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

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Mystery of the Poisoned Powder

Audrey Cameron

You have to say this much for murder: it has a way of ripping off masks. Investigations into untimely and suspicious deaths have a remarkable tendency to reveal how the most seemingly normal, respectable people can have hidden sides that are embarrassing at best and appalling at worst. Even when incidental players prove to have nothing directly to do with the crime itself, the revelations about their personal lives that are inadvertently revealed by these inquiries provide many unexpected sideshows.

One outstanding example came about as the result of a sudden death in a quiet Australian neighborhood. While this young woman's demise was weird, the private lives of the main figures involved were even weirder.

On May 25, 1946, 20-year-old Audrey Cameron, a resident of Goulburn, a city in New South Wales, was suffering from a severe toothache. Having no other relief from the pain handy, she took what she believed was headache powder from the purse of Gloria Emerton, a 15-year-old friend who was staying at her home, and swallowed a dose.

A few moments later, Cameron became violently ill. She went into convulsions and died within a half-hour. A post-mortem revealed that the "headache powder" she ingested was full of strychnine. She had taken enough poison to kill several people.

Suicide was easily ruled out. Cameron had no serious personal problems and was in cheerful spirits in the period before she was poisoned. As she lay dying, Audrey cried to her parents, "Don't let me go. I don't want to leave you."

Was the poison accidentally placed in the powder at the chemist’s store? That relatively innocent explanation was quickly dashed when Gloria and her mother stated that they had used some of the same powder with no ill effects. This had to have been a premeditated murder. But who was the intended target: Cameron or Gloria Emerton? And who could possibly have a motive to kill either girl?

Gloria Emerton

Two years previously, Audrey had given birth to a son, William, who was being raised by her parents. At first, investigators thought the boy's father might be involved in the murder, but they soon learned that the man was an Army soldier now stationed some distance away. After Audrey became pregnant, he had apparently exited her life completely. She had had no subsequent boyfriends. The police, faced with a total lack of suspects and finding themselves completely at a loss to get to the bottom of the mystery, placed all their hopes on the inquest into Cameron's death, which was scheduled for July 31. (The date of the inquest had been set back in order to allow police and their expert witnesses to complete their investigations.) As one newspaper reported confidently, "The story to be given the coroner will, it is believed, offer a solution to many of the strange features of the case."

Instead, "the story" merely made the case even stranger. The inquest opened on a startling note. One Shirley May Larkham testified that the previous October, Gloria Emerton confided to her that she was in "a certain condition"--she had no idea who among her numerous male friends was the father--and asked if Larkham could "get some stuff for her." When Larkham refused, Emerton vowed that if she could find no way to end her pregnancy, she would kill herself. A chemist named Archibald Pratt revealed that on two occasions the previous year he had sold strychnine to Gloria's mother, Mary Emerton. [Note: During the inquest, it was learned that Gloria's biological mother was Pamela Ford, Mary Emerton's daughter. Mary had raised Gloria from birth. The girl had grown up believing Pamela was her sister. She had only learned the truth about a year before.]

Mary Emerton admitted buying the poison, but stated that it had been used to kill rabbits and foxes, and that none of the strychnine had been left. Gloria denied the truth of Larkham's story. "It's a lie," she declared. "I never said such a thing to anybody, and I have never been in trouble."

On the second day of the inquest, a detective testified that when he had asked Gloria if there was anyone who might have wanted to poison her, she gave the unsettling reply, "Only Ormley [Mary Emerton's son] or Mum." She added, "Ormley has been cruel to me for years, and Mum told me I would get myself into trouble if I told the police about it." Gloria also told how soon after the tragedy, "Mum came out of the bedroom with a tin and said, 'I've got some poison here and I had better plant it, because if the police find it they will think I had something to do with Audrey Cameron's death.'" Mary Emerton dismissed the girl's entire story as "a wicked lie."

The inquest was taking a decidedly "I, Claudius" sort of turn. One Henry McGuiness testified that late the previous year, he had overheard his landlady, Emily Hegarty, say to Ormley, "If you could only get rid of Gloria you would come into your money which you are entitled to and go to Goulburn and work on your mother's property. She does not even pay you. You are a fool." (Hegarty denied having ever said any such thing, and pointed out that McGuiness had an impressively long criminal record.)

When she took the stand, Gloria testified that before leaving home to go to the Cameron house, she took a packet of Presto headache powder from its usual canister and placed it in her purse. She averred that she had used powder from that same packet before, and professed to have no idea how it could have become poisoned. She now denied having told police that Ormley had beaten her and regularly treated her badly. She stated that she "didn't remember" telling them about Mary Emerton disposing of a tin of poison. In short, the Emertons told one version of events, the police and other witnesses another. Despite the grim nature of the proceedings, Gloria often smiled and laughed during her testimony, earning her a rebuke from the coroner.

After all the witnesses had spoken, the coroner gave his summing-up. He stated that he had no doubt that Audrey Cameron had died of strychnine obtained from Gloria Emerton's handbag. It was clear that Cameron had believed it to be an innocent headache powder, and that she had no intention of committing suicide. It was obvious that the poison could not have gotten into the wrapper accidentally; it was deliberately placed there by some person. "It is quite conceivable that the poison was placed in the handbag in such circumstances that the person who did so is not criminally liable. But whether that is so or not, whoever did it has not come forward to tell us anything about it. It is likely that no harm to Audrey Cameron was even intended." He believed that the police "had investigated every conceivable avenue of inquiry," but it remained unknown how the poison had gotten into Gloria's handbag. The coroner closed by expressing his sadness that a young girl should have lost her life in such a dreadful fashion, and he expressed his deep sympathy with the Cameron family.

So that was that. A verdict of "accidental death," but a death that took place under the murkiest of circumstances--circumstances that were fated to be left completely unanswered.

Gloria Emerton seemed remarkably unfazed by the unsolved mystery. After the inquest closed, she cheerily told a reporter, "Despite many things said about me during the inquest, my boy friend still loves me. He met me at a skating rink after he had finished at the Technical College. I was lucky to be alive. I could easily have taken the poison myself."

Friday, August 28, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

“The Witches’ Cove,” Feller of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is enough to make a cat laugh!

The Tower of London ravens are getting bored.

How to sell the Eiffel Tower.

John Quincy Adams did not believe in mole people.  Good to know.

Ancient Egyptian monkey burials.

The hidden rural side of Paris.

A left-handed Viking.

The life of an English princess.

When Britain had bull running.

The Fortean side of London's Underground.

Clark Gable and the obsessed fan.

That time they tried to cancel Robert Southey.

A brief history of mirrors.

That time a supernova may have caused a mass extinction.

Reconstructing ancient ivory carving techniques.

The oldest evidence of humans starting fires.

Yet another murderer who got away with it.

A remarkable case of insurance fraud.

Why 1066 wasn't quite what you think.

Justice in Regency England.

Corpses as drug smugglers.

A mysterious ancient tomb inscription.

Female novelists who went from best-selling to forgotten.

These may be the world's oldest monuments.

Victor Emmanuel II was way too fond of his toenails.

A mysterious locked safe just turned up in a New York field.

Corvid folklore.

A famously incompetent hangman.

A famously competent hangman.

Edward VII, firefighter.

The early days of British heritage conservation.

William McGonagall, the "Plan Nine From Outer Space" of poets.

An opera singer turned accused spy.

Vikings and slavery.

Unsolved disappearances and the Button Man.

Tolstoy's everyday inspirations for "Anna Karenina."

More evidence that Neanderthals are underrated.

The California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894.

Tragedy on the steamer Princess Alice.

A camper's very mysterious death.

A haunted home and mysterious bones.

Sir Walter Scott as a judge.

A cliff collapse reveals significant fossil footprints.

The recent discovery of a 17th century shipwreck.

A puzzling murder-suicide.

The role of the wives of 19th century pastors.

Ancient Egyptian recipes revealed through their tombs.

The life of a Tudor courtier.

And...that's all for this week!  We will return on Monday, with a look at an Australian poisoning mystery.  In the meantime, here's a fun bit of '60s pop.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

When a man becomes a widower three times within three years, one can be pardoned for wondering if something funny was going on. There indeed was, but it was not necessarily what you’d think. The (Owensboro, Kentucky) “Messenger-Inquirer,” April 2, 1907:
Poseyville, Ind, April 1. Zack Watson, of Wadesville, has undergone a peculiar experience. On March 15, two years ago, his wife was seized with convulsions and died in a few hours. He soon remarried and last March, a year almost to a day from the death of the first, Mrs. Watson, the second wife, died of the same disease. Then he married the third time and yesterday his wife died of the same illness and almost in the same manner.

Expert physicians were cabled, but their services were of no avail. Thus it is Mr. Watson has buried three wives in three successive March months. The case is attracting attention because of its striking peculiarity. Mr. Watson is postmaster at Wadesville and is a highly respected citizen.

The sequel appeared in the “Shreveport Times” on April 11:
Evansville, Ind., April 10. It has just developed that the death of Mrs. Zack Watson, living near New Harmony, in Posey county, Ind., was caused by wall paper that contained poison, and not by spinal meningitis, as first thought. Two of the former wives of Mr. Watson died of the same cause. The wall paper in the parlor at Watson's home has been examined and found to contain a virulent poison. When brushed or shaken a fine mica-like substance falls from the paper in a cloud. It was to prevent the mail clerks and postal employees from being poisoned that the government recently forbade the mailing of souvenir postal cards covered with this preparation.

The death of Mr. Watson's wives occurred in March, just about house-cleaning time, and each was taken violently ill shortly after. The last Mrs. Watson was taken ill immediately after having cleaned the parlor.
Not to doubt this innocent explanation of a triple tragedy, but I for one would decline to be the fourth Mrs. Watson, no matter what was hanging on his walls.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Confession of Ursula Kempe

Some years ago, I read a poll which stated that the number-one complaint people had about their neighborhood was “their neighbors”--a finding that can be confirmed by taking a quick peek at Nextdoor. Sometimes, these neighborly squabbles get bad enough to end up in a civil court--or, with the more extreme cases, a police station. Still, it could be worse: in the old days, such disputes often led to a witchcraft trial. One of the more famous examples took place in 1582, in the small English village of St. Osyth.

Two residents of this village, Grace Thurlow and Ursula Kempe, had been on bad terms for years. It was an ordinary example of two women rubbing each other the wrong way--the sort of thing you see in any community--until their simple mutual irritation turned into a grave legal matter indeed.

The trouble began when Thurlow’s young son Davy suffered a serious illness. One day, Kempe came by to try a little friendly white magic on the boy. She held his hand, intoned the words, “A good child how thou art loden,” and left the house. Kempe returned a moment later and repeated the ritual two more times, reassuring Thurlow that Davy would now soon get better. Fortunately, she proved to be correct.

At that time, Thurlow was about to have another child. Kempe apparently assumed--particularly after her success with young Davy--that Thurlow would ask her to assist at the birth. When she learned that Grace had secured the services of another woman, Ursula took this as a personal insult, and wasted no time in marching over to the Thurlow residence to let her know what she thought of such ingratitude. In response, Thurlow made reference to the fact that she had recently been troubled by lameness. She hinted ominously that if it didn’t go away soon, she would go to a magistrate and blame Kempe for her disability. Kempe offered her a deal: if Grace allowed her to attend Grace’s upcoming labor, she would teach Grace a ritual that would cure her lameness.

It is not recorded if Thurlow took her up on this witchy offer, but soon afterward she gave birth to a healthy daughter. Ursula offered to act as wet-nurse for the new baby, but Grace again refused her services, opting to nurse the child herself. Three months later, the baby fell from her cradle, fatally breaking her neck. Ursula’s response was one of the cruelest “I told you sos” on record: she sniffed that if Thurlow had just allowed her to nurse the child, the baby would still be alive.

You will not be surprised to learn that this incident ended any pretense of friendship between the two women. Grace’s lameness returned with a vengeance. Ursula told her that for the price of 12 pence, she would cure her ailment. Thurlow was in such pain, she agreed. Her lameness went away. All was well until a few weeks later, when Kempe called on Thurlow to collect her payment. Thurlow had to tell her that she was simply too poor to scrape together such a sum. Kempe, infuriated at this welshing of their deal, told Grace in very unladylike language just what she thought of her, and stalked off. Immediately afterward, Thurlow’s mysterious lameness came back. Worse still, the sickness of her only surviving child, Davy, returned.

Thurlow had had enough. In February 1582, she went to the local justice of the peace, Brian Darcy, and accused Kempe of putting a curse on her and her children. Ursula seems to have been a very unpopular woman--and from what little is recorded of her, that’s not really surprising--so other villagers saw this as an excellent opportunity for a bit of payback. On that same day, another woman, Agnes Letherdale, went to the magistrate with her own charges against Kempe. She told Darcy that Ursula had asked her for some scouring sand. Kempe would, in exchange, dye her a pair of hose. However, Letherdale, “knowing her to be a naughty beast,” refused. When she saw this sand being delivered to another household, Ursula was heard to mutter furious words to herself. Immediately afterward, one of Letherdale’s children fell gravely and mysteriously ill.

Letherdale went on to say that she visited a “cunning woman” to learn the cause of her child’s sickness. She was probably unsurprised to be told that Ursula Kempe’s witchcraft was responsible. When Letherdale confronted Kempe with this news, Ursula just shrugged and denied everything.

When Ursula was brought in for questioning, she told Darcy her side of the story. She claimed that some years back, she herself had become lame. She visited a “wise woman” in the neighboring village of Weeley, who informed Kempe that she had been bewitched. The woman gave Ursula a detailed cure for her ailment (it involved hog’s dung and drinking ale infused with sage and St. John’s Wort.) Having found that the treatment worked as advertised, she shared the formula with two other women who had also been “witched” into lameness, with the same happy results.

Darcy felt that this was all well and good, but it did not address the point at issue: did Kempe bewitch the Thurlow and Letherdale households? The magistrate, in essence, offered Ursula a plea bargain: confess everything, and she would not be treated harshly.

In response, Kempe burst into tears, and sobbed out a tale that was probably even more than Darcy bargained for. She claimed that she had four “familiars.” Two (a black toad named Piggin and Tiffin, a white lamb) caused sickness to her enemies and their cattle. The other two (cats named Titty and Jack) brought the ultimate curse: death. These evil spirits were responsible for the sickness plaguing the Thurlow and Letherdale children, as well as the death of Grace’s baby. As if that wasn’t damning enough, Kempe also volunteered that she had sent Jack to murder her sister-in-law.

Darcy brought in Grace and Agnes to confront this self-confessed murderer. Kempe hysterically begged their forgiveness, saying that in addition to her own crimes, she had arranged for another village woman, Alice Newman, to send her own “familiars” to torment Agnes’ child and Grace.

After a good night’s sleep, it began to dawn on Ursula that perhaps she had been a tad too chatty. The following day, she offered Darcy a slightly revised story. She said that a few months back, she and Alice Newman had quarreled. During the argument, Newman threatened to tell Darcy that Ursula was a witch. Despite this, the two patched up their differences, and by the time Alice left her house--carrying with her Ursula’s four spirit pals in a pot--they were good friends again.

Some time later, after Ursula’s fight with Grace Thurlow, she asked Alice to send Titty to cause Thurlow some grief. After Ursula got into a dispute with a John Stratton and his wife, she had Alice sic Jack on them. The women would reward the spirits by allowing them to suck their blood, like demonic mosquitoes.

Naturally, Alice Newman was brought in to see what she had to say. She confirmed that she and Ursula had quarreled, and she did indeed call her friend a witch, but she stoutly denied the rest of Ursula’s testimony--particularly the part about her possessing spirit contract killers.

Darcy then pulled a stunt worthy of Lieutenant Columbo: he threatened to take away her spirits if she did not tell him the truth. Alice snapped that it was impossible for him to remove them. Uh...if she had any spirits to remove, that is.


More villagers came forward to rat on the accused women. One William Hook told Darcy that he had once overheard Alice’s husband William blame her for all his troubles. Hook added that dinnertime conversation between the Newmans often took an odd turn. Whenever Alice served meat, Hook would overhear William saying “doest thou not see?”--which Hook took to mean that evil spirits were sharing their meal. Alice would reply that if William should see “something,” he should just give it some of their meat, and it would leave.

Meanwhile, Ursula had not finished incriminating her neighbors. She now said that other village women, Elizabeth Bennett, Alice Hunt, and Agnes Glascock, also kept spirits that they used to torment--and sometimes kill--anyone who happened to get on their bad sides.

When Glascock was hauled in for questioning, she stubbornly denied everything, even when a search of her body found suspicious spots in several places. When Ursula repeated her charges against Agnes to her face, Glascock erupted with rage, calling Kempe a witch and a whore. She maintained that, far from being a guilty party, she herself was a victim of Kempe’s sorcery.

Alice Hunt was not made of such stern stuff. She initially denied everything Ursula had said, but when she learned that she was to be arrested anyway, she, like Kempe, tried throwing herself on the mercy of the court. She went to Darcy and confessed that she did indeed have two spirits, Jack and Robin. They had even warned her that Ursula would eventually grass on her. She added that her sister, Margery Sammon, also had a pair of spirits. The siblings had inherited them from their late mother, who was also a witch. After a bit of prodding, Margery acknowledged that her sister was telling the truth.

It was beginning to look as if practically every woman in St. Osyth kept killer spirits around the house in the way normal housewives kept pots and pans. Evidently under the assumption that the more they talked, the easier Darcy would be on them, the accused women kept naming more and more of their neighbors.. A widow named Joan Pechey was said by Alice Hunt to be an even more skilled witch than Alice’s mother had been. Henry and Cicely Sellis were alleged to have used their spirits to unleash various forms of mayhem on their neighbors. A constable from a nearby village accused one Alice Manfield for causing his cart to become stuck in the ground. (She afterwards admitted to having four spirits.) Alice Hunt’s daughter and Ursula’s son confirmed that their mothers were witches, providing previously-unknown details about their diabolical doings. Kempe’s own brother, Lawrence, joined in. He declared that his wife, who had long been on bad terms with Ursula, had been “witched” to death by his sister.

Once Ursula began confessing, you couldn’t shut her up. Every time she was examined, she gave her questioners new names of witches, new crimes they had committed. To hear Kempe tell it, virtually every death, every illness, every bit of ill-fortune in and around St. Osyth was due to witchcraft.

On March 29, 1582, all the accused women stood trial for various crimes at Chelmsford Assizes. Ursula and Elizabeth Bennett were found guilty of murder by witchcraft and sentenced to hang. The others were either acquitted or remanded. (The latter often proved to be a death sentence; a number of the prisoners died in jail before they could be discharged.) The Great St. Osyth Witch Hunt was finally over, although I assume it was quite some time before the village settled down to anything like normal life. I also wager that for a long time afterwards, the inhabitants were very careful about how they argued with each other.

Thankfully, the days when you dealt with pesky neighbors via witch trials are extinct. Although from what I’ve seen of Nextdoor, there are a lot of people who would like to see such tribunals make a comeback.

[Note: Centuries after Ursula’s execution, there was a darkly humorous footnote to her tragic story. In 1921, a St. Osyth resident unearthed in his garden a skeleton. As it was nowhere near any burial ground, it was presumed that these were the remains of Ursula Kempe, who, as a convicted witch, was buried in unconsecrated ground. After spending some years in a local museum, the bones were purchased by an eccentric artist named Robert Lenkiewicz, who proudly displayed the skeleton in his library, next to the embalmed body of a tramp. After Lenkiewicz died in 2002, the bones were finally given a formal examination by an archaeologist. This study revealed that the skeleton was that of a young man, whose identity is fated to remain forever unknown.

This long-time impostor was given a dignified burial in a local cemetery. The real location of the bones of Ursula Kempe is still a mystery.

Addendum: For some background information on St. Osyth and how it relates to their witch hunt--highly interesting, but too lengthy to include here--see my main source for this post, Willow Winsham’s “England’s Witchcraft Trials.”]

Friday, August 21, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by the immortal Puss in Boots!

What the hell happened to the "Lost Colony?"  (Note: I read about this "new theory" many years ago, and thought it was a pretty obvious answer.)

What the hell is Oumuamua?

The 25-year Carnegie Library heist.

The mystery of barefoot Carrie Whitehouse.

How an outlaw became a national hero.

An archaeological martyr.

A 14,000 year-old puppy's last meal.

Reconstructing the faces of Roman Emperors.

A look at Queen Victoria's journals.

How rats did historians a favor.

American aviation's first casualty.

The Atlantis of Japan.

How Walter Crane's illustrations helped children learn to read.

Harlem's most famous hoarders.

When England first got tobacco.

The abuse of mourning.

The man who swam the Mississippi River.

Farewell to the mariner who sailed like the ancients.

The world's largest cemetery.

Is the CIA behind alien abductions?

A brief history of the world's worst haircut.

Law enforcement in medieval England.

19th century soda fountains.

What if we lived to be a million years old?  I already feel like that most mornings before I have coffee.

And, on the other hand, what if we all just dropped dead?

The Japanese have algae as pets.

The world's oldest operating railway.

A UFO incident which turned fatal.

The real Bigfoot.

The first science fiction novel.

How not to poison your husband.

The phenomenon of pareidolia.

More on the theory that "Dracula" was inspired by a cholera epidemic.

The development of a 19th century trade route.

A riotous Christmas in the workhouse.

A 200,000 year old bed.  Complete with bug repellent!

A silent film which included actual deaths.  (Out of curiosity, I looked up some of the ads for the film.  Naturally, they played up the tragedy, and, naturally, the movie was a big hit.)

Via Newspapers.com

The Emperor of San Francisco.

How a hat almost lost a king his country.

How 14th century Florence handled plague.

An execution that also killed the hangman.

Some cases of getting lost in the wilderness.

The time it rained cats in Long Island.

The health benefits of honey.

The wives of King John.

A look at Victorian afternoon tea.

The world's best backward speller.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a 16th century witchcraft case.  In the meantime, here's this remarkable little video from 1902 Germany.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

When you see the words “exciting” and “wake” in the same headline, you can make a guess that someone is not resting in peace. Fortunately, funeral services, however weird, seldom get as ghastly as our following tale. From the (Huntington, Indiana) “Daily Democrat,” July 21, 1890:
Sedalia, Mo., July 21.-- A burial which was performed under the most peculiar and weird circumstances took place at Springfork, fifteen miles from this city, at an early hour.

Among the early settlers of Pettis county were a young German by the name of John Peterson and his bride. On Thursday Mrs. Peterson died of dropsy. When a girl Mrs. Peterson was slim and supple, but as years passed on she grew very fleshy, and at the time of her death was a remarkably large woman, weighing nearly three hundred pounds.

Immediately after Mrs. Peterson's death arrangements were made for the funeral. The largest casket that could be procured in the city was the exact measure required at the time of her death, but as it was not delivered until Friday morning the corpse had swollen so much that it was crowded into the narrow case with difficulty. The lid was screwed down and the remains left in that condition for burial.

The funeral services were set for Saturday afternoon, and, as is customary, a number of neighbors acted as watchers on Friday night. Just as the stillness of midnight was approaching, the watchers were startled by a loud report in the parlor, where the coffin was placed. The women screamed and ran out of the house. but the men plucked up enough courage to go into the parlor.

The sight presented was a most horrible one. The gases of the body had accumulated in the casket until their force burst the glass over the face and bosom of Mrs. Peterson. So terrific was the explosion that the body was shot forward and upward, the head protruding from the coffin. A vapor cloud, laden with the rankest of putrid orders, filled the room.

The men sent for Mr. Peterson, who, after dressing himself, went down stairs. A consultation was held and it was decided that, owing to the advanced state of decomposition of the remains of the deceased, the burial should take place at once. Half a dozen of the male watchers agreed to dig a grave in the garden near the house while the others attended to other details of the burial. The grave having been prepared, the coffin was carried to the grave, and strong ropes were placed under the casket. Just as the coffin was lowered one of the assistants let go of the rope. This threw the weight to the head of the coffin and the ropes were jerked from the hands of the men stationed there. The coffin fell with great force head downward and was burst to pieces. It was decided to fill the grave at once without waiting for another casket, and the remains were thus interred.
Cremation has a lot to be said for it.

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Killing of Father Dahme

"New York Daily News," February 16, 1924, via Newspapers.com

The Reverend Hubert Dahme was one of the most respected and well-liked men in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The elderly Catholic priest was known as kindly, helpful, and sincerely, yet humbly, religious. In short, he appeared to be the last person in the world that anyone would like to see dead.

If you are an old-timer around this blog, you will not be shocked by what comes next.

At about 7:45 p.m. on February 4, 1924, Dahme was walking down Bridgeport's Main Street. Some witnesses stated that he was walking alone, others that he seemed to be accompanied by another man. Whether the man was with Dahme or not, he suddenly turned, and, without a word, shot the priest dead. The assassin then swiftly disappeared into the darkness. Later, no one was able to clearly describe the man, and they did not claim to recognize him. All they could say was that he was comparatively young, of medium height, and wearing a gray cap and an overcoat with a velvet collar. (It should be noted that other people in the area at the time reported seeing two men fleeing the scene.)

This was one of those cases where the investigators did not have the slightest idea even where to begin. Dahme had no enemies. No one was known to even have a discernible reason to feel any hostility to him. Lacking any idea who the killer might of been, or any possible motive for the crime, the police were at a standstill.

Eight days after the murder, 28-year-old Harold Israel was arrested for vagrancy in nearby Norwalk. For months past, the young man had had no occupation other than heavy drinking. When the police realized that the gun he carried was the same caliber that had killed Dahme, they immediately treated him as their top--only, really--suspect. At first, Israel claimed his innocence, but after over 28 hours hours of intense interrogation, he gave in, offering a long, pitiful confession. He explained that on the day of the murder, he was broke, starving, and increasingly desperate about his inability to find work. While wandering aimlessly through the town, something snapped inside him. Out of sheer fury with the world, he pulled his revolver from his pocket and wildly fired at the first person he saw--who was, very unfortunately for the priest, Hubert Dahme. Nellie Trafton, a waitress at a luncheonette near the murder scene, provided some corroboration for this story by stating that shortly before Dahme was killed, she had seen Israel--whom she knew--walking past her shop. Four witnesses to the shooting identified Israel as the killer. A police ballistics expert said that the bullet which killed Dahme came from Israel's gun.

A very sad case, but at least one that was finally solved.

Or was it?

The State Attorney, Homer Cummings, wasn't too sure about that. If Israel was, as he said in his confession, crazed with hunger when he shot Dahme, why didn't he pawn his gun to buy food? If he just randomly shot the first person he saw, why was Dahme shot in the back of the head, not the front? Cummings interviewed Israel himself, bringing up the discrepancies in his story. Israel wound up retracting his confession. He said that under the harsh, lengthy questioning by the police, he found himself willing to tell them anything if they would just leave him alone. He told Cummings that he had really been in a movie theater at the time of the murder.

But what of the eyewitness testimony? One evening, Cummings went to the waitress' restaurant and asked her to show where she had been standing when she saw Israel walk by. When Cummings himself stood in the spot she indicated, he saw that the steam from the restaurant, plus the reflection of the bright lights outside, made it very difficult to see clearly through the glass. When he then walked on the street past the restaurant, the waitress was unable to recognize him. She finally admitted that she had simply invented her entire story, in the hope of claiming the reward that had been offered to anyone who could identify the killer. He tested the witnesses who had identified Israel as the killer by standing in the same places where they had been at the time, and with similar lighting conditions. He had one of his deputies flee the scene in the same way the killer had done. He realized that in the dim light, it was virtually impossible for those people to know who was going by. In the same circumstances, Cummings had been unable to identify his own deputy! After questioning the owner and employees of the movie theater that Israel claimed to have attended, Cummings believed the accused man was telling the truth about his alibi.

Cummings brought in six ballistics experts to do tests on Israel's gun. They all concluded that the defendant's gun fired bullets with distinctive markings that in no way matched the bullet that killed Dahme.

All this was enough for Cummings to tell the court that he was dropping the case against Israel. The young man was freed. The one good thing to be said about this story is that the unnerving experience of being very nearly convicted of murder shocked Israel into pulling his life together. He stopped drinking, got married, and eventually became a successful merchant.

Hartford Courant, April 19, 1925

One can hope that Father Dahme’s ghost was able to take some pleasure in this pleasant plot twist, because his spirit never had the satisfaction of seeing his killer brought to justice. The priest's murder remains a mystery.

[Note: The Dahme case was the inspiration for Elia Kazan's 1947 film "Boomerang."]

Friday, August 14, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

“The Witches’ Cove,” Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump will leave you on the edge of your seat!

In one manner or other.

Who the hell was Bible John?

Why the hell did this woman tickle so many chins?

What the hell was the Hollinwell Incident?

What the hell is the Waffle Rock?

Indigenous Australians had banana farms.

Meanwhile, in the world of paddleboarding goats...

Cremation goes back a long way.

Some four-legged silent film bit players.

The geologist and the mystery creature.

The fiery Fortean death of Mary Reeser.

A brief history of calling cards.

A party castle in the jungle.

The Oxfordshire sheep panics.

The women of Arthurian legend.

The philosophy of executions.

A sleigh tragedy.

Remember that story about the teenagers who eloped to live in a cave?  It all worked out pretty much like you'd think.

Ceres is an ocean world.

Is Mars overrated?

Goodbye to the second-hand bookshop.

The kind of thing that happens when you're too good a pilot.

A strange coincidence from WWII.

Yo-ho-ho, and a coffin of rum.

How to win a fight and lose it at the same time.

Black Peggy and the foundling hospital.

The world's most complicated cake recipe.

A Japanese Bigfoot.

The treadmill as a form of punishment.

A poor boy's progress in Victorian England.

A look at the Weekly World News, possibly the world's weirdest publication.

Longfellow and death.

A medieval noblewoman's long life as a prisoner.

A seditious printer.

A spot for tourists who don't want tourist spots.

Using seashells as money.

An important retirement in the UK's Foreign Office.

The very long history of poison arrows.

Christchurch, New Zealand has an official wizard.

The country estate of actor Edwin Forrest.

This week in Russian Weird looks at Siberia's lost pianos.  And deranged terrorist camels.

The Simmondley pit shaft horror.

The death of theater criticism.

The death of sleeper trains.

A hunter's unsolved disappearance.

A Welsh Roswell.

A Portuguese "Woodhenge."

Murder at a hotel.

And that wraps things up for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a priest's mysterious murder.  In the meantime, as it's supposed to be 104 degrees today here at Strange Company HQ, I thought this song would be appropriate.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

I always say, nothing completes a library quite like a ghost. And if it’s a “nice, gentlemanly” one, all the better. From the “Great Bend Daily Item,” July 25, 1908:
New York.--Columbia University holds that ghost stories may be dismissed with a laugh, until an educated, nice, old gentlemanly ghost gets to hovering 'round Columbia's library building of nights. In other words, there is an undeniable ghost in Columbia's law library, and, as the undergraduates say: "Whatd'ye know about that?"

Three weeks ago the Century club, of Forty-third street, borrowed four portraits of the Columbia law library to hang in a portrait exhibition. They were the portraits of Chancellor Robert E. Livingston, Chancellor Kent, Theodore Dwight, Columbia's old law professor, and Charles M. de Costa, lovingly remembered at the university for a wad of money he bequeathed it. All four came back about two weeks ago in good condition except the de Costa picture, which had a check or two on its varnish. The Century club, being notified, took the canvas to a restorer, leaving where of old the portrait used to hang a bright green spot on the otherwise faded green burlap wall.

Three days ago, at 6 p.m., John Henry, the library's card index boy, rushed from the library gibbering. Miss Cox, the assistant librarian, captured him. "Not again," wailed John through his chattering teeth. "I don't go in there no more; there's a man crawlin' on the wall where the picture was. I don't go back for no money."

Miss Cox entered the library full of scornful unbelief and turned on the electrics. All was as it should be, a bright green oblong on a faded green ground with a book gallery running below it and--

Suddenly a peal of laughter broke in the room and two cases of books on either side of the picture spot emptied their contents with a crash. When Miss Cox found herself in the outer hall, John Henry had gone.

In the morning a watchman reported to Dean Kirchmey that "a kind of a glow" had been visible through the glass doors of the room all night.

Only a few summer and "conditioned" students haunt the library these days. That evening at six (as before) one of them, prowling for a book in the half light of an upper gallery, heard the scratch of a pen writing, writing.

He traced it to the olive green oblong on the blank wall and marched over at once. The pen scratching ceased, but as he stood before the picture spot there rose from the floor a prodigious hollow sigh. The student ran.

With a classmate he returned to the library on tiptoe. The room was vacant, but on the haunted picture spot there glowed an outline of the features that once adorned it, rimmed with a phosphorescent frame. As the youths stared, the face and frame dissolved and the bent figure of a man came out upon the gallery, scurried to the furthest wall and blended with the books. As he vanished they heard a sigh.

The apparition picture, the fleeting figure in the galleries and the hollow sigh have become commonplace now. Even John Henry, the card index autocrat, enters the library without fear in the day-time. For scholarly Columbia is taking its ghost in a cold, scholastic spirit, and already has his nightly walk scheduled for six o'clock evenings, from which hour the ghost has not deviated an iota.

Prof. Hyslop, it is understood, is on the job with other students of the occult, and will conduct a series of experiments with the ghost and the ghost's picture. Possibly, it is said, he may endow science with a pamphlet.

In the meantime, in the daytime, last year's "canned" students continue to work off conditions, John Henry shuffles the index cards and Miss Cox enters names against missing law books.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Courtship of Sir Edward: A 17th Century Rom-Com

Sir Edward Dering, by William Dobson

This week, we look at a love story. Albeit, a love story that reads more like one of Shakespeare’s more robust comedies.

Edward Dering (1598-1644) was a distinguished figure. He had the distinction of being born in the Tower of London, as his father was then deputy-lieutenant of the site. After he graduated from Cambridge, Dering devoted himself to antiquarian studies and the collection of manuscripts. In 1619, he was knighted by James I, and in 1626 became a baronet.

This is all well and good, but the scholarly Sir Edward would not be entering the hallowed halls of Strange Company HQ if it were not for a curious courtship he entered into. He left a detailed record of his wooing in his diary, and, happily, the document has been preserved for the edification of historians who delight in seeing a dignified British aristocrat making a thorough fool of himself.

By 1628, Sir Edward had been twice widowed, but he felt ready for a third try at matrimony. The lady of his choice was Elizabeth Bennett, the young widow of a prominent London mercer. Mrs. Bennett was extremely rich, well-connected, and far from lacking in personal charms. Naturally, Sir Edward found himself facing a great deal of competition for her hand.

To the extreme amusement of Londoners--who seemed to have viewed the fight to marry Mrs. Bennett as a grand sporting event--the three leading suitors were named Finch, Crow, and Raven. Sir Sackville Crow had been Treasurer of the Navy, but he was soon kicked out of office (due to, in the words of 19th century historian John Timbs, “an unfortunate deficit of which he was unable to give a satisfactory account.”) After this humiliation, it was felt that Sir Sackville was out of the matrimonial running.

Raven--a London physician--came to an even more ignominious end. Having failed to win Mrs. Bennett’s heart through the conventional methods, he thought it a good plan to hide himself in her bedchamber, and after she had retired for the night, awaken her to pop the question yet again.

This worked out as well as any sane person would think. Mrs. Bennett screamed to raise the roof, the servants rushed in and seized the intruder, and poor old lovesick Dr. Raven found himself in the custody of the parish constable. The following day, the Recorder (who, as yet another of Mrs. Bennett’s suitors, must have felt his day was made,) charged Raven with “flat burglary” and ordered him to prison. At his trial, Raven was found guilty of the lesser charge of “ill-demeanor,” and ordered to pay a fine and a short term in jail.

This Recorder, Sir Heneage Finch, was of finer mettle than his imprudent rivals. He was a prominent lawyer, Speaker of the House of Commons, and owned a house so grand it eventually became the royal Kensington Palace. Sir Edward probably saw him as his main rival.

Heneage Finch

Our hero commenced his courtship on the morning after Dr. Raven was told “Nevermore.” His first diary entry, on November 20, was unpromising: “I adventured, was denied. Sent up a leter, which was returned, after she read it.”

When sentiment fails to work, try bribery. The following day, Sir Edward wrote, “I inveigled [George] Newman [one of Mrs. Bennett’s servants] with 20s.

November 24: “I did re-engage [Newman,] 20s. I did also oil the cash-keeper, 20s.”

November 26: “I gave Edmund Aspull [the oiled cash-keeper] another 20s. I was there, but denied sight.”

On November 27, Sir Edmund finally saw some results from his expenditures: “I sent a second letter, which was kept.”  Wisely striking while the metal was hot, on that same day he “set Sir John Skettington” upon one Matthew Cradock, Mrs. Bennett’s cousin and trusted adviser. Sir Edmund rounded off his busy day by having Cash-Keeper Aspull over to dinner, which I assume was a lavish one indeed.

However, the following day brought a setback: “I went to Mr. Cradock, but found him cold.” Sir John’s diplomatic efforts had clearly fallen flat.

On November 29, Sir Edward recorded that he had seen Mrs. Bennett at the Old Jewry Church, “both forenoon and afternoon.” On December 1, he was able to boast that he had sent the widow a third letter, “which was likewise kept.”

During this period, Mrs. Bennett had more serious problems than pesky suitors. A man named Steward had, through judicious bribery, acquired the wardship of her four-year-old son Simon. She was currently in negotiations with him to buy this wardship, but he refused an offer of 1,500 pounds in cash. Steward had suggested they settle the dispute by--you guessed it--getting married.  Although the widow was naturally repulsed by this blatant extortion, she felt it was wise to string him along until she was able to recover custody of her son. On December 5, Sir Edward described a conversation he had had with one Loe, a confidante of Mrs. Bennett’s, about the matter. Loe told him “that Steward was so testy that she durst not give admittance unto any, until he and she were fully concluded for the wardship--that she had a good opinion of me--that he [Loe] heard nobly of me--that he would inform me when Steward was off--that he was engaged for another--that I need not refrain from going to the church where she was, unless I thought it to disparage myself.”

Accordingly, the following Sunday Sir Edward went to St. Olave’s church, where the widow was also among the attendees. As he exited, George Newman whispered to him, “Good news! Good news!” Later that day, Newman called on Sir Edward with the information that Mrs. Bennett “liked well his carriage, and that if his land were not settled on his eldest son there was good hope.” Such encouraging words earned Mr. Newman another twenty shillings. That evening, as Sir Edward dined with Heneage Finch, he got even better news: Sir Heneage sighed that he had despaired of ever winning the widow’s favor, and even offered to help Sir Edward succeed where he himself had clearly failed.

The course of true love, as has been said a million times, never runs smooth, and such was the case with Sir Edward. Just when things were looking so promising, on New Year’s Day he, for unrecorded reasons, got into a huff, and demanded that Mrs. Bennett return his letters. When she did so--with a rather insulting speed--he instantly regretted his little fit of temper. He enlisted a friend named Izaak Walton (who himself gained fame as a biographer and author of “The Compleat Angler,) to act as go-between to calm these suddenly troubled waters. After all, as Sir Edward noted on January 9, “George Newman says she hath two suits of silver plate, one in the country and the other here, and that she hath beds of 100l the bed!”

Dreams of those enticing suits of silver plate and lavish beds inspired Sir Edward to ramp up his wooing. One day, as George Newman walked through Finsbury Fields in the company of Susan (Mrs. Bennett’s nursemaid) and the widow’s small son, they were accosted by Taylor, Sir Edward’s landlord. Taylor convinced the trio to come by for a visit. Our diarist “entertained the child with cake, and gave him an amber box, and to them, wine. Susan professed that she and all the house prayed for me, and told me the child called me ‘father.’ I gave her 5s, and entreated her to desire her mistress not to be offended by this, which I was so glad of. She said she thought she would not.”

Izaak Walton was dispatched to have a chat with Matthew Cradock. Mrs. Bennett’s cousin told him that he would do his best, if Sir Edward “would be ruled by him.” Although all this seemed hopeful, Sir Edward knew the game was far from over. His many rivals all had their own agents seeking to influence the widow, leaving him practically sleepless with anxiety. It was time to get God on his side. A relative of Sir Edward’s, the Dean of Canterbury, was enlisted into the fight. The Dean sent one Dr. Featley, a prominent London clergyman, to use his famed eloquence on Mrs. Bennett. When Sir Henry Wotton, running into Sir Edward in the Privy Chamber, gave him a knowing look and wished him “a full sail,” Dering must have felt that the prize was virtually his at last. The race was nearing the finish line!

Indeed it was, and it proved to be a contest with a surprise ending. After all those shillings, all that cake, all those envoys, Elizabeth Bennett announced that she was marrying...Sir Heneage Finch. Evidently Finch had been her choice from the beginning, but for whatever reason--perhaps because they found these multiple courtships to be capital entertainment--the pair had elected to keep their betrothal a secret.

Shortly after Elizabeth and Sir Heneage wed in April 1629, Sir Edward found his third wife. She was Unton, a daughter of Sir Ralph Gibbs. His marriage to “my ever dear Numps” (as he addressed her in his letters) proved to be a very successful one. As for the Finchs, they also lived in great contentment until Sir Heneage’s early death in 1631.

So here you have something which is probably a first for this blog: a happy ending!

Friday, August 7, 2020

Weekend Link Dump

“The Witches’ Cove,” Follower of Jan Mandijn 

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!  But play nicely.

Granny's watching!

The long history of a Yorkshire castle.

In reality, plague doctors looked like more stylish KKK members.

It seems unfair to call anything "the worst novel in the English language" as long as "Wuthering Heights" is still in print.

A haunted penal colony.

The shadows of Hiroshima.

Yet another case where poisoning became habit-forming.

Today's Jupiter weather report: mostly cloudy, with a strong chance of ammonia mushballs.

The saga of a wealthy Crazy Cat Lady.

Archaeologists share their favorite finds.

A really big "Oopsie!" from the Pepsi marketing department.

A ritual offering has been found on the bottom of Lake Titicaca.

An 18th century celebrity shipwreck survivor.

Eyewitness accounts of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

How dreams were used to win 18th century lotteries.

Let's talk haunted castles.

Astronomers have found multiple planets orbiting a Sun-like star.

The grave of Mother Damnable.

Sarah Gough, poor little dear.

A look at 18th century wigs.

Where Stonehenge got its stones.

Ah, the good old days, when it just took a comet to send the world into hysteria.

Look, if you're going to pretend to be the guy you just murdered, check his dietary preferences first.

A drug-smuggling cat is on the lam.

The burial of a hard-luck baby.

How portrait miniatures were the 18th century Facebook.

The Kayhausen Boy: one of those very cold murder cases.

How prehistoric humans made twine.

An unusual Yeti.

The missing mines of the Old West.

Why Ranton may be England's weirdest village.

A brief history of holiday cruise ships.

Mike the Headless Wonder Chicken.

This week in Russian Weird looks at mosquito tornadoes.

Disaster on the SS Eastland.

How one woman posthumously founded modern medicine.

A man (probably) murders his family...and disappears.

A Pennsylvania hoodoo house.

The man who went hunting and found aliens instead.

The murder of Jubilee Jim Fisk.

That's it for this week!  Tune in on Monday, when we'll look at courtship, 17th century style.  In the meantime, I think I've posted this song before, but it's a favorite of mine, and if this isn't a song for 2020, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Many people have curious superstitions about certain photos, but it’s hard to top the following tale from the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” August 17, 1898:
Mrs. Elizabeth Dellbregge of 1301 Ohio avenue applied to the Health Department Wednesday morning for a permit to exhume the body of her sister, Mrs. Minnie Schauber, who was buried in Concordia Cemetery Dec. 2, last year. 
In explaining her request, Mrs. Dellbregge related a story of superstition that surprised the Health Department officers and reminded them of the witchcraft that early historians tell about. Mrs. Dellbregge’s belief is that something interred with her dead sister is a hoodoo--that she is causing the Dellbregge family death, mysterious disappearance and general ill luck.   
hoodoo photo -

“A picture of my daughter Annie was buried in the coffin with my sister,” said Mrs. Dellbregge, “and I want to take it out. A fortune teller says that picture is causing all of the trouble.” 
When Mrs. Dellbregge visited the Health Office she was clad in deep mourning, for she buried her daughter Anna but two weeks ago. The death of her child set her to thinking that some ill luck attended the burial of the picture, and when she suggested that idea to a fortune teller, it was promptly confirmed. To add to Mrs. Dellbregge’s troubles her son John, 25 years old, has disappeared from his home, and she has no information as to his whereabouts. Her husband is also missing, but she thinks she knows where to find him. 
Two sons, Henry and Gerhart, are still at home and have not yet become victims of the hoodoo, but Mrs. Dellbregge says she doesn’t know what day they will fall under the baneful influence. 
“I didn’t know they were going to bury Anna’s picture with my sister, or I would never have consented to it,” the woman explained. “I did not get along well with my sister, and I believe the burial of that picture in her coffin was the work of some enemy of mine. The picture was laid right over my sister’s heart, so the fortune tellers say, and that is the most dangerous place it could have been put. My daughter died of convulsions.” 
Added to this weird theory of Mrs. Dellbregge’s is a story she tells about a dream. “Just a little while before Anna died,” she related, “I dreamed that she would live but a short time. The dream troubled me. I told Anna about it and she said she believed my dream would come true, and sure enough it did. The poor girl died in agony, and it all might have been avoided but for that picture. 
“I have permission of my dead sister’s husband for the disinterment of the body, and I propose to have that picture taken out. If it stays in there I will lose my whole family and then I will have to go too.” 
Dr. Karges, mortuary clerk, informed Mrs. Dellbregge that the rules of the Board of Health do not allow the disinterment of bodies at this season, and she was told to wait until September. Then, if she still maintains that the picture is a haunt, the grave will be opened and the picture will be removed. 
While Mrs. Dellbregge’s story discloses superstition rarely encountered these days, she appears perfectly rational. That she is determined and firmly set in her belief, there is no doubt. Mrs. Dellbregge is a member of the Lutheran Church at Grand avenue and Caroline street. She consulted her pastor, Rev. Schiller, about the disinterment of the body, and although she is a devout churchwoman, the pastor was unable to discourage her. 
When she learned that she must wait until September for the removal of the picture she became despondent and tears dropped from her eyes as she trudged away from the city dispensary.
I found nothing more about this story, so I have no idea if poor Mrs. Dellbregge made it to September without any further calamities. In any case, this story teaches a valuable lesson: be very careful about what you put into a coffin besides the dearly departed. 

As a side note, fortune tellers have a lot to answer for.