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

Friday, March 5, 2021

Weekend Link Dump

 

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn


The sponsor of this week's Link Dump demonstrates the general sentiment here at Strange Company HQ.




What the hell killed off dinosaurs?

What the hell causes spontaneous human combustion?

People are still asking: what the hell was Oumuamua?

Watch out for those sea monsters!

Watch out for those sneezes!  (Yes, this is from the Thomas Morris blog, where every bodily function is a signal for doom.)

Be warned: they're unionizing.

A strange Stone Age burial.

A strange ancient Egyptian tomb.

An experimental vegetable garden.

An Englishman's view of 1950s American students.

A brief history of the UK census.

A tip of the hat leads to murder.

Two Botany Bay Aborigines in 18th century England.

Three possibly-linked murders.

Napoleon's shifty sister.

The adventures of a bogus Hapsburg.

The dangers of being a microbiologist.

It's pretty embarrassing when you enter a photo competition and you're beaten by an octopus.

The legend of a well-traveled Viking woman.

A massive newly-discovered cave in Canada.

An Atlantis in the far north.

17th century execution ballads.

How dental x-rays were used to read 17th century letters.

When a wake goes into "Weekend at Bernie's" territory.

Sharks that glow in the dark.

God and "sentimental fatherhood."

An island that will remind you of the joys of indoor plumbing.  (It's a nice place, but I can't imagine wanting to visit anywhere enough to make me willing to carry around a bag of human waste all day.)

A 19th century "London Alphabet."

The "lowest sort" in the 17th century print trade.

A portrait by Gainsborough.

The economic side of witchcraft.

The final hours of one of Hitler's warships.

Daffodils and St. David's Day.

This week in Russian Weird looks at Striped Siberia.  And what the hell was the Vitim Event?

The Milky Way may be a lively place.

A handy reminder that we live in the sort of world where Prince Philip is a god.

A real-life "Beauty and the Beast."

The Whitman Massacre.

The Dolly Varden fashions.

The expedition that inspired "King Kong."

Hidden scenes in ancient Etruscan paintings.

An ancient pet cemetery.

The earliest known mummification manual.

A cursed circus showman.

A boy's unsolved murder.

An evening's entertainment at Astley's Amphitheatre, 1857. 

The case of the fake heiress.

When household chores included making medicines.

Caterpillars as tomato serial killers.

A particularly horrible attempted murder.

Debunking a legendary witch.

The man who petrified corpses.

When the U.S. Army had a Camel Corps.

War at sea on New Year's Day 1917.

The occult side of Lewis Carroll.

New York City's yellow fever epidemic.

Witches and an unsolved disappearance.

Some weird things on Mars.

How Alan Shepard came to play golf on the moon.

Brandy the cat's 15-year journey home.

A particularly inept murder conspiracy.

The inferno at Campden House.

How traveling shows came to feature drunk, shaved bears in dresses.

The international alley cats of Poverty Hollow.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll see what happens when you serve a really bad glass of wine.  In the meantime, here's a traditional Welsh hymn:



Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com



At last, the Strange Company moment we’ve all been waiting for: trouble-making Irish ghost pigs.  The “New York Herald,” June 30, 1918:


Of the many stories coming from Ireland as the result of the opposition to conscription and its possible effects is that concerning the appearance of the "Black Pig.” The legend connected with this appearance is said to portend disaster for Ireland, and the stories now in circulation have created quite a ferment In the country districts. 


According to a newspaper correspondent at Roscommon the first tale of the appearance of the "Black Pig" was told in Strokestown, where some people who had come into market from Kiltrustan, about two miles away, said that a little girl named Beirne, aged about 12 years, while going to school saw a black pig come out of a crack or a small hole in the ground near the schoolhouse and begin to walk around the stump of an old tree that had been cut down recently near the public road.


According to the story, the little girl ran to the school and told the teacher, who went with her to the spot, but failed to see the animal, the child persisting all the time that It was there and was walking about quite near to them. Other children of the same age were called from the school, and each of them cried out simultaneously, "Oh, look at the black pig!" "She is eating grass," "She is walking on your boots," &c. The news spread rapidly throughout the district, and a large number of men and women came to the place, but all of them declared they could see nothing of the animal. 


On the next day the little girls again declared that they could see the pig quite plainly walking around the old tree stump, but on this occasion accompanied by six little bonhams (young pigs), three of them trotting on each side of the old sow. Again the elder people who came at the same time with the children said they could see nothing but the trees and underbrush, but the children insisted that the pig and bonhams were there all the time. 


The story has created an extraordinary sensation all over north and south Roscommon. Old people who had studied the prophecies of St. Columcille say that the "Black Pig" is referred to there as an evil omen for Ireland and that she is to travel through a certain part of the country west of the River Shannon before being killed or banished. Others say that the appearance of the pig is the forerunner of a rising in the north to fight against home rule. These wiseacres say that while the omen portends evil in Ireland the application will be confined to Ulster. 


According to old ideas, however, the "Black Pig" was associated with the coming rout of the enemies of Ireland. Yeats says that the prophecies were a great force in the days of the Fenians and that he heard of one man who didn't think it worth while to support the Land League because the battle in the valley of the pig was so near. 


"A few years ago." he said, "an old man at Lisadill in Sligo used to fall down in a fit and rave about descriptions of the battle; and a man in Sligo has told me that it will be so great a battle that the horses will go up to their fetlocks in blood, and that their girths when it is over will rot from their bellies for lack of a hand to unbelly them." 


The legends connected with the appearance of the "Black Pig" are extremely numerous, but perhaps the most interesting is that quoted by W. F. de Vismes Kane, who states that the "Black Pig" eventually settled at Creta after being chased by St. Patrick over half of Ireland. When the pig came to Granard, County Longford, it crossed by Rooskey, swam the river Mair, a tributary of the Shannon, at Muckinagh, and then ran by way of Orange to Kiltrustan, where St. Patrick finally captured it and commanded it to stay until the years of the Great War. It was then to appear three times, and if it could run from there back to Killmore-na-Shinna there would be great trouble in Ireland. This trouble would be averted if it were shot by a one eyed marksman, and the only place where the marksman would have a chance of killing it is at Bonny-a-Glass, a field behind the rectory at Killmore and running from the rectory gate to the crossroads on the Tully side. All legends agree that in the years of the Great War there would be trouble in Ireland.


You have to admit, that pig would explain a lot about Irish history.

Monday, March 1, 2021

The Ghost Who Kept Up With the Joneses




On December 10, 1978, the “Atlanta Constitution” carried a story by reporter Charles Salter where he detailed the very strange goings on in an antebellum mansion.  At the request of the current owners of the home, he did not give the family’s real name, and the location was described only as “a little north Georgia town.”  However, he believed that the source for his story--the lady of the house, whom he called “Mrs. Jones”--was credible when she stated that her home was haunted by a woman who had owned the mansion over a century ago.

Even when she insisted on not discussing her ghost under her own roof.  “She does not like to be mentioned in the house,” “Mrs. Jones” explained.  “We never mention her there.  If you do, something will happen every time.  We are on very good terms, pleasant terms.”


The first sign given to the Jones family that there was something very unusual about their home came soon after they moved in twenty years before.  Mr. Jones was alone in the house, reading in an upstairs bedroom.  He heard the back door open and the sounds of someone walking into the house.  When he went downstairs, he found the door wide open, but no one was there.  He shrugged and went back upstairs.  A few moments later, the door opened and slammed shut.


Mr. Jones was not an easy man to rattle.  “The heck with it,” he thought as he returned to his book.  “They’ll just have to get me.”  When his wife returned, he greeted her with the news that they had a ghost.  The pair laughed, thinking it was all a fine joke.  Their tranquillity remained undisturbed even when a framed painting in the living room mysteriously crashed to the floor.


And then came the episode of Margaret the Disappearing Mouse.


Mrs. Jones bought Margaret from an Atlanta pet shop two weeks before her daughter’s birthday.  The squeaking little gift was, in the meantime, kept in her cage in a locked guest room.  On the birthday morning, Mrs. Jones went to this guest room to find the door was open, with the key still in its usual place on top of the door.  The mouse cage was closed, but empty.  Margaret was never seen again.


At this point, the Joneses became a bit perturbed, and if you just had a mouse dematerialize on you, you probably would be too.


About eight years after this incident, the Jones daughter, by then a teenager, was alone in the house, waiting for her date to arrive.  Then she suddenly heard “loud noises, someone slamming and blamming in a bedroom.”  When she went into the bedroom, it was empty.  The girl--perhaps fearing the ghost might do a Margaret on her--locked herself in a bathroom and when her boyfriend turned up, shouted out the window to him, “Come up here.  I can’t get the bathroom door to open.”


Mrs. Jones explained to Salter why they were convinced their ghost was a female former resident.  One night during the Christmas season, the Joneses went to visit friends, turning their holiday tree lights off before they left.  On their return, they saw the Christmas tree fully lit up, shining brightly in the living room window.

Then they saw the woman standing next to the tree.  Although they could not make out her face, they noted that her dress was of a style worn in the mid-19th century.  And then the figure disappeared.


Both Mrs. Jones and her sister occasionally had the sinister feeling that they were not alone in a room.  The family’s three cats also clearly knew something uncanny was present.  They would stare intently at this “something,” their heads turning and their eyes following it around the room.  Mrs. Jones often saw “fleeting shadows” moving through doorways and halls.


One night, one of the two Jones daughters came home and heard “strange, deep-toned music, as if a record were being played slower than normal.”  When she went into the room, she saw that the record player was unplugged.  However, the turntable was rotating, and even though no record was playing, the player continued to emit that weird, unearthly music.


As frightening as this spectral concert was, that experience was soon eclipsed by The Face.  The family had a mirror over the kitchen sink.  One day, a Jones daughter and one of her friends were in the kitchen, when the girlfriend began mocking the ghost.


“Don’t say that,” the Jones girl warned.  “My mother doesn’t like for you to say that.”


She wasn’t the only one who didn’t care for such flippancy.  The girlfriend suddenly looked at the mirror and ran screaming into the yard.  She said, “I’m not going back in your house.  There was a horrible face in the mirror.”


That girl wasn’t the only one to see disagreeable things in mirrors.  When one of her daughters was a baby, Mrs. Jones heard her scream.  When she ran into the room, she saw the child pointing at a mirror.  “I looked in the mirror,” said Mrs. Jones.  “The image was horrible.  It was just a head with big eyes and the mouth smiling.  Nothing on the bed was reflected that could have been this thing in the mirror.  I took the mirror out of the room.”


Mrs. Jones said that, to date, the haunting had been creepy, rather than actually dangerous.  The only violent act attributed to the ghost was when a friend of one of the daughters was heading down the stairs.  She felt two hands on her back, pushing her down the steps.  Fortunately, she was only left a little bruised.


Perhaps the weirdest incident happened only a short time before Mrs. Jones spoke to the reporter.  One morning, she was sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee when she suddenly heard a splashing sound, as if someone was pouring liquid on the floor from a considerable height.  Nothing was dripping from the ceiling, but Mrs. Jones saw a puddle of thin, brownish liquid forming on the floor.  One of her cats ran to the puddle, sniffed it, and angrily arched his back.  When Mrs. Jones cleaned up the liquid, she noted that it smelled like cat urine.


Mrs. Jones told Salter that an old woman she knew once commented that she didn’t believe in ghosts, because if you go to Heaven, you won’t want to come back.  And if you go to Hell, the Devil won’t let you come back.


Mrs. Jones might have once agreed with that remark.  Now she wasn’t so sure.


We know nothing further about the Jones family and their ghostly adventures, which is a pity.  I’d sure like to know where Margaret is now.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Weekend Link Dump

 

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is here!

Party time at Strange Company HQ!



Who the hell was Edward II's very secret lover?

What the hell are the Skara Brae artifacts?

The "Worst Woman on Earth."

Marguerite of France, twice a queen.

Hundreds of people die defending the Ark of the Covenant.  In 2121.

A brief history of the British Women's Police Service.

Government mind control and a weird death.

The acoustics of Stonehenge.

Restoring a Pompeii fresco.

London's Great Smog.

The woman who helped prevent a nuclear war.

Underwater archaeology in Australia.

New Hampshire's Stonehenge.

Bob, the canine golf caddy.

The controversial case of the sleepwalking killer.

The lost art of making cassette decks.

The odd disappearance of a schoolgirl.

Seeking justice in 17th century London.

This week in Russian Weird looks at "Baikal Zen."

The People's Grocery lynching.

Without knowing it, a reporter interviews a murderer about his victim.

John Keats, medical student.

John Keats' Spanish connection.

If you should come across an abandoned painting, consider that there may be a good reason it was abandoned.

A significant burial from 20,000 years ago.

A hermit's gruesome end.

How Edvard Munch vandalized his own painting.

A 19th century forgery trial.

Photos of a vanished London.

How Alfred Rouse created a John Doe.

It turns out that maybe "42" really is the answer to everything.

An alleged UFO crash in Arizona.

If you're a shaman in need of work, go to South Korea.

One very weird murder.

Britain loves growing gigantic vegetables, for reasons I frankly have never fathomed.

A brief history of beard fashions.

The secret language of hobos.

The Duchess of Devonshire in exile.

Did Neanderthals have a language?

A gruesome find at Waterloo Bridge.

The dogs of the Arctic.

Communicating through dreams.

Dr. Barnardo and habeas corpus.

Ohio's haunted castle.

The life of a WWII flying ace.

Robin Hood and the Forest Rebels.

Jane Grey's letters from the Tower of London.

The problems faced by the families of 19th century merchant seamen.

The Black Cat Horror.

A brief history of ketchup and mustard.

Uncovering a 12th century Spanish bathhouse.

And that's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll visit a Southern haunted house.  In the meantime, here's this lovely traditional hymn.


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com



Whenever the old newspapers present first-person accounts from Gentlemen Known For Their Veracity, I know I’m in for a good time.  The Knoxville “Journal and Tribune,” August 16, 1890:


Special to The Journal 


Middlesborough, Ky., August 15—The people in the eastern part of Claiborne county, Tennessee, are in a terrible state of excitement over a remarkable occurrence which took place there on Saturday evening last. The story as told is one of the most marvelous occurrences ever heard of and will prove a problem over which scientific minds will wrestle for some time to come.  

Edgar Ramsey who lives four miles from Lick Skillett came into Middlesborough this morning and told the marvelous story.  Last Saturday about 4 o'clock he noticed what looked like a large greenish cloud.  It was raining at the time.


 “A little while afterwards I noticed it was getting colder and I went from the porch where I was sitting and put on a heavy coat. When I came out again it looked like the big green cloud was near the place and the air was as cold as a winter day.  I stood and watched it for a few minutes and then it commenced hailing and I went in the house and built a fire. In half an hour it was as dark as night and the wind fairly howled around the house and hailstones fell that were as big as a hen egg.  This thing lasted possibly twenty minutes and then the sky cleared up.


“My wife and I were sitting by the fire about an hour later when I heard a horse come up on a dead run and when I went to see what was the matter there stood Jake Warren who owns a farm about a mile and a quarter from mine. He looked as pale as a ghost and was trembling to death.  He said that a big cloud had come over his place and that something that looked like balls of fire had fallen all around his house. He had about five acres of fine corn growing in a field next to his house and after the storm cleared up he went to look around to see if it had done any damage. He noticed some of the corn was blown down and he went into the field and found every stalk turned to stone. 


“There were two fine hogs in the field and he said they were petrified in their tracks and were standing there like they were cut of solid rock. The next day I visited him and I’ll remember what I saw as long as I live. There was his corn considerably blown down but every stalk of it was completely petrified. It wasn’t as hard as granite quite but seemed to be more like soapstone. I took my knife and it cut into a sort of a powder. In the edge of the field nearest the house the two hogs were standing in as natural a position as though they were alive but they were as dead as dead could be and seemed turned completely to stone and their bristles had turned as white as snow. 


“They were a queer sight. I tried to lift one of them but although the hogs would not have weighed over 225 pounds when it was alive it must have weighed 400 pounds as it stood for I could not lift it.  Thousands of people have seen them since last Sunday.  Everybody knows Jake Warner and anybody in the county can direct you to his farm.” 


Edgar Ramsey is a reliable man and tells the story in good faith and as strange as the story seems there is no reason to doubt his word.


Monday, February 22, 2021

"The Slab" and the Mysterious Death of Margaret Boyce

There are certain cases where it seems obvious that a person has been murdered, and everyone has a reasonably certain idea who did it, but either the suspect’s guilt cannot be proven, or they are never apprehended, leaving a permanent air of mystery about the death.  A perfect example of such cases is the following long-forgotten tragedy with a downright eerie atmosphere.  Call it “Australia Noir.”

Twenty-one year old Margaret Boyce was a waitress in a Sydney restaurant on George Street owned by Richard Thame and his wife.  The Irish-born Boyce was a comely young woman, with a striking crop of curly, flaming red hair.  As she also had a cheerful, vivacious personality, she attracted more than her share of male admirers.  However, although she enjoyed flirting and bantering with the men, her relations with them went no further.  One gets the impression that she was an unremarkable, but pleasant girl who was universally liked.


George Street in 1870



Margaret’s most persistent beau was by far the strangest of the lot.  No one who knew Margaret ever learned the slightest thing about him, not even his name.  Odder still, he always held his head down in such a way that nobody ever got a clear look at his face.  All anyone could say was that he was a dark-complected young man, with a dark mustache, who always wore black.  As he was very tall and thin, one of Margaret’s other gentlemen friends dubbed him, “Maggie’s long slab.”  He added a bit resentfully that she could certainly do better than a man who never even looked people in the eye.  Margaret herself volunteered no information about him.  Her only recorded comment about “The Slab” was when she told a friend that she did not care for the man, and only talked to him because she was slightly afraid of him. She added that he was always trying to get her to go on lonely walks with him, something she would never do unless someone else was with them.


Margaret and the rest of the restaurant’s staff lived dormitory-style above the establishment, with a 10 p.m. curfew.  However, January 19, 1870, was Margaret’s night off work.  She visited her sister Annie, who was “in service” at a place in Lyons Terrace.  Joining them there was Margaret’s other sister Bridget and brother Patrick.  The siblings visited until close to 10 p.m.  Margaret was in her usual good spirits, laughing and talking animatedly.  Before she left, Annie gave her a gift--a parcel containing two chemises.  Patrick and Bridget accompanied Margaret on her walk back until they were just 100 yards from the restaurant.  It was then about 10:15.  A hard rain was falling, causing Margaret to sprint for home, as she feared her dashing new Garibaldi hat would be ruined.  As far as they could see, the streets were otherwise deserted.


All one can say for certain about what happened next is that Margaret never made it to her lodgings.  Early the following morning, two men were walking near Darling Harbour, not far from Thame’s shop, when they saw something floating in the river.  When they got in a boat to investigate, it was soon realized they had found the body of Margaret Boyce.


Her body was drifting face downwards.  Her clothes were clean and not disarranged; they were not saturated with water, suggesting she had not been in the river long.  Her arms were drifting freely, but her left leg was closely doubled back from the knee.


The autopsy confirmed that she had been dead only a few hours.  There was nothing to indicate sexual assault, and there were no bruises or other visible injuries on the body.  No drugs or alcohol were found in her stomach.  The doctor who examined her stated that she had drowned, but was unable to say whether this was a case of suicide, accident, or murder.


"Sydney Herald," January 22, 1870, via Newspapers.com



A boy named Charles Pickering, who was acquainted with the dead woman, told police that around 10:45 on the night Margaret disappeared, he saw her outside Thame’s restaurant in the company of a tall thin man.  Pickering greeted her with “Maggie, I have you now!”  Boyce smiled at him, but said nothing.  Pickering heard the man say to Margaret, “Will you come up now?”  She replied, “No, it is too late.”


Mary Ann Emerson, who was in the Robert Burns Tavern on the night of the 19th, came forward with a curious story.  She said that sometime between 10:30 and 11, a young man and woman went into the bar parlor.  She had no idea who the man was, but the girl’s distinctive red hair enabled Emerson to identify her as Margaret Boyce.  The man ordered two drinks: brandy and port wine.  He was tall and dark, but Mrs. Emerson did not get a good look at his face.  She thought Margaret’s manner odd, as if she was drunk.  The couple conversed in such a low tone that Mrs. Emerson could not hear much of what they said.  All she caught was Margaret saying that she “would not go down that night.”  After about 20 minutes, the pair left.


When another customer, a man named Harmer, left the tavern just after 11, he found a parcel lying on the ground near the door.  This was later identified as the underclothing Annie Boyce had given her sister.  The next morning, a woman found a broken imitation jet necklace and a jet earring about 40 yards from where the parcel had been discovered.  They were part of the jewelry Margaret had worn the night before.  Finally, the dead woman’s Garibaldi hat was found in an outhouse in that same area.  It was practically torn to pieces.


Those proved to be the only clues that were ever found about how Margaret died.  Naturally, detectives concentrated their efforts on finding “The Slab,” but they totally failed to track any sign of this most elusive of suitors.  At the inquest into Margaret’s death, the coroner rightly pointed out that the young man’s failure to come forward was extremely suspicious.


The coroner instructed the jury that after hearing the available evidence, the only reasonable verdict they could come to was that of “wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.”


That was the last official word about the sinister death of Margaret Boyce.  And after the night of January 19, no one in Sydney ever saw “The Slab” again.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Weekend Link Dump

 

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn


It's time for this week's Link Dump, and Strange Company HQ is throwing a party to celebrate!



The "Great Stink" of 1858.

Ancient Greek love spells.

The world's only authenticated pirate wreck.

A "cold case" murder is finally solved...then unsolved.

A significant Neanderthal tooth.

The disappearance of Esther Dingley.

When Orson Welles sold no wine before its time.

Lafayette's busy 1824 visit to America.

A brief history of King's Cross.

How Germans came to love potatoes.

A fake magic spell turns out to be surprisingly real.

The Muse brothers: a tragic tale with a (reasonably) happy ending.

Victorians and their talking bouquets.

A first-hand description of a 19th century British Army march in India.

Buttercup the Canal-Swimming Cow.

Yup, it's that point in 2021 when the Mystery Creatures Under Antarctica roll in.

This week in Russian Weird: their dogs are turning blue.

How a Colorado woman gained fame as "Rattlesnake Kate."

How to turn yourself into a Hapsburg.

A vampire princess.

A Pharaoh's brutal death. 

A Roman Emperor's breakfast nook.

A look at Georgian era jewelry.

The psychology of furniture.

A raid against Tripoli pirates.

A 17th century wife's printed petitions.

Polish and German carnival traditions.

An unequal duel.

Exploring Farfarout.

A glowing 800 year old boomerang.

The unknown Martha Washington.

A brief history of cinnamon.

The rebuilding of Chichen Itza.

Finnish funeral treats.

The world's oldest known brewery.

Mars in 4K.

A Revolutionary War heroine.

Medieval runaway nuns.

An 1862 body snatching scandal.

The murder of a boardinghouse keeper.

Finding a lost continent.

The oldest story ever told.

An interesting case of synchronicity.

The nearly-lost recipe for "Washington Pie."

The Leadville Ice Palace.

One of the earliest known Valentines.

That time General Marcus Crassus really screwed up.

Anyone who has read Patricia Highsmith's books is not surprised to learn she was a horrible human being.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning as political campaigner.

A visit with the skull of St. Valentine.

The megacities of Cambodia.

The poltergeist of St. Catherine.

The poltergeist of San Remo.

Just a boy and his swan.

What medieval peasants teach us about history.

That wraps things up for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an Australian's woman's mysterious death.  In the meantime, here's a spot of Telemann.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com



This simple, but eerie little story appeared in the “Sacramento Bee,” July 31, 1894:


July 31—Mysterious death lurks In a big vineyard near Collis. Everybody has left the place and the authorities are preparing to begin a searching investigation of the premises. 


On July 23d, Mrs L.M. Jacobs, a cook for the vineyard employees, was taken suddenly ill and died within twelve hours. 


Two days later Superintendent Ring was stricken with a similar malady. He is still living but will probably die. 


On Sunday last, A. Peterson, a vineyard workman, was taken ill in the same manner and died within thirty hours. 


The physicians declare that both deaths were due to paralysis of the heart and that Ring is also stricken with a severe affection of the heart. The local medical fraternity is greatly puzzled.


If they ever found the reason why these people were stricken in such a similar manner, it does not seem to have been reported in the papers.


Monday, February 15, 2021

The Fatal Wedding Cake

"Pomona Bulletin," March 17, 1923, via Newspapers.com



It has been noted that poisonings are often among the most difficult murders to solve, for the simple reason that the guilty party does not have to even be near their victim in order to kill them.  An outstanding example of that is this undeservedly obscure case.

To all outward appearances, William and Martha Sterrett of Devon, Pennsylvania seemed a thoroughly uninteresting couple.  William, an accountant, was one of those people who attracted little notice, either positive or negative.  Some of their neighbors thought Mrs. Sterrett was a bit standoffish, but they had nothing else to say against her.  The childless couple, who were both in their thirties, were quiet people, who caused no trouble and attracted no trouble.


That changed very abruptly on October 26, 1922.


Around midday, Mrs. Sterrett went to the post office to collect the mail.  When the postmistress handed her a large parcel marked “Special delivery,” Mrs. Sterrett expressed surprise, commenting,”I wonder whom this could be from?”  The package, with the typewritten address, “Mrs. W.W. Sterrett,” contained a round tin box, about ten inches in diameter.  It was postmarked “Philadelphia, Pa.,” but gave no indication who had sent it.  It had been mailed at the Penn Square postal station, very close to William’s office.


When Mrs. Sterrett returned home, she opened the parcel, to find that it contained two slices of what appeared to be a wedding cake.  Presuming that it had been sent by some friend who had forgotten to include his or her name, she put the cake on the dinner table, as a dessert treat for her husband.


People who blithely eat or drink food items sent anonymously to them usually prove to be a boon for true-crime writers, and, sadly, the Sterretts were no exception.  Within an hour after eating the cake, William was taken very ill.  His symptoms quickly became so dire that his wife frantically phoned the family physician, Dr. John Spangler.  Before her marriage, Martha had been a trained nurse, and immediately recognized the signs of poisoning.  She knew her husband needed a stomach pump as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, it was several hours before she was able to reach him.  In the meantime, another doctor, Ella Williams, was called in.  By the time Dr. Spangler finally arrived, Mrs. Sterrett was also ill.  During the night, a neighbor stayed with the couple, but by morning the condition of both had so deteriorated that they were brought to Bryn Mawr hospital.


The cake was clearly the source of their illness, but as the Sterretts had eaten every crumb, it was impossible to immediately know what sort of poison it had contained.  However, the fact that the couple displayed markedly different symptoms--William was vomiting and obviously violently ill, while Martha merely fell into a strange lethargy, as if she had been drugged--led police to suspect that different poisons were put in the two pieces.  


On the night of October 28, William Sterrett died.  Although Mrs. Sterrett was hospitalized for some time, she eventually recovered.  The coroner’s autopsy on William showed that he had died from ingesting an impressive amount of arsenic.


This was one of those cases where the police were almost immediately stymied.  From all they could find, the Sterretts had led frustratingly model lives.  Their marriage, as far as their friends and relatives knew, was a perfectly happy one, and they had no known enemies.  The associate manager of Price, Waterhouse, & Co., the firm which employed William, could not imagine why anyone would want to kill him or his wife.  “Sterrett was one of the most popular men in the office,” he told a reporter.  “Everyone liked him.  He was regular in his duties and had absolutely no sporting proclivities that I know of...Sterrett had no business enemies and no personal enemies that I know of.  I am sure of this.”  Everyone who knew the couple delivered similar tributes.  It is, of course, a very good thing to lead an exemplary life, but it is of no help whatsoever when investigators are trying to find your murderer.


The neat way in which the package of death had been wrapped and addressed led police to believe a woman had sent the cake.  Could jealousy have been the motive?  Was the intended victim really Mrs. Sterrett?  It was pointed out that the mailing of the parcel had been timed to reach Devon at a time when Mrs. Sterrett would be alone, and that there was scarcely enough cake for one person, let alone two.  She could easily have eaten it all herself, if she hadn’t chosen to save some for her husband, who was known to have a sweet tooth.   If Martha was indeed the target, that possible clue went nowhere.  Everyone who knew William was adamant that during the years of his marriage, he had not shown the slightest interest in any other woman, and no one could imagine any other motive for poisoning Mrs. Sterrett.  In early November, it was reported that the police were searching for a man who had escaped from the West Chester Asylum three days before the Sterretts received the poisoned cake.  This man had worked with Sterrett eight years before, and had been put in the asylum for poisoning animals and attempting to do the same with children.  I have been unable to find if they ever captured this man, but in any case this lead also fizzled.  The coroner was unable to even hold an inquest into William’s death, due to the lack of any one tangible thing upon which the jury might return a verdict.


Mrs. Sterrett was, naturally, extensively questioned by the police, but she was unable to tell them anything helpful.  At one point, the authorities appear to have regarded her as a possible suspect, but they were able to verify every statement she gave them, and she had an alibi for the time the cake was mailed.  In the beginning of November, it was announced that the typewriter used to create the address label on the fatal parcel had been found in New Jersey, and the newspapers reported eagerly that an arrest in the case was imminent.  However, if this story was true, it proved to be one more dead end.  By November 3, it was being reported that the case was at a complete standstill.  Within two weeks after William died, the authorities were publicly admitting defeat.  In January 1923, Mrs. Sterrett appealed to the county DA to reopen the investigation, but if this was done, the second inquiry was no more successful than the first.  The case quickly went “cold,” and cold it has remained to this day.


Friday, February 12, 2021

Weekend Link Dump

 

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

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

And the staffers of Strange Company HQ are here to start the show!



How the hell did Genghis Khan die?

What the hell was the Tunguska Event?

What the hell is causing these Martian landslides?

Where the hell is MH370?

What the hell happened to Pan Am Flight 7?

Why the hell haven't humans gone to Mars?

Who the hell was buried at Sutton Hoo?

Further proof that Dyatlov Pass is not the best place to go sightseeing.

Glass beads that predate Columbus have been found in Alaska.

The only surviving film of the pre-iceberg Titanic.

Your big opportunity to learn what an 18,000 year old conch sounds like.

A 1731 Chinese New Year celebration.

Dating advice from the Regency era.

A miller's daughter is--depending on how you look at it--either very lucky or very unlucky.  Oh, and steer well clear of water mills.

You find the damnedest things in bogs.

The folklore of ancient Celtic cauldrons.

The "Friar's Balsam" man.

Ancient Rome recreated in 3-D.  These really look amazing.

In related time-traveling news, you can now view the Bayeux Tapestry in high-resolution.

The mysterious deaths of two girls in India.

Early Modern tips on how to choose your child's gender.

The comrades of Sergeant York.

Etiquette for Victorian widows.

The world's oldest emojis.

The Witch of King's Cross.

Human history is...confusing.

How to prevent your corpse from being stolen.

Some fun snapshots of mid-1960s London.

A train station that just exists for the view.

A really great obituary.

A cemetery that was "the resort of thieves and harlots."

The man who was too tall.

An ancient payslip shows it was rough being a Roman soldier.

This week in Russian Weird shares the eerie sounds of Lake Baikal.  And how prehistoric people were able to soften ivory...and we have no idea how they did it.

The career of an 18th century sexologist.

How Robert Preston made his fortune in the East India Company.

A 17th century witchcraft case.

Another look at that "Famous Cats of New England" series I posted here awhile back.

Sutton Hoo's supernatural side.

A haunted Canadian island.

The music of a planetary system.

An early 19th century "juvenile almanac."

The sad tale of the butcher's boy and the cook.

Why a bearded lady wanted to go to prison.

The ordeal of Dan the Firehouse Cat.

A very unusual pregnancy.

When body snatchers get creative.

HMS Pulteney goes to war.

When Sparta was a tourist trap.

The kind of thing that happens when a sorcerer loses control of his spirits.

The latest on my favorite historical rabbit hole, the mystery of the Princes in the Tower.  (I suspect the boys weren't murdered by Richard, or anyone else, and nothing has emerged to make me change my mind.)

The complicated case of Edward II and Queen Isabella.

One heck of a lost-and-found story.

The myth of a disappearing regiment.

A near miscarriage of justice.

A very bad place to go camping.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at some fatal slices of cake.  In the meantime, we're back to Bach.