"...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, May 31, 2021

Horror in West Texas: The Frome Murders

"Pomona Progress Bulletin," April 6, 1938, via Newspapers.com

The Frome family of Berkeley, California exemplified mid-20th century American prosperity.  Weston Frome, a top executive at Atlas Powder Company, made all the money needed to give his wife Hazel and his two daughters, Nancy and Mada, a life of pampered contentment.  The three attractive, chic Frome women traveled extensively, shopped, and took a prominent part in Bay Area society.  The Fromes could have stepped out of a magazine ad.  As an icing on the cake of the family’s seemingly endless good fortune, Weston Frome won a lottery where the prize was a lavishly equipped, brand-new silver Packard.  He gave the car to Nancy as a college graduation present.

This proved to be the worst decision of his life.

1938 did not start out well for Nancy.  Her fiance, a San Francisco optometrist, broke their engagement.  Upset and anxious to “get away from it all,” in March, twenty-three year old Nancy announced that she would like to take a train cross-country to visit her sister, who was married to an active-duty Marine stationed in South Carolina.  However, Hazel worried about her young daughter making such a long trip on her own.  She had an alternate idea: how about if the two of them use Nancy’s plush new car to drive there?  For a mother and daughter who loved traveling, it would be a fun adventure.  Nancy readily agreed, and the pair were soon on their way.

The road trip was uneventful until they reached West Texas, where the Packard developed engine trouble.  The local auto repair shop had to send for replacement parts for the luxury car, leading to an unavoidable delay before it could be fixed.  Rather than just sit in their El Paso hotel room, the women took a tour of the town and its sister city, Juarez, Mexico.  Five days later, on Wednesday, March 30, their car was finally ready for them.  When the Fromes came to pick up the Packard, they asked for directions to Dallas, and, at about 10:30 a.m., resumed their trip.  

The following afternoon, two army surveyors found the Packard parked on the side of a lonely road eleven miles west of the town of Balmorhea.  They reported the find to their sergeant, who in his turn notified the Reeves County sheriff’s office.

The two deputies who arrived at the scene were baffled.  The car was unlocked, and the keys in the ignition.  No luggage or anything that would identify the car’s owner was found.  Aside from a few minor scratches, the car was in perfect condition.  Why would anyone abandon an expensive auto out in the middle of nowhere?

The California license plate enabled the sheriff, Louis Robertson, to at least determine who owned the car.  When Weston Frome was contacted, he became hysterical, immediately assuming that his wife and daughter were both dead.

A search was immediately launched using all of West Texas’ available resources.  Robertson drove the Packard back along the route the Fromes had taken, asking at every stop if anyone remembered the car and the women driving it.  No one had.  Law enforcement, volunteers and members of the Civilian Conservation Corps searched the area on foot and horseback.  The Coast Guard was called in.  Despite these efforts, no clues to the women’s disappearance were found until five days later, when an El Paso truck driver named Jim Milam went to police with a strange story. Early Wednesday afternoon, as he was driving from El Paso to Wickett, a silver Packard had passed Milam about 13 miles west of Sierra Blanca. Closely following the Packard was a dark coupe, with two license plates and white writing on the right door. Both cars were traveling east. Two hours later, six miles east of Van Horn, he saw the same coupe driving toward him, slowly, along the edge of the highway. A woman was driving. Twenty miles later, the Packard passed him again, headed east and driven by a man. Following the Packard was the coupe with the female driver. Milam took investigators to the spot. As they searched the area, it was Milam who found the bodies of Hazel and Nancy Frome.

Their deaths had been unusually brutal.  Although both were nearly naked, neither woman had been sexually assaulted.  However, they were gruesomely abused in other ways.  They had been badly beaten, one of Hazel’s forearms looked like the flesh had been bitten off, and Nancy’s right hand had been burned to the bone, probably from a cigar or cigarette.  Death finally came when they were shot execution-style in the head.  It was as if someone had tortured the women in order to obtain something that the Fromes wouldn’t or couldn’t provide.  A massive manhunt was instantly launched to find these very, very dangerous murderers.

"El Paso Times," June 28, 1981

Investigators were flooded with tips.  Other motorists remembered that on the day the Fromes disappeared, the Packard seemed to be followed by another car containing several people, but that promising clue wound up going nowhere.  At first, law enforcement assumed the obviously wealthy women were the victims of a random highway robbery.  However, the fact that a diamond watch and Hazel’s gold wedding ring were left inside the car forced them to abandon that theory.  Perhaps, some lawmen thought, the women were mistaken for drug smugglers, and tortured to force them to turn over their stash of dope?  The El Paso sheriff was of the opinion that the savagery of the murders indicated a personal motive; that someone they knew from California was for some reason inspired to take a bloody revenge on the women.  Or maybe, he suggested, the Fromes were murdered by people they encountered in Juarez?

As promising as all these theories initially sounded, no real evidence could be found for any of them.  For all their efforts, law enforcement came up with no solid leads, let alone likely suspects, for the very sinister deaths of Hazel and Nancy Frome.  It remains one of Texas’ creepiest murder mysteries.

Over the years, there have, of course, been efforts by armchair detectives to solve the case.  One of the more interesting scenarios was laid out by former journalist Clint Richmond in his 2014 book “Fetch the Devil.”  It is built around the fact that in 1930s San Francisco, the German consulate was a hotbed of Nazi spies led by Baron Manfred von Killinger.  At the time of the murders, there were also many German agents operating around the Mexican border.

Richmond believed that Weston Frome, as a German-born executive of a major explosives company, was targeted by the Nazis in order to learn his business’ secrets.  However, Frome rebuffed all efforts to either bribe or blackmail him.  The German agents then went after the more vulnerable quarry: Weston’s wife and daughter.

Richmond noted that while the Fromes were stranded in their El Paso hotel, Nancy came down with a bad cold.  As the regular hotel doctor was away, a hotel bellboy referred them to a local doctor, Wolfgang Ebell.  Unfortunately for the Fromes, Dr. Ebell was part of an extensive Nazi spy chain which operated through San Francisco, Latin America, and Berlin.  Hazel was a chatty, outgoing woman, so Richmond thought it likely that when she learned the doctor was German, she mentioned to him her husband’s similar ancestry, as well as his important position at Atlas Powder Company.

Ebell, according to this scenario, called his boss von Killinger to report his encounter with the women.  The spymaster instantly recognized the Frome name, and saw his opportunity to finally get some leverage over Weston.  Von Killinger instructed Ebell to do everything in his power to exploit this unexpected gift while the women were still in the area.

Ebell first sent two Russians, Romano Trotsky and G.N. Gepge, to try to romance the Frome women.  However, the mother and daughter merely laughed off their efforts.  While the Fromes were at the hotel, a letter was dropped off for Hazel at the front desk.  Although it is not known what the letter said, it clearly greatly upset both women.  Richmond theorized that the Nazi agents wrote to Hazel threatening to expose Weston’s peccadilloes, either real or fictional.  It caused the two panicked women to flee as soon as they could.

When Ebell learned the Fromes were preparing to leave, he quickly enlisted Trotsky, Gepge, and an unidentified woman in a plan to waylay the mother and daughter.  On the remote Highway 80, the spies were able to force the Packard off the road.  After that, it was a simple matter to detain the Fromes at gunpoint.  The men forced their way into the Packard, ordering Nancy to drive.  Ebell’s female agent followed them in Ebell’s car.  The Fromes were taken to some isolated place where Ebell’s thugs could question them under torture.  Meanwhile, Ebell searched the Packard for the incriminating letter that Hazel had received.  Unable to find it, he abandoned the car, taking the Frome luggage to be searched at his leisure.

Despite the terrible abuse the women suffered, they proved to be as stubbornly uncooperative as Weston had been.  When Ebell reported to von Killinger his failure to get information out of the Fromes, the spymaster said that there was no other option but to murder them.  Accordingly, the women--probably already nearly dead after hours of torture--were brought to the remote area where their bodies were later discovered, and shot.

The debacle of the attempt to recruit the Frome women--and the even more unwelcome publicity the murders received--caused the spies to quickly tie up loose ends.  The bellboy who had summoned Ebell to treat Nancy’s cold was kidnapped, taken into Mexico, and killed.  Baron von Killinger was recalled to Germany, far away from the reach of any investigators who might stumble across the link between his spy ring and two now-infamous murders.  By the time Dr. Ebell was arrested in December 1941, the Frome case was so cold, it never occurred to anyone to note his possible connection to the mystery.  The Nazi spies may have failed in their espionage activities against the Fromes, but they were very successful when it came to killing them.

Richmond’s scenario may sound like something out of a cheesy spy thriller, but it is not impossible, and would explain many of the odder elements of these unusually odd murders.  It is still possible that some day, some information will emerge to prove whether or not his theory is correct.

[Note: El Paso sheriff Chris Fox, who spent years trying to solve this case, did manage to uncover a couple of interesting details which might--or might not--have been significant.  When he interviewed family members, he learned that Weston and Hazel Frome had marital problems for some years--in fact, they were separated at the time Hazel made her fatal road trip.

Also, in one of those unbelievable coincidences which often dot true-crime cases, it transpired that on the day the Fromes disappeared, there was another silver Packard with California plates containing two women on Highway 80.  Fox was able to contact these women, and satisfied himself that they had no connection to the case.  However, this did lead some people to wonder if perhaps the Fromes had been mistaken for someone else.]

Friday, May 28, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by Claudia Cardinale.

And someone who wants to get as far away as possible from Claudia Cardinale.

The truth behind a famous "plague village."

The secrets of Anne Boleyn's prayer book.

As I have noted before, if you want to make a bunch of archaeologists happy, give them some fossilized poop.  And if it's really big and riddled with parasites to boot, they will practically weep from joy.

Life in the Soviet Union during WWII.  As you might imagine, it wasn't fun.

You know what Poe's contemporaries wanted from him?  Books about seashells.

So maybe Einstein wasn't Mr. Smarty-Boots after all.

The science of archaeogenetics.

Some very strange ancient geoglyphs in India.

Napoleon's second wife.

The servant and the stolen bank notes.

The oldest gold find in southwest Germany.

More about UFOs and USS Omaha.

A scandalous elopement from the 1950s.

Some curious moments from Seattle history.

How two rare lobsters were saved from becoming someone's dinner.

A murderer who just couldn't shut up about it.

The Tower of London has a new raven.

A famously pious woman.

What is possibly the richest ancient shipwreck yet.

A scandalous annotation.

The Bottle Men of the Regency.

Twenty acres of skulls.

Latvia's Sun Barrels.  The setting is delightful, but the "houses" themselves are setting off my claustrophobia.

The good old, "He fell on the end of my umbrella" alibi.

How George Washington's doctors unwittingly helped kill him.  Articles like this always make me wonder how many modern medical practices will be hooted at by later generations.

In related news, modern medical practices unwittingly led to a radioactive corpse being cremated.

Julius Caesar's invasions of Britain.

Thieves just looted Arundel Castle.  I hope Mary Stuart's ghost teaches them a lesson.

And here are other relics of Mary, Queen of Scots.

News reports from Jack the Ripper-era Spitalfields.

One of the attempted assassinations of Queen Victoria.

A fatal glove.

A brief history of the Warenne family.

The life of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Queen Victoria's African-born goddaughter.

Fun fact of the day: John Steinbeck once wrote a novel about a werewolf.

The mysterious life and death of Francis, Viscount Lovell.

A London tomb which is said to be a time machine.

George Orwell's time in Spain.

The dark side of the Scottish borders.

Some questions about the Emperor Nero.

Some well-preserved ancient Roman baths.

Some recipes from the WWII years.

Was Amy Billig kidnapped by bikers?

That time the Devil visited Shropshire.

The relationship of Robert Devereux and Elizabeth I.

The hazards of 18th century shaving.

An alleged escape from a sea monster.

Harry, lazy, husky hero cat.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a notorious Texas murder case.  In the meantime, let's eat!

Man, this one takes me back.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

And here is one of those little news items you don’t see every day.  The “Wilmington Morning News,” August 5, 1947:

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 4 (AP) A retired Ohio doctor has discovered relics of an ancient civilization, whose men were eight or nine feet tall, in the Colorado Desert, near the Arizona-Nevada-California line, an associate said today. 

Howard E. Hill of Los Angeles, speaking before the Transportation Club, disclosed that several well-preserved mummies were taken Sunday from caverns in an area roughly 180 miles square extending through much of southern Nevada from Death Valley, Calif., across the Colorado River Into Arizona. Hill said the discoverer is Dr. F. Bruce Russell, retired Cincinnati physician who came across the first of several tunnels in 1931, shortly after coming West and deciding to try mining for his health. Not until this year, however, did Dr. Russell go into the situation thoroughly. Hill told the luncheon. 

With Dr. Daniel S. Bovee of Los Angeles, who with his father helped open up New Mexico's cliff dwellings, Dr. Russell has found mummified remains together with implements of the civilization which Dr. Bovee had tentatively placed at about 80,000-year old. 

"These giants are clothed in garments consisting of a medium length jacket and trouser extending slightly below the knees," said Hill. "The texture of the material is said to resemble gray dyed sheepskin, but obviously it was taken from an animal unknown today." 

Hill said that in another cavern was found the ritual hall of the ancient people, together with devices and markings similar to those now used by the Masonic Order. In a long tunnel were well-preserved remains of animals, including elephants and tigers. So far. Hill added, no women have been found. He said the explorers believed that what they found was the burial place of the tribe’s hierarchy. Hieroglyphics, he added bear a resemblance to what is known of those from the Lost Continent of Atlantis, They are chiseled, he added on carefully-polished granite. 

He said Dr. Viola V. Pettit of London, who made excavations around Petra, on the Arabian Desert, shortly will begin an inspection of the remains.

You will perhaps not be surprised to learn that we heard no more of the matter from Mr. Hill, not to mention from Dr. Russell, Dr. Bovee, and Dr. Viola V. Pettit of London.

But I bet the members of the Transportation Club had an entertaining afternoon.

Monday, May 24, 2021

In Which Mimi and Toutou Go to War

Normally, war stories just aren't my sort of thing.  If the truth be known, tales of military tactics and battlefield heroics usually leave me yawning and reaching for the books discussing goblin cats and unexpected arsenic in the tea.  However, now and then I stumble across a person who makes me change my view of warfare and welcome them into the hallowed gates of Strange Company HQ.

Enter, Geoffrey Basil Spicer-Simson.

Spicer-Simson was born in Tasmania in 1876, but was educated in his father's native England.  At the age of 14, he entered the Royal Navy, where by 1898 he achieved the level of lieutenant.  Unfortunately, his career stalled, due largely to our hero's manifest incompetence.  On one occasion, he nearly sank a submarine during a training exercise.  On another, he drove a ship onto a beach.  And, of course, there was the memorable day when he crashed a destroyer into another naval ship, killing one of the sailors.  His brash, eccentric personality (one of his biographers describes him simply as "a deeply irritating man,") did not help matters.

However, Spicer-Simson did have some talent for surveying, a task he carried out in China and Africa.  After the beginning of WWI, he was given an office post in the Admiralty.  His task was transferring Merchant sailors to the War Navy.  His superiors evidently believed that the further away from battle he was, the better it would be for their side.  Spicer-Simson, it soon emerged, was peculiarly unsuited for such a routine desk job.  His special talents lay elsewhere.  

In April of 1915, the British learned that the Germans were planning to take control over Africa's Lake Tanganyika.  If they succeeded, it would strengthen the enemy's position throughout German East Africa.  To counter this threat, the British Navy prepared to send a small expedition to challenge the German warships.  As Spicer-Simson was familiar with Africa and fluent in German, he was given the task of leading what the Navy brass assumed would be a routine mission, ridiculously minor and uninteresting compared to the epic conflicts taking place in Europe.

Spicer-Simson's expedition may have been minor, but he was damned if it was going to be uninteresting.

The plan was simple:  Spicer-Simson would be given two small wooden ships with a motor and cannon attached to each one.  (Geoffrey wanted to name them “Cat” and “Dog,” but after these were rejected by the Admiralty, he settled on “Mimi” and “Toutou.”  He later explained that these meant “Miaow” and “Bow-Wow” in French.)  These vessels would be trundled across Africa before being dropped into Lake Tanganyika.  It was assumed that after this, the Germans would either be awed by the majesty of the British Navy or die laughing.  Spicer-Simson's crew was happily suited for the enterprise.  His chief engineer had not the slightest idea how the ship's engines worked.  Another of his sailors was known as "Piccadilly Johnny."  He had dyed bright yellow hair and a monocle, and insisted on taking along two boxes of Worcester sauce, which he drank straight out of the bottle.  The sanest member of the expedition was a chimpanzee named Josephine, who would join the crew for meals. Oh, and don't forget the two Scotsmen in kilts.  It was as if the Marx Brothers decided to make a war movie.

Spicer-Simson, heavily covered in “macabre tattoos,” was the perfect commander for this crew.  Despite having little knowledge of semaphore, he persisted in waving around the flags, perfectly indifferent to the fact that he was spelling out gibberish.  He was also in the habit of giving orders while flourishing a fly-swatter and keeping a cigarette holder in his mouth, leaving his words as unintelligible as his flag messages.  He proudly made himself a bogus Admiral's flag for his ship, donned a skirt--feeling that was more appropriate attire for the tropical climate--dressed his goat mascot in a British uniform, and announced that he was more than ready to take on the German Navy.

When the enemy first caught sight of this floating sideshow, they gave themselves over to the greatest merriment.  Being confronted by this egomaniacal loon and his daffy crew was an unexpected comedy bonanza.  The Germans, chuckling all the while, opted to ignore him.

It never pays to underestimate egomaniacal loons.  Because, you see, the funniest thing is that Spicer-Simson beat them silly.  While the enemy fleet was busy laughing at the self-made Admiral, he was capturing some of their boats and sinking others, to the point where he quickly had the Germans rendered a virtually spent force.  Their stranglehold on Lake Tanganyika was permanently broken.  "Simson's Circus" (as the expedition had been dubbed by the press) had accomplished what was among the most unlikely victories in British naval history.

The awed local tribes decided that Spicer-Simson must have had supernatural powers, and began worshiping him as a god.  They made clay effigies of the Englishman and gave him the titles of "Navyman God" and (in honor of his skirt) "Lord Bellycloth."  Spicer-Simson was not at all displeased.  He had only thought to promote himself to the rank of Admiral.  Divinity was an unexpected bonus.  

When the "Circus" came home, the Navy gave them more traditional honors.  Spicer-Simson was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.  Three of his men received the Distinguished Service Cross, and twelve others were given Distinguished Service Medals.  Later, he was appointed a Commander of the Belgian Order of the Crown.

After the war, Spicer-Simson became Assistant Director of Naval Intelligence.  He was a delegate and translator at the Versailles Peace Conference.  In 1919, he was elected secretary-general of the International Hydrographic Bureau.  His final years were spent in British Columbia, where he gave lectures on his war exploits until his death in January 1947.  All in all, a respectable ending to what at first had promised to be a singularly unmemorable career.

As I said, never underestimate the loons.  They find ways of getting the job done.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by a band of beloved Little Tramps.

And Charlie Chaplin.

A cursed murder house.

The code of letterlocking.

How a banned Russian masterpiece finally got published.

The murder of Agnes Tulfverson.  (And, yeah, there's no doubt the poor woman was murdered.  The identity of the guilty party isn't too mysterious, either.)

Newly discovered footage of the Hindenburg disaster.

Ventspils, Latvia sure loves its cows.

Ten tragic military heroes.

In search of a lost river in London.


A look at the "great dying."

Why it's not a good idea to sleep wearing false teeth.

A metal detector finds stolen treasure.

A look at the "twopenny hangover."

Lady Rochford and the fall of Anne Boleyn.

A baboon's high-wire act.

Napoleon's--possibly--fatal love of cologne.

A bicyclist's unsolved murder.

Aboriginal memory techniques.

A brief history of play.

The Farmington UFO armada.

Mourning rules for divorcees.

When Elizabeth Blackwell met Hans Sloane.

The midwife and the ghost.

Neanderthal cave dust.

This week in Russian Weird looks at tales of lost cosmonauts.

So long, Darwin's Arch.

The making of Saint Thomas Becket.

Don't mess with those girl postal clerks.

Those marvelous 18th century buttons.

A look at "The Compleat Angler."

A ghost hoax in Braybrooke.

There are a lot of possible punchlines to this story, but I'm not going to be the one to publish them.

The blog Dead But Dreaming added some valuable footnotes to my recent post about the levitating butler.

The fine art of pickpocketing.

A brief history of change.

John Dee and a very strange book.

USS Omaha meets a UFO.

The concerts of the Paris Commune.

An exorcist's strange death.

The Beecher-Tilton scandal.

Old occupations, from A to Z.

How clothing may have changed human civilization.

A lovely murderess.

The travails of a Victorian trunk maker.

This week in Russian Weird looks at cloned ancient armies.

A novel way to get a new suit of clothes.

The cake of the patron saint of bakers.

More examples of the U.S. military seeing some mighty weird things.

The Vega Expedition and the North-East passage.

The jade burial suits of China.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at one of WWI's nuttier moments.  In the meantime, hope your weekend's free of Trouble.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Mines are particular magnets for ghost stories, and this is among the creepier of the lot.  The “Atchison Daily Champion,” May 11, 1906:

Eveleth, Minn.--Superstition has been aroused among the miners at Eveleth and its surrounding locations by statements said to have been made by Walter Koki and Hjalmar Linna, mining partners, who were killed in the Adams mine recently. 

According to report Linna said that when he and his partner were at work in No. 4 shaft on Friday, April 6, they were met by what seemed to be a black man.  The apparition is said to have put its hands on the men and to have commanded them to go away. Linna told his friends that he was so impressed by the vision that he had determined to work in the shaft no longer. 

Koki, however, laughed at his partner's awe, and, refusing to leave the drift, joined the timber gang. The same day Koki wandered into a deserted shaft that was filled with deadly gases and met his death. He was not missed until the following Sunday, when searchers found the body. So overpowering were the fumes that it was necessary to raise the body to the surface with a hook and tackle. 

Linna was deeply impressed by the fate of his partner and talked with several countrymen about his experience with the "black man." He was told that he was the victim of a practical joker, but nevertheless he adhered to his resolution not to work in the shaft again. Linna secured a position as ore sampler and a week later he was thrown from an ore car and so badly injured that he died. 

His death caused his fellow countrymen to recall the "black wraith" which is alleged to have warned the men, and although there are many skeptics some of the miners firmly believe that the spirit will again make its appearance and if it does the persons approached will meet a certain doom.

Monday, May 17, 2021

The Ghost Deals a Bad Hand

The following tale comes from that classic collection of mostly first-hand accounts of supernatural encounters, "Lord Halifax's Ghost Book."  It was related to Lord Halifax in 1920 by his nephew, Charles Dundas.  Dundas had recently heard the tale from a renowned Royal Air Force pilot named Edward Villiers.  (Later Sir Edward Villiers.)  It is one of the briefest stories in the "Ghost Book," but for my money--whether the tale is true or not--it's the creepiest of the lot.

Villiers had been quartered in a French flying camp.  Next door to him was a squadron of the Australian Flying Corps.  Fighter pilots tend to be a bold and reckless lot, but the Australians stood out in particular for their wildness and dissipated lifestyle.  Villiers observed that they lived by the principle of "Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."

One night, four of the Australians were playing poker.  They belonged to the same flight, which was due to go out the next morning.  As they were all--like most of the Aussies--heavily in debt, the game was played upon a "credit basis."

The youngest of the pilots was having a very unlucky night, and wound up as the game's biggest loser.  He passed around IOUs to his companions, sighing, "I cannot possibly pay you tonight, but I will pay you all tomorrow."

Next morning, it was this youngest pilot who was scheduled to go up first.  It was a clear, mild day, perfect for flying.  However, his flight had scarcely begun when something inexplicably terrible happened.  When he was only about 300 feet in the air, the plane suddenly spun into a dive and crashed, killing him instantly.  It was a mystery what had happened.  Villiers said that it was as if the pilot had deliberately forced the plane into this tailspin.

The next pilot to go up was another of the four poker players.  His plane had a seat for an observer and dual control, but he was alone.  When he was 500 feet in the air, observers were horrified to see a virtual repeat of the morning's tragedy.  His plane suddenly stalled and plummeted to the ground.  When pulled from the wreckage, the pilot was still alive, but he died soon afterward.  He was able to tell his rescuers that the young flier who had just been killed suddenly appeared in the observer's seat and jammed the controls, forcing him to crash.

The third pilot to go up was the third member of the poker game.  And exactly the same thing happened: his plane mysteriously stalled at around 500 feet and crashed.  As he was immediately killed, no one was able to question him about what had happened.

Villiers noted that by this point, the other pilots were "getting the wind up," which I'm guessing was a considerable understatement.  The last remaining poker player went to his commander to ask that he be excused from flying that morning.  This gambler did not like his odds.  He was refused.  It was his turn to go up, so that was that.

So.  Into the air he went...and, yes, when he was 500 feet up, his machine stalled, and it crashed.  He survived only long enough to say that the first dead pilot had appeared behind him and wrenched the controls away.

The young Australian had paid them all back.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Yes, it's time for yet another Link Dump.

Let's get the show started!

The murder of Alice Sterling.

The Los Angeles alley that made film history.

The theft of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London.

The last WWII German holdouts...were by the North Pole.

Before the Wright brothers, there was Aerodrome No. 5.

Murders that were allegedly carried out by a voodoo cult.

A Vesuvius first responder.

A Yorkshire ghost plane.

Keeping time in ancient Rome.

A look at Spitalfields City Farm.

Telly Savalas gets paranormal.

One really merry widow.

The tomb of a very unfortunate family.

One of the more unusual theories about Marilyn Monroe's death.

A cursed town in Alaska.

A case of accidental arsenic poisoning.

Bring on the Mesopotamian demons!

A thief who really liked undies.

A 19th century shower of frogs.

The aqueduct of Constantinople.

A big book of monsters.

The fuzzy line between life and death.

A single-minded 18th century woman.

A gun-toting Bible.

The mystery of the placebo effect.

The many adventures of a corpse.

Body-snatching and Scotland's most haunted road.

How our gut bacteria has changed over the centuries.

Stalin's WWII gambit.

The 18th century origins of horror films.

More proof that we really know little about human evolution.

Important things that are (probably) lost forever.

How we hear sound.

The Hickleton Skulls.

A "message in a bottle" that might be from a Titanic victim.

One really weird map.

The Bloomer Ball does not end well.

The eclecticism of contemporary paranormal investigations.

The development of the mug shot.

It's never a good idea to steal cursed statues.

The debasement of Tudor currency.

And let's end with some 19th century comic relief.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll have a particularly eerie little ghost story.  In the meantime, here's some '70s soul.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Offer me a haunted house with a weird cat lurking about, and I say, “Yes, please.”  The “Ottawa Citizen,” April 4, 1936:

Just what it was about the Eardley district that made it the rendezvous for "spooks", witches and other weird elements in the olden days, nobody seems to know, but countless stories are told of mysterious happenings there seventy and eighty years ago.  For instance. Thomas Lusk, eighty-seven year old inmate of the Protestant Home for the Aged, relates this one: 

"Seventy years ago there was an old log building near where the Ferris family lived, not far from Breckenridge, which was said to be haunted. For a time the building was occupied by Joe Herrington. but he was driven nearly insane by the alleged actions of a 'ghost' and finally he moved out. 

“Herrington used to tell that after he retired at night he would hear uncanny sounds downstairs. On one occasion he was awakened by a deafening crash and when he went downstairs he found all his dishes in small pieces on the floor. On another occasion he awakened early in the morning to find his clothing torn to shreds and scattered all over his bedroom. 

"After Herrington moved out, people passing the house at night insisted that they saw lights flashing on and off and heard noises like the rattling of chains and the banging of dish pans. 

"Reports of these happenings spread far and crowds used to congregate there in the daytime. On several occasions what appeared to be a big black cat made its appearance at one of the windows. Shots were fired at the supposed cat, but while some of the bullets found their mark they never fazed on the animal. When people entered the house in an effort to solve the mystery everything was as still as night and no trace could be found of the cat. Finally these weird goings-on ceased entirely but the mystery was never solved."

No real mystery to anyone who's lived with a cat. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

"You Will Never Get Him": The Strange Murder of Margery Wren

Margery Wren

Under normal circumstances, one would expect that anyone who knew they were about to die as the result of a brutal attack would spend every bit of their remaining strength towards bring their murderer to justice.  However, the following case proved to be very far from normal.  An old woman’s murder, which, at first, seemed fairly simple and straightforward, soon took a puzzling turn which transformed it into one of England’s odder crime mysteries.

Margery Wren lived a life so quiet and humble as to be practically invisible.  She and her sister Mary Jane (who both remained spinsters) spent the early part of their adult lives “in service.”  Eventually, the sisters opened a small grocery shop in Ramsgate, England, where they lived in a tiny flat upstairs from the store.  When Mary Jane died in 1928, the eighty-year-old Margery carried on alone.  Mary Jane had left all her property and personal effects to her sister and a cousin, one Mrs. Cook, with a Richard Archibald being the next in line to inherit.

As often happens when elderly and slightly eccentric people live alone, it was rumored in the neighborhood that despite her cramped and rather squalid lodgings, Margery had considerable amounts of money hidden on the premises.  (This eventually proved to be untrue, but such gossip might--or might not--have figured in the tragedy that would soon follow.)

Around 6 p.m. on September 20, 1930, a twelve-year-old girl named Ellen Marvell came to Margery’s shop to buy blancmange powder for her mother.  She found the shop door locked, which was unusual.  She looked through the window, and saw Wren sitting on a chair in the back room.  Ellen rattled the door again, and saw Margery slowly get up and unfasten the door.  Blood was running down Margery’s head, and her face was bruised.  The child exclaimed, “Whatever have you done, Miss Wren?”  The old woman merely mumbled, “What do you want?”  The girl saw she was in a daze.

Ellen, realizing something was very wrong, ran home to fetch her father.  Mr. Marvell immediately saw that Margery was seriously injured.  When he asked her what happened, Wren muttered, “I have just had a tumble, that’s all.” 

It was obvious, however, that she had suffered a great deal more than “a tumble.”  Mr. Marvell sent Ellen to find a doctor, while he himself went for the police.  When the Chief Constable arrived at the shop, he was so impressed with the gravity of the situation that he at once called in Scotland Yard.  It was clear that Wren’s head had been savagely battered with tongs, which were still on the scene, covered with blood and Margery’s hair.  Marks on her neck indicated that her attacker had also made an attempt to strangle her, and probably stifle her cries.  

The old woman was rushed to the hospital, but little could be done to aid her.  It was obvious that Wren was dying, and what no one could fathom is that she flatly refused to say who was responsible.  During her periods of consciousness, she moaned enigmatic words which made it clear that she knew her attacker, and was determined to protect his identity.  “He tried to borrow ten pounds,” she whispered.  

“I don’t know why he should have come into the shop, then.”

“Is the little black bag safe?”

“He has escaped, and you will never get him.”

For the most part, Margery continued to insist that she had merely tripped and fallen.  However, she once told a policewoman, “There were two of them set about me.  If I had not had my cap on they would have smashed my brain-box with the tongs...There was a knocking at the shop door and then they made their escape.”

Her vicar had a talk with Margery, where he begged her to say who had harmed her.  She refused.  After he finally left, Margery, with a surreal air of satisfaction, commented to another visitor, “I did not tell him anything, see.”

When it became obvious the end was near, Wren was warned that she was running out of time to name her murderer.  “You say I am dying,” she replied.  “Well, that means I am going home.  Let him live in his sins.”

Five days after being assaulted, Margery Wren went home.

She left the police with a fine puzzle on their hands.  What was the motive for the murder?  Robbery?  The small sums of money she had squirreled around her flat were untouched, and she certainly had no valuables.  And why was she so anxious to protect the man who had killed her?

Police released a statement asking for anyone who had been in Wren’s shop on the day of the murder, or anyone who had seen any person entering or exiting the premises to communicate with them.  Unfortunately, nothing was learned that was of any help with the investigation.  The murderer had managed to come and go unnoticed.  Fingerprints were found in the shop, but they led to no constructive result.  This was one of those cases where police started their investigation by running smack into a brick wall, and never got past it.

Margery’s cousin Mrs. Cook did what she could to assist the police, but she had little to contribute.  Although she lived in Ramsgate and had been in close contact with Margery for many years, she had no clue who the murderer might have been.  As far as Mrs. Cook knew, Margery had no enemies, and never spoke negatively of anyone.

Although Wren’s small hoards of money had been untouched, the assailant had thoroughly ransacked her home.  All the drawers had been opened, with the contents dumped on the floor.  The man had been clearly looking for something, but it remained a mystery what that might have been.  

Ultimately futile as the investigation was, police did dig up a few curious details about the dead woman’s past, suggesting that there had been far more to Margery Wren than met the eye.  It turned out that Mary Jane Wren had left a considerable estate--far more than she would have been expected to accumulate during a lifetime of domestic service and running a tiny tuck shop.  Where did the money come from?  It was also learned that many years prior to the murder, the Wren sisters befriended an unmarried, pregnant young woman.  The father was a wealthy man, but refused to take any responsibility for the child.  After the baby was born, this young woman married a man who looked after the youngster.  Unfortunately, this man soon died, after which the Wrens agreed to raise the child.  This child, a girl, grew up to be a very pretty and charming woman.  She eventually married and had several children, but she was long dead by the time Margery met her fate.  As intriguing as the police found all this, they were unable to connect any of this tale to the murder.

When Margery was in the hospital she mentioned several different men whom she implied were her assailants.  However, the police found that it was impossible that any of them had anything to do with the murder.  These men were clearly “red herrings” Wren had planted in order to lead police away from her real attacker.

The inquest into her death gave the inevitable verdict of murder committed by “some person or persons unknown,” and that was that.  Wren does not appear to have known very many people, so one would think that it would have been easy to find the identity of a man whom she would be willing to literally protect with her life.  But such was not to be.  The seemingly unassuming Margery Wren was clearly a woman with some deep secrets, and she succeeded in taking them to her grave.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Weekend Link Dump

"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn


This week's Link Dump is hosted by the League of Suffragette Cats!

Watch out for the Carmel Mystery Crawler!

A witch with a hell of a kick.

Birth control in the Early Modern era.

Honoring the astronaut who was once the loneliest person in history.

Africa's oldest known human burial.

A diary of the Spanish Flu.

The inspiration for "The Blob."

How to end a church service early.

The murder that launched a thousand songs.

Mao Mao, superstar cat model.

Yet another reason to be thankful for modern sanitation.

Tudor England was more racially diverse than you might think.

The minimum number of people required for humanity to survive an apocalypse.  Assuming, of course, that humanity wanted to survive it.

Seven of the world's weirdest museums.

The argument that Oumuamua was a UFO.

One of Victorian London's first homeless shelters.

The inventor of jigsaw puzzles.

A look at the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious.

The development of the bicycle.

The Arkansas Pearl Rush.

A look at the first knitting manuals.

Oracles and death gas from a giant snake.

Astronauts have seen some mighty strange things.

The legendary "Coulter's Run."

How to be a Mesopotamian king.

The sacred chickens of ancient Rome.

The Queen of Thieves wreaks havoc in the French Riviera.

A cafe menu from 1913 Liverpool.

The remains of a Viking elite.

Cancer has been more historically common than we thought.

Catastrophic cabbage.

The phenomenon of voodoo death.

A Native American psychic.

Getting information during a 17th century plague.

The aftermath of Napoleon's death.

Denmark's official witch, RIP.

In other news, a Belgian farmer just invaded France.

Plague and a mother's love.

Poetical gout raptures.

A man writes his own obituary.  And it's a heck of an obituary.

Young ladies teach a minister a lesson.

The Psychical Society finds a ghost.

The Stargate of Sri Lanka.

The bluebells of Bow Cemetery.

Dogs in pre-European North America.

The Tompkins Square Park Riot.

A breakthrough regarding life on Mars.

Some macabre Scottish graves.

Guerrilla warfare in the American Revolution. 

A poisoner who didn't get away with it.

An assortment of Victorian go-getters.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Robin Hood's arrow was not found in Sherwood Forest.

Disaster and heroism in the English Channel.

A family thought they were getting a patio. They got five skeletons instead.

A possible portrait of Anne of Cleves.

A very ungallant shipwreck.

So, in ancient times, Cthulhu was using bones to make self-portraits on the bottom of the sea...oh, never mind.  Just read the whole thing.

The dog who was put on trial for murder.

Let's talk weird medieval cats.

The whistleblower who is saying...yeah, it's aliens.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an elderly woman's peculiar murder.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with THOSE WIGS.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This is one of those old newspaper stories which are beyond my ability to comment. The “Richmond Times Dispatch,” April 10, 1903: 

The one thing which acted more effectually than the appearance of county officers to eject Charles Cooke, a well known farmer, from certain Henrico property, which he had been ordered to leave, was the fearful apparition of a ghost--a giant dog with a woman's head. The man pulled up at once and yesterday moved ten miles down in Varina District where he hopes to be out of harm's way. 

Cooke is about forty years of age and has for some time been renting Mrs. Freeman's farm in Varina. For inability to pay rent or other cause, ejectment proceedings were instituted and he was put out. But he promptly moved back and yesterday Deputy Sheriff Voegler went down to order him away again. 

This time, however, Cooke was moving of his own accord. He had already started away. To the deputy he said that for several nights past at about 10 o'clock the premises have been visited by a most fearful apparition--a ghost, which takes the shape of a dog with a woman's head. It gets into the yard and scatters the milk pans and the wood pile, uttering the while most horrible noises. Upon some occasions it comes up to the door and rattles the knob. 

Cooke showed the deputy two pistols he had armed himself with as a means of protection against the ghost. Still he wanted to get out of the place, and hence he was moving. He had chosen a house about ten miles down in Varina District, where, he hoped, the ghost could not follow. An old white woman who lives in the same house with Cooke declares that all he says concerning the ghost is true.

Monday, May 3, 2021

The Case of the Levitating Butler

A typical morning for a member of the gentry in the 17th century: get out of bed, yawn, stretch, ask the missus how many of the servants died of plague during the night, notice that the butler’s levitating in the parlor again…

...No, really.

The following tale was published by Joseph Glanvill in his influential 1681 book on demonology, “Saducismus triumphatus”:  one afternoon, an Irish gentleman “near to the Earl of Orrery’s seat,” sent his butler to buy cards.  As the servant passed a field, he was puzzled to see a company of people in the middle of the grassland sitting at a table loaded with “a deal of good chear.”  As he approached the group, they rose and invited him to join them.  However, one of the party whispered to the butler, “Do nothing this company invites you to.”

Sensing this was good advice, the butler declined to sit at the table.  Then, the table suddenly disappeared, and the group began dancing and playing musical instruments.  Again, they asked the butler to join their revelry.  When he repeated his refusal, “they fall all to work.”  When working proved no better lure than feasting or dancing, the thwarted company vanished before the butler’s eyes.  The servant hurried home, in “a great consternation of mind.”  As soon as he entered his master’s door, he fainted.  When he came to, he related his unsettling experience to the household.

The following night, one of the company appeared at the butler’s bedside.  The visitor warned that if the butler left the house the next day, he would be carried away.  He obeyed this warning, but towards evening, a call of nature compelled him to venture just outside the threshold, with several members of the household standing guard over him.  The moment he stepped outside, a rope suddenly appeared around his middle and he was dragged off “with great swiftness.”  The others followed after him as quickly as they could, but they were unable to overtake him.  When they saw a horseman coming their way, they “made signs to him to stop the man, whom he saw coming near him, and both the ends of the rope, but nobody drawing.”  When the horseman grabbed one end of the rope, the other end gave him a “smart blow” across his arm.  Despite this, he was able to halt the butler’s spectral abduction and return him home.

When the Earl of Orrery heard of these peculiar events, he had the beleaguered butler sent to him.  The servant mournfully told him that “his spectre” had visited him again.  He was to be kidnapped again that very day, and there was nothing anyone could do to prevent it.

The butler was kept in a large room, with many people around to protect him, including two bishops and a neighbor, “the famous stroker, Mr. Greatrix.”  [Note: Valentine Greatrakes was a renowned Irish faith healer, known as “The Stroker.”]  

All was quiet for most of the day, but that afternoon, the butler was seen to rise in the air.  Although several of the men grabbed his shoulders and tried weighing him down, all their strength was unable to anchor him.  The poor butler was carried over everyone’s heads for a considerable period of time.  When he eventually fell to the ground, his companions were able to cushion the descent enough to prevent any injury.

The rest of the day passed without further incident.  The Earl ordered two of his servants to spend the night with the butler, in case there was any new trouble.  The next morning, the butler informed the Earl that “his spectre” had visited him during the night.  He tried to awake his bedfellows, but was unable to stir them.

The “spectre” told the butler that he had no cause to fear him.  He explained that he was the man in the field who warned him against the rest of the company.  If the butler had not listened to him, he said, the servant would now be entirely under the company’s power.  The ghost assured the butler that there would be no more attempts to abduct him.  As he had heard the butler was “troubled with two sorts of sad fits,” he presented a wooden dish containing a “grey liquor,” and told the servant to drink it.  

When the butler refused, the wraith grew angry.  But as he had “a kindness” for the butler, he advised him to take plantain juice.  It would cure one of his “fits,” but he was doomed to carry the other to his grave.

“That of the leaves or roots?” the butler asked.  “Roots” replied this spectral dietitian.

The ghost asked whether the butler did not know him?  When the servant replied in the negative, his visitor explained, “I have been dead seven years, and you know that I lived a loose life.  And ever since have I been hurried up and down in a restless condition with the company you saw, and shall be to the day of judgment.”  He added that if he had acknowledged God, he would not have “suffered such severe things.”  The apparition concluded, “You never prayed to God that day before you met with this company in the field, and also was then going about an unlawful business.”

On that chiding note, the spirit vanished.

Perhaps the strangest part of our little tale is that it is so well-attested.  “Mr. Greatrix,” Lord Orrery, and the numerous other eyewitnesses to all this splendid nuttiness repeatedly affirmed every detail, flying butlers and all.

I really do not know what to say about the whole matter.  Except that if you should ever happen to come across a bunch of strangers having a dinner party in the middle of a field, it would be best to run in the other direction.

They might turn out to be very Strange Company indeed.