"...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

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

A spectral “woman in black” is a common feature in ghost stories, but it’s not often one finds a name attached to it. From the “Kootenai Herald,” November 25, 1893:
Peebles, Ohio, Nov. 22. —The people of Dunkinvllle, a small place six miles south of here, are greatly excited over the actions of a mysterious object in the form of a woman which haunts the vicinity of the iron bridge crossing Brush Creek, and by its sudden appearance strikes terror to the hearts of the belated pedestrians who are chancing that way.

The first time the apparition was seen was when two young ladles and their escorts, while returning from church, were passing over the bridge, and saw coming toward them a medium-sized woman robed in black. As the mysterious being neared them the first thing that attracted the attention of the ladies was the appearance of the woman's feet, which were encased in what they thought was a pair of white slippers. There was nothing especially startling in this other than the slippers were rather out of season in such cool weather.

As she passed they looked more closely at the slight form in sombre black, with no wrap to shield her from the cool night air, her long, dark hair in disorder, streaming far below her waist, and a face which bore the stamp of death and shielded by a hand which for whiteness rivaled her countenance. As the ghostly object glided by them, to their astonishment they saw that the woman was barefooted. They were transfixed with horror as the being glided by them without a sound and passed across the bridge and out of sight.

Not one of the party had the nerve to follow and investigate, but hurriedly quit the scene. The mysterious object was seen by Abbott Wesley, who was returning home at a late hour, but his courage failed him and he, too, left the vicinity in haste.

Other residents claim that they have seen the same thing, and the believers in the supernatural connect its appearance with the remarkable mystery which puzzled the neighborhood years ago. Old residents will remember the excitement created over the mysterious disappearance of Julia Eichel, a young girl who was employed as a domestic in the family of Leslie Mangus, a former merchant at Dunkinvllle. One wintry night, when the snow was several inches deep, the young girl bade the family good night and retired to her room. The next morning her shoes and hat were found in her room, but the girl had disappeared as mysteriously as if the earth had swallowed her up. Diligent search failed to find any trace of her, and not a single track could be found in the snow about the house.

From that day to this no trace has ever been found, and the superstitious believe that it is the spirit of this girl which wanders about the spot unable to rest until her body is found. Others say the old graveyard in the vicinity has given up one of its dead, which wanders about frightening travelers.

The same thing was seen a number of times by reliable persons about six years ago and excited much talk at the time, but this is the first time it has been seen lately. The story goes without comment, and those who laugh at superstition may discredit, but those who saw the mysterious object are firm in their convictions that it was a supernatural being, and not the vision of an imaginative mind.
This is the only story I’ve found about the Ghost of Dunkinville. As far as I know, Julia Eichel’s disappearance remained a mystery, as well.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Waifs of the "Mayflower"

"Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor," William Halsall

Although everyone has heard of the “Mayflower,” what is largely unknown is that the famed voyage is connected to a poignant historical mystery—one that went unsolved for over three hundred years.

For many years, historians were puzzled by the fact that among the Mayflower passengers were four young brothers and sisters who were unrelated to anyone else on board. The ship’s log listed Ellen More (aged 8,) and her siblings Jasper (7,) Richard (6,) and Mary (4) as “servants” of four different Pilgrim leaders. It was first assumed that these children were penniless orphans, or offspring of parents too poor to keep them. Then, it was discovered that according to the parish register of Shipton, Shropshire, that the father of these children, Samuel More, was a rich landowner.

This new information made the presence of these children on the Mayflower seem strange, even incomprehensible. Why would a man of wealth and standing ship all of his children to a foreign land, where they faced a dangerous and highly uncertain future? An English genealogist named Sir Anthony Wagner became so fascinated by the mystery that in 1959, he was able to persuade a descendant of Samuel More to scour the family archives for any clues as to what had caused More to virtually disown his offspring. Many clues were indeed found. And it all added up to a story that reads like something out of one of Thomas Hardy’s more depressing novels.

When Samuel More was only 17, he was married to his 25-year-old cousin, Catherine More. It was an arranged match, made in order to keep Catherine’s considerable inheritance in the More family.

Although Catherine quickly bore four children, the marriage was not a success. Catherine had been in love with another man whom she had planned to marry, and the teenage Samuel likely lacked any real affection for his much-older bride. The real trouble began when the children became older. It was “common fame” that Catherine was conducting an affair with her old love, Jacob Blakeway, “a fellow of mean parentage and condition.” As there had been a formal betrothal contract, she even referred to him as her husband “before God.” Samuel, studying the faces of his presumed progeny, became convinced that they all resembled, not little Mores, but little Blakeways.

There was, of course, no way for Samuel to confirm his suspicions about the children’s parentage--and whether or not he was right is something we will never know--but he was taking no chances. The four youngsters were packed off to London, and More paid the Pilgrim leaders to take them to Virginia. He would see to it that the children were given sufficient food, lodging, and other necessities, and at the end of seven years he would arrange for each of them to have 50 acres of land in Virginia, but other than that, he washed his hands of them. Catherine made numerous legal appeals protesting this action, but they were all dismissed.

Samuel, believing that his marriage to Catherine was invalid, wed one Elizabeth Worsley. Seven children were the product of this remarriage, and the second Mrs. More must have prayed that each of them would be the spitting image of her husband. As for Catherine, she subsequently disappeared from the historical record. Although we know nothing of her subsequent life, it's a safe bet that she went to her grave cursing Samuel More.

The harsh New World did not treat the More children kindly. Ellen--probably greatly weakened by the long and arduous voyage--died right after the Mayflower landed in Plymouth. Jasper soon followed her to the grave, a victim of “the common infection” (probably pneumonia or typhoid.) That same winter, Mary died of the same cause. That left only Richard, a small boy left utterly alone in the world.

Richard lived with the family of his guardian, William Brewster, until mid-1627, when he was 14. He then entered the employ of a trans-Atlantic trader named Isaac Allerton. During his apprenticeship, he became captain of numerous ships that provided supplies to the colonies. In 1636, he married a young woman named Christian Hunter. Soon after their marriage, they moved to Salem, where they eventually had seven children.

Richard seems to have inherited his mother’s taste for extra-marital intrigue. In 1645, Richard, who was then in London, bigamously married one Elizabeth Woolnough. The following year, Elizabeth appeared in court to answer a charge against More--who had apparently skipped the country--for being drunk in the company of a prostitute. As far as is known, Elizabeth never came to America, and her subsequent history is unknown. The couple had one daughter, another Elizabeth, who eventually settled in Long Island. After Christian died in 1676, Richard married a widow named Jane Hollingsworth Crumpton.

After such an unpromising beginning, Richard did quite well for himself in the New World. By the time he was 24, he was Captain of his own ship, doing a successful trading business between the colonies, the West Indies, and England. He also became a prominent landowner.

In 1654, More participated in naval battles against the French, and served in a successful expedition against the enemy country at Port Royal, where this French fort was “reduced to English obedience.” The following year, he headed the rescue of colonists at Cape Fear, who were reduced to starvation after a ship that was meant to bring them supplies never arrived. In his many years as a mariner, More never lost a ship, or had any sailor under his command bring charges against him.

Unfortunately for him, More fell on hard times in his final years. He began suffering financial losses, and in July 1688, he got into major trouble with the Salem church elders. The church records thundered, “Old Captain More having been for many years under suspicion and common fame of lasciviousness, and some degree at least of inconstancy...but for want of proof we could go no further. He was at last left to himself so far as that he was convicted before justices of peace by three witnesses of gross unchastity with another man’s wife.” More was excommunicated, but after making public repentance for his sin, he was restored to the church in 1691. (The pastor who punished More was Nicholas Noyes, who earned his own historical infamy by leading the persecution of the Salem witches.)

Richard More died in Salem, probably in 1696. He is believed to have been the last male survivor of the Mayflower voyage.

Richard More's gravestone. Photo: Max Anderson, via Wikipedia

Friday, April 24, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandjin

This week's Link Dump is hosted by the Strange Company Spring Gardening Club!

Watch out for the Cornish Owlman!

Dueling with Agnes Hotot and Skulking Dudley.

Hitchhiking is dangerous.  Even if you're a robot.

A Civil War soldier writes home.

The 19th century artist John Church Dempsey.

The life of the Countess Dowager of Carlisle.

Creepy creatures pay flying visits.

The grave of the Lonely Soldier.

The florist and the flower ban.

The coffeehouse and the mystery of the missing mother.

The first English airplane looked remarkably like a chicken coop.

The theory that our planet is one big prison.  Certainly feels that way right now, doesn't it?

The killer of Viennese housemaids.

The last teenage girl hanged in Britain.

The lively history of London's Eaton Square.

Mozart and his frequently potty-mouthed letters.

Photos of mid-19th century Glasgow.

The UFOs of Nevada.

Holy anorexics: starving yourself for God.

The monsters of ancient castles.

A bored Italian banshee.

The Victorian love affair with American rebels.

Finding love in the archives.

A real Pirate King.

A brief history of Eddystone Lighthouse.

Modern-day "Little People."

The mysterious man known as the "Duke's Devil."

Thomas Jefferson still has a garden.

The famed beauty of Madame Recamier.

Go to Detroit, and you can dine in ancient Mesopotamia.

Photos capturing the dark side of mid-20th century New York.

Captain Beauclerk meets a prehistoric horse.

The mystery of the ancient burned cities.

The excavation of an Etruscan tomb.

A South American frog...in Antarctica.

The Black Death was a speedy sucker.

The homicidal congressman.

How to defraud the Devil.

The theory linking two famous murderers to a famous Fortean mystery.

Why was the cast of the movie "Titanic" poisoned?  Theory: someone read the script.

Criminalizing gypsies.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a family tragedy associated with the "Mayflower."  In the meantime, Haydn has a surprise for you!

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

mystery blood headline -
Via Newspapers.com

Because it’s been far too long since I’ve shared a Mystery Blood story, here’s this doozy from the “Los Angeles Times,” November 8, 1930:
LA HABRA, Nov. 7. The residence of V.J. Trueblood on Telegraph Road, near La Habra, today offered investigating officers the elements of an unsolved mystery, and the Trueblood family that eerie feeling of having met the inscrutable.

The family returned to its home yesterday after an absence of a day and a night to find that the home had been entered and that some sort of an animal conflict had taken place within the house. A door had been unlocked and on the walls of a bedroom were splotches of blood. A bed also bore blood stains, indicating, the family believes, that uninvited guests may have engaged there in a death struggle.

The small dog of the Truebloods also was found to be covered with blood stains, but bore no other evidences that might indicate participation in a bloody struggle.

Tests were being made today to determine, if possible, whether the blood is that of a human being, or of some animal that might have found its way into the house.
A story in the November 21 issue of the “Santa Ana Register” really makes me wonder what the hell was going on here:
LA HABRA, Nov. 21.—Some of the mystery concerning a blood splatter was cleared up yesterday when blood on the bedding and linens of the room was found to be that of an animal, presumably that small family dog at the V.J. Trueblood home on Telegraph road.

Mrs. Trueblood, who was sewing in an upper room, heard a gunshot near her home. She also heard her dog barking violently and later heard the door open. Later when her husband arrived and the blood splattered room was discovered, the constable’s office was notified.

How the dog entered the room, how a blood soaked bandage from the room was found near the road some distance from the house, what happened to a turkey hen, missing from her brood and who fired the shot at the dog, are mysteries unsolved.
I found no more about these sanguinary doings, which may be just as well.

And, yes, I note the irony of the family name.

Monday, April 20, 2020

The Man Who Wasn't Murdered: The Strange Case of James Eugene Harrison

"New York Daily News," September 20, 1959, via Newspapers.com

Q: What do you get when you mix auto theft, disappearances, amnesia, murder, and far too many tattoos?

A: One of the crazier true crime cases I’ve encountered.

At the center of our weird little saga is James Eugene Harrison of Indian River City, Florida. He was the owner of a successful window sash plant, happily married, a father of two young children. A perfect example of a solid middle-class citizen.

On October 7, 1958, the 32-year-old drove to Cocoa Beach, about fifteen miles away, to conduct some routine business. And promptly disappeared. When he failed to return home that night, his wife Jeanne immediately knew something was very wrong, and she phoned police. However, their investigation found no trace of Harrison.

No clues emerged regarding Harrison’s disappearance until a week later, when police in Jacksonville, about 150 miles from Indian River, found his abandoned station wagon. It had been sitting there since the morning after Harrison had last been seen. Ominously, the front seat was saturated with blood. “Somebody was murdered in that car,” a Jacksonville officer concluded. When the blood was found to match Harrison’s Type O, the natural conclusion was that the “Somebody” was the missing man. It was presumed that Harrison had been unlucky enough to pick up a hitchhiker who robbed and murdered him, then buried him in some obscure place and ditched the car. However, the only fingerprints found in the car were Harrison’s.

Poor Jeanne Harrison was naturally distraught, and at a loss what to do next. As she had no idea how to run her husband’s business, she felt she had no choice but to liquidate everything, and she and her children went to live with James’ mother in Miami. To support her children, she took a job as a receptionist while waiting in an agonizing limbo, not knowing if her husband was alive or dead.

On January 18, 1959, Mrs. Harrison finally received news about James. Unfortunately, it was the worst news imaginable. A Californian named Roy Victor Olson, who had just been convicted of the murder of television announcer Ogden Miles, confessed to killing James Harrison, as well. According to Olson, before stabbing Miles he had murdered a Seattle man named John Weiler. After the Miles murder, Olson fled to Florida, where he fell in with a young Kentuckian, James Leach. The pair spent several days hitchhiking together.

Olson went on to say that on October 7, 1958, he and Leach were walking along Highway 90, between Lake City and Jacksonville, when they were picked up by a man in a station wagon. He seemed like someone who would have money on him, so when the driver stopped to stretch his legs for a few moments, the pair attacked him.

“I stabbed him while Leach stood by with a rock in his hand,” Olson told his interrogators. “We robbed him of $500. We took a shovel we found in his car, dug a grave, and put him in with his business cards. We filled it in, then drove up to Jacksonville and left the car. His name was Harrison.” Olson did not know Leach’s current whereabouts but said he shouldn’t be hard to find. “He’s just about the most tattooed fellow in the country.”

Under further questioning, Olson added more details. He and Leach covered their victim’s body with two bags of “something” they found in the car--”I think it was lime.” He described minutely the wooded area south of Jacksonville where they buried Harrison. Olson concluded with, “Well, that’s that. I wonder how many more I’ve killed?” He was, in the words of Jacksonville officer Roy Sands, “the coolest killer I’ve seen in 17 years of police work.”

Everything the police found corroborated Olson’s horrifying story. Harrison had bought two bags of fertilizer just before he disappeared. He did indeed carry a shovel in the car identical to the one described by Olson. Two fertilizer bags were found in the area where Olson said the body was buried. To wrap up this murder case, all that was needed was to find the body...and, of course, James Leach.

"New York Daily News," September 20, 1959

The FBI issued a warrant for the tattooed Kentuckian. Florida Governor Leroy Collins sent extradition papers to California to bring Olson back to the state. On January 23, Leach was apprehended in Knoxville, Tennessee, and his captors quickly noted that Olson had not been exaggerating about his cohort’s body art. Leach had “The Kentucky Kid” tattooed on his right leg. “Six months I lived and lost,” was on his right arm. His chest sported a panther and the word “Crime.” His left shoulder read, “Born to raise Hell.” The left arm was adorned with “Born to lose,” and “Death.” His left leg featured a skull wearing a top hat.

Give Mr. Leach the prize for "Suspect least likely to be overlooked in the identification parade."

The 21-year-old Leach--who had never been found guilty of anything beyond vagrancy--protested his innocence. He admitted that he had spent a few days hitchhiking with Olson, but he had no idea the man was a murderer, and he himself certainly had no role in killing anyone. “I have no idea why he implicated me in something neither of us did,” he declared.

Given what the police had uncovered, it was small wonder no one believed him.

It was then that this seemingly straightforward murder took a bizarre twist. In Phoenix, Arizona, on the same day Leach was arrested, a well-dressed, freshly-shaved man stopped a car backing out of a residential driveway, and asked the driver to take him to the police station. This driver, understandably wary of this odd request, declined, but agreed to telephone the police to come and get the man.

The Arizona man did contact police, informing them that either a robber or a lunatic was standing in his driveway. When officers arrived, they found a man, seemingly in a great state of confusion, muttering, “How did I get here? How did I get here?”

At the station house, he informed them that he was James Eugene Harrison of Indian River City, Florida. He was stunned to find that it was January 1959, not October 1958, and had no idea at all how he came to be in Arizona.

According to Harrison, “yesterday--at least I thought it was yesterday” he was driving to Cocoa Beach. When he stopped at a traffic light, a man with a gun forced his way into the back seat. This man said, “I want to go to Jacksonville. Take me there and you won’t get hurt.” When they arrived in Jacksonville, the gunman ordered him to pull into a parking lot. After that, he said, “The lights went out.” He explained that “I woke up just a little while ago...I was lying on a parkway beside a street. My clothes were dirty and this T-shirt wasn’t mine...I never wear them. My $300 was gone. So was my watch and my Masonic ring. I found I was still wearing my wedding ring and I had 67 cents in my pocket. I started walking...I thought I was in Jacksonville…”

The police, eyeing the man’s dapper appearance, felt a bit skeptical of his story. They warned Jeanne Harrison that this Phoenix oddball was almost certainly a fraud. However, as soon as she spoke to the man on the telephone, she began screaming in joy. “It’s Jim! It’s Jim!” she cried. Still unable to believe the man’s story, investigators showed her a wire photo of the mystery man. “It’s Jim!” Jeanne insisted. “I don’t care what happened as long as he’s alive.” The ecstatic woman wired her husband the money to fly home. “It will be like starting our life all over again,” she said.

"Knoxville Journal," September 25, 1959, via Newspapers.com

Law enforcement saw their nice, tidy murder case suddenly turn into an inexplicable muddle. Somebody had left all that blood in Harrison’s car, and, judging by the quantity of it that was found, that somebody just had to be dead. But who was this person? Did Harrison kill his carjacker? Or did his assailant attack Harrison and steal his wallet and papers, only to be murdered by Olson?

As for Olson, he now repudiated his confession, claiming that he only admitted to killing Harrison in order to get “a free trip to Florida.”

As the erstwhile murder victim enjoyed the reunion with his family, authorities began compiling a long list of questions for Harrison. His whole story struck them as, in a word, fishy. They noted that Harrison bore no signs of any injuries, old or new. Police also found it odd that he had a reddish streak in his hair that appeared to be dyed. However, his family insisted that the red spot was natural, and Harrison himself maintained that he had no memory of what had happened to him.

Harrison’s return from the dead forced police to drop the murder charges against Leach. However, they continued to investigate his confession, along with the riddle of Harrison’s disappearance. During the three months when everyone assumed he had been murdered, where was the Window Sash King, and what had he been doing? No one could say. Although his photograph was published in newspapers across the country, no one came forward claiming to have seen Harrison during the period when he was missing. When asked to take a lie detector test, Harrison declined, stating that “I’ve been pushed around enough.” He and his family went into seclusion, refusing to say any more to anyone about the whole ordeal.

On February 4, a Phoenix woman who had seen one of the published photos of Harrison contacted police. She claimed that he had been her seatmate on a bus trip from Los Angeles to Phoenix. This witness said that she had chatted with him, and he seemed perfectly rational, showing no sign of distress or confusion. The man carried no luggage with him, and left the bus in Phoenix on January 23, just a few hours before Harrison went to the police.

Frustratingly enough, there the matter rested. As far as I have been able to tell, the main questions surrounding this mystery were never resolved. Police never learned how or why Harrison vanished, or where he was for those three missing months. If--as authorities continued to suspect--Harrison knew more than he was saying, the Floridian kept his secrets to himself. The identity of the person who left all that blood in his car was fated to remain equally mysterious.

Police were able to validate at least one part of Olson’s confession: he had indeed murdered a Seattle restaurateur named John Weiler. (It was said that “perverted sex acts” figured in the stabbings of both Weiler and Ogden Miles.) He was sent to Washington state long enough to be tried and convicted, after which he was transferred to California’s Folsom Prison. In the 1970s, he was paroled, only to begin serving his 75-year sentence for the Weiler murder in Washington. In the mid-1990s, Olson--who had a religious conversion in prison and claimed to be a reformed character--was released on parole. He seems to have lived a law-abiding life until his death in 2001.

In 1960, the skeleton of a man was found near the Jacksonville Expressway, in the general area where Olson claimed to have buried his victim. It was speculated that this man--who was never identified--was the victim stabbed to death in Harrison’s car, but that, of course, was impossible to prove.

All in all, this story is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle when you’re missing most of the pieces.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by those unforgettable Medieval Cats!

Watch out for those haunted wells!

A science fiction story that was a bit too accurate.

Songs of the Titanic.

A look at Britain's black past.

The first woman to fly across the English Channel.

The biggest star explosion ever observed.  By us, at least.

A Victorian photojournalist.

The burying ground of London's Quakers.

Napoleon on family life.

The dog who nabbed Osama.

Henry VIII owned a lot of stuff.

Monks as relic thieves.

A brief history of shell grottos.

50,000 year old string.

Arthur Munby's unconventional love life.  [Ed. note: "Unconventional" may be an understatement.]

It's looking like London is a hell of a lot older than we thought.

The link between an executed 14th century friar and evolutionary biology.

Life in a Viking mountain pass.

Take a virtual tour of ancient Egypt.

The dogs of the Titanic.

What may be the oldest known archaic human fossil.

Someone is forced to quarantine in a frightening, eerie place.  No, no, I'm not talking about Strange Company HQ.

London's 1863 social season.

The house that has become a radio station.

Men's grooming tips from the 19th century.

China's hanging coffins.

The first hiking trail.

The family troubles of Gerolamo Cardano.

Cholera in 1892 Hamburg.

Snail water, good for anything that ails you.

How copper kills viruses.

Victorian vote fraud.

The Constantinople Massacre.

Believe it or not, but Lord Byron was one of the more normal members of his family.

George Harrison, Illinois tourist.

Well, this is probably not good.  Like pretty much all of this godforsaken year.

The Affair of the Poisons, one of royalty's weirder scandals.

Regency sea bathing.

The case of the fake Aretha.

How rabbits and chickens became associated with Easter.

The Bronze Age had a thing for ostrich eggs.

Ernest Hemingway turned quarantine into a French farce.

Influenza diaries.

The disappearance at sea of Theodosia Burr.  (I wrote about this sad case here.)

Disease and the modern American bathroom.

One of those murders that probably ranks as "technically unsolved."

A Shakespearean fishmonger.

The dark side of P.T. Barnum.

Poetry in the King's Bench.

The weird death of an 18th century friar.

A murder by Roman soldiers.

Alma Mahler, muse.

A horrible and mysterious murder.

Victorian spring entertainment playbills.

That's all for this week!  Tune in on Monday, when we'll look at a man's bizarre return from the dead.  In the meantime, here's the Trio.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

In which we learn that you can be haunted by stranger things than ghosts. The “Des Moines Register,” July 21, 1935:
Davenport, IA.--Maybe one of these nights George Billingsley will catch that “ghost” that has been bothering him and his family.

If he does he’ll have the laugh on many people in Moline, Ill., across the river from here.

But more than likely, say many citizens here and in Moline, he won’t, and as long as that’s the way it sets, they’ll still hear the stories about the “ghost” of Moline and mutter to one another:


George Billingsley doesn’t believe in ghosts, but he is convinced heart and soul, he says, that there’s a mortal being--a mean and cunning human--who’s doing first one thing and then the other until Mr. Billingsley has had just about enough of it.

Chances are you saw those items in the papers about the Billingsley ghost, how it’s been appearing night after night at the Billingsley farm down a lonely land south of Moline--first in a white robe and black face; then vice versa. How he’s milked the cow, choked the dog, “swiped” the rocking chair, wheezed at the window--and so forth.

Most of the people in Moline and nearby communities refuse to believe in the ghost. One opinion is that a prowler or possibly a peeping Tom has made appearances at or near the Billingsley farm and that the Billingsleys have let it bother them to the extent they think he does things he actually doesn’t do at all.

But Sheriff Rudolph W. Kropp of Rock Island, Ill, who’s been trying to trap the “ghost” for nearly two months is disgusted.

“The darn thing’s been driving me nuts,” he said. “I’ve washed my hands of it. There may have been a prowler out there and there may not. I’ve been out there nights and so have my men and we’ve never seen a thing.

“The first night we don’t go out there, Billingsley says the man’s appeared again. The other day I asked the Billingsleys to come down here and talk the situation over with the county attorney but they didn’t show up and I’ll not be bothered with it any more.”

Sheriff Kropp also thinks the Billingsleys may be susceptible to spiritualism. He had been told, he reported, that a close relative of Mrs. Billingsley had advised getting a piece of flesh from a corpse and walking around the room with it.

“The relative’s idea was that if they did that the ghost or whatever it was would get caught by the spell, stop in his tracks and own up to what he was doing.”

Incidentally, Mr. Billingsley is furious at Sheriff Knopp and his men, calls them “ignorant and cowardly.”

“Why, they are afraid to look this fellow in the face. That’s why they haven’t caught him. The other night they were out here,” the farmer said, “and they were all dressed up in white pants and white shirts and white ties. Well, sir, I saw this fiend, but I was so mad at those sheriffs I just wouldn’t tell ‘em.”

That version was in direct contrast with what Sheriff Kropp had to say about the ghost hunt that night. Mrs. Billingsley had a different story, too.

According to the sheriff, he and his men were at the farm during the lunar eclipse last Monday night and Billingsley shouted he had seen the ghost. Immediately floodlights were thrown down on the fields and the officers searched the grounds, all of which disclosed nothing. Mrs. Billingsley said the sheriff’s men were notified that the man had been seen “but they wouldn’t be serious and look for him.”

The Billingsleys have suddenly decided there should be no more news stories about the case. There’s a lot that’s never been told and won’t be until the fellow is caught, they said, and Mr. Billingsley added “there’s a lot we haven’t told anyone yet.”

Neighbors of the Billingsleys, as far as this writer could learn, have never seen the “ghost,” nor do they appear to be greatly alarmed. A few said they thought they had heard unusual noises on occasions and that their dogs had seemed to act mean.

“But you can’t tell,” one of them said. “We may be imagining that.”

The queer thing about the entire situation is that it has aroused as much interest as it has.
What entertaining neighbors the Billingsleys must have been.

A week later, newspapers reported that the “ghost” had returned, wearing a straw hat and whistling “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.” He tore the laundry from the Billingsley clothesline and vanished into the darkness. The news item added that Billingsley “can’t stand the strain of chasing a half-witted ghost all night and working on the farm all day.” As far as I can tell, that was the last published update regarding the Billingsley Ghost.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Joane Wright, America's First Witch

American witchcraft has a long--if not particularly proud--heritage. In fact, colonial history gives the strong impression that the minute passengers stepped off the "Mayflower," they couldn’t wait to start accusing each other of sorcery.

America's first witchcraft trial took place on September 11, 1626, in front of the General Court of Jamestown. The woman unfortunate enough to star in this historical milestone was Joane (or Jane) Wright, a midwife who lived in the community of Elizabeth City, Virginia.

Goodwife Wright's chief accuser was one Lieutenant Giles Allingtone. He claimed that a Sergeant Booth reported that Wright had asked Booth to share some of his meat with her. When Booth declined, Wright put a curse on him that completely ruined his skills as a hunter. In fact, Booth had not been able to so much as wound a deer ever since, despite having "very fayre game to shute at."

Allingtone went on to say that when his wife went into labor with their latest child, he had brought in Wright to act as midwife. Mrs. Allingtone was not happy with this, as she had heard rumors that Wright was a witch. When she realized that--the horror!--Wright was also left-handed, she insisted on a new midwife. Wright, Allingtone added ominously, left their home "very much discontented."

The birth of the Allingtone baby did not go well. The mother's "brest grew dangerouslie sore of an Imposture," her husband came down with a strange illness that lasted for weeks, and, most tragically of all, the infant sickened and died after only five weeks of life.

You guessed it. Their discontented former midwife had obviously placed a curse on the household.

Further trial testimony revealed that Goody Wright had a disconcerting habit of declaring that certain people would soon die--and many of these predictions "came to pass." (A prediction that anyone will die will inevitably come true, but never mind that.) After quarreling with a neighbor's servant girl, Wright threatened she would make the girl "dance stark naked." (Regretfully, it is not recorded whether this "came to pass" as well.) When a neighbor refused to sell Wright any of his chickens, "shortly after the chickens died." Wright's husband, Robert, took the stand, but all he had to offer was the old, "How should I know if my wife's a witch?" defense.

Court records recorded more of Goody Wright's diabolical doings. She herself boasted that back in her hometown of Hull, England, she was acquainted with a witch, who had taught her all manner of magical spells. Wright boasted of using her powers to keep a woman's hand stuck inside a butter churn for hours. On another occasion, she had sickened a rival sorceress. (If you're curious, this particular spell involved throwing a "red-hotte" horseshoe into urine.) After she emigrated to Virginia, Wright made no secret of her magical practices, relishing the fear and awe she was able to inspire among her neighbors. According to one witness, Wright "was a very bad woman, and was accompted a witch among all."

Given all this testimony, Wright was considerably luckier than most accused witches. Although surviving records are vague on how she was punished, it is believed the court did nothing more than impose a small fine. (By way of comparison, some years earlier she had been publicly flogged for improperly hemming a shirt.) The court ruled that Wright was not really a witch, but only "a contentious woman."

Unfortunately for her, Wright's folk magic was not enough to make her prosper in the New World.  Robert Wright was repeatedly jailed for debt, and he died in poverty in 1629. What became of Joane Wright after her trial is not recorded, which is a shame. America's first official witch deserves a larger place in history.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

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

Good news! While we're all in lockdown, the goats are taking over.

In the 17th century, you really didn't want to be accused of having sex with a pig.

The body snatchers of Wanstead.

A Civil War love story.

Charles Darwin and the Glutton Club.

The surprisingly entertaining world of medieval proofs of age.

The hanging of Spanish Jack.

The increasingly tangled tale of the first alleged crime committed in space.

18th century barbers.

A railroad tragedy.

Kitty Clive, 18th century celebrity.

A farmer and his spirit machine.

Very Olde Critters.

How Beethoven fought depression.

Artistic hidden messages.

An ancient village may have been destroyed by a comet.

A pact with God and the strange death of a guitar legend.

The tragic Money family.  (I wrote about this curious case here.)

A side note to the murder of David Rizzio.

Letters from the Great Plague of London.

Easter was a lot more violent in the old days.

The psychic dogs of the U.S. military.

The ghost and the Easter bonnet.

Was Alexander the Great buried in Venice?

Brain surgery in ancient Greece.

The fragrant way of fighting disease.

The ghosts of Glamis.

A Welsh Jacobite.

It's raining fish in Australia.

The woman who tried to kill George III.

The first European hanged in Western Australia.

Snails as a...uh, cure for sunburn.

Recipes for rationed times.

A brief history of hair dye.

From plague cure to cocktail.

A New York cat colony.

The last Spitalfields Market cat.

A particularly shocking accusation of murder.

Hoppety Bob and Raymond's Folly.

The life of the anchoress Julian of Norwich.

Theatrical censorship in London.

How yellow fever created Greenwich Village.

That time you could become a professional Sluggard Waker.

The 19th century was the Golden Age of arsenic.

This week in Russian Weird: we're not saying it's aliens, but they're saying it's aliens.

Be proud, Scotland: you are the source for the earliest recorded use of the F-word.

How George Washington invented the presidential cabinet.

Paging Hannibal Lecter: The oldest known human DNA is of a cannibal.  

Jenny Lind in New York.

The irony is, if you were to bring someone from the Stone Age into our time, I'm betting they'd want a comfy suburban home with central air and heating.

That brings this week's Link Dump to a close.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at America's first witch.  In the meantime, I was sorry to hear of the death of the wonderful songwriter John Prine. This is probably my favorite song of his.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Poltergeist activity often takes place within a surprisingly short time frame, but this flying visit may be one for the record books. The “Black River Gazette,” August 6, 1875:
A San Diego correspondent of the San Francisco Mercury writes as follows, under date of 13th ult, in relation to some strange doings in the former place.

A rather singular event occurred a few days since in the house of a family named Ranney, residing in this place. Mrs. Ranney, her daughter, aged 16, and two ladies who were calling on the family, were present.

The three ladies were seated together conversing on the subject of "the week of prayer." The daughter was seated near them, and about three or four feet from a door. All at once the door was suddenly, by unseen hands, lifted off its hinges, carried four or five feet from its place and leaned very carefully, and without noise, against a dish cupboard, on which were three lamps which the door touched, and which a very slight jar would have caused them to be thrown down, but strange to say nothing was injured in the least.

The water-faucet was next turned on. The water splashed in the sink for a moment, and then the same unseen agency very carefully turned it off.

All this happened in plain view of all four persons present who, by the way, are not spiritualists, two of the ladies being members of the orthodox church.

As they were talking about it, and wondering what could be the cause, another door was violently swung open accompanied by a loud noise, as though the door had been struck or swept by the branches of a tree.

This occasioned them fresh alarm. After a careful examination of the house and premises, on which there is not a tree, nothing was found to show the slightest indication of the cause, and the party again entered the house, when the daughter said, "Maybe it's spirits." As soon as she spoke the sound was repeated of the branches swaying and scratching against the door, as if it were an affirmative answer to the remark.

This event has created considerable interest here, taking place as it did in the broad light of day and in the presence of witnesses. We do not know to what agency to attribute it, but on the whole we consider it a very singular occurrence.
I couldn’t find any follow-ups to this story. Whatever it was disturbing the peace of the Ranney home, it seems to have become bored with the family very quickly.

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Case of the Contentious Confession

"Morning Post," March 17, 1823, via Newspapers.com

Sometimes, people voluntarily confess to having committed heinous crimes; usually due to a bad conscience and a desire to make some amends. However, some confessions are fake. These are generally the result of genuine delusions, a perverse form of masochism, or just a desire to create a sick hoax.

There are, more rarely, instances when an admission of guilt does not do a damn thing to solve a mystery because it's impossible to tell if the person spoke the truth. This week's tale deals with one of those cases.

Our story opens in Colchester, England. On the morning of January 4, 1788, a miller named Daniel Holt left his home to go work...and never returned. His concerned family and friends reported his disappearance to the local authorities, and a search was made throughout the district, but no sign of him could be found. Holt's whereabouts remained a mystery until two weeks later, when a man fishing in the River Colne came across a body which was subsequently identified as the missing man. Holt's corpse had some injuries to the head, but doctors were unable to say if they were inflicted before death, or during the time the body lay in the river. Lacking any other possible signs of foul play, the inquest ruled that the miller's death was accidental, and the sad matter was soon forgotten by everyone other than his grieving loved ones.

Life went on. And on. And on. Nearly three decades went by, with no hint that the death of Daniel Holt would ever be of any interest to anyone again. Then one night, a man named Charles Williams was sitting in a Colchester tavern with an old friend, William Leicester. As the two men shared some porter, Williams got to talking. Out of nowhere, he asked Leicester if he remembered "old Mr. Holt who had been found dead in the river all those years ago."

Leicester did not. There were few people left who did. Williams informed his friend that Holt had been killed at a pub called the Blue Pig. What's more, Williams and one Roger Munsey had been his murderers. One night in 1788, Holt, after drinking his fill, went outside to sleep it off on the steps of the home of a Mr. Smythies, which adjoined the pub. Around midnight, Munsey hit the sleeping man over the head with a crowbar, killing him. He and Williams then put the body in a sack and hid it in the cellar of the Blue Pig. They then cleaned up the blood as best they could. He did not say what they did with the body after that, or even why they committed such a horrid deed.

Williams begged Leicester to keep this ghastly little story to himself. Leicester did his best to keep his promise of secrecy, but, understandably enough, Williams' words preyed on his mind. After brooding on the matter for a few years, Leicester finally confided what he had heard to his wife, as well as a Mr. Hill. Inevitably, the local rumor mill got hold of the tale. Colchester began buzzing that they had a murderer in their midst.

Williams, rather unwisely, responded to this unpleasant gossip by going to the authorities. He made an official complaint to the Town Clerk's Office, accusing Leicester of slandering him. Williams asked that a summons be brought against Leicester, so that he, Williams, could formally clear his name. When Leicester was questioned by the justices, he said that he had not been responsible for spreading the rumors about Williams. He added that he would never have said anything about Williams' confession if he had not been brought before the court.

In March 1823, Williams was arrested on suspicion of murder and hauled before a judge and jury. Now that the issue of Holt's long-ago death had been revived, everyone was determined to finally get to the bottom of the matter.

This laudable goal proved to be sadly elusive. Aside from this alleged confession--which the defendant was denying he had ever made--there was little to suggest Holt had been murdered, by Williams or anyone else. Nearly everyone involved in the original investigation into Holt's death were themselves long in their graves. The only living witness to the inquiry was a sixty-four year old man named Edward Ladbroke. He testified that thirty-five years ago, Holt's body had indeed been found in a river about three miles from the Blue Pig. He himself had seen doctors examine the corpse. Ladbroke recalled that other than "two bloody specks" on Holt's skull bone, there were no visible injuries to the body.

Another prosecution witness was a woman named Elizabeth Buckingham, whose parents had owned the Blue Pig in 1788. She recalled that on the night Holt disappeared, she saw him in the pub in the company of "two bad women." The trio stayed until about ten p.m., and then left together. Buckingham saw them go in the direction of the river, which was about a mile away. She also stated that she knew Williams, and was positive he was not in the Blue Pig that evening. The cellar door of the pub was kept locked at night, so she was equally sure that it would be impossible for a body to be concealed there without anyone noticing. There was never any trace of blood found anywhere near the pub. One John Storrix corroborated Buckingham's testimony. He recalled seeing Holt and the two women in the Blue Pig on that fateful night. He did not see Williams, whom he had known all his life.

By this point, the judge decided that this trial was proving to be a big fat waste of time. He stopped the proceedings cold, telling the jurors that going by the testimony they had heard, it would be impossible to convict the defendant. Besides, if the surgeons who had examined Holt's body found no evidence the man had been murdered, how could this court hope to prove otherwise, over three decades later?

The judge sighed that the circumstances surrounding Williams' supposed confession made little sense. He could not imagine any reason why the defendant would make such a statement while casually chatting with an old friend, after keeping his alleged secret for so long.

Accordingly, Williams was acquitted and released from custody. We know nothing of his subsequent life, but I imagine he got quite a bit of side-eye from his neighbors.

Did Williams truly make this confession, or was he being defamed in a bizarre and unaccountable manner? Was Daniel Holt's death accident, or murder?

We'll never know, will we?

Friday, April 3, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The Link Dump is here!

Time to make merry!

Who the hell discovered Florida?

A forgotten Antarctic explorer.

Catherine the Great, children's book author.

The kind of thing that happens when you put an astrophysicist in lockdown.

You want to know how another guy spent his lockdown?  Baking a 4,500 year-old loaf of bread.  Which surely beats the magnets.

Yes, I would say arsenic definitely counts as "unwholesome food."

The wild world of medieval elephants.

Fighting boredom in the 19th century.

A cosmic homicide.

A tragic 1903 landslide.

Conspiracy theories surrounding a weird death.

How not to inspire a classic novel.

Masons and the disappearance of William Morgan.

Real life "Game of Thrones" in the Holy Roman Empire.

More reasons to hate April Fool's Day.

The 1901 UK census.

A strange wooden structure at Angkor Wat.

The Talking Statues of Rome.

A teenager's strange unsolved murder.

So now it looks like the Irish aren't Celts after all.

Recalling a once-famous murder.

This week in Russian Weird looks at the scientist, the UFOs, and the Vatican.

Blood science and a notorious 19th century murder trial.

Did Renaissance artists know they were...Renaissance artists?

An infamous bigamist.

A scandalous shooting in Los Angeles.

The making of the British teenager.

Houdini, Edison, and American invention.

A Welsh demonic haunting.

Victorians and their freak shows.

The real Sherlock Holmes.

The mystery of the Woodwose.

France's last trial by combat.

Kittens attend a confirmation.

Animal crime victims.

The mystery of the "Bosnian Pyramids."

Anecdotes about the Duke of Wellington.

An Anglo-Saxon charm to cure infection.

A look at the Bow Street police.

The man who transformed Paris.

The Darwin Industry.

A look at the Mabinogion.

That's all for this week!  Me, I'm off to try to figure out how I'm going to pay my property taxes next week.  And then stick magnets up my nose.  Tune in Monday, when we'll look at how a mysterious death caused a lot of complications many years later.  In the meantime, here's a song that's been going through my head of late.  Can't think why.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the April Fool's Day

Via Newspapers.com

I heartily dislike most practical jokes--they generally are nothing more than dressed-up sadism--so April Fool’s Day generally ranks with me somewhere between root canals and dropping an anvil on my foot. This little sermon from the March 31, 1901 “Chicago Tribune” is equally sympathetic to this most perverse of holidays:
Because some time before the beginning of the Christian era there was a Celtic festival--the nature or scope of which is not clear to historians--humankind has set aside one day in the year for Idle Jesting. When the clock strikes 12 tonight, beware. You may not only be an April fool, but a dead or dying fool as well. Of all the days when men celebrate, patriotic holidays alone excepted, All Fools' day is the day of danger.

The other man may fail to see the joke. Should he resent your jesting his anger may take on no more serious form than a display of fists. That would be your good fortune, for the records of crime show many cases where the April fool has risen in his wrath and dealt death to the Jester.

Walter Johnson was one of these. There was a revival service in a country church just outside of Lima. O. Among the devout were Johnson, his brother, and John Williams. It was the evening of April 1, but Johnson, in his religious fervor, had forgotten the day.

As the meeting was dismissed Johnson and some friends gathered in the middle of the church to discuss the conversion of the neighborhood sinner who had a few moments before proclaimed his repentance. Johnson's brother slipped up behind him and pinned a scrap of paper on his back. Unmindful of the placard he was bearing, Johnson turned to go. Half a dozen girls tittered. The man tore the paper from his coat and turned to Williams.

“You did this," he cried, his face flushing, and his hand reaching for his pocket. “You have tried to make me ridiculous."

" You are wrong." retorted Williams. "I did not do it." The brother who had pinned the paper on Johnson's back was hugely enjoying the joke that was about to become a tragedy.

As he was trying to smother his laughter Johnson drew his hand from his pocket. It held an open knife. Before anyone could interfere the frenzied man had plunged the blade into Williams' body and he fell to the floor, mortally wounded. While the church was In an uproar Johnson stalked out the door. An hour later an April fool gave himself up to the Sheriff and was locked in jail.

Frank Kyler was another man who failed to see the joke. Just outside of Holidaysburg, Pa. lived Adam Acker, a prosperous farmer, whose daughter was the belle of the neighborhood. Kyler had long since been devoted to the girl and called on the evening of April 1 to ask her to become his wife. The two were sitting in front of the old-fashioned fireplace, trading in small talk, when the girl turned and stared at the window. Kyler's gaze followed. Against the window pane was pressed the face of a man.

Kyler sprang to his feet. In the dim light the features of the man at the window were not discernible. Kyler drew a revolver and fired just as William Butler opened his lips to shout "April fool."

Two bodies fell. Butler was dead. Miss Acker only fainting.

“You have killed Will Butler," screamed the girl, and then she lapsed into unconsciousness. Butler was an old friend of the Acker family. His April fool joke had cost him his life." Kyler, weighed down with grief for his rash act. walked to Holidaysburg and gave himself up.

The grim humor of a Chicago man prompted him to invite his friends to visit him for April 1. They found him dead, a suicide. The man was Herman Heneman, a tailor, who lived at 479 North Hermitage avenue. Heneman often told his wife that life was not worth the living and that he intended to shuffle off by the agency of his own hand.

As the days went by the woman began to think the threat was idly made. It so happened that April 1 was Heneman's birthday. Going to his wife he said: "Invite all our relatives to visit us tomorrow. Tell them to come an see an April fool." She invited them, thinking it was a joke. They came, and found him dead.

Joseph Dial of Birmingham, Ala., was at an All Fools' day picnic. He had bought a new revolver that morning and chuckled as he thought of the consternation he could cause by pretending he was about to kill himself. "See," he remarked, as he approached a crowd of girls. " I am going to take my life. Good-by, all of you, good-by."

Then, as the girls screamed, Dial placed the weapon in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The hammer fell on an empty chamber of the cylinder and there was no explosion. Dial removed the barrel of the revolver from between his teeth and exclaimed:

"April fool!"

Three times did Dial repeat the experiment without harm to himself. On one of these times a girl fainted and it seemed immensely funny to the youth.

The fifth time Dial tried the trick the hammer fell on a cartridge. The bullet bored its way to Dial's brain and he fell dead. The April fool did not know it was loaded.

Five years ago a woman who mistook a reality for an April fool joke was in consultation with an insurance adjuster next day. She was Mrs. Thomas Eldredge. 21 Ellery street, Cambridge, Mass.

"Fire!" shouted a small boy who stood on the pavement in front of the fine Eldredge house. The woman heard the cry, but she had resolved to pass the day without being fooled.

"Fire!" again shouted the boy. Mrs. Eldredge only smiled.

“Your house is burning!" fairly screamed the boy as he ran up the steps and pounded on the front door. Mrs. Eldredge paid no heed to the warning, but went to the telephone to ask her husband In Boston when he would be home to dinner. While she was standing at the instrument a cloud of smoke pervaded the room. An instant later an April fool was rushing from the house to keep from being burned to death.

The loss to the Eldredge house was $7,000. Neighbors were sympathetic, but the small boy who had sounded the alarm only said, “I told you so.”
I will say this for April 1. It provides me with plenty of blog material.

Today, do not be the sort of person who provides me with blog material.