but it now appears that Sprague also had a terrifying experience. This officer's account of what occurred is blood curdling to the last degree.

He was left in charge of the apartments, in one of which laid the remains. He was cheered by the presence of two friends. The fingers of the clock pointed to the traditionally witching hour when a low groan came from the front room in which Mrs. Madden slept with the soundness of death. The watchers were much too frightened to investigate at first, but they finally mustered up the necessary courage. They solemnly declared that the black covering of the ice box had been disturbed and that they distinctly heard loud rappings on the mantel in the front room. Then the fire board began to vibrate in a manner at once mysterious and unaccountable, an alarming development which was followed by the extinguishing of the lamp, the three men rushing out without much regard to dignity. The neighborhood was aroused in very short order and one of Sprague's friends, as soon as he found sufficient composure to tell the tale, declared that he distinctly saw the ebony face of Jackson, who was Mrs. Madden's first husband.

All these startling occurrences were followed by the peculiar noises described in yesterday's Eagle and by the experiences of Officer Carroll, who succeeded Sprague as watchman. Carroll was not only honored with a visit from the departed Jackson, but had the pleasure of receiving a phantom tom cat which invariably disappeared when any overture, hostile or friendly, was made. The four men, including, of course, the guardians of the dead, are profoundly convinced that they have seen inhabitants of the other world, and the whole story needs nothing to complete it except the claim very generally made and conceded that the phantom tom cat represents an animal to which Jackson himself in his lifetime was tenderly attached, and which sufficiently appreciated its owner to depart this life within two weeks after the uneasy Jackson's death.
It was widely believed that Mr. Madden (whose first name was given as both Thomas and Patrick in the newspapers) had murdered his wife--a suspicion strengthened by his his contradictory and implausible testimony at her inquest. However, the coroner's jury could not decide whether his wife's fatal suffocation was accidental or not, and he was freed from police custody.

I do not know what became of this Brooklyn tenement filled with unhappy ghosts.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Will the Real William Townsend Please Stand Up?

Montreal Gazette, October 13, 1857, via Newspapers.com

William Townsend was, on the whole, a very ordinary sort of villain. His numerous grim deeds were brutishly uncomplicated, wholly lacking any of the originality, enterprise, or even flashes of humor that go to make some crimes permanently capture the public imagination. Townsend, in his private life, had a talent for mimicry that in other circumstances might have led him to become a successful actor, but other than that there was little to be said for the man. The one thing that has caused him to be remembered by crime historians--and that renders him worthy of mention in the hallowed grounds of Strange Company HQ--is that he managed to cap off his undistinguished career of evil with an impenetrable mystery that, in his day, managed to captivate all of Canada.

Our story opens at the home of one John Hamilton Nelles, a shopkeeper in a small village named Nelles Corners, near Lake Erie. Living with Nelles was his wife and their small child, plus his mother and younger brother Augustus. A temporary houseguest was Mrs. Nelles' sister Lucy Humphreys.

On the night of October 18, 1854, everyone in the Nelles household was peacefully asleep, except for the head of the house, who was performing some unspecified household tasks. The stillness was suddenly interrupted by a loud knock on the front door, immediately followed by three men bursting into the house. Ominously, their faces were heavily disguised.

The intruders demanded money.  Nelles refused, and ordered the robbers to leave his house.

So one of the men shot Nelles three times.

The sound of gunfire brought Mrs. Nelles and her sister rushing into the room. The bandits ignored the screaming, hysterical women and began ransacking the house, looking for money. They found nothing but Nelles' watch, which they pocketed. They then fled as suddenly and brazenly as they had appeared.

A doctor was summoned, but he could do little to aid the clearly mortally wounded man. Nelles was conscious, but all he could say was that he had no idea who his assailants were. Three hours after being shot, the shopkeeper was dead.

When the local police officers were informed of the tragedy, they instantly went in search of the bandits. A clue as to where the criminals had gone came when two farmers reported that while they were on the road from Nelles Corners to Cayuga, a group of five men (two had evidently waited outside the Nelles cottage) waylaid and robbed them. Then, a constable named Robert Flanders reported that five men had spent the night in his barn, after which they took the early train bound for Buffalo, New York. Flanders recognized one of the men, who appeared to be the leader of the gang, as a known criminal named William Townsend. Flanders believed these were the same men who robbed the two farmers and killed John Nelles.

Flanders and six other policemen took the first available train to Buffalo, where they contacted the local police. A search was made of the city, but their homicidal birds had already flown. By the time the constables arrived in New York, the fugitives had doubled on their tracks and returned to Canada.

A few days after this fruitless search, word came that Townsend had been seen in St. Catherines, where he pawned Nelles' watch. A posse surrounded him, but Townsend managed to shoot his way out, after which he boarded a boat bound for Oswego, an American port on Lake Ontario. Robert Flanders was dispatched to Oswego, which he reached before the vessel arrived in port. When the ship arrived, Flanders was disappointed to learn from the captain that a man matching Townsend's description had indeed boarded the vessel at St. Catherine's, but at Port Dalhousie, the passenger went to another ship bound for Kingston. It was later determined that Townsend subsequently made his way to the home of his brother-in-law, where he went into hiding for some weeks. (Local rumor--which we can only earnestly hope was true--stated that Townsend disguised himself as a woman.)

Some of Townsend's confederates were less fortunate. One of his gang, John Blowes, was captured in a Hamilton brothel run by one "Limping Jenny," and another, George King, was also arrested near Hamilton. Soon afterward, a third fugitive, William Bryson, was apprehended near Toronto.

In April 1855, Blowes, King, and Bryson were brought to trial for the murder of John Nelles. Although no one doubted Townsend had been the one who shot Nelles, Canadian law at the time held that any confederates in a murder were just as guilty as the actual assassin. Accordingly, they were all found guilty. King and Blowes were hanged, but Bryson turned Queen's evidence, which led to his sentence being commuted to life imprisonment.

In the meantime, the chief villain of the piece, William Townsend, evidently tired of a life in hiding, or corsets and petticoats, or both. He soon returned to his usual criminal ways. In December 1855 he robbed a farmer near Port Robinson. The victim managed to track him down to the village inn, and alerted the village constable, Charles Richards. Richards went to the inn to arrest Townsend, but before he could lay hands on his quarry, Townsend pulled a pistol from his pocket and shot the constable dead. As the witnesses to the scene were too afraid to tackle the bandit, he easily made his escape.

A couple of days later, police learned that Townsend was on a train bound for Woodstock, in the western area of the province. The local sheriff was sent a detailed description of the fugitive, with orders that when the train arrived, Townsend should be arrested for murder.

The Woodstock jailer, George Forbes, and four constables were sent to meet the train. Then things began to get a bit strange. On one of the cars, Forbes noticed a man he thought matched the description of the wanted man. As he stared, the passenger casually said, "Oh, I know what you are at. You take me to be Townsend."

"Yes, I do," Forbes replied.

"Oh," the man replied cheerfully. "I do favor the description very much; I have been taken for him once before today, but I am not he. I am going west, and come from the east of Rochester."

Forbes was flummoxed. The man was so well-dressed, and sported such an air of calm confidence, that he did not dare arrest him on the spot. The jailer went to confer with the other constables, who decided that the passenger must be detained until people arrived on the scene who could identify Townsend. They found him on the platform, where he submitted quietly, offering only a mild protest that he was an innocent traveler who only wished to go west. However, as the train began to leave the platform, the man "darted away like a deer," and jumped on the last platform of the last car, leaving his would-be captors behind. Once again, William Townsend--yes, it was he--had eluded justice.

Townsend seemed to have vanished for good. Then in April 1857, a Canadian man named John Iles, who had known Townsend some years back, was washing glasses in his Cleveland, Ohio hotel bar when a railway conductor came in with one of his passengers. The conductor explained that the man was unable to pay his fare, but offered his revolver as collateral. "This young man owes me $3.50," said the conductor. "When he pays you that, and his lodging, let him have his revolver."

When Iles got a good look at the passenger, he instantly realized he was staring at the noted robber and murderer William Townsend. "I was so surprised," Iles later testified, "that I let a glass drop and it smashed." Iles immediately contacted police, and, at long last, the fugitive was arrested. After the extradition process, the prisoner was placed in the county jail at Cayuga.

The trial began on September 27, 1857. The defendant's long and colorful life on the lam brought great attention to the case, making the proceedings a media sensation. The prisoner pleaded "not guilty."

The first prosecution witness was Lucy Humphreys, who identified the defendant as one of the men who had broken into the Nelles home on that fatal night. William Bryson was then put on the stand. He described the formation of the Townsend gang and the many crimes it had committed, and closed with asserting that the man in the dock was indeed his old gang leader. He was followed by ten other witnesses, including John Iles, all of whom swore that the prisoner was indeed the infamous William Townsend. By the time the prosecution rested its case, it appeared to all that Townsend's fate was well and truly sealed.

Then it was time for the defense to present their evidence. And this beautifully open-and-shut legan proceeding began to unravel. The prisoner's lawyers brought in no less than forty-nine witnesses who swore with equal certainty that the man on trial could not possibly be William Townsend. Foremost among them was constable Robert Flanders, who stated that he was willing to bet a thousand dollars that they were putting the wrong man on trial.

The jury, understandably enough. was deeply confused by all this. They were left hopelessly deadlocked, with seven voting for conviction and five for acquittal. The jurors were discharged and the prisoner returned to his cell to await a new trial.

The second trial of Townsend--or, if you believe the defendant, "Not Townsend"--was not for the murder of John Nelles, but that of Charles Richards. The prosecution evidently believed they'd have better luck with the second murder attributed to the prisoner than they did with the first. In the meantime, the accused wrote an open letter to the newspapers, scornfully denying that he was William Townsend. He stated that he was really Robert J. McHenry, a Scotsman who emigrated to America in 1837, where he found work as a mariner on Lake Erie. Furthermore, he claimed that during the period when Nelles and Richards were murdered, he was in California prospecting for gold.

Montreal Gazette, October 10, 1857 via Newspapers.com

His trial was, he stated, a "conspiracy," with the witnesses against him being bribed to commit perjury. "Until I have collected all the perjurers' names who will be willing to slip up and swear to a falsehood, in consideration of money, or to please some interested party in my conviction, will I say but little who I am, for never was there such a gross fraud attempted upon the public. What a compliment this decision will be to the intelligence of Haldimand, when handed down to posterity, when the rising generation will raise the finger of scorn and say, 'there goes a Townsend juror,' and when it becomes a byword and a common saying, 'you are as ignorant as a Townsend Juror,' or, 'you are as intelligent as a Townsend Juror.'"

The prisoner concluded, "When I have exposed to the public the base and diabolical plots that have been organized to convict me of this charge, then will you pause to think on what base purposes the machinery of the law is applied to. If I suffer in your estimation in those imputations that have been cast upon my character, I earnestly desire you to be patient, I am willing to suffer that good may come thereof."

Townsend Trial 2.0 opened in the town of Merrittsville on March 26, 1858. It had many of the same parade of witnesses, although when William Bryson again took the stand, he was forced to admit that he had not initially recognized the prisoner as Townsend. In addition, although Townsend had worn earrings, Bryson had not seen any holes in the defendant's ears. However, Bryson pointed out that Townsend was "a person of a great deal of agility" in impersonations. Jacob Eviner, one of the two farmers who had been robbed by the Townsend gang outside of Nelles Corners, had identified the prisoner as Townsend at the first trial. He now backtracked on his earlier statement, saying that he was "not now prepared to say whether he is or is not the man."

Those who had been present at the murder of Constable Richards offered somewhat qualified identifications of the defendant. One witness said the prisoner "acted the same as Townsend...though the prisoner seemed the larger of the two." Another said, "I don't think I could recognize" Townsend if he saw him again, but "his height was the same as that of the prisoner." Several others testified in much the same terms: they thought the defendant was William Townsend, but they couldn't be certain of it. In contrast, George Forbes expressed no doubts whatsoever that the man in the dock was the same fugitive he had so embarrassingly let slip through his fingers at the train station. John Iles, who claimed to have been "well acquainted" with Townsend, also stuck to his identification. In short, thirty-five witnesses professed to be certain the prisoner was William Townsend, while a handful of others were less convinced. However, the Crown suffered one humiliating setback when a man who had known William Townsend since childhood, and had briefly run into the fugitive in 1856, said on the stand, "My opinion of the prisoner is that I never saw that gentleman before." The defense followed this by putting on an even larger number of witnesses--all of whom were considered sane and highly respectable people--who swore under oath that whoever the defendant really may have been, he was not William Townsend. Townsend boasted a number of tattoos. The prisoner did not. Townsend had abnormally large joints in his toes. "McHenry" did not. "McHenry's" handwriting did not resemble Townsend's. There was conflicting testimony on whether or not "McHenry" had scars similar to Townsend's.

This time around, the jury had little trouble coming to a consensus, even if it was not one the Crown wished to hear. After a brief deliberation, they announced, "the prisoner at this bar is McHenry, and is not guilty."

Montreal Gazette. October 10, 1857

The defendant had yet to be cleared of the murder of John Nelles, but the prosecution concluded that pursuing that charge was a lost cause. The prisoner was released on £100 bail, but he was never retried. Robert McHenry--or William Townsend--or whoever he was--went on his merry way, and disappeared from history.

In the many years since the two murder trials, Canadian historians have had great fun pondering the question of the prisoner's true identity. Some point to the many positive identifications of him as William Townsend, and assert that this clever criminal put on the performance of a lifetime, bamboozling his way out of a much-deserved date with the gallows. Also, if he truly was McHenry, why did he wait until his second trial to assert that he was in California at the time of the murders? On the other hand, there were seemingly equally credible witnesses who were certain the man was not Townsend. Reportedly, even the Crown prosecutor came to believe he had tried the wrong man for murder.

Just to complicate matters further, there is the view expressed by William Wallace Stewart in his 1931 book "Murders and Mysteries." Stewart proposed that the man twice tried for murder was neither Townsend nor McHenry. Stewart had uncovered a Townsend family tradition that their black sheep had, after going into hiding for two years, escaped across the border, where he fought in the American Civil War and died some years later in Mexico.

Wallace's research failed to find any evidence that there was ever a "Robert J. McHenry" in Scotland during the right time period. He theorized that the man calling himself "McHenry" was a deserter from the British army in Canada. This man had the bad luck to bear a striking resemblance to the murderer, but could not give his real identity for fear of facing the capital charge of desertion.

Was Wallace right? We will never know. There is only one thing anyone can say with certainty about this case: one way or another, William Townsend got away with murder.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

The staff here at Strange Company HQ decided to skip work to spend the weekend at the beach.

A brief history of English vagrancy.

A Bristol academic thinks he's deciphered the Voynich Manuscript.  And another academic thinks he's full of crap.  And so it goes.

Bringing to life forgotten creatures of folklore.

India's worst serial killer.

Why Renaissance artists loved sexy weasels.

The world's oldest printed book.  And it was intended to be public domain!

So now you can explore shipwrecks without even leaving this link dump.

Analyzing the costume of the plague doctor.

London's phone booths at night.

A female writer in early Hollywood.

Frogmore House throws a heck of a party.

When medieval priests tried to claim sanctuary.

Illustrating murder.

A Prussian grifter.

An 18th century fortune-teller.

The tragic case of the Sea Waif.

The man who met 20 ghosts.  Liked most of 'em, too.

The gravedigger who buried two queens.

There's a new record-holder for the world's deepest dive.

A story of a bigamous wife.

That time when doctors prescribed slippers made of dead pigeons.

This week in Russian Weird introduces us to the Almasty.

Islam and Restoration England.

England's first known Christian burial.

People in Bavaria are being killed by crossbows.

How time became universal.

The man who tried to assassinate Napoleon III, and came to regret it.

Investigating a haunted Irish castle.

Tales from the world of Victorian post-mortem photography.

Escaping Gloucester jail, 1765.

Prehistoric medicine.

A brief history of German humor.

A medieval best-selling book.

Rome's "talking statues."

Howard-Bury and the Yeti.

Hitler and the dead tramp.

A mysterious French rock.

Mapping Doggerland.

An Edwardian pet photographer.

Regency era swimwear.

Some people who survived the hangman.

The argument that Shakespeare was a woman.

A mysterious murder in Hawaii.

Love and death on Clapham Common.

The Anti-Corn Law League's own Robin Hood.

Shorter version: we don't know squat about the sun.

The plane that accidentally flew around the world.

A fishing feline golf mascot.

The castle that's haunted by Satan the monkey.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a very mysterious murderer.  In the meantime, here's a favorite old country song of mine.  Considering the rate at which people are fleeing my state, I've been threatening to write a sequel called, "California's the Reason God Made All These U-Hauls."

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the...deadest one of all? The "Saint Joseph Herald Press," February 20, 1936:
SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich, Feb. 20 (AP). Harvey Davenport, who was informed by dying Jeffery Derosier, 38, that he would be unable to remove a mirror from a table after Derosier had looked into it and saw he was breathing his last, was so frightened by what he believed to be the spell of the dead man, that he left the hospital where he was under treatment as Derosier's ward mate. He had given Rexton as his home, but at Rexton It is understood that he has left for "somewhere in the west".

The mirror, apparently tossed at random onto the steel table, "froze" solidly to the table and the efforts of Davenport, of hospital attendants, and of Dr. F. J. Moloney to remove It were in wain for more than 24 hours. Then Miss Adeline Knopf, a nurse from the operating room, using an ice pick with force, pried it up.

Today, fearful of violating ethics of their profession, and in the absence of Superintendent Emma Dickson from the city, nurses declined to discuss the case further, or to present the mirror for public inspection.

Dr. Moloney, Derosier's physician, said he had no explanation for the sticking of the mirror to the painted steel table.. He said he was positive that no adhesive or saliva had been used by the dying man. Asked if he believed the answer was a supernatural one, he answered "Do I look superstitious?"

Lewis Descheneau, elderly Brimley citizen, an eye witness to the death of Derosier, solemnly related the details of the death.

"There were four of us in the ward with Mr. Derosier, and we all could see and hear everything that was said and done. I heard Derosier ask Davenport, who, I think, was of Indian blood, to bring him his hand mirror. The mirror was just a piece of looking glass without a back.

"Davenport took him the mirror. and we all heard the sick man exclaim that his face looked terrible and his eyes wild. I was alarmed when he cried 'My God, I'm dying.' I saw him toss the glass onto the table, where it lay near the edge.

"I watched Davenport go toward the door as though to call a nurse. But he stopped when Mr. Derosier asked him to come back and give him the mirror again. As Davenport reached for the mirror, which was at the edge of the table, Derosier told him in a voice that was not loud but which we could all hear 'You won't be able to pick it from the table'.

"Davenport seemed frozen to the spot for an instant. Then the sick man started hiccoughing and we could see he was dying. A nurse came but he died right away. Then Davenport and others tried and tried to take the looking glass from the table. It wouldn't move. And that's all. I know. I'm sure I can't say what supernatural power or other cause is responsible. But that's the way it happened."

Einar V. Jorgenson, bookkeeper, who personally tried every ordinary hand method of taking the mirror off. declared he had no doubt that the explanation was a natural one but he could not say after inspecting the mirror what it was. "Perhaps perspiration on the sliver on the mirror may be the answer, he hazarded.

Detroit. Feb. 20 (AP). Scientists here and in Ann Arbor advanced molecular action, chemical reaction and hypnosis today as possible explanations for the adhesion of a mirror to a metal table top on which it was tossed by a dying patient in a Sault Ste. Marie hospital.

Prof. George W. Carter of Wayne university said it was possible that the mirror and the table surface were so perfectly smooth that all air was expelled.

"That," he said, "might permit the molecules of the table top to exert an attractive force on the molecules of the mirror surface strong enough to hold them together against ordinary prying."

Prof. Peter Harbecht of the University of Detroit, said that perspiration from the patient's hand might have set up a chemical reaction in the quicksilver of the minor, causing it to adhere to the table top.

Dr. Albert M. Barrett, director of the state psychopathic hospital at Ann Arbor, suggested hypnosis. The dying patient, he said, might nave convinced his fellow patient, through hypnotic suggestion, that he could not lift the mirror.

"This hypnosis," he explained, "could have been transferred to other persons by recital of the dying man's statement."
I have no idea what became of the understandably rattled Mr. Davenport, but I'm guessing it was a very, very long time before he voluntarily looked in a mirror again.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Dolly Shepherd, Queen of the Edwardian Parachutists

The youth of today--as youth always does--tends to exist in the present. Anything that happened before their time is considered alien, irrelevant, and inferior. Young people today imagine that the strong, confident, kick-ass women they see portrayed on TV or in movies are a modern innovation. Women of the "old days," they assume, were weak, inhibited, helpless.

Of course, anyone with the slightest knowledge of history knows otherwise. Every era, no matter how outwardly conventional and repressive, has had their share of daring, adventurous females who make a mark in their own individual fashion. Such women can emerge at the strangest times, and in the strangest ways.

That brings us to the subject of today's post: Meet Elizabeth "Dolly" Shepherd, a Victorian/Edwardian girl whose road to becoming a fearless, groundbreaking heroine began with a liking for the music of John Philip Sousa.

Shepherd was born in a small English town named Potters Bar on November 19, 1886. When she was 16, she longed to see Sousa and his famed band play at London's Alexandra Palace, but she lacked the money to buy a ticket. Shepherd got around this handicap by taking a waitressing job at the establishment. Instead of paying the Palace to hear Sousa's music, the Palace was paying her! One day on the job, she overheard the showman Samuel Franklin Cody lamenting the fact that he needed a stand-in for a part of his act which involved shooting an egg off a woman's head. (His wife, who normally fulfilled that role, was injured when one night, Cody's aim was just a little off.) Bored with waiting on tables and thirsting for excitement, Shepherd immediately volunteered for the job.

After, I presume, urging Cody to brush up on his marksmanship.

After a year of serving as Cody's assistant, Shepherd accompanied him to visit the workshop of French parachutist and balloonist Auguste Gaudron. Dolly was fascinated. So fascinated that by the end of her visit, she had left Cody's employ to become a parachutist. Gaudron gave the girl thirty minutes of training, took her up to 2000 feet in the air, pointed out a suitable landing place, and shouted, "Go!"

Shepherd later described what came next: "My heart rose into my mouth as I plummeted for what seemed far too long, dropping like a stone. I could hear the rapid flap-flap-flap of the silk streaming after me as the canopy broke from the balloon netting and sucked at the rush of air, and then at last there was a great whooooosh...Suspended there in the clear, warm air, high above the land of mere mortals, I experienced a sense of elation such as I had never known."

Skydiving is not a pastime for the timid, particularly in those early days. The modern safety harness had yet to be invented, and the parachute itself was a crude affair. Hanging below a small gas balloon was the canvas parachute and, on another cord, a trapeze bar for the parachutist to sit on during the ascent. When the balloon was fully inflated, it was released with the parachutist running underneath it, ready to be lifted off the ground. At the right altitude, the parachutist would pull a ripcord to begin the balloon’s deflation and jump off the trapeze bar, allowing the parachute to open. Everyone involved in the sport knew that every time you went up, there was the very strong possibility that you would not live to see another jump. Dolly wrote, "From time to time a member of our team might 'disappear.' Nothing would be said. He or she would just not be seen at any more shows, and if questioned, Captain Gaudron would merely say that the aeronaut in question had 'left the team.' They had left, sure enough!"

Dolly was unfazed by the risks. In her words, "death was a subject on which we did not dwell." Some people are terrified of risking their necks; others find it gives them an addictive adrenaline rush. Dolly was a perfect example of the latter. She took to parachuting as if she had been doing it her whole life. When she ran into trouble on her jumps, she did not panic. She sang to keep her nerves steady and used her brains to get herself out of the jam. She designed a special costume for her jumps, a jaunty blue outfit with gold trim, and by 1905, was regularly making public performances, cheerily waving a Union Jack to the crowds before making her jumps. The attractive, dashing, six-foot-tall Shepherd was an instant crowd-pleaser. She became the most renowned of the "Edwardian lady parachutists."

Shepherd had enough near-misses to make any insurance actuary weak in the knees. On one jump, both her balloon and the parachute failed, leaving her helplessly rising as high as 15,000 feet. She was very, very fortunate that, instead of being dashed to the ground, the balloon slowly sank back to the ground--after nearly four hours. Dolly enjoyed the experience. She later enthused to a reporter that the unplanned tour over England was "too beautiful to describe." On another jump, she almost landed on a steam train, but the driver had the wit to blow the steam, pushing her into a canal. Shepherd was unfazed. She once cheerfully said that she liked to "go high," because "I have it in my head that if I had to be killed, I'd like to be killed completely: good and proper!"

In July 1908, it was arranged that Dolly would do a double jump with another female parachutist, Louie May. The crowd was thrilled by the unusual sight, but their excitement quickly turned to horror. May's parachute failed to release. It looked like she was doomed. The spectators would have witnessed a gruesome tragedy if not for Shepherd's cool head and quick thinking. Shouting words of encouragement to her terrified companion, Dolly managed to release May from her harness, and told the other girl to hold on to her literally for dear life so they could both descend on Shepherd's parachute. Unfortunately, the parachute was not quite enough to handle two people, so they had a hard landing. May was not seriously hurt, but Shepherd suffered a severe back injury. Her legs were left paralyzed, and the doctors told her she would never walk again.

Shepherd refused to believe them. She found a physician who gave her back electrical shock treatments. Amazingly, this unconventional therapy realigned her vertebrae. Within a few weeks, Shepherd was back on her feet and planning her next jump. (As a side note, the failed jump with May landed Dolly a spot in the record books, for the first mid-air rescue.) It was only years later that Dolly learned that during her convalescence, her mother took her place in Gaudron's troupe under the name of "Madame Papillon."

This really must have been quite a family.

Only two months after her near-fatal crash, Shepherd made her comeback. She felt uncharacteristically nervous before the jump, but after a perfect landing, "I rose to my feet, happy to be a parachutist again." Shepherd was scheduled to make another jump in Coventry on July 9, 1910. However, at the last minute, Dolly canceled her appearance, and another female parachutist, Edith Maud Cook, took her place. Eerily enough, this was Cook's final jump. A sudden gust of wind caused her parachute to collapse. Cook was thrown onto a factory roof. She fell off the roof, causing injuries which led to her death five days later.

Cook's awful fate--only one of numerous high-profile deaths of female parachutists--intensified an already-raging debate: should women be allowed to parachute at all? One Edmund Pigott insisted that it was shameful to allow crowds to fulfill their worst instincts by watching young women risk their lives for entertainment. Caleb Hackney wrote a widely-read editorial pleading, "Can not public opinion perhaps supported by some exalted personage, put an end to parachute descents by females?" In reply, Dolly laughed, "What a dull world it would be if it were full of Reverend Pigotts and Caleb Hackneys!"

Shepherd continued parachuting until 1912, when, during one jump, she thought heard a voice warning her, "Don't come up again, or you'll be killed." Dolly may have been fearless, but she was nobody's fool. She didn't come up again.

Besides, she soon had a new field of adventure. When WWI broke out, Shepherd and her sister joined the Women's Volunteer Reserve, where she was assigned to drive a munitions truck for the War Department. In 1917, she volunteered to go to France as a driver/mechanic. The soldiers were dubious about having women performing such jobs, but the skill and hard work of Shepherd and her female colleagues soon won them respect. Among Shepherd's duties was chauffeuring a Captain Percy Sedgwick. Although he initially balked at being driven around by a woman, his feelings toward her turned to admiration, then to love. After the war, they were married.

Dolly's adventures were not quite over. She worked for the home front during WWII, earning commendations for her efforts. The Sedgwicks moved to the Isle of Wight, where Percy died in 1956. In 1963, Dolly moved to Eastbourne. In 1976, she was invited to join the Parachute Red Devils. She celebrated turning 90 by flying with the Red Devils on one of their air shows. She also co-authored a charming book about her venturesome life, "When the 'Chute Went Up."

Dolly Shepherd Sedgwick died in 1983. The Red Devils and the RAF Falcons sent representatives to her funeral, and a local paper warmly eulogized her as "one of the most intrepid, charming, and colourful characters ever to have lived in Eastbourne." Those words were surely not hyperbole. Dolly once said that she had led a "charmed life." If so, it was due less to mere luck and more to her own intelligence, bravery, and ability. Very few of us are so blessed.

In 1987, Dolly's 67-year-old daughter Molly paid a fitting tribute to her mother by making her very first parachute jump.

"Los Angeles Times," September 24, 1987, via Newspapers.com

Friday, May 10, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump suffered a slight delay in publication.  The Strange Company HQ staff were running late.

What the hell was the Beast of Gevaudan?   Now we know?

What the hell are Irish banshees?

Where the hell is the tomb of Genghis Khan?

How the hell did Ludwig II die?

Who the hell were the Green Children of Woolpit?

A playwright from the Little Theater movement.

The Soviets and Western culture.

The Weird Wild Man of Sublime, Texas.

A Victorian joke book.

The eternal Jack the Ripper.

A vengeful ghost in India.

Norwegian UFOs.

Now, this is a royal wedding.

The female Lawrence of Arabia.

Edith Wilson, widow and con artist.

The battle of Halidon Hill.

A 17th century witch trial.

The Flying Dutchman and some cursed letters.

What it was like to do hard labor in Victorian prisons.

How it was shown that Leif Erikson beat Columbus to North America.

You want to know why 19th century Frenchwomen were afraid to lose their husbands?  The consequences were so damned complicated.

An Irish tapping ghost.

A near-fatal millipede.

The 18th century was the Age of Melancholy.

It didn't pay to be an ally of Richard II.

Emma and her exorcisms.

Ancient Romans built invisibility cloaks.  Sort of.

Comets and Gobekli Tepe.

A British diplomat turns to science fiction.  (Part Two is here.)

The room that can drive you mad.

Civil War soldiers and "Angel's Glow."

The mystery of the undecorated Egyptian tomb.

A balloon locomotive.

The first sound recordings.

Some assorted facts about Napoleon.

What the well-dressed 18th century astronomer was wearing.

Women and Wedgwood.

Anna Ruppert's dangerous beauty.

The history of the Charter Fair.

A mysterious murder in Maine.

A jockey's restless ghost.

And there you have it for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll talk Edwardian Lady Parachutists.  In the meantime, here's one of my favorite folk songs.