"...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

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Best of Strange Company 2019

Greetings!  As has become my end-of-year tradition, I'm taking a look back at the posts which were most popular--or, if you prefer, least-unpopular--of the past twelve months.   Disappearances happened to be the biggest draw in 2019, although ghosts, kidnappings, and people making damn fools of themselves over cats also made strong showings.

So, in order, with the most-read first, here we go!

1. Judy Smith's Final Destination: A Bizarre Murder Mystery

This was most-read by a pretty healthy margin, which doesn't surprise me, as the story is about as weird as they come.

2. A Vanishing in Idaho: The Lillian Richey Mystery

Another woman's inexplicable disappearance.  It's not as well known as the Judy Smith case, but it's nearly as strange.

3. The Mystery of the Meowing House

A  California family has a cat trapped in their house...and you won't believe what happened next.

4. The Case of the Haunted Necklace

Why using ancient tombs as gift shops is really a bad idea.

5. The Creature of Charterhouse

This unusual ghost story was a favorite of mine from the past year.

6. Disappearance in the Desert:  The Walker/Martens Mystery

A young couple lands their plane in the middle of a desert, start walking...and are never seen again.

7. The Lost Boy:  The Mystery of Melvin Horst

The unsolved presumed kidnapping of a small child.

8. "Where is Olive?" An Unusual Poltergeist Account

A young woman haunts her old home...while she's still alive.

9. Guest Post: Peggy Gavan, Author of "The Cat Men of Gotham"

Please don't make your cats blue.  Figuratively or literally.

10. Carl Jung's Ghost Story

A famed psychiatrist's brush with The Weird.

And so comes to an end this blog's final post for 2019.  I hope you will join me in 2020 for more disappearances, ghosts, murders, and, God willing, more people making damn fools of themselves over cats.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2019

Harry Houdini and the Spirit Lover: A Tale With a Twist

Legendary magician Harry Houdini had a side-career of investigating and exposing fraudulent mediums. In the April 1924 issue of “Weird Tales,” Houdini told the story of one of these inquiries which proved to be far, far more than even he bargained for.

In 1920, Houdini happened to be staying in a Montana town. Three men came to his hotel room to tell him of a local medium whose powers seemed truly incredible. The men knew he had to be a fraud, but their most diligent attempts to prove his chicanery had, to date, failed. One of them admitted that he was very nearly convinced the medium had genuine supernatural powers. He explained, “The three of us attended a seance last night, in the third story of an office building. We locked the door, locked the window, examined the room carefully, examined the medium’s portable cabinet, and then the lights were extinguished, and spirit materializations took place. There was no possible chance for the medium to have confederates enter the room, nor is there any explanation of the materializations except that given by the medium.”

The trio had heard of Houdini’s prior successes in exposing fraudulent talkers-to-the-dead. In order to prevent, in the words of one of them, “a wave of superstition and charlatanry,” would the magician scrutinize the medium for himself, and, hopefully, expose him as a crook?

The following night, Houdini (who introduced himself to the medium as “Mr. Koehler,”) and the three men attended a seance. The medium began by remarking that “there were certain psychic influences in the room that worked against any spiritualistic manifestations.” As he spoke, he gazed pointedly at one of the other attendees, a grocer with “cold, skeptical gray eyes and rather a determined chin.”

As the man spoke, Houdini examined the room. There was only one window, and the door was fastened with a Yale lock which could be opened from the inside. It occurred to him that the medium could hide a confederate in the room who would secretly open the door and “admit the materialization,” but the grocer pointed out to him that this was impossible. There was a light on in the outside hall, which would be visible to everyone in the room if the door were opened. Houdini responded that it would be easy enough to merely turn out the light first. The grocer shrugged.

Houdini’s suspicions were aroused when the medium threw a double curtain over the window. It was a dark night, indicating that one curtain would have been sufficient to keep out any light. He suspected that the medium was trying to conceal the entrance of someone through the window. There was no way of getting to the window from outside, as they were two stories from the ground, and had no fire escape, but he was certain that the curtains were significant.

The group joined hands around a table, and the lights were put out. They sang a hymn while the medium, who was now tied up in a black bag, went into his trance. The manifestations soon began. It was the standard array of spiritual tricks: table rappings, the sounds of mandolins and trumpets playing, the touch of ghostly hands. Houdini had experienced such things a hundred times, and was feeling a bit bored. They were visited by the spirit of an Irishman named Mike, talking in the stereotypical brogue, cracking bad jokes, and hitting the grocer--who had obviously made it clear in the past that he was no friend to the spirit world--over the head with a mandolin.

Mike asked everyone in the room to concentrate on some dead loved one they wished to see. The small room had grown hot and stuffy, but Houdini suddenly sensed fresh air, signaling that the window had been opened. The grocer was sitting to his left. Very slowly and carefully, Houdini freed his hand from that on the woman sitting to his right, and substituted the hand of the grocer. There was now a “phosphorescent glow” emerging from the cabinet. He very badly wanted to take a look at that window, which he was sure was the key to this new materialization.

When he crept to the window, he saw that it was indeed now wide open. When he looked outside, he saw that to the left of the window an extendable ladder was hanging from the roof above his head. He now knew how the “ghosts” had arrived in the room.

Behind him, he heard a girl suddenly scream the name “Marion!” several times. He ignored the commotion and continued his examination of the ladder. He saw that he could not dislodge the ladder from below, as it was securely hooked to the roof. He climbed out and went up to the window in the next story. Back in the room, the girl was still crying, “Marion! Marion! Oh, God, it’s Marion!”

The window in the top story was open. Houdini sat on the sill, unhooked the ladder, and brought it into the room. The medium’s little spook helpers had lost their escape route.

When he returned to the seance, he found a scene of complete chaos. He learned that in his absence, the grocer had taken out a flashlight he had hidden in his pocket and shined it on the humanlike “phosphorescent glow.” Someone immediately knocked the flashlight from his hand, but it was too late. The “manifestation” had been recognized. A young woman threw her arms around the ghost, kissing him frantically and screaming “Marion, Marion! It’s you!” The panicked medium began hitting the girl with a blackjack while the “ghost” endeavored to break the girl’s hold, pleading, “Frances, let go of me; you’re smothering me, Frances.”

The show was definitely over.

“Frances” had attended the seance in a sincere effort to contact the departed. When the guests were asked to concentrate on a deceased loved one, she thought of her fiance, who had died less than a year before. The glowing figure emerged from the cabinet. When the grocer illuminated the “ghost,” Frances recognized it. It was her fiance, the man who was dead and gone, presumably forever. It was hard to say what gave the poor girl the bigger shock: when she thought she was seeing her beloved’s ghost, or when she realized he was quite alive, if not exactly well.

It turned out that Marion was a Chicago resident who had a twin brother in Wyoming who was dying of tuberculosis. Frances knew of this brother, but had never met him. Marion, realizing that his twin did not have long to live, heavily insured himself in his brother’s name. When Frances was in Montana visiting relatives, Marion brought his brother to Chicago. Then, Marion moved from his lodgings, broke all contact with everyone he knew, and he and his twin swapped identities. While Marion, posing as his brother, went to Wyoming, the brother entered a Chicago hospital under Marion’s name, where he soon died. Letters from Frances were found in the dead man’s pockets, and a telegram was sent to her telling of her sad loss. The stunned and heartbroken girl returned from Montana to attend her betrothed’s funeral. Meanwhile, Marion started a new life in Wyoming, with the help of all that sweet life insurance money he collected on his own death.

Unfortunately for Marion, this particular crime did not pay. He frittered it all away on stupid investments and even more stupid gambling, and was soon flat broke. He then found work as assistant to the fake medium, smearing his face with phosphorescent paint and doing his best imitation of a ghost. Until he encountered the grocer’s flashlight--and Frances--it had been a most successful scam.

After that disastrous night, the medium swiftly left town, to ply his singular trade in parts unknown. The insurance company prosecuted Marion for fraud. Frances--no doubt feeling she had had a very lucky escape by not marrying Marion before he “died”--gave him the boot.  After a short stay in a hospital to recover from the emotional shock, she returned to Chicago.

Houdini called the unexpected reunion of Marion and Frances “a coincidence so remarkable that if a story or a novel were built around it the incident would be considered so highly improbable that the yarn would be entirely unconvincing.”

As Frances’ former love found out, some men really are better off dead.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn, 16th c.

This week's Link Dump is hosted by our New Year Cats!

What the hell was the Tic Tac UFO?

A classic disappearance: What the hell happened to Dorothy Arnold?

A re-interpretation of the famed "Earthrise" photo.

New Year's Day in early 19th century New York.

An archaeologist meets an ancient epilepsy demon.  Think of the Indiana Jones movie that would make.

An 18th century independent woman.

The laboratory with an invisible Bigfoot.  Yes, it's in California.

The creepiest house in Los Angeles.  Not Strange Company HQ, believe it or not.

Using DNA to rewrite human history.

This year's biggest archaeological discoveries.

The past decade as seen from space.

An exorcism turns deadly.

The execution of a relative of Shakespeare.

Ancient humans were around a whole lot longer than the "experts" thought.

The Case of the Disappearing Stars.

Here at Strange Company HQ, we look at this headline and laugh.

The occasionally murderous life of Zoe, Empress of Constantinople.

Nothing to see here; just a cemetery full of mutant white-eyed cockroaches.

Mass tragedies and the paranormal.

Christmas Eve with the ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots.

A play about a Poe story omits the Poe story, and more theatrical links.

The nastiest book reviews of 2019.  

An East End cat adjusts to Christmas.

A brief history of winter traditions.

The disappearance of a murderer.

Archaeologists find a vampire.

Fortean firefighting.

Christmas in New York, circa 1910.

A 17th century Christmas play.

Medieval author seeks a patron.

And thus ends our final Link Dump of 2019.  See you on Monday, when Harry Houdini meets a fake medium.  Hilarity ensues.

Happy New Year from Strange Company HQ!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day, Christmas Edition

mary edens christmas disappearance -
Via Newspapers.com

Usually, my annual Christmas clipping post contains an array of varying horrors. However, this year features one story: a holiday tragedy that at one point, looked as if it had a happy ending...only to revert back to tragedy. And enduring mystery.  The “Boston Globe,” December 25, 1999:
GLOBE CORRESPONDENT HOBART, Okla. - For nearly a half-century, the owners of this town's newspaper have known the truth about Lewis Edens' missing daughter and never reported it. Joe Hancock honored his father's request to keep the story out of the paper, to keep it a secret. Now, however, on the 75th anniversary of the Babbs Switch schoolhouse fire that killed 26 people, Hancock says the full story should be told.

The Dec. 24 fire at the one-room schoolhouse at Babbs Switch, a small community about 5 miles south of the county seat of Hobart, is one of the state's worst tragedies. The story is known throughout Oklahoma for several reasons: So many people died; it occurred on Christmas Eve; and little Mary Edens was never found.

For years, people speculated on Mary's fate. Then one day in 1957, a woman who said she was Mary arrived in Hobart. And that led to the tale Joe Hancock refused to tell until this week.

The story began on Christmas Eve 1924, when more than 100 parents and students crowded into the 26-foot-by-36-foot school-house. The dirt highway was slick with a light frosting of snow. Those who drove their Model Ts drained the water from their radiators to keep them from freezing.

The program began at 8 p.m. By 8:30, Dow Bolding, 16, was handing out presents. He gave a doll to 4-year-old Lillie Biggers Braun; the doll nearly was as big as she was. He gave mechanical tarantulas to Edward and Gene Bolding, his kid brothers who shared a double desk in the front row. As Dow reached for a sack of candy tied to a limb of the Christmas tree, he caused a candle on the tree to ignite the dry, brittle cedar.

Gene Bolding, 81, is one of three survivors of the fire still living. He said he remembers that as his older brother and others tried to put out the fire, they knocked over the tree, which in turn knocked over a kerosene lamp, which exploded. At that point, Bolding said, a farmer escorted him and Edward outside. But Edward had left his new spider on the desk and dashed back in for it. He never came out.

Braun was with her mother, who dropped her during the rush for the door. "Mama started out with me," she said. "I got knocked down from her, and couldn't get up. I was crawling out, going one way, toward the door. I remember the screaming above me. It was the teacher, and she was going the other way."

The teacher, Florence Terry Hill, died that night. Braun became famous as the little girl who dragged her doll to safety. But two of her brothers died in the fire. Gene Bolding lost his brothers Dow and Edward and his sister Maggie. But it was the story of Mary Edens that most intrigued those who know about the fire.

Mary, who was 3, was with her aunt, Alice Noah. Noah escaped, but died several days later from smoke inhalation. Before she died, however, she told Mary's parents that she had carried Mary to safety and handed her to someone. In the years that followed, Lewis and Ethel Edens nurtured the hope that Mary was alive.

In January 1957, a man in California began writing to a fellow Lion's Club member in Hobart. Elmont Place had seen a story about Mary, and thought a friend of his might be the missing child. After many letters, telephone calls, and a blood test, most were convinced that Grace Reynolds of Barstow, Calif, was the Edens' long-lost daughter.

Reynolds and her newly adopted infant son arrived in Hobart on Feb. 9, 1957, to a great welcome. News of the reunion made papers from California to North Dakota to Michigan. Reynolds and the Edens appeared on Art Linkletter's "House Party" television program.

Back in California, however, someone who claimed to be a sister of Reynolds telephoned a reporter at the Stockton (Calif.) Record. Dorothy Link had seen an Associated Press photo of Reynolds with her newfound parents and told the reporter she was an impostor.

The reporter sent a telegram to the Hobart Democrat-Chief, which began its own investigation. By May, the Stockton reporter had a notarized statement from Goldie More saying that she was Reynolds's birth mother. (Reynolds was Grace's married name, and she was separated from her husband when she went to Hobart.) When the reporter confronted Reynolds and asked whether she persisted in her claim, she said she was not claiming anything yet and that she was going to hire an attorney. At that point, Ransom Hancock, owner of the Democrat-Chief, took his evidence to Lewis Edens. Joe Hancock, 70, who now owns who now owns the newspaper, remembers the day well. "Dad took all this information, met with Lewis at his house, maybe in the yard," Hancock said. "Dad was really shook up having to tell him, and Lewis went through the trauma of finding out" Then Edens asked his friend for a consideration, a favor that has kept the full story about Reynolds out of the newspaper until this week.

Lewis Edens said to Ransom Hancock: “Look, my wife believes this girl, she believes she's found her daughter.” He asked that the story be withheld until his wife's death. Hancock, the editor, agreed. "Dad said, 'I just can't run that' And he didn't" Joe Hancock said.

The story remained a secret until yesterday. The Democrat-Chief published it simultaneously with the Daily Oklahoman. Hancock shared the long-secret letters and telegrams with a reporter for that paper. "We decided that now is the time to tell it" Hancock said. "Some of the people here through the years have questioned Grace's story and are suspicious of it. It's time to get that missing-baby deal put to rest; it's over. Now everybody will know for sure."

Hancock said he believes his father's decision reflects a sense of humanity and compassion that has been lost in modern journalism. "I know good and well he was right, and I don't know if I would have had the wisdom to do that" Hancock said.

"I hope we don't get away from having some feeling for the survivors," he said. "Mr. Edens knew she was a hoax. Mrs. Edens believed the story and accepted her for her daughter. I'm sure that gave her a peace that she never would have gotten."

Reynolds lived with members of the Edens family for a couple of years, then moved to Idaho and later West Yellowstone Park, where she ran a series of restaurants. Lewis Edens died in 1978 at 81, and Ethel Edens died in 1984 at 88, never learning of the secret.

Reynolds eventually remarried and today is named Mary Edens Grossnickle. Now 78 and living in northeastern Colorado, she still says she is Mary Edens and isn't bothered by the doubters. "I really don't care what they think," she said. "It just bounces off of me.” Of the notarized statement by More, Grossnickle wasn't surprised she signed it. "She was scared," Grossnickle said. "If she wasn't my birth mother, then she was a kidnapper."

Etta Henderson, who lives in Oklahoma City, is one of the Edens' daughters. Like everyone else, she believed they had found their sister in 1957. But she learned about the suppressed newspaper story sometime in the 1970s. Grossnickle's son, Lee, still contacts Henderson occasionally, and still calls her aunt.

That's fine with her; she likes Lee. She has no illusions, however, about Grossnickle. "My daddy figured it out real quick, but we did not want to hurt our mother," said Henderson, 76. "I am not saying she is an impostor. I wouldn't. But I am saying she is not my sister."
Mary Grossnickle died in 2008, insisting to the last that she was Mary Edens.  A DNA test would have resolved the dispute over her identity, but as far as I know that was never done. I suppose it suited everyone involved to let sleeping genes lie.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Phantom Choir of St. Albans: A Christmas Eve Ghost Story

1805 engraving of St. Albans

One of the great (and now, sadly, lapsed) Christmas traditions is the telling of ghost stories.

On one particular year, a British teenager took this pastime to a whole other level. He didn't read about a Christmas Eve haunting.

He experienced one.

On the night of December 24, 1944, 16-year-old Basil Saville's thoughts were not on holiday cheer. He was not looking out for Santa Claus, but for bombs. The world was at war, and Saville was one of a team of "fire-watchers." His job was to spend the night guarding the great Abbey of St. Albans in Hertfordshire, keeping an eye out for enemy bombers and making sure the Abbey and its fire-fighting equipment were in good order.

On this particular night, Saville was left to patrol the Abbey alone. Being inside a vast, ancient church lit only by moonlight would be an eerie enough experience for most people, but the teen took it in stride. He had spent his life attending the old edifice, so it felt nearly as familiar as his own home. However, an unfamiliar feeling of unease began to creep upon him. Although he did not see or hear anything, he had a nagging sense that he was not alone.

When Saville reached the 15th century "watching chamber," this strange feeling grew more intense. Worse still, he realized this feeling was not unfounded. When he shone his flashlight into the chamber, he saw two hooded figures staring in his direction. When he dashed up into the loft, he saw nothing but two monks' habits lying on the floor.

Saville did his best to convince himself that his imagination had merely been playing tricks on him and continued on his tour. As he was climbing the staircase which led to the roof, he suddenly heard the tolling of one of the Abbey's bells.

The teen nearly fainted from the shock. All of the Abbey’s bells...had been put into storage on the ground floor. He had just passed one on his way to the staircase.

What was he hearing?

He managed to work up the courage to open the belfry door. The tolling had ceased. And the belfry was empty.

After taking a few minutes to pull himself together, Basil began heading downstairs, unaware that the venerable Abbey had a few more Christmas Eve surprises in store. The church organ began to play. Saville noticed a candle flickering in the organ loft.

"Put that light out!" he yelled to...whatever was up there. As he moved closer, he could see the pages of a music book turning and the organ keys being pressed. By invisible fingers. Then, from the direction of the high altar, a phantom choir began to burst into song. As the stunned boy ran towards the high altar, he suddenly saw a procession of monks, led by their abbot, leaving the altar and passing into the Saint's Chapel. Saville followed them into the chapel, only to find it dark and empty. When he went up to the organ loft, he found an old, yellowed music book and a spent candle. So perhaps he wasn't going mad after all. The book was a copy of "Albanus Mass," an early 16th century work that Robert Fayrfax had written especially for the Abbey.

When he returned to the vestry, Saville rejoiced to see that one of his fellow fire-watchers had arrived. He probably had never been so happy to have company in his life. Saville told his colleague about the night's experiences. However, when the pair went to the organ loft, the candle and book had vanished. Same with the monks' habits Saville had seen in the watching chamber.

That spectral Christmas Eve mass remained the most memorable night in Saville's life. Many years later, he told paranormal researcher Betty Puttick, "I'm not psychic or anything like that, and I've never seen anything like it either before or since. People may not believe me, but I know it happened."

For some years, Saville, fearing he'd be mocked, kept his story to himself. It was not until 1982, when a newspaper published his account as part of a roundup of Christmas stories submitted by readers, that his strange tale became public.

Saville, it turns out, was hardly the only one to see and hear phantom church services in the Abbey. There were reports from the 19th century of people hearing a ghostly organist during the night. Numerous people have seen the ghosts of Benedictine monks in and around the church.

Robert Fayrfax had been organist and director of the Abbey choir for many years. He is acclaimed as one of the greatest English musicians of his time. In 1921, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Fayrfax's death, his "Albanus Mass" was performed in the Abbey for the first time since the great composer's death.

Well, performed for the first time by living musicians, at any rate. One Frank Drakard told Betty Puttick of a conversation he had had with Canon Glossop, who lived near the Abbey, the morning after the concert.

"Did you enjoy the Fayrfax music last night, Canon?" Drakard asked.

"Yes," the Canon replied. "But you know, Drakard, I had heard it before." He went on to explain that, on more than one occasion, he had heard that very music coming from the Abbey in the middle of the night, at times when he knew there was no human choir inside.

The monks and musicians of St. Albans clearly loved their church, and see no reason to leave it just because they happen to be long dead.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

Renoir, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"

This week's Link Dump is hosting the Strange Company HQ Christmas party!

The "Welsh Roswell."

The weird, weird world of medieval bestiaries.

How the Early Modern era coped with winter.

It's an Angora Cat Christmas!

An Indian family's very weird end.

On the road with George Eliot.

Was Santa Claus a shaman?

The mystery of the Sailing Stones.

A brief history of the Halifax Gibbet.

Irish wedding traditions.

Shorter version: the human body is weird.

The execution of two infamous kidnappers.

A poltergeist in Birmingham.

The fight against "milk sickness."

A female drunkard's terrible revenge.

The last of England's wolves.

Why it might all end not with a whimper, but with a meteor hurricane.

More stage versions of "A Christmas Carol" than you can shake a stick at, plus the stick.

This week in Russian Weird looks at the Mad Meteorite.  And the Soviet Santa.

Perry Mason and the paranormal.  (Confession time: I have the entire run of that series on DVD. It's a cheesy show, but I love it.)

There are parts that aren't?  (I kid, Scotland, I kid.)

A kidnapping and a Christmas miracle.

Chewing gum and Neolithic DNA.

The diaries of Lady Charlotte Canning.

It somehow makes sense that 2019 was a big year for aliens.

I think all animals understand a lot more than we think.

It seems a bit odd (not to mention egocentric) to link to myself, but ICYMI, here is my post about the unsolved murder of Olive Peany.

The man they couldn't hang.  (But probably should have, IMO.)

Some Christmas superstitions.

The charlatan and the haunted hotel.

City streets in the 18th century.

Christmas will be the death of you.

The man executed in front of his own inn.

In search of the hollow Earth.

Scientists now believe humans were talking a whole lot earlier than they thought.

A tale of tavern rats.

There's a reason why Peter Pan always gave me the creeps.

The execution of Susanna One-Ear.

What the well-dressed 19th century ice skater was wearing.

Trade cards of Old London.

Florida's haunted highway.

Scunthorpe's dapper ghost.


Iceland's elf school.

High Strangeness in a psychiatric hospital.

High Strangeness in ancient cave art.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a real-life Christmas Eve ghost story.  In the meantime, Handel wishes you a merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Calling this story “strange” seems like tactful understatement. The “Arkansas Democrat,” February 24, 1905:
Elkhart, Ind., February 13. Mrs. A. J. Tallerday created excitement in northeast Elkhart by relating a startling story to friends and neighbors garnered at the home of Jacob Brooks, who died on Sunday morning.

Mrs. Tallerday was formerly Mrs. Brooks, separating from him twelve years ago. Since the death of her former husband she has been assisting the children in preparing for the funeral.

On the morning in question she was getting ready for breakfast, when, she declares, she saw a "white something" beckoning to her from the corner of the kitchen. She turned and declares she distinctly saw a large hand, which she recognised as that of her former husband. She tried to grasp it, but the strength suddenly left her right arm and the phantom hand fell into the open fire. She got it out as quickly as she could, but not before it had been badly charred, and then she says she heard a voice say in a loud tone, "You're all right, mother. You’re doing exactly right." She fainted with the spirit hand clutched in her fingers, and on being revived by the members of her family related her strange story.

The charred hand was exhibited, and hundreds of people visited the house today to inspect it. Some expressed doubt as to its genuineness, and microscopes were brought by skeptics. So annoying was the throng at the house that the police were summoned to clear the yard.

Mr. Brooks died suddenly of heart disease, aged 70. He was one of the county's oldest residents, coming here when 20 years old from Ohio.

As always seems to happen with the really good bits of weirdness, I was unable to find any follow-ups to the story.

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Case of the Deadly Love Triangle

This week, my regular Monday post is appearing as a guest post on that wonderful compendium of 19th century villainies, "Murder by Gaslight."  I tell the tale of how one woman's romantic and social ambitions led to an unsolved murder.

Hope to see you all there!


Friday, December 13, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

Renoir, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"

This Friday the 13th Link Dump is hosted by some lucky black cats!

The tragedies of Tumbling Run.

How alcohol saved humanity.

Superstitions about magnets.

Turning song into art.  Literally.

This week in Russian Weird looks at their Valley of Death.

A look at Christmas 1819.

If you're going to have a funeral for a doll, best to keep it simple.

A play named after Satan, and other theatrical links.

18th century general elections were...messy.

A last letter from the Indian Mutiny.

Early Modern "falling sickness."

How Santa has been depicted in France.

Honoring one of the great Sailor Cats.

The animals of Georgian London.

Tipsy the Detective Cat.

Graham Hancock's unorthodox archaeology.

A hotel's Christmas ghost.

Michelangelo, Architect of God.

The lover of painter J.M.W. Turner.

Fraudulent petitioners.

Our ancient ancestors really got around.

The importance of an Iron Age shield.

One of the weirdest houses in Britain.

Imagine being trapped on a land controlled by dangerous lunacy.  No, no, it's not 2019 California, although I do see the similarities.

Christmas in 19th century Spain.

A girl's Gilded Age diary.

A brief history of aeronauts.

A brief history of cheetah racing.

A brief history of beer.  

A brief history of Dunnottar Castle.

A man buried with a puppy from 12,000 years ago.

Immorality in the Pentonville Road.

Are we living on the wreckage of former civilizations?

The link between a royal dressmaker and a body-snatcher.

A graceful ghost.

A case of parricide.

Victorian Christmas shopping.

Was Camus murdered by the KGB?

Animals on trial.

One really freaking old archaeological site.

And we're outta here for this week! See you on Monday, when I'll be doing a guest post over at "Murder by Gaslight."  In the meantime, I figure it's late enough in the month to play this winter song again.

I tell people, "This is what it's like to be Latvian."

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

The unofficial motto of Austin, Texas is "Keep Austin Weird." In early 1964, someone or something certainly obliged. The "Austin American," January 29, 1964:
Can the mystery blast that shook Austinites Monday at noon be linked to puzzling reports of flying objects later the same day in Fort Worth and Dallas? Perhaps not, but the eerie events have one thing in common: none has been satisfactorily explained.

Most citizens who heard the "explosion" here had it figured for a sonic boom...until Bergstrom Air Force Base spokesmen solemnly declared there were no planes in this area at the time that could possibly make a sound blast.

City, county and state officials could offer no other explanation--construction dynamiting, oil tank fire, or anything. But there was an earth-trembling blast here.

"Just take a look at my ceiling," James Edward Wilson, 1806 Drake Avenue, told Austin police, "if you wonder how hard it shook." He estimated damages at $175 as ceilings sagged after the blast in two rooms of his South Austin home.

An East Dallas woman listed even more damage at her home caused by a mysterious object which came hurtling through the window Monday night. .Mrs. B.S. Fenlaw told detectives the projectile apparently knocked a piece of concrete from her driveway, then exploded into at least three pieces. One of these fragments about the size of a silver dollar sailed through her living room window, tore a hole in the dining room wall and came to rest on the kitchen floor. The fragment was imprinted with the word "Stockham."

Investigators were expected to study a possible connection between the projectile and a flaming object which fell from the skies west of Fort Worth Monday night. Mr. and Mrs. Ronald J. Jones said the Fort Worth object appeared from the north west, bobbing lazily through the skies.

"It hovered over a house," Jones said, "then fell and burst into flames, setting fire to a lawn."

The blaze was extinguished and astronomer Oscar Monnig was summoned. He quickly ruled out the possibility the object was a meteorite, gathered up particles of the "thing" from the yard and turned them over to members of the Texas Christian University physics and geology faculty to be analyzed.

"The TCU scientists hope have some preliminary results by Wednesday," Monnig said. He learned Tuesday that youths had launched plastic balloons in the area, but reported they were "rather amazed by the incident" since all their objects disappeared to the south.

Anyone for explanations?

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Trials of Christopher Slaughterford: An 18th Century Tragedy

The following is the tale of how one seemingly completely ordinary young Englishman earned an unenviable place in the legal books--and, more importantly to our modern generation--his own Wikipedia entry.

Christopher Slaughterford was born in Westbury, Surrey, sometime in 1684. His father was a miller. He spent his early life apprenticing at a farm in Goldaming, after which he served other farmers in that neighborhood. Slaughterford was hard-working, honest, clean-living, and eager to succeed. He had an good reputation, and seemed as inoffensive and respectable a character as could be found.

Before too long, he had saved enough money to buy a malt-house in Shalford, which earned him a healthy living. The future was certainly looking bright. Slaughterford had a aunt "keeping house" for him, but he naturally now began looking for a wife to take her place. Equally predictably, the single ladies of the area saw this steady and successful young man as an excellent catch. When his attentions turned to a pretty servant girl named Jane Young, she welcomed his courtship. The pair were often seen together, socializing with friends or taking strolls in the countryside.

Early in October 1708, Jane went to her employer, Elizabeth Chapman, with some exciting news: she and Christopher were getting married! Mrs. Chapman was happy for her young servant. She wished Young well and admired her trousseau. When Jane left the Chapman home, it must have been with a light heart indeed.

Instead, this simple tale of rural romance turned to dark tragedy. On the evening of October 5, Jane and Christopher were seen together. And then the girl vanished. No one knew what became of her until about a month later, when her body was found in a pond near Slaughterford's home. A surgeon's examination found several wounds to her head, which led to the common assumption that the unfortunate young woman had been murdered.

The local community instantly settled on one suspect, and one suspect only: the dead girl's sweetheart. It is unclear why so many people were immediately convinced that the hitherto exemplary Slaughterford would commit such a brutal act against the girl he planned to marry, but convinced they were. In the words of the "Newgate Calendar," "a clamour was raised against him, and every person believed that he had murdered her."

But why would he do such a thing? Nobody could say. The common assumption was that Christopher had tired of his lady love, and could think of no other way to be rid of her than by turning to murder. There was absolutely no evidence of any such thing, but that didn't stop this theory from quickly being accepted as fact. It was an alarming example of how easily public perceptions can be swayed.

For his part, Christopher vehemently denied having anything to do with Jane's death. He insisted that he had no idea how she met such a grim fate, and he was determined to prove it. On his own initiative, Slaughterford presented himself to the local authorities for examination. After a justice of the peace heard all the available evidence, he had no problem dismissing the case. As far as the law was concerned, Christopher was left with his good name unsullied.

Unfortunately for Slaughterford, his neighbors felt differently. Lack of evidence be damned, the community continued to insist that he was a murderer. They just had to find a way to prove it. And so they did. Dark stories began to be told of Christopher's behavior after Jane's disappearance. One woman claimed that when she asked him what had become of his "whore," he replied, "I have put her off, do you know of any girl that has money your way? I have got the way of putting them off now." Another woman said that before Jane's body was discovered, she asked Slaughterford what he would do "if Jane Young should lay such a child to you as mine here." She alleged that he sighed, saying that was now impossible, and burst into tears. Then a neighbor of Christopher's said he had seen a man and a woman walking together on the night Jane vanished. He did not see the couple well enough to identify them, but the man was wearing clothing similar to that worn by Slaughterford. Shortly after he passed by the couple, he claimed to have heard a woman scream.

This lurid gossip seems like remarkably weak reasons to hang a man, but the community had whipped themselves up into a legal lynch mob. They knew--even if they couldn't exactly say how they knew--that Slaughterford was a murderer, and they were determined to send him to the gallows. So intense was the uproar that the authorities decided it was necessary to have a formal trial at the next assizes. In the meantime, Slaughterford was held in custody at Marshalsea prison--probably at least in part to prevent his neighbors from taking the law into their own hands.

At his trial, Slaughterford's aunt and the apprentice who lived with them swore under oath that he had been at home for the entire night that Jane disappeared. The previously-described "witnesses" brought forward their dubious testimony. The judge and jury, realizing there was not a scintilla of hard evidence against the defendant, quickly returned an acquittal.

This verdict did nothing to quell the fury of his accusers. One way or another, they were going to make Slaughterford pay for his crime. Local residents convinced Jane's family to bring a private prosecution against him. This brought particular hazards for the accused: if he was found guilty, he was unable to lodge an appeal to the monarch, since the case was brought by an individual, not the Crown. If Christopher lost this case, there was no hope for him.

Neighbors took up a collection which financed the lawsuit, as the Young family was far too poor to do so on their own. In the summer of 1709, the riddle of Jane's death was again brought before the law. For Christopher Slaughterford, this was a case of the third time being anything but a charm. Although no additional evidence pointing to his guilt had been found, the jury--all consisting of local men--knew that they were there not to try the case, but to deliver a conviction. Accordingly, they declared Slaughterford guilty, and sentenced him to die. It was the first time in modern English history that someone was to be executed for murder based solely on circumstantial evidence.

Slaughterford was hanged in Guildford High Street on July 9. He maintained to the very end that he was completely innocent. Shortly before his execution, he wrote a statement: "Being brought here to die, according to the sentence passed upon me at the Queen's-Bench bar, for a crime of which I am wholly innocent, I thought myself obliged to let the world know, that they may not reflect on my friends and relations, whom I have left behind me much troubled for my fatal end, that I know nothing of the death of Jane Young, nor how she came by her death, directly or indirectly, though some have been pleased to cast reflections on my aunt. However, I freely forgive all my enemies, and pray to God to give them a due sense of their errors, and in his due time to bring the truth to light. In the mean time, I beg every one to forbear reflecting on my dear mother, or any of my relations, for my unjust and unhappy fall, since what I have here set down is truth, and nothing but the truth, as I expect salvation at the hands of Almighty God; but I am heartily sorry that I should be the cause of persuading her to leave her dame, which is all that troubles me. As witness my hand this 9th day of July."

As a final gesture of contempt for the proceedings, as soon as the executioner put the rope around his neck, rather than wait to be pushed off the gallows, Slaughterford took the fatal leap himself. There is a local legend that his ghost was subsequently seen in the area with a noose around his neck and crying, "Vengeance! Vengeance!"

The mystery of Jane Young's death may have been legally closed, but it was by no means resolved. There are a number of obvious questions in this case. If Slaughterford was indeed guilty, what motivated this hitherto law-abiding young man to kill his fiancee? If he was innocent, what made so many people so convinced of his guilt that they would literally hound him to his death? Why did no one at least address the possibility that someone else might have murdered her?

And was this even a murder at all? Presuming that Jane died the night she disappeared, her body, when discovered, must have been far too decomposed for any sort of proper post-mortem. It is conceivable that while walking home alone, she accidentally fell into the pond and drowned, with the suspicious marks on her head and neck being caused after her death from rocks and other materials in the pond.

Whether this was an instance of justice finally being done or (as most legal analysts believe) an example of judicial murder, this was a remarkably perplexing case.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Weekend Link Dump

Renoir, "Luncheon of the Boating Party"

This week's Link Dump is hosted by Baby, award-winning seeing-eye cat!

Life Magazine, 1947. Photographer: Loran F. Smith

Lethbridge Herald, February 1, 1947, via Newspapers.com

Who the hell was the Princess of Persia mummy?

What the hell is the Eltanin Antenna?

A newly-discovered manuscript written by Elizabeth I.

A collection of links telling you pretty much all you need to know about Bertolt Brecht.

The history of a portrait.

The wonderful world of medieval book curses.

An asteroid's mysterious craters.

Murder at Fleet Prison.

The rise and fall of a Marine Society apprentice.  (Part two is here.)

The River of Bicycles.

Private Bateman, shot at dawn.

Royal inbreeding and the Habsburg Jaw.

The days of Snowball Earth.

Fake wills and forged Bibles.

Death becomes them.

How a ghost solved a burglary.

Nancy Astor, MP.

A brief history of magnets.

Why Percy Mapleton wished the police sketch had never been invented.

The British in 18th century India.

Vinegar Yard's Whistling Oyster.

John Simon, Mr. Nice Guy.

I'd say that getting hit with a meteorite is the definition of "God hates you."

This week in Russian Weird features a cameo appearance by Bigfoot.

One very bad tenant.

Was King Tut buried in a borrowed grave?

A brief history of punk.

A brief history of Christmas trees.

Uncovering an episode in Biblical history.

And we're done for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a mysterious tragedy in 18th century England. In the meantime, here's a bit of Handel.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

via Newspapers.com

Talking trees are nearly as welcome on my blog as talking cats. From the "Louisville Courier-Journal," September 23, 1904:

Out on the farm of Will Albert, near Heath this county, the people of that section are yet wrought up over the "talking tree" that has been there for some time, says the Paducah News-Democrat.

Enormous crowds continue to congregate there almost every Sunday to hear the strange noises that emanate from the tree. The voice can be distinctly heard and says "there are treasures buried at my roots."

For a time many of the curious thinking people mentioned such a thing with disgust, but as the strange noises can yet he heard the people are now convinced that it is true. A party consisting of the most reliable citizens of the county visited the tree not long since to make a thorough investigation for themselves as to the noises being heard. They listened patiently for several hours and were preparing to leave for home when a sudden crash, which has been given many times before the marvelous production of a human voice, came.

The mystery yet remains unsolved, and so great has the number of people been who have gone there in the past several months that the tree is now dead, caused by the continuous tramping on the earth surrounding the tree. The only theory that has been suggested is that a man was killed under the tree in 1862, and while many do not believe in "spirits," the facts are so plain and the voice can be so distinctly heard that they cannot dispute the fact. A family of people who lived there many years ago became so frightened from the voice they sold their farm at a sacrifice and went West and are now living in Texas.
A while after this article appeared, some boys dug up an old musket that was buried under the tree. This was seen as confirmation of the alleged murder, but as far as I can tell, the "Talking Tree" was one of those weird little stories that made a big splash in contemporary newspapers for a while, only to soon sink without a trace.

Monday, December 2, 2019

A Vanishing in Idaho: The Lillian Richey Mystery

Among the creepiest disappearances are ones where the victim apparently vanished from his/her own home. Equally chilling are the cases where there are virtually no clues indicating what happened to this person. The following mystery managed to combine both these elements, making the fate of one otherwise completely normal person very abnormal indeed.

51-year-old Lillian Richey was a resident of Nampa, Idaho. She had lived alone since the death of her husband, but she had a good job at Bullock's Jewelry, friends, family, and an active social life, so she was far from being lonely or isolated. She was a well-liked woman who had no known enemies or any notable personal problems.

On the night of February 8, 1964, Richey visited a nightclub with an old friend, a California man who was in the area for a cattleman's convention. About 1:30 a.m., the man (whose name was never publicly revealed) drove Richey home in her own car, borrowing the auto to drive back to Boise. One of Richey's neighbors saw the car drive away, immediately followed by lights being turned on in Richey's kitchen. All was quiet and seemingly ordinary.

Around 11 a.m., the California man drove Richey's car back to her home. He was followed by a friend in another car who would drive him back to Boise. They put the car in the garage, and, as the night before Richey had invited them to breakfast, knocked on her door. They were puzzled when she failed to respond. The front door was unlocked, so they opened it and called to her. Silence. The pair entered, and when they failed to find any sign of Richey, they left a note for her, breakfasted in a restaurant, and went to visit other friends in Nampa.

No one realized something was very wrong until the following day, when Richey failed to show up for work. Calls to her home went unanswered. By late afternoon, her co-workers were concerned enough to contact police.

The hunt was on for Lillian Richey. Everything in and around Nampa was searched. All her friends, relatives, and acquaintances were questioned by police. Searches of her home found nothing unusual. All her belongings were in their accustomed places. After checking her clothes closet, friends believed that the only item missing was the black evening dress she had worn to the nightclub. The wrap she had worn that night was found hanging in the closet, but there was no sign of the evening purse she had had with her. Plane tickets she had purchased to visit a son in Moscow, Idaho later that month were untouched. The house was dusted for fingerprints, but the only ones found belonged to the missing woman.

Naturally, the focus of the inquiry was on Mrs. Richey's California friend, the last person known to have seen her before she disappeared. He and his friend were interrogated for hours. Their personal lives were heavily scrutinized. They submitted to lie detector tests. In short, the two men were investigated six ways from Sunday. And their stories checked out completely. The police found absolutely nothing to suggest that either of them were anything other than frustratingly innocent.

So if these two men were not responsible for Richey vanishing, who was? The police found nothing to indicate she committed suicide. Or that she had been kidnapped. Or murdered. Or left voluntarily. It was as clue-free a mystery as you could ever imagine. Police spent years chasing down whatever rumors or tips came their way--they even spoke to a man who claimed he had invented a machine that could find missing people--with absolutely no results. Private detectives hired by Richey's two sons were equally ineffective. It was as if this woman had spontaneously evaporated into thin air.

Idaho Free Press, February 9, 1966, via Newspapers.com

Although Richey was declared legally dead in 1967, the search for her has never really ended. For years, there were rumors that Richey's body could be found beneath the Nampa school district office building, which was under construction at the time of her disappearance. In 2018, police took that gossip seriously enough to excavate the office floor and bring in cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar, but to no one's real surprise, nothing anomalous was found.

The vanishing of Lillian Richey is not only Idaho's oldest cold case, but arguably its most baffling.