"...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, February 28, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

It's time for this week's Link Dump!

Let the show begin!

Angkor Wat and the collapsed reservoir.

Shorter version: Jack Parsons was one weird dude.

Jolly Jane Toppan, the last person you would want at your sickbed.

A museum that's pure torture.

The mystery of the Breton inscription.

The posset: good for whatever ails you.

Yet another murderous marriage.

Earth has acquired a new moon.

Ghostbusting in German folklore.

The sacrificed children of Llullaillaco.

A shipboard romance in the archives.

The Regency's "acceptable ailment."

The immortal Beethoven.

A mysterious Poe-themed tombstone.

A ring's very long and strange journey.

Medieval she-wolves.

What it was like to watch Aldous Huxley die.

The vanishing solari boards.

The UK Parliament's secret doorway.

The Devil's Bible.

Colombia's underground mountaintop tombs.

Jeffrey Epstein didn't kill himself, and neither did Poe.

What animals understand about death and dying.  More than most humans think, I'll bet.

The mysteries of Moliere, and other theatrical links.

The alleys of Old London.

The Forest Grove Sound and Satan's squealing teakettle.

A burial by the railroad tracks.

The maps of George III.

Haworth as seen in old newspapers.

The murky tales of lost cosmonauts.

If you think you've come down with the plague, I hope you have white wine vinegar and rosemary on hand.

The notorious Cardiff Giant Hoax.

Murder and an Indian curse.

Death of a bicycle bandit.

The mystery of Ape Canyon.

A flirtatious highwayman.

The 19th century "Colossus of Equestrians."

The murder of a Miami playgirl.

The Hickman family poisoning.

IT'S A PLANET.  End of discussion.

A cat comes to the rescue of her kittens.

Poor old Mary Tudor.  I've always found her the most sympathetic member of that rotten dynasty.

A 46,000 year old bird.

The role of sound in medieval law.

Kids, do not pick up fruit from the ground and eat it when you have no idea what it is.  Odds are good it'll be from something called the "Tree of Death," and there goes your day.

So I guess this is People Eating Stupidly week.

That wraps it up for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at a famed writer's real-life ghost story. In the meantime, here's some Nat King Cole.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

The 19th century did love its Spring-Heeled Jacks. One lesser-known example of the breed prowled the streets of Broughty Ferry, Scotland early in 1867.  Probably the earliest published report was a letter which appeared in the "Dundee Courier" on February 1st:
Sir,—Our village of Broughty Ferry has been in great state of excitement during this week at the nightly appearance of “Spring Legs." Carnoustie has of late become too hot for him, so he tries his little game on here. If he meets with better success than he met with last night he will find it rather hot work. I would caution every one to carry a pistol with him who has cause to be out at a late hour. If comes in track again he will play at ghosty no more, for certain a bullet goes through his head next time I confront him.

On Tuesday night, about half-past eleven, I was way home, proceeding along Brook Street, when to my great surprise I saw a tall object dressed in white approaching in my direction. Its pace was very rapid, and it seemed to move in a series of leaps highly fantastic and unnatural. For moment my senses had deceived me, and my first instinct was to run; but drawn forward by an influence I could not overcome, similar to that experienced by birds when brought under the gaze of serpents, found myself within fifty paces of it when all of sudden I heard a clattering noise resembling the emptying of a basket of wooden clothes pins, accompanied by a devilish "chick, chick," amidst which the nocturnal "Spring Legs” vanished up a close.

Determined to find out the cause of all this I proceeded by the back of Urquhart Foundry and into a neighbouring garden, where sure enough there sat "Spring Legs" busily at work under a gooseberry bush attempting to wrap a piece of twine round the broken leg of some sort of carte de visite stand. Thought I we'll see who moves out of here first. Spring Legs now rose and placed his apparatus opposite a window the blinds of which were drawn up. A cold shudder ran through me as he proceeded to draw from his breast pocket an article resembling a carving knife, but which turned out be a candle. He immediately struck a match and applied a light, encasing the candle in a small box placed the top of the three-legged stand. It was comforting amidst the surrounding death-like silence to hear the sharp scratch of the match, which in ordinary circumstances would go unheeded, but which at that moment afforded the same sense of feeling which a living object, such as a cat or a dog, would give in a house disturbed by some casual circumstances outside. From that moment I saw he was no devil no ghost, no nothing but an ordinary human being, maybe possessed of the devil, but without a devil’s tail or the ability of lighting the candle by spitting fire. At this moment I let fly a large brick at his machine, and immediately took to my heels, but on looking back I found myself hotly pursued. I ran in the direction of Stewart’s Nursery, and found by the time I was within near approach of that place that Spring Legs was gaining fast upon me. I was too excited to cry for help, and. rushing into the nursery, I seized hold of a flower-pot, and by a well-directed aim laid poor "Spring Legs” low just as he was entering the grounds. His moanings were dreadful, and at that moment I felt as a murderer would feel, but suddenly he gave over meaning, and a sort of gurgling sound in his throat made me believe he was dead. 1 undid his ghastly apparel, made of a sort of rubber, and a found young man of goodly proportions. His nose bled profusely, and the blood mixing with the hair on his face made him present a strange appearance. I proceeded to alarm the inmates of the nursery, but had not gone above a hundred yards when I received the great shock of all that evening. Guess my surprise to find "Spring Legs" running as fast as his legs would carry him towards the north of the grounds, crying “Chick, chick.”

I felt in no humour to follow him up. The fellow had evidently shammed death. Without disturbing anybody I left for the scene of our first meeting, and found a candle burning inside a turnip, with holes cut out in front resembling a devil’s head, such as boys use on Hallowe’en. The man’s intention, I suppose, was to knock at the window and frighten the inmates inside, although what pleasure he could nave in doing this, or in running about as I found him, seems a mystery.—l am, &c., Broughty Castle.

I'm not sure who came out looking stranger in that encounter, "Spring Legs," or "Broughty," but never mind.

Several other reports of Mr. Legs were recorded in the “Courier” at around this time. In April, a correspondent reported that “his springship” was now busily annoying the good people of Alyth. After that, he appears to have vanished from view.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Ramendra Narayan Roy: India's Tichborne

Ramendra Narayan Roy, in the days when no one questioned that he was alive.

One of the most famous court cases of the 19th century revolved around Arthur Orton’s years-long campaign to prove that he was, in fact, Sir Roger Tichborne, a wealthy young man who had disappeared in a presumed shipwreck many years before. As strange (and protracted) as the whole Tichborne matter was, it was eclipsed in both length and weirdness by a lesser-known case which played out in India not many years later.

In the early 20th century, some areas of India were ruled directly by the British, others by Indian princes (kumars) operating under British control. One of the bigger and wealthier examples of the latter was the Bhawal Estate, in what is now Bangladesh. It was ruled jointly by three princes. The middle prince, Ramendra Narayan Roy, was a bit of a lad, with the unfortunate result that he was diagnosed with syphilis in 1906. While undergoing treatment in Darjeeling, he suddenly fell seriously ill and died on May 8, 1909, at the age of 25. He was cremated the following day.

The end of his story? Hardly. Ramendra hadn’t even begun causing trouble.

In 1910, the oldest of the Bhawal princes died, and shortly afterward, the remaining prince was ruled to be unfit to manage the estate on his own. (He died in 1913.) The estate was put under the control of the Court of Wards, a legal body created by the East India Company to protect estates when the heir, for whatever reason, was incapable of acting independently.

Not long after this, odd rumors began to circulate in Bhawal. It was said that Ramendra Narayan Roy was not, as everyone assumed, a heap of ashes, but alive and well and acting as a holy man in the city of Dhaka. Ramendra’s nephew went to Dhaka to see this mysterious figure for himself. He decided that the holy man did indeed resemble his presumably late uncle, but he could not positively say it was him. The pseudo-Ramendra was brought to Bhawal to meet other relatives. After speaking with him, some were convinced that it was the prince. They were particularly impressed that he remembered the name of “his” wet-nurse, something which was not public knowledge. Others, most notably Ramendra’s widow Bibhabati Devi, were equally convinced the man was an impostor.

At this point, British officials interjected themselves into the controversy. After interviewing all interested parties, they ruled that Ramendra Narayan Roy, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, was still dead.

The end of his story? Ha!

There were still a great many supporters for the Claimant, and they and his detractors essentially went to war. The issue of his identity became so heated that at one of the pro-Claimant demonstrations, at least one man was fatally shot. In 1930, the Man Who Would Be Ramendra went to court to establish that he was the second Bhawal prince, although the trial did not actually begin until 1933.

The first question to be addressed was the one that probably first occurred to you: How in the hell did this guy survive cremation? The Claimant’s story, in brief, is this: his wife and brother-in-law had plotted to kill him. The diagnosis of syphilis had been merely a hoax, designed as an excuse to bring him to Darjeeling. There, he was poisoned and pronounced dead. His brother-in-law arranged for him to be taken to a funeral ground to be cremated. However, a sudden hailstorm which broke out before the pyre could be lit forced everyone to flee for safety, leaving him on the funeral grounds. There, some holy men happened to come across his inert form and carried him away to safety. They nursed him back to health, but the traumatic experience caused memory loss, which for several years made him forget who he was.

Top: Photo of the prince.  Bottom: The Claimant

The case almost totally revolved around “expert witnesses” for both sides. This worked about as well as you might think. The Claimant’s handwriting witnesses swore that the plaintiff’s writing was identical to that of the prince. The handwriting witnesses for the defense swore that there was no resemblance at all. A photographic expert for the Claimant swore that photos of the plaintiff and the prince were definitely of the same person. Photographic experts for the defense told him to pound sand. Doctors who had tended Ramendra in his “final illness” were brought in. The ones who testified for the Claimant said he was really not all that sick, and could easily have survived. The ones who appeared for the plaintiff said recovery had been impossible. And so on. And so on. For more than a year, literally a thousand witnesses offered equally contradictory testimony. Then, the defense presented their case. For yet another year, they brought forth four hundred witnesses, including Ramendra’s widow, who all denounced the Claimant as a shamelessly brazen fraud. The widow of the eldest prince also believed the plaintiff was a fake. On the other hand, the widow of the third prince was of the opinion that yes, the Claimant was actually the real deal.  For every bit of evidence which proved the Claimant was the prince, another was brought forward which proved he wasn't.

In short, the trial was a confusing mess on a truly epic scale.

The legal marathon finally adjourned on May 20, 1936. The long-suffering judge took three months to study the voluminous evidence and write his report. He judged in favor of the plaintiff, and ordered that he be given his rightful one-third share of the Bhawal Estate.

The end of his story? Oh, surely you jest.

Despite this verdict, the British remained convinced the Claimant was a hoaxer, and filed an appeal, which was heard before the High Court in Calcutta in late 1938. While the case was being heard, one of the three appellate judges made what was meant to be a brief trip to England. Then--as if things weren’t complicated enough already--World War Two broke out, leaving the judge unable to return. After a year or so of hoping the world would calm down enough for him to get back to India, the stranded judge finally sent over his written judgement. It turned out that there was a split decision: one of the judges supported the appellants, while the other two (including the one stuck in England) ruled against them. For a second time, the legal system had decided that the Claimant was indeed Ramendra Narayan Roy.

The end of his story? I think that by now, you know the answer to that.

Ramendra’s widow (or, in the view of the High Court, his wife) was determined to fight on. She brought her appeal to London’s Privy Council. The ruling on her case had to be delayed until the end of the war. Finally, July 30, 1946 saw the end of this other long, messy conflict. The Privy Council dismissed her appeal, leaving the Claimant again triumphant.

For a while, at least. Before the Privy Council delivered its verdict, an astrologer told Bibhabati that she would lose her case, but that the Claimant would gain no benefit from his win. As it happened, he was quite correct. Just hours after he learned of his victory, the Claimant suffered a massive stroke which killed him two days later.

Whether or not this man was truly Ramendra Narayan Roy--something which is still debated by historians--his story was, at long last, indisputably over.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by the only two creatures with nine lives.

Yes, we're still asking:  What the hell is the Voynich Manuscript?

What the hell happened in the skies over Nuremberg in 1561?

What the hell is going on with Betelgeuse?

What the hell sank the "Hunley?"

Who the hell killed Marilyn Sheppard?

Watch out for the London Burkers!

Watch out for the Munroe Demon House!

Watch out for the Gambler's Fallacy!

The strange death of David Schilling.

Manfred Missfelder and the Ark of the Covenant.

Why a Prime Minister turned to writing a filthy play.

Advice for visitors to 19th century Mexico.

The mystery of a Neanderthal grave.

Indexing the India Office Records.

Wolf folklore.

A cat with his own passport.

Remembering a once-influential nature writer.

An executed murderer who inspired a novel.

Solving the mystery of a WWII soldier.

Yet another one for the "We don't know jack about human history" file.

Stories of outlaw archers who were not named "Robin Hood."

WWI was lousy in every sense of the word.

A 19th century celebrity health guru.

In praise of juniper.

The surprisingly long history of fan fiction.

The defiant Florence Nightingale.

According to this astrological theory, I am "E.T."  I hated "E.T."  Maybe I need to switch zodiac signs.

A collection of undelivered 17th century letters.

An executioner makes his debut.

A Bloomsbury boy in the Baltic.

The underground railroad and a legendary cave.

The weirdness of a spider's web.

In which John Adams takes a very bad transatlantic voyage.

A man who really followed in his late brother's footsteps.

Technology is getting creepier every day.

Ghost DNA and our mysterious ancestors.

The art of camera trap photography.

Westminster's disappearing division bells.

A shameful mother and her wretched home.

The pizza collar bomber: one of the weirder true-crime cases.

The historian and the fake priest.

The doctor who blew hydrogen gas where?!

Searching for giants in New Zealand.

A new stepson talks too much.

How "Macbeth" came to be known as the infamous "Scottish Play."

London's biggest theater scandals, and other theatrical links.

Esther Howland's Valentine's cards.

Bees now have their own dictionary.

Marriage in the late medieval period.

A brief history of beard terminology.

And that's it for this week!  Please join me on Monday, when we'll look at India's equivalent of the Tichborne case.  In the meantime, let's dance!

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Tales of stone-throwing poltergeists are surprisingly common, but this one is a bit more unusual than most. The “Indianapolis News,” June 26, 1909:
Lafayette, Ind.. June 24. For miles around the little hamlet ot Pettit, seven miles east of Lafayette, the residents are in a state of great excitement over the strange happenings at the home of Rosanna Ritenour. A haunted house, dreary and desolate, infested by evil spirits, who hurl bricks and stones through solid walls without leaving a hole, throw chunks of dried clay about the rooms from invisible sources and pour water through ceilings upon the heads of unsuspecting persons beneath--these are the conditions reported at the Ritenour home that have caused all the excitement in the community and made the Ritenour farm such a point of interest as to attract hundreds of people to the scene every day. And while several investigating persons have made rigid inquiries they offer no other explanation than to accuse the old woman and her little granddaughter, who live alone In the house, of concocting the scheme to keep the old home from being sold by relatives who seek to remove Mrs. Ritenour from her dreary, dilapidated surroundings and dispose of the property.

It is only since the evening of Friday, June 18, that the Ritenour house has come into the limelight as the abode of ghosts. The house and its surroundings form an ideal setting for a ghost story and to the superstitious mind they appeal with great force as a fitting rendezvous of spirit forms. The house is a mile north of Pettit and sits back from the road in a clump of trees and shrubbery. It is an old log house, built in 1822, with weatherboards on two sides. Between the logs is a clay plastering that furnishes the ghost with one kind of ammunition that figures in the story.

For forty-nine years old Mrs. Ritenour has lived in the house. She is seventy-five years old and since the death of her husband, a civil war veteran, in May 1908, she has lived alone with little Rosie Julian, age eleven years. Rosie is the daughter of Mrs. Ritenour’s daughter, who has been missing for several years, leaving home and never returning. Five other daughters, all married, are living within a few miles of the so-called haunted house.

Since the memorable Friday night, on which the manifestation of material activity or unearthly power was first noted in the house, many remarkable things have come to pass. Mrs. Ritenour declares that large stones and bricks have been hurled at her and her granddaughter by unseen hands, coming through walls without leaving a mark to Indicate where they passed through the walls. She says the pelting with stones begins each evening at 5 o'clock and continues at intervals until midnight, when all is quiet. Both she and her granddaughter, she says, have been struck repeatedly with stones and pieces of dried clay, water has been poured on them from the kitchen ceiling, bricks have been hurled with great force from above the house, crashing into a stove and tearing it to pieces. In the yard, she says, she and the girl have been pelted with corn cobs without a person being visible but themselves. One brick covered with moss, she says, came Into the house the other night and landed on the bed of her granddaughter, striking on the pillow a few inches from the girl's head.

Every day since Mrs. Ritenour first reported that the house was haunted hundreds of curious people have visited the farm and the less timid or the visitors have remained through the evening. Many report that they saw the stones come crashing into the rooms and heard the water splash. Mrs. Emma Rauch. a neighbor, says she was with Mrs. Ritenour and the little girl the other night and a large piece of clay hit her on the neck and bruised her neck severely. She says at the time the aged woman and the girl were in front of her. There was nobody else in the house, she said. She also saw water come from the ceiling. There is nothing but an empty loft above the living rooms.

Mrs. Frances Meyers, another neighbor, was also struck on the hip with a stone and slightly injured. She says Mrs. Ritenour and the girl could not have thrown the stone. Both Mrs. Ritenour and her granddaughter have marks on their bodies to show that they have been struck by missiles.

For the purpose of solving the mystery and "laying" the ghost a party of Lafayette men headed by Noah T. Rogers, deputy-sheriff, and Perry Moon, treasurer of the Fairfield Lumber Company, made a trip to the Ritenour home yesterday afternoon and proceeded to investigate. They questioned the aged woman and the girl closely, but could get no admissions. They looked into the beds occupied by the woman and girl and found lumps of clay concealed beneath the covers. The investigating party remained at the house six hours, returning late last night to the city. They say nothing extraordinary occurred while they were there. The members of the party declared that the missiles and water must necessarily have been thrown by the woman and the girl. Mrs. Ritenour. they said, assured them the ghosts would not return and that there would be no stone throwing. Mrs. Rauch and Mrs. Meyers, however, are willing to make affidavits to the effect that neither Mrs. Ritenour nor her granddaughter threw the missiles and water.

The neighborhood is much excited today and hundreds of people visited the house. There is a theory to the effect that the daughters of old Mrs. Ritenour have been striving for some time to induce her to leave the old home and allow it to be sold. They have all invited her to come and live with them, but she has declined. She has become so deeply attached to the old horme she says she will remain there until she dies.
The newspapers don’t seem to have carried any more about the story, so I presume the disruptive activity--whether caused by spectral or human hands--did indeed cease.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Who Murdered Mattie?

"Boston Globe," August 19, 1905, via Newspapers.com

The true-crime writer F. Tennyson Jesse suggested that not only are some people "born murderers," others are "born murderees." It is when these two types of people happen to find each other that you get A Situation.

It is an interesting theory, but one that tends to fall apart once you study murder cases. For example, it is hard to find a more unlikely "murderee" than seventeen-year-old Mattie Hackett of Readfield, Maine.

August 17, 1905, was a typical day for Mattie and her family. After her father, Levi, finished his work on the family farm, he joined his wife and six children for dinner. After the meal, Levi went to the barn to do some final chores, and Mattie began washing the dishes. The rest of the family went to call on some neighbors, leaving the girl alone in the house. Mattie was a pretty girl, but in bad health--in fact, the very next day she was scheduled to be operated on for appendicitis.

"Boston Globe," August 19, 1905

As Levi Hackett came out of the barn, he was approached by a stocky, shabbily-dressed young man, obviously a tramp. The man introduced himself as Alfred Johnson of Caribou, Maine. He stated that he had just been released from a jail term for vagrancy, and he asked if he could have a meal and a place to sleep overnight before he returned to his home. Levi replied that his house was full, but the ex-jailbird could sleep in the barn.

The pair walked to the kitchen window, and Levi asked his daughter to get the stranger something to eat. She cheerfully agreed. While the girl began assembling a meal, Levi and the tramp returned to the barn. Just a few minutes later, they heard the sounds of muffled voices coming from the road adjoining the barn. Johnson started to go to see what the commotion was about, but Levi stopped him. It was only some of the children quarreling, he shrugged.

As the two left the barn a short time later, they heard something considerably more ominous: from down the road, they heard a woman scream--in an odd, high-pitched way--"Oh, you dirty nasty thing!"

Alarmed by the cry, Levi rushed into his kitchen. Mattie was not there. As he stood in the doorway, wondering what on earth to do next, he heard even worse sounds: an anguished cry for help, followed by strange gurgling noises.

These cries seemed to come from down the road, around a little bend. Hackett dashed in that direction, leaving the confused Johnson standing in the yard. Not far from his home was a ditch, at one end of a culvert. It was here that Levi found his daughter. She was alive, but unconscious. Blood was flowing from a cut on her forehead. Hackett's yells for help soon summoned the rest of his family, along with a half-dozen startled neighbors, and they carried the stricken girl into the house.

At first, everyone assumed that the sickly Mattie had merely fainted, injuring her face as she fell. Her parents loosened her clothing, rubbed her hands and feet, and even threw cold water in her face to revive her. Despite their desperate efforts, her breathing was clearly becoming more and more labored. As Levi picked the girl up to carry her to bed, her head fell forward. It was only then that they saw that a cord had been tied around Mattie's neck, embedded tightly enough in her flesh so that it was nearly invisible. Tragically, by the time the family was able to remove the cord, Mattie was dead. Her parents were forever haunted by the thought that if they had only seen the cord sooner, they could have saved their daughter.

"Boston Globe," August 19, 1905

Mattie Hackett had been murdered, and in an unusually strange and inexplicable way. Someone had lured the girl outside, led her a short way down the road, and strangled her. But who? And why?

The initial assumption was that the crime was committed by the "usual suspects" of the era: vagrants like Johnson and his ilk. Readfield organized posses who searched the area for suspicious tramps, but no likely candidates could be found. Johnson himself was held in prison for months as a material witness, but he finally had to be released when it became clear that he had nothing to offer the investigation.

In any case, it soon became increasingly obvious that Mattie almost certainly was killed by someone she knew. She would hardly have willingly left with a stranger. And if she had been forcibly removed from the kitchen, surely her father nearby would have heard the commotion. Also, the kitchen showed no sign that any struggle had taken place there.

Within a few days of Mattie's death, law enforcement developed a new theory, one that they never really relinquished: a woman had been responsible for the crime. One particular woman, in fact: Elsie Raymond, the 21-year-old wife of a local hostler. The scenario put together by investigators was this: Elsie's husband Bert had been paying warmer attentions to the attractive Mattie than was proper for a married man. The heavily-pregnant Mrs. Raymond became increasingly maddened by jealousy. On the fatal evening, Bert rode to the Hackett home and called Mattie out for a short talk. Elsie had followed her husband, and, finding him with her perceived rival, went into a rage so violent that she cried, "Oh, you dirty, nasty thing," grabbed a cord and throttled the girl.

"Boston Globe," August 21, 1905

Investigators were not without evidence to support this lurid outline. On the day of Mattie's death, the Raymonds had been overheard quarreling. A woman who boarded with them testified that Elsie had left the house early in the evening, and did not return until after midnight, when she was crying and clearly deeply shaken. Someone else claimed that Elsie had once told her, "If Mattie Hackett ever crosses my path, I will kill her." Yet another witness stated that shortly before Mattie was attacked, she had seen Elsie moving quickly down the road in the direction of the Hackett farm.

In addition, there was what was probably the most intriguing clue in the entire case. Mattie had been living with an aunt in nearby Bartlett, while she worked in a five and ten cent store in that town. However, in recent days she had returned home, due to her poor health. Two of the girls she worked with told investigators that Mattie told them she was afraid of a man in Readfield, and for that reason was reluctant to return home. She went on to say that this man had once courted her, but she decided she didn't care for him, and gave him up. Her former lover married another girl, but Mattie still feared him. She never claimed that this man had threatened her, and she never specified the reason for her unease. Most unfortunately, she also never gave his name. Was this "mystery man" Bert Raymond?

However, there was much in favor of Mrs. Raymond's innocence. For one thing, it seemed unlikely that a woman three weeks away from giving birth could have covered two miles of steep, rocky road in the twenty minutes between the time she was last seen at her home and Mattie's murder. For another, it was soon established that all of Bert's known "attentions" to Mattie consisted of once taking her and her sister Nettie home from work. Most importantly, the footprints found around the site where Mattie was attacked were of size seven shoes. Mrs. Raymond's size was four and a half.

Despite the weakness of the case against Mrs. Raymond, she remained law enforcement's only suspect, and they were determined to pursue charges. However, not one, but two grand juries were assembled to hear the case against Elsie, and both refused to return an indictment. The Raymonds stood the cloud of suspicion over their heads for a year, after which, sick of the gossip which continued to hound them, they moved to a neighboring town.

Time went on, and it looked like the murder of Mattie Hackett would be destined to become a forgotten cold case. Then, in March 1912--almost seven years after the girl's death--County Attorney Joseph Williamson stunned everyone by obtaining an indictment of Elsie Raymond. He had been convinced from the beginning that Mrs. Raymond was a murderer, and he felt he could finally prove it. Her trial was set for the following November.

"Boston Globe," April 7, 1912

The state's case against Elsie was one of the most curious in legal history: in essence, they argued that Mrs. Raymond's advanced state of pregnancy had made her crazed enough to turn savage garroter. The prosecution evidence consisted almost solely of various medical experts testifying that women about to become mothers often developed a derangement of the mind, which quickly disappeared after giving birth. (This must have made the husbands of pregnant women throughout Maine very uneasy.) They offered to accept a plea of "not guilty by reason of temporary insanity."

The defense scornfully rejected any such thing. Their client was completely innocent, they declared, and they would accept only an acquittal. They pointed to the exculpatory footprint evidence. They pointed to the fact that witnesses could not swear that a veiled woman they claimed to have seen rushing toward the Hackett farm that August night in 1905 was indeed Elsie Raymond. Additionally, if the Raymonds were at the death scene, how did they leave? The dying Mattie was found only a few minutes after she was strangled, but no one saw either of the Raymonds anywhere in the vicinity.

The defense argued that not only could they prove their client's innocence, they believed they had found the real murderers. They put on the stand a half-dozen witnesses claiming that in 1906, an army deserter named William Hurd had told them he had witnessed a gang of his fellow tramps murder Mattie Hackett. He subsequently committed suicide, without ever revealing the names of the guilty parties.

Alfred Johnson also took the stand, telling a story substantially different from his earlier accounts. He now claimed that when he was in the barn with Levi Hackett, he heard a man's voice say, "Can't you come down tonight," with a woman replying, "No, I can't come down tonight." The voices moved further down the road. Soon afterward, he heard two women talking, followed by the cry of "You dirty, nasty thing," and a choked-off scream.

Alas for the prosecution, before this--to put it most charitably--imaginative testimony could even be completed, the jury announced they had heard quite enough to return an acquittal. Mrs. Raymond was freed.

It was an extremely popular verdict, one which allowed the Raymonds to live the rest of their lives in peace. However, it did absolutely nothing to solve a puzzle which seems fated to forever remain a mystery: Who killed Mattie Hackett?

Friday, February 14, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The sponsors of this week's Link Dump want to be your Valentine.

What the hell are the Lubbock Lights?

What the hell is gravity?

That time when Orwell was a policeman in British India.

The vanishing cats of the Art Students' League.

A collection of children's notebooks.

The world's smallest--and arguably the most sinister--museum.

Why Lincoln laughed.

Love tokens from the Thames.

Secret love letters in the archives.

Some facts about the UK census.

The woman who was hugged to death.

The legends of Captain Jack Armstrong.

This week in Russian Weird:  Kids, do not stick your head inside a particle accelerator.

The complicated case of the Queen's Pearl.

How the heart came to symbolize love.

The funeral of George III.

Female shamans in ancient Ireland.

What may be the oldest story ever told.

Heart folklore.

You want really bizarre Valentine's Day plays?  You get really bizarre Valentine's Day plays.

The theory that ghosts are essentially tape recordings.

Remembering Dorothy Parker.

A murderer and a poltergeist.

The Victorian "bachelor girls."

A demon-infested house.

Nope, nothing at all creepy about this story.

A scrapbook created by a WWII prisoner of war.

I'm not normally big on going to restaurants, but I'd love to visit this one.

The murdered woman in the well.

The differences between American and British theater, and other theatrical links.

The eerie tales surrounding an abandoned resort.

Valentines to send to your favorite undertaker.

Some failed mutineers.

Victorian's modern fashion trends.

Mary Tofts, Mommie Rabbitest.

Do you know what Washington saw as the future of America?  Mules.

How a national treasure came to be found near railroad tracks.

Nostalgia in Early Modern England.

Woolly mammoths: "genetic mess."

DNA solved a 50-year-old murder case.

Homosexuality and a 200-year-old diary.

An "eccentric mimic."

A hint of spring during an East End winter.

Play the Board Game of Death!

The singular life of Sal Madge.

How to create a 3rd century hairdo.

How our sun could turn into a Death Star.  Happy weekend!

Something from another galaxy is sending out radio signals.  Pair this with the above link, and your dystopian sci-fi novel writes itself.

OK, let's talk cross-dressing frog-catchers.

No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air; Or, next time you travel, consider using Amtrak.

How cats and a dog saved the lives of 37 people.

A famed 18th century American socialite.

A tree grown from 2,000 year old seeds.

A strange burial in Massachusetts.

The unsolved murder of Katie Dugan.

That's a wrap for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at one of Maine's most well-known unsolved murders. In the meantime, this song seemed appropriate.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Many things have been known to inspire murder plots, but I believe a broken clothesline is one for the record books.   The "Santa Rosa Press-Democrat," November 9, 1949:

PORT ORCHARD, Wash., Nov. 8 (UP) Jobless, Wilford Piatt, 34, explained today why he "just can't get mad" at his wife, who admits plotting to kill him after 15 years of "too much loving." 
"She was upset," he said, "over the spell of bad luck we've been having, that's all. A wife just doesn't kill a husband who loves her." 
Wilford, who, romantically speaking, thinks he's "only average," visited the petite, blue-eyed Margaret Susan Piatt yesterday, following her arraignment in Kitsap county court. His 31 -year-old wife, mother of two children, has until next Monday to answer the charge of attempted murder. 
After her arraignment yesterday, Mrs. Piatt, dressed prettily in a black and white figured dress and high-heeled pumps, met her husband in the jail visiting room. They kissed and hugged. 
Leaving her with a sack full of apples, Wilford beamed: "She's wonderful!" 
"And I think I know now what the real trouble is," he said. "It's only the way our luck's been going." 
"Two years ago, I wrecked my new 1947 Ford and woke up 21 days later in the hospital. After that the roof fell in. 
"This spring Margaret was operated on for the tumor. Then Jimmy, my 9-year-old son broke his ear drum." 
"It was Fourth of July when Jimmy, his hands sticky from candy he was eating, lighted a firecracker, threw it and then clapped his hands to his face. The explosive had stuck to his hands. 
"Six weeks later a police dog knocked him down and bit his face," Wilford said. 
"Not long after that, my daughter Sherry fell 30 feet and broke her shoulder. That was on my wife's birthday." 
Seven days later Piatt fell and broke his arm while apple picking in Cashmere, Wash. 
"About that time is when she started acting funny. Wouldn't talk to me, reason with me," he said. "Just barely noticed me. Seems like everything in her snapped the next Sunday, when the clothesline broke." 
With her husband unable to work, she had been working two jobs 16 hours a day. Sunday was washday. 
It was that weekend that Mrs. Piatt met Hollis D. Scott and outlined her plot to murder her husband. 
"She was just depressed, that's all," said Wilford. "Then she pulled that fool stunt soon after. That's why you can't get mad at her." 
At the arraignment yesterday, her attorney, Ray R. Greenwood, challenged the validity of the attempted murder charge, arguing that the information as drawn up did not constitute a crime. 
"No overt act was committed," he pointed out. Prosecutor James Monroe contended solicitation to commit murder is the same as attempted murder.

Mrs. Piatt's attorneys, rather amazingly, managed to get the attempted murder charges against their client dropped, but a new charge--forgery--was brought against her. (When she sold her husband's car to pay for his murder, she falsified his name on the title papers.) When she was released on bail, Wilford welcomed her back with open arms, saying "We sure do need you home."

"Akron Beacon Journal," November 9, 1949

I suppose it is a matter of individual opinion whether Wilford Piatt was the most understanding, tolerant man on the planet or simply the biggest idiot on two legs.

The forgery charges were eventually dropped as well, and the Piatts disappeared from the newspapers.  Hopefully, this brush with calamity moderated Wilford's sexual desires and Margaret's homicidal ones, and the pair went on to live happily ever after, but I somehow doubt it.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Cat Trial of the Century

On this blog, I have covered several cases revolving around disputed identity: is person “X” really person “Y”, or aren’t they? I have a great fondness for such stories, as they can make some of the most fascinating riddles.

So, you can imagine how pleased I was to come across one famed court case where the center of the mystery was a cat. And when I learned the feline in question bore the glorious name of “Marmaduke Gingerbits,” I knew I had been blessed by the Blogger Gods.

The tale of this four-legged Martin Guerre began in Woodford Bridge, Essex, in August of 1983. Marmaduke was the beloved pet of PC John Sewell and his wife Anna.

When the Sewells went away for vacation, they left Marmaduke in the care of a friend. On their return, they were met with the worst news a pet owner can receive: soon after they left, the cat disappeared!

Immediately after Marmaduke vanished, a large, handsome ginger cat began visiting Doreen Smythe, one of Sewell’s neighbors. One evening, she saw another neighbor, Monty Cohen, trying to catch the cat. He told Mrs. Smythe that he thought it was his missing pet, Sonny. Although she noticed that the animal displayed a curious aversion to Cohen, Smythe allowed him to take the cat. Or try to, at any rate. “The cat wouldn’t go near him,” she later testified. “He crouched and was spitting and laid on the floor, all hunched up.”

Soon after this, she noticed a flier in a shop window offering a reward for Marmaduke’s return. It included a photo of the fugitive. Mrs. Smythe saw that he was a dead ringer for Mr. Cohen’s “Sonny.” She immediately contacted the Sewells.

When the couple went to Cohen’s house, they noted that the neighbor was “hostile,” but Cohen reluctantly showed them the cat. “The cat immediately turned his head and we knew at that moment that it was our animal,” said Sewell. “He was struggling to get free and get away from Cohen towards myself and my wife.”

Despite this, Cohen refused to hand over the cat. Sewell and his wife got hold of the cat’s front legs, but Cohen stubbornly refused to let go of the rest of the animal. The constable whipped out his warrant card, showing that it was now a matter for Her Majesty’s law enforcement. A friend of Cohen’s, who said he was a black belt in karate, responded by throwing kicks and punches. Cohen and Sewell began pounding each other. The constable called for backup and put Cohen in an armlock.

It was war.

Sewell promptly had Cohen arrested on charges of cat-napping and assault, and the case of Sewell vs. Cohen--quickly dubbed by the British press as “The Cat Trial of the Century” and "The Love-Tug"--was heard in Snaresbrook Crown Court in February 1984.

The Guardian, June 15, 1984, via Newspapers.com

Judge G.N. Worthington opened the proceedings by ordering that the disputed cat be shown to the jury. “What is his name,” he asked.

“Marmaduke Gingerbits, Your Honor,” Sewell replied.

“Marmaduke, who?” Worthington said bemusedly. He eyed certain areas of the cat’s anatomy. “Where are the ginger bits?”

Sewell struggled to answer the question in a manner befitting the dignity of a British courtroom. “Unfortunately, he was christened before he had his operation…”

Cohen continued to insist that Exhibit A was his “Sonny.” Sewell pointed out that Marmaduke has a distinct mark on his right eyelid that was identical to the cat now in court. Marmaduke’s vet gave testimony, agreeing that the cat was “very likely” to be the same one he had treated. Photographs of Marmaduke were introduced into evidence, and compared carefully to the Claimant.

The jury found Cohen guilty of assault, but punted on the matter of the cat. Judge Worthington decided that his court had no jurisdiction to decide whether the Claimant was Marmaduke or Sonny. Ever since Cohen’s arrest, the center of the dispute had been kept in neutral territory--a local cattery--and the Judge expressed concern at the escalating public cost of keeping the cat in custody. It had already amounted to three hundred pounds. Cohen’s counsel immediately asked for the cat to be given to his client. He pointed out that when police officers arrived at Cohen’s house, they learned that his rival was a policeman. “From start to finish Mr. Sewell, working with other police officers, was on the inside rail, so to speak...There was no proper consideration of Mr. Cohen’s account.”

“I am not going to deal with the question of access to a cat,” the judge sighed.

The Guardian, February 28, 1984

Both sides were determined to fight on. In early March 1984, in the presence of cameras from both the BBC and ITV--the issue of this cat’s identity had by now become a nationwide cause célèbre--Cohen and the Sewells went to Redbridge Magistrates Court, each side applying for custody of the cat. A date was set for later that month, but when the magistrates heard that the Sewells had already started proceedings in the County Court, the case was dismissed.

The issue of the cat’s ownership had become a complicated legal puzzle. The Sewells had adjourned the civil case pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings against Cohen, because, no matter what the civil court decided, the cat would have to remain with a third party until the criminal trial was over. If Cohen had been convicted of theft, the cat would be automatically given to the Sewells, making the civil case unnecessary. In the meantime, Cohen went to the Police Complaints Board, alleging that when he was arrested, police officers “mishandled” him. He announced that he would file an injunction if the Sewells were allowed access to “his” cat. (Cohen accused Sewell of paying secret visits to the feline and giving him biscuits to win his affections.) Cohen would have also liked to take civil action against the enemy camp, but he could not do so on legal aid, and, being unemployed, could not afford the costs himself.

Finally, in June 1984--after months of the UK holding its collective breath over the true identity of this mystery cat--these two (in the words of Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Jane Shoemaker) “otherwise sane and normal men” appeared in Bow Street Courthouse to learn which of them would have the honor of residing with the UK’s most controversial cat. Marmaduke/Sonny was present as well, reclining in a cage on a “fur-flattering” white blanket, and no doubt thinking uncomplimentary thoughts about human intelligence.

Marmaduke’s vet made another appearance, giving the vital testimony that Sewell’s cat was not allowed to drink milk. It disagreed with him.

The pivotal question: ”Did the cat present in the courtroom drink milk?”

A tense silence fell over the packed courtroom. They knew the cat’s destiny rested on the answer.

His current custodians testified that he did, but it gave him indigestion.

Game over. Registrar John Platt awarded the cat--now legally established as “Marmaduke”--to the Sewells. He stated that the Sewells produced sufficient evidence to show this was their cat. He believed that there truly had been a ginger cat named “Sonny,” and that Cohen genuinely, but erroneously, believed this was his lost pet. An honest mistake rather than sinister catnapping. He also ruled that Sewell had trespassed on Cohen’s home, and that he had had no right to put an armlock on Cohen when they had tussled over the cat. He ordered the Sewells to pay Cohen fifty pounds for the assault and trespass, and two hundred pounds of his costs. In return, Cohen was ordered to pay 80 per cent of the Sewells’ court costs. (In a separate matter, Cohen was also fined for puncturing the tires on four police cars.) The hearing was estimated to have cost over a thousand pounds, in addition to the five thousand pounds for the Snaresbrook hearing. This was, of course, not counting the expenses of keeping Marmaduke in custody as a material witness for months.

This hitherto humble ginger had become the costliest cat in Great Britain.

The Guardian, June 15, 1984

Marmaduke and the Sewells had a tearful reunion in the courtroom, covered in loving detail on BBC radio. As for Cohen, he too cried, but in sorrow, not joy. He fled the court, too upset to even speak to reporters. The Sewells left without comment, as well. A tabloid had bought their life story, and their contract barred them from speaking to anyone else.

I believe the court made the right decision. This cat who, in the manner of Helen of Troy, launched a thousand lawsuits, almost certainly did indeed belong to the Sewells.

However, I also have sympathy for Mr. Cohen. He would not have gone through this long legal hell if he had not been sincerely convinced this was his cat. So we are left with one mystery that, I fear, is fated to go unsolved: Where, oh, where, is his Sonny?

Friday, February 7, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump: tea is served!

Where the hell was Noah's flood?

Watch out for those haunted computers!

Bees.  Golden, mummified bees.

They may have found the skull of Pliny the Elder.

Finding history in a London cesspit.

The life of William IV.

How to go about settling in 1830s Texas.

A dinosaur love song.

An unusual hanging.

Killer corsets.

Killer rings!

Beethoven wasn't as deaf as we think.

Dinnerware for the dead.

The sound of the sun.

An 8,000 year old bone figurine.

A vaudeville performer who acted as a human screen.

Why did the 1918 flu kill so many young people?

A well which might be the world's oldest wooden structure.

Newly-discovered details about the death and burial of Charles Dickens.

Spirits of the unforgiven dead.

The Museum of Interesting Things turns out to be well named.

A puzzling ancient skeleton.

Some medieval medical recipes.

Reevaluating Charles Fort.

A Nazi-killing teenage girl gang.

Ancient board games.

If you've been longing to buy land once owned by a family of serial killers (if you're a reader of this blog, I suppose that's a definite possibility) here's your big chance.

Egypt's City of the Dead.

Mysterious underground cities and rock churches.

So maybe Cahokia wasn't that deserted after all.

The tradition of "Mid-Lent."

Victorian vinegar valentines.

The portraits of Princesse de Lamballe.

The downfall of a dangerous family.

Murder, written in stone.

The man who really defeated King Harold.

David Bowie and his demon-possessed swimming pool.

A mysterious mass burial.

Warrior tax collectors in the 11th century.

Murder and mystery in Los Angeles.

Queen Victoria throws a costume party.

The screaming ghost of a sheep thief.

A Brooklyn fire dog comes to the rescue of kittens.

Klingon Hamlet, and other theatrical links.

Nothing to see here, just a bunch of ancient curse tablets.

A rating sheet of 18th century socialites.

An 1895 film in high definition.

The amazing story of an Auschwitz inmate.

A woman discovers her family ties to the Lindbergh kidnapping.

I now realize what I was meant to do with my life: own a bookstore full of kittens.

A brief history of lipstick.

Dr. Crippen's family want his remains.

The bottom of the ocean turns out to be a pretty noisy place.

That's a wrap for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll meet a cat who inspired an epic legal battle.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Torelli: