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

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

The “St. Louis Globe Democrat,” August 3, 1876:

The small shop at the southwest corner of Ninth and Penn streets is occupied by a German watchmaker. It has in his possession the photograph of a young lady who formerly resided on North Ninth street, this city.  The most wonderful and mysterious history is told concerning the picture. 

The young lady, about nineteen years of age, was in excellent health, rosy-cheeked, dark-eyed, and in the best of spirits, about five months ago. She resolved to have her photograph taken, and went to a Reading gallery. In the course of a few days she got the pictures and took them home. What is said to have followed was told to an Eagle reporter by the watchmaker this morning. 

She took her photographs home and showed one of them to a member of the family. The mother examined the picture awhile, and then said in German, "Why, this picture has a death's head on it.”  She pointed to the tie worn about the lady's throat, and what looked like a skull was distinctly seen on the picture, and it excited some curiosity. No attention was paid to this, and a few days afterward one of her photographs was looked at again, and to their great astonishment they discovered that the figure, or what greatly resembled it, of another skull had appeared just above it. This was also pointed out to the young lady, and she became deathly pale and took to her bed. She slowly sank, and in two months after she had her pictures taken she was a corpse. 

The reporter asked to see the photograph. It was shown. It represented a stout, healthy, fresh and prepossessing young lady. When she had her picture taken she wore a rose at her throat. This flower was so shaded that its picture really represents a skull. Below can be traced with a magnifying glass the outlines of another strange-looking face. It Is a strange freak at best, and must be seen to be properly understood and realized. It is stated that the young lady died from fright.

The moral is clear: if you happen to notice a skull lurking in someone’s photograph, it is, to say the least, tactless to point it out.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Murderer in the Mist: A Tudor Mystery

London has been the site of many famed murder mysteries, both real and fictional, so it seems appropriate that its first known handgun murder should also be its first unsolved handgun murder.

Robert Packington was a perfect example of the Tudor era “solid citizen.”  Born into a well-to-do Worcestershire family in 1489, he originally trained to be a lawyer, but soon switched to a mercantile career.  In 1510, he completed an apprenticeship in the Mercers' Company and went to work exporting cloth and importing “sundry wares.”

Packington had no reason to regret giving up the law.  He became a leading exporter of cloth, which led him to spend much time in the Netherlands, doing business.  He became a Member of Parliament, where he represented the Mercers’ interests by complaining about “the covetousness and crueltie of the clergie.”  Packington took a strong interest in the spirit of religious reformation which had spread to England.  He was said to have imported English-language bibles from Protestant Europe, and his equally Reformation-minded brother Augustine played a well-publicized trick on Cuthbert Tunstall, the Bishop of London.  He led Tunstall to believe he had bought all of William Tyndale’s English bibles from the Low Countries, for the purpose of publicly burning them.  Instead, Augustine gave the money intended for the purchase to Tyndale himself, who used it to print new versions.

Robert’s political activities appear to have gone even deeper.  Although the details are lost to us, Packington appears to have been acting as a spy for the king’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, using his many business trips abroad as a cover.  Whatever services he was providing for Cromwell, Packington evidently realized they were hazardous enough for him to make a will providing for his underage children in the event of his early death.

These fears, unfortunately, proved to be far from unfounded.  

On the morning of November 13, 1536, a heavy fog hung in the London air, causing a near-total lack of visibility.  Most preferred to keep to their homes, but among the few exceptions was Robert Packington.  At 5 a.m., he left his Cheapside residence to attend mass at the church of St. Thomas of Acre--something he was known to faithfully do every day, no matter what the weather.

As he began walking through the damp, chilly streets, a loud bang reverberated through the mist.  When neighbors came to investigate the noise, they found Packington’s body on the ground.  Someone lurking in the fog had shot the merchant dead.

The social prominence of the victim, as well as the unprecedented choice of weapon, caused the deed to make a great stir throughout the land.  His murder became one of Tudor England’s “Crimes of the Century.”  The motive for the shooting, as well as the identity of the perpetrator, became a matter of hot debate for years after the merchant was long dead and buried.

Although a “gret rewarde” was offered for any information about the killing, no one came forward.  In that age of spies, gossips, and tattletales, it is remarkable that not one solid clue to Packington’s murder was ever uncovered.  The cool efficiency of the attack suggests an assassination carried out by a professional hit man, but who could have been behind the slaying?

The pro-Reform activities of Robert and his brother naturally earned them the enmity of the established clergy, leading many contemporary writers to fasten blame on conservative churchmen.  Some twenty years after the murder, chronicler John Foxe published the first detailed account of the slaying.  He claimed that John Stokesley, who was then Bishop of London, paid a priest sixty gold coins to murder Packington.  However, Foxe later gave a different version of the murder, now claiming that John Incent, Dean of St. Paul’s, hired an Italian assassin to do the job.  (Incent was a close ally of Thomas Cromwell, which would suggest either that Foxe was totally mistaken, or--assuming that there was some truth to his accusation--that Cromwell himself may have had a motive to eliminate his spy.)  Foxe added that there were rumors that Robert Singleton, Anne Boleyn’s former chaplain, was the murderer, but Foxe himself did not credit such talk.  (Singleton, another of Cromwell’s many agents, was executed for treason in 1544.)

By the time Holinshed published his “Chronicles” in the 1570, conservative clerics were no longer the automatic “useful suspects.”  He claimed that some common street thug, when being executed for another crime, confessed on the gallows that he had also murdered Robert Packington.  However, as this story of the anonymous criminal only surfaced some forty years after the murder, it is almost certainly apocryphal; a perfect example of the outlandish rumors that collect themselves around notorious crimes.

Yet another theory had it that the assassin had been hired by the duped Cuthbert Tunstall to kill Augustine Packington, but got the wrong brother instead.  As Augustine was already long dead at the time of Robert’s murder, this scenario seems, to say the least, unlikely.

Or were the motives behind the shooting personal, rather than political?  Could the murder be traced back to an aggrieved business partner, a vengeful relative, an angry former friend?

Whoever may have been responsible for the murder of Robert Packington, it is a safe bet that if Tudor England could not identify the person--or persons--we never will.

1815 engraving of St. Pancras Church, where Packington is buried

Friday, March 26, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Our host for this week, Strange Company HQ staffer Ernie, is enjoying the first week of spring.

One more time: What the hell was Oumuamua?

Who the hell was "Harriet Cole?"

How the hell did the Neanderthals die out?

Why suicide was a sin in medieval Europe.

Some stories about cats.  (Warning: not all of them good.)

WWI's mercy dogs.

I love spicy food, but I don't think it should be an instrument of torture.

The hazards of visiting a New Zealand beach.

What it's like being a bartender in Antarctica.

The earliest known stone technologies are even older than we thought.

The earliest known wooden statue is even older than we thought.

While we're at it, the Black Death may have been even older than we thought.

Curing cancer with...carrots.

Money in medieval London.

The mansions of London's Strand.

A tale of a 'appy release.

So maybe it really is aliens.

Remembering the Goat Man.

The mystery of the disappearing Roman legion.

The "Tooth Fairy" and some 800-year-old bones.

A very strange psychic.

Some spectacular nature photos.

The Birdman of Stirling Castle.

That time Bach got into a sword fight.

The life of Jumbo the elephant.

A 1905 submarine disaster.

Sylvia Plath, foodie.

The Polar Bear Expedition.

Tower of London graffiti.

The dogs of Old London.

A Los Angeles traffic jam from over 100 years ago:

 A brief history of the harmonica.

A brief history of the refrigerator.

A police surgeon and a particularly grisly murder.

Another especially awful murder.

An interesting theory about the Egyptian pyramids.

Some manuscripts relating to the Franklin Expedition.

The mystery of the Flying Farmer.

Caesarean sections in the Georgian era.

Neanderthal toothpicks.

The hanging of a child killer.

The hazards of courting Belle Gunness.

It only took 17 minutes to kill off Pompeii.

Some mysteries surrounding a suicide.

A quilt commemorating a convict ship.

Clever Hans the Wonder Horse.

That's a wrap for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a murder mystery from Tudor England.  In the meantime, here's another historical dance party.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

It’s time for more Mystery Stone-Throwing! The “Stark County Democrat,” October 17, 1878:
Akron, Ohio, October 11.--On Tuesday last, while Mrs. Michael Metzler, living in the vicinity of the southern corporation line of Akron, was husking corn in a field, she was struck by several stones, which came from an unknown source. Later in the day her children were struck in the same way, and fled in terror to the house. On Wednesday evening. while Mrs. M. was again in the field, she was again struck by large lumps of earth and several stones in a similar manner as before. Yesterday morning, as Mrs. M. and her little daughter were standing before their cellar door, a large pebble came up from the cellar, striking the little girl in the face. All this is unaccountable, for the family reside in a rather ancient brick house, and on last evening a party of eight gathered in the main room, which contains two windows and two doors. Father Brown, a Catholic priest of this city, was present, and about 10 o'clock offered prayer. Hardly had he finished, however, before two large-sized stones fell at his feet, followed by a dozen or more pebbles, which came from the ceiling and walls, striking the persons who were in the room. 
All these stories have been circulated through the city, and to get the bottom facts of the affair, the Leader correspondent, together with a companion, paid a visit to the house to day shortly after dinner. The Leader man found the lady of the home and her family busy at work making apple butter, and after introducing himself to Mrs. Metzler, began a conversation regarding the strange freaks of the stones. At the time both windows and doors were closed, and the reporter and his companion were sitting in chairs near the door, where an excellent view of the room could be obtained. 
Mrs. Metzler, with tears in her eyes, declared it was not ghosts or anything of the kind, and said it must be a curse on the family. As she spoke she was standing in the middle of the room, and had pointed out to the reporter from whence the stones came, when suddenly a pebble the size of a hickory nut dropped from the ceiling and fell, striking Mrs. Metzler on the arm. The reporter witnessed all this, and picked up the stone as it fell. Soon after this a neighbor came to the front door, and inquired if anything more had transpired. The reporter walked to the door and was showing the stone which had just fallen to the neighbor when suddenly a larger pebble, four times the size of the first one, struck the reporter on the shoulder and fell to the floor. His companion saw the stone come through the ceiling about a yard from where the other one had come from. 
Mrs. Metzler stated to the reporter that at night the stones fell with a whistling noise, She showed to the reporter about twenty stones that had fallen during the forenoon. The affair is a most mysterious one, and will be more thoroughly worked up by the Leader correspondent tonight.
In December, it was reported that the family was still persecuted by this mysterious bombardment. The story seems to have subsequently disappeared from the newspapers, so it’s anyone’s guess how long it went on.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Demon of Lemont; Or, When a Ghost Orders You to Move, You Had Better Start Packing

On November 3, 1901, the "Chicago Inter-Ocean" carried a lengthy description of a particularly weird haunting that was being endured by the Willmans family of Lemont, Illinois.  The paper noted that the occurrences at the Willmans farm had some thinking it was "the direct work of Satan himself," while others "talk of witchcraft and the annals of certain occurrences at Salem, Mass."

The plagued household consisted of Seraphino Willmans, his wife, three daughters, and a son.  They lived in a large, comfortable farmhouse which had belonged to Seraphino's parents.  Their life was calm and unremarkable until August 1901, when their home was invaded by a ghost who was fond of writing them letters.  Literally hundreds of them.

From out of nowhere, letters would suddenly flutter down from the ceiling and drop to tables or the ground.  They were not pleasant messages, either.  The first note said that the writer was giving the family ten days to leave the farmhouse, or some terrible calamity would befall them.  When the Willmans ignored these orders, the "ghost" became very angry.   The subsequent letters took on a decidedly menacing tone, and some were so obscene as to be unrepeatable.  Some of the notes threatened to kidnap the younger Willman children.  One addressed to 16-year-old Anna warned, "You will not live any longer than your mother [Seraphino's first wife] did.  You don't know what killed your mother.  I did it."  

Via Newspapers.com

Many outside witnesses testified to seeing these notes appear in the air, in a manner which eliminated the possibility of any human being responsible for them.  They were written on all sorts of paper--note paper, wrapping paper, even cardboard.  Some were written in ink, others in pencil.  The messages showed a knowledge of everything the Willmans said and did, including the contents of confessions to their priest, which must have been particularly embarrassing.  They also referred to events involving relatives who lived some miles away--events unknown to the Willmans, but of which the "ghost" was fully and accurately informed.  Even more strangely, the letters correctly predicted future events.  This entity also took to playing malicious pranks on family members and visitors to the home, leaving the Willmans in a permanently rattled state of mind.

Although the spirit warned the Willmans that any effort to exorcise it would be futile, the family had their priest, the Rev. Westarp, perform the ceremony.  The entity was quiet for thirty-six hours, and then resumed its creepy antics with a redoubled energy.  It sent them a letter mocking their efforts at spiritual cleansing:  "Oh, oh, oh!  How I did laugh at seeing you all on your knees and praying!"

Westarp told an "Inter-Ocean" reporter that the whole business had him baffled.  "In this age of the world," he said, "it appears absurd to talk of ghosts or evil spirits, and so I would have said before investigating what is going on at the Willmans' place.  But what I have witnessed there with my own eyes and what has been told me by persons whom I know to be absolutely reliable leaves me no option but to believe that an agency that is not mortal is responsible for them."

Since the haunting began, the Willmans cows had been falling off in milk production.  One night, when Seraphino was driving the cows from their pasture to the barn, he saw a large black cat among them.  He had never seen the animal before.  Feeling a sudden superstitious dread of the creature, he took out his shotgun to kill it.  No sooner had he done so that the cat made a huge leap in the air...and vanished.  The next day, a letter materialized, saying, "Do you want to know why your cows have stopped giving milk?  I'll tell you.  I did it.  Ha!  Ha!  You thought you'd put a charge of shot in my hinder last night, didn't you?  But I fooled you."

More cow-related weirdness was to follow.  One day, as Mr. Willmans and his 12-year-old son were milking the cows, the boy cried, "Oh, father, look here!  My cow is giving cheese, not milk!"

Seraphino saw that his son was not exaggerating.  As soon as the milk entered the pail, it indeed turned to cheese.  When he began to milk the cow, she gave normal milk.  When the boy tried milking her again, he got...cheese.

We are told the incident left Seraphino "rubbing his head until every hair stood on end, in his perplexity," which seems entirely warranted.

In an effort to halt the seemingly endless procession of hate mail, Father Westarp advised the family to remove all writing paper from the home, but this proved to be as useless as his exorcism.  One day, in the presence of a visitor, Mrs. Willmans came across a pad of paper which she had overlooked.  She put it on the kitchen table.  Then, she and her guest observed the pad being lifted off the table by an invisible power.  It was suspended in mid-air for a moment, after which the "ghost" tore it into two pieces and dropped it on the table.  On another occasion, the family was visited by a relative, Nicholas Welter.  Welter was a thoroughgoing materialist who had expressed tactful skepticism on the reported goings-on at the household.  His stay there soon changed his tune.  He was sitting in the kitchen talking to Mrs. Willmans when she went to the cupboard for something or other.  When she opened the cupboard, she saw that her pen was missing from its usual place there.

By this point, its disappearance was no mystery to her.  She told Welter, "The ghost has taken the pen away.  We'll watch and see it brought back."  They sat for a few minutes, and, yes, they saw the pen magically return to the cupboard.

One typical prank was played on Mrs. Willmans' father.  He hung his hat and coat in the parlor, and joined those of the family who were at home in the kitchen.  To enter the parlor, one would have to pass through the kitchen, and all the parlor windows were locked.  When the old man prepared to leave, he found that his hat was missing.  It was eventually found about 100 feet from the house, filled with dirt and decayed apples.  His coat was still hanging in the parlor, but it was completely smeared with butter.  The only butter in the house was kept in the kitchen, where all the family was sitting.  It was impossible for anyone to take out the butter without being seen, but when Mrs. Willmans examined her store of butter, she saw the print of five fingers, exactly as if someone had scooped out a handful.  Another relative, a Mrs. Jungles, was sitting alone in a room at the farmhouse when she observed a pitcher of water slowly tip over, spilling all the water on the floor.  When the pitcher was empty, it slowly resumed its normal position.  Such ghostly activities became a regular feature of life at the Willmans home, many of them witnessed by outsiders.  

On November 4, the "Inter-Ocean" reported that the Willmans' ghost was getting even more destructive.  Shocks of unhusked corn disappeared from the fields in broad daylight, even though no humans had gone anywhere near them.  The family would hear furniture being moved about in rooms where they knew no one was present.  Articles of clothing would be mysteriously destroyed.  On the night of November 2, Nicholas Welter was at the farmhouse.  (A brave move, incidentally: the ghost had written a note warning him that if he visited the Willmans just one more time, he too would become a target of persecution.)  While the group debated the feasibility of performing a second exorcism, the family dog suddenly jumped up and began whining and pacing the room restlessly.  He always behaved in such a manner just before the "ghost" would appear.  A few minutes later, they smelled smoke.  The family rushed into the front parlor, where they were greeted by a mass of flames in one corner.  Fortunately, they were able to extinguish the fire before the entire house burned down.  After this, the family slept huddled together in one room, and the children were kept out of school.

No one could come up with an even remotely convincing explanation for what they were seeing.  Mrs. Willmans noted that the farmhouse was to be sold the following spring.  She theorized that someone who wanted the property was committing these supernatural pranks, in order to give the house a bad name and diminish its value.

And how would this would-be buyer manage to carry out these deeds?  All she could suggest was "witchcraft."

Soon after this, the Willmans moved out of the farmhouse.  Having finally achieved its goal of driving the family away, the entity which had become known as "The Demon of Lemont" was, thankfully, seen no more.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

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

Let the show begin!

What the hell happened to HMS Terror?

If you can't tell the difference between Bangor, Maine and San Francisco, maybe you need to not get out more.

We see dead people.  And hear them, too.

The scientist who claimed to be able to raise the dead.

Victorians medicated themselves with cocaine, which certainly explains a lot.

Duke of Wellington, ladies' man.

I'm betting this particular experiment won't end well.

Mars may be hiding water.

A perfumer's varied side interests.

"Hanged by a harlot" is one heck of an epitaph.

New York's Missionary Cats.

A bad master/servant relationship turns deadly.

The woman who yarnbombed rock stars.

Spring in Spitalfields.

Reading an unknown man's life through his tattoos.

Unusual rock art.

How to be an Irish paid mourner.

A foul-mouthed parrot.

The painless Eva Kennedy.

The world's oldest known woven basket.

The Scottish missionary who died in the Holocaust.

A 19th century police corruption scandal.

Tina Resch and the debatable poltergeists.

More fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been found.

A Mothering Sunday without a mother.

San Francisco's "Demon of the Belfry."

The gruesome world of Georgian dentures.

Some pioneering women doctors.

Neanderthals as artists.

Some ghostly treasure stories.

The murder of a mill girl.

The largest accidental oil spill in history.

18th century travel quarantine.

Our modern world: we're polluting the sky with silver iodide, very possibly for no good reason.  And you wonder why I prefer to hang around cats.

The sad end of the phony Hapsburg.

Tibby Tinkler, Yorkshire bookseller.

The rather creepy "Pauli Effect."

The Celtic Underworld.

A notorious London hotel fire.

This week in Russian Weird looks at UFOs and the Road of Bones.  And apartment buildings that badly need defrosting.

Explaining the "Doorway Effect."

A prominent 19th century medium.

The latest on the Antikythera Mechanism.

A famed "dog-faced boy."

A Bronze Age burial that may have been fit for a queen.

19th century beard styles.

Fact and fiction about the Ledston Witch.

The world's oldest impact crater...isn't.

An accepted forgery maybe...isn't.

And that's a wrap for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a particularly nasty haunted house.  In the meantime, here's another historical dance party.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

There are many ghost stories where an angry or anxious spirit returns to give the living certain tasks they want carried out.  One particularly soap-operaish example appeared in the “Dundee Courier” on July 3, 1872:

Sometime ago an elopement took place from a small country village not one hundred miles from the High Street of Dundee.  The facts of the case are summarily these--A husband and wife lived together with their five children.  The pair did not seem to have enjoyed a continuous flow of domestic bliss, as during the greater part of every day rows were very frequent.  This sort of thing lasted several years, and might have been still going on had not the wife become enamoured of a gay and sprightly young gardener, who in turn reciprocated her affection.  This acquaintance had not been long developed when a “bolt” was proposed and agreed upon.  The loving couple therefore disappeared one fine morning.  The couple came straight to Dundee and took up their abode in one of the streets at the west end of the town, where they were allowed to remain unmolested, the husband preferring to allow his unfaithful spouse the “freedom of her own will.”

For a time all went merry as a marriage bell, until, alas! the grave destroyer, “Death,” seemed likely to have his due by fixing on the wife his withering hand.  The unfortunate fair one was seized with smallpox, and died.  Before her death she laid down a few instructions to her non-repentant lover, and obtained his promise to seek out and take charge of her two youngest children.  This the young Lothario solemnly promised to do.

Some weeks elapsed without the promise being fulfilled.  One night after the pseudo-husband had retired to rest, he was awakened by a visit from the “spirit,” as he himself styled it, of his late partner.  She accused him of infidelity and breach of his sacred trust, and warned him that unless he at once proceeded to fulfill his promise she had a message from the dead to call him hence in a fortnight.

Stricken with terror, he slept no more that night.  As soon as day had dawned made his way to the residence of his late wife’s husband, and asked him for the children.  This request the husband refused to comply with, and this put the gardener into a terrible state of mind.  Day after day of the time of grace expired, and during the whole time Morpheus almost entirely refused him sympathy.  At length the looked for and dreaded time arrived, and on Friday evening last, as he was lighting his fire previous to the evening meal, a hand was laid forcibly on his shoulder, and a sepulchral voice exclaimed--”William, why have you not got my children?  You coward, go and have them by this day week, else you die.”

The poor wretch was chained to the spot, and lay for some hours insensible.  At length, when he came to himself, he ran to the house of a friend, and told the whole affair, which seemed to give him some relief.  Ever since he had refused to go into the house; and thoroughly believes the apparition to have been real.

I’d love to know how William the Gay and Sprightly Gardener got himself out of this mess, but I couldn’t find any follow-ups to this story.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Murder and Mystery at Wolf Lake

Fatal house fires.  

Unsolved disappearances.  

Allegations of family murder.  

Human skulls as plant pots.

All in the same blog post.

50 year-old Bernard Rusness and 41-year-old Peggy McKay lived with their eight-year-old son Brian in Wolf Lake, Minnesota, a tiny farming community.  The couple both worked at a car dealership in Fargo, North Dakota.  Although all their friends and neighbors believed Bernard and Peggy were married, such was not the case.  In fact, Bernard was still legally wed to another woman, although they had long been separated.  The family lived quietly and did little socializing.  In a rural community where "everyone knew everyone," very few knew the Rusness household.   Despite this unusual reticence, the couple were regarded as decent, inoffensive people who were devoted to their young son.

"Minneapolis Star Tribune," March 6, 1983, via Newspapers.com

April 3, 1976, was a seemingly unremarkable day.  Bernard and Peggy spent the morning grocery shopping.  Around 4 p.m., Bernard was seen leveling his driveway.  At 11:30 p.m. a neighbor, Kevin Mickelson, was driving past the Rusness home when he saw it was on fire.  Other neighbors had already called the Fire Department, but by the time the flames were noticed, it was already too late to be of any help.  The house and everything in it was completely destroyed.  Curiously, the cause of the blaze was apparently never determined.  No one knew where the residents of the house were at the time of the fire.

When the ashes of what had once been the Rusness home were examined, the question of the whereabouts of little Brian Rusness was tragically answered when his charred body was found.  It was assumed that he had been asleep in his bed when the fire broke out, leaving him no time to escape.  It does not seem to have ever been established if Brian died before or during the fire.  Also found were the corpses of the family's two dogs, as well as a human skull.  (It was soon learned that Peggy had used the skull as a planter.)  The mystery lay in what was not found on the scene: namely, any trace of Bernard and Peggy.  Not only were their bodies missing--all of their clothing and luggage was gone as well.

This startling detail led investigators to the most obvious conclusion:  that the couple had, for whatever unknown diabolical reasons, murdered their son, set the house on fire in order to try to cover the deed, and fled.  However, all who had known the pair vehemently rejected this theory.  Bernard and Peggy had adored their son, and McKay in particular was a careful and protective parent.  Friends and relatives were united in their belief that it was impossible to picture either of them harming Brian.

It was also pointed out that the couple had just finished remodeling their house.  The very day of the fire, Bernard had started to install a sound system in his four-wheel drive.  Both their vehicles were still on the scene, and their joint bank account was untouched.  All of this argued against the idea that the pair had voluntarily vanished.

So, what did happen to Bernard Rusness and Peggy McKay?  Who started the fire, and why?  There have been any number of theories attempting to answer these questions, each of them weirder than the last.  Bernard's adult son, Ben Rusness, blamed authorities for conducting a slipshod investigation.  He believed the couple had been kidnapped, although he (publicly, at least) professed to have no idea who would have wanted to harm them.  In 1983, Margaret Rusness, Bernard's legal wife, expressed her opinion that the couple was dead.  She noted that she had not heard from Bernard since the fire, even though he used to regularly phone her.  She added the somewhat odd comment that the whole matter should be allowed to rest.

Others pointed to the fact that a strange religious cult was believed to have been living near Wolf Lake.  Although there is no evidence that either Bernard or Peggy was in any way associated with the group, it was speculated that they might have somehow run afoul of the cultists.  However, nothing was ever found to back up this rather lurid idea.  Local authorities believed the pair survived the fire, but aside from that, they could offer no theories about what had happened.

In 1983, Ben Rusness told a reporter from the Minneapolis "Star Tribune" that he had no idea what became of his father and Peggy, or if the couple was living or dead.  "They may not be alive, but something had to happen to them.  I've got to know."

Unfortunately, to date, the disappearance of Bernard Rusness and Peggy McKay is still unsolved.  As far as I can tell, we don't even know whose skull was being used as a planter.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is here!

Time to dance!

Yes, we're still asking: What the hell happened to MH370?

In other words, our memories stink.

Some of Maine's most notorious murders.

How a dam disaster led to legalized marriages to the dead.

The oldest known indiscriminate massacre.

Unusual pain-relievers.

Ancient drunken apology letters.

The life of JMW Turner's housekeeper (and possible lover.)

The life of Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray.

The Oliver Cromwell cookbook.

Celtic shapeshifters.

Medieval "birthing girdles."

Assorted bad business at the City of London Cemetery.

The male impersonators of the music halls.

A significant shamanic experiment.

A British family's death spoons.

Weird duels from the Old West.

A deadly boating accident.

Some lost streets of Whitechapel.

Nothing says a fun time in the outdoors like "Donner Party Road Trip."

The man who photographed Auschwitz.

A case of spontaneous human combustion.

A 16th century rocket man.

It says a lot about Scotland when a countess flying around the room is merely a "distemper."

“Strange cat shows up out of nowhere, demands food” has a long history.

Someone in Winchcombe just had a meteorite fall in his driveway.

A tombstone as an aid to wooing.

Ancient subversive manuscripts.

Some unusual uses for canes.

Two strong contenders for the "Worst Parents in History" award.

The 19th century "Protector of Muscat."

A Victorian anatomical museum.

The Gentlemen Cats of Greenwich Village.

The first Carnegie library.

The mysterious end of the SS Morro Castle.

When a cave was used to treat tuberculosis.

The doctor who wanted to do a head transplant.

Some recipes from 1719.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a mysterious family tragedy.  In the meantime, let's attend a 17th century dance.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

All righty, let’s talk Weird Winds and jumping garages.  The "Binghampton Press," April 11, 1964:

ALBANY, N. Y.--UPI--Teddy Bix of 56 O'Dell Street just stood there gawking at the flying garage. 

Mr. Bix told authorities he was raking leaves yesterday when he looked up at the rear of 13 O'Connell Street and saw a neighbor's galvanized tin garage: 

Climb straight up in the air.

Level off at about 15 feet.

Execute two graceful turns.

Bank slightly and take off due east.

Skim over a snow fence, and

Crash-land at least 50 feet from where it took off. 

The U. S. Weather Bureau said there was only a slight breeze at the time and that the garage must have been tossed by "a freak gust." 

"I have property insurance," said garage owner Michael Keaveney of the O'Connell Street address, "but I don't really know whether it covers a jumping garage."

Monday, March 8, 2021

The St. Scholastica Day Riot; Or, The Hazards of Serving Bad Wine

Major conflicts have often arisen from the most seemingly minor events.  (Long-time readers of this blog may recall when England and America nearly went to war over a murdered pig.)  However, proportionately speaking, it’s hard to top the time when Oxford, England, suffered street riots, bloody armed battles, and centuries of financial restitution, all because of a serving of lousy wine.

On February 10, 1355--St. Scholastica Day--Oxford University students Walter Spryngheuse and Roger de Chesterfield found themselves with free time on their hands.  They decided to celebrate the way students have done from time immemorial--namely, by going to the nearest pub for a little booze-up.  The pair headed for Swindlestock Tavern, and ordered wine.

Unfortunately, our students were not pleased with the beverage.  The wine was downright undrinkable, and they were not quiet about expressing their displeasure.  Their host, John de Croydon, was understandably nettled about these medieval one-star Yelp reviews.  He went over to the pair and bluntly told them to either drink their wine in silence or leave.  Walter and Roger declared that the wine was clearly spoiled, and demanded de Croydon serve them something better.  The taverner insisted that the students should just gulp down the stuff, and like it.  

Spryngheuse replied by cracking de Croydon over the head with his wine pot.  After giving the taverner a thorough beating, our scholarly pair went on their way, feeling like they had given a much-needed tutorial about the house red.

What Walter and Roger appear to have overlooked was that the Swindlestock was owned by John de Beresford, Oxford’s mayor.  Beresford sent the town bailiffs over to the two students to demand an apology and financial compensation for the taverner’s injuries.  The pair told them in no uncertain terms what they could do with this request.

This refusal left Beresford in a bind.  He could not arrest his foes himself, as all members of the University were beyond his jurisdiction.  He wrote to the University’s Chancellor, John Charlton, asking him to apprehend the erring wine-bibbers.  Charlton’s refusal was nearly as rude as Walter and Roger’s had been.

Beresford decided it was time to go to war.  He had the bells of Carfax rung, which was the known call to arms for Oxford men.  The students responded by ringing the bells of St. Mary’s on the High Street, the corresponding summons for University members.  The most epic Town versus Gown in Oxford history was well and truly launched.

The two amateur armies spent an entire day brawling in the streets, with the townsmen getting the worst of it.  Beresford made an in-person appeal to King Edward III to come to his aid, but the king, who was known to be pro-University, declined to get involved.  Meanwhile, Chancellor Charlton, seeing that events were slipping out of his control, pleaded with the students to agree to a truce.  They responded by blocking the city gates, looting and burning buildings, and beating the hell out of anyone who dared cross them.  In return, bowmen attacked a group of students who were peacefully exercising in the fields off St. Giles church, killing several of them.

Bereford raised an army of some 2,000 men from the Oxfordshire countryside, all of them eager for a good fight.  Chanting, “Slay, slay!  Havoc, havoc! Smite fast, give good knocks!” they descended upon the students.  They had more men and better weapons than their foes, so Town was able to give Gown “good knocks,” indeed.  The students escaped to the sanctuary of the University, with the Oxfordshire men in hot pursuit, beating on the doors of the Colleges and shouting, “Bycheson cum forth!”--in modern parlance, “Come out, you sons of bitches!”  Fourteen University Halls were vandalized, and numerous students killed or thrown in prison.  By the third day of the riot, most students had fled Oxford, with the remaining survivors hiding in Merton College, which was under a state of siege.

On February 12, Charlton obtained his own audience with King Edward, with more success than Beresford.  The king ordered the violence to cease while he sent judges to the town to hear the complaints from both sides.  In the meantime, the charters of both Oxford and the University were revoked.  To no one’s real surprise, Edward ruled in favor of the University.  He returned their charter and issued a blanket pardon for all the students.

The town paid dearly for that afternoon in the Mayor’s tavern.  Beresford was imprisoned, and Oxford was ordered to make a formal apology to the University, along with monetary compensation and a fine of 500 marks.  In addition, the Bishop of Lincoln imposed a one-year interdict on the town, which banned all religious practices except the baptisms of newborns.  In 1355, King Edward issued a royal charter detailing the rights of the University over the town.  The University’s Chancellor was given the right to tax bread and drink sold in Oxford, as well as other authority over the town’s commerce.

Every year on St. Scholastica Day, the Mayor and sixty-one of Oxford’s leading citizens (one for each student killed in the riots) were forced to do penance by attending a Mass in St. Mary’s Church honoring the slain students and contributing a penny for each of their victims.  (The money was split between the University and the church’s curate.)  This humiliating practice lasted until 1825, but it was not until 1955 that a formal armistice was made, with the Chancellor being made a Freeman of the town, and the Mayor given an honorary degree.

All in all, you might say that Walter Spryngheuse and Roger de Chesterfield hold the record for the world’s most expensive bar tab.