"...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, September 25, 2023

Dead in the Water: The Strange Murder of Benjamin Collings

As I have mentioned before, some mighty strange things happen at sea.  As the following story will show, that includes some mighty strange murders.

Benjamin Collings was the son of a wealthy New York physician, who augmented the family fortune by making a bundle as a stockbroker, then being shrewd--or lucky--enough to get out of the stock market the year before the crash.  He was one of the relatively few people who avoided having their lifestyles seriously impacted by the Great Depression.  He and his wife Lillian and young daughter Barbara spent most of their summers on their 30-foot cabin cruiser, the “Penguin.”  They lived quietly on the Penguin, with few visitors.  This suited Benjamin perfectly, as it allowed him to pursue his love for marine engineering.

Lillian and Barbara Collings, "New York Daily News," November 14, 2004, via Newspapers.com

September 10, 1931 was a clear, starlit night on Long Island Sound.  Around 2:30 a.m., one N.L. Noteman was hosting a fishing party aboard his boat, the “Valentine.”  Off Lloyd’s Point Light, Noteman saw a 30-foot cabin cruiser drifting aimlessly with no lights.  When hailing the oddly ghostly craft received no response, Noteman decided to board.

As the Valentine pulled alongside the vessel--which Noteman saw was named “Penguin”--two members of the fishing party thought they saw someone thrashing in the water about 50 yards away.  They also thought they heard a muffled cry.  However, when they reached the spot, they saw nothing but dark, calm water.  The Valentine returned to the Penguin, and Noteman and another man climbed aboard.

“Captain?” Noteman called out into the darkness.

A little girl’s sleepy voice replied, “I’m not the captain.  I’m Barbara.”

Noteman lit a match for light, but quickly extinguished it when the girl said reprovingly, “Daddy says never light a match in the cabin.”  Barbara turned on the lights.

The five-year-old girl was all alone on the ship.  The men saw that the floor aft of the cabin was covered with glass from a smashed milk bottle and spots of what appeared to be blood.  The anchor rope was severed, and the anchor was gone.  The men took the child aboard the Valentine and asked where her father was.

Barbara said placidly that he had gone swimming--with all his clothes on!

The men did not like the sound of that.  “Where is your mother?”

“She’s gone swimming, too,” Barbara replied.  She then casually said something about a sick man being aboard the boat the night before.  The girl, obviously unconcerned about her parents’ absence, started chatting cheerily with the fishing party.

The men really did not like the sound of all this.  It was decided to take the Penguin in tow and get the child to the police ASAP.

A short time after Noteman boarded the Penguin, Captain Harold Howard was setting off in his boat near Oyster Bay, when he heard someone crying for help.  He found a young, attractive woman crying and shouting hysterically from a small motorboat (named the “Bo-Peep”) that was about 25 yards from shore.  She turned out to be 28-year-old Lillian Collings.  Howard brought her to the nearest police station as well, where she told a tale straight out of some particularly lurid pirate movie.

Lillian explained that the night before, she put Barbara to bed and went above to sit on the deck with her husband.  Around 10:30, she too retired for the night, leaving her husband to stargaze.  A few moments later, she heard two strange male voices telling Benjamin that they had a wounded man in their canoe.  They asked Collings to take them to a hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut.  Collings responded that he could not help them--the Penguin had no running lights, so he never operated it after dark.

The men offered Collings $100 if he would make the trip.  “Ridiculous!” Benjamin snapped.  “I can’t do it.”

Lillian said that the two men then somehow boarded the yacht.  She started to go on deck, but Benjamin ordered her to stay below.  She heard the engines start, and the Penguin began moving.  After a short while, it stopped.

“This isn’t Norwalk,” she heard Benjamin say.  “It’s Stamford.”

She heard sounds of a scuffle and breaking glass, followed by Benjamin yelling, “They’re tying me up!  They’re going to put me overboard!”

Lillian ran on deck just as the two strangers--whom she described as an older, white-haired man with a big nose and a slim blond youth of about 17--dumped her husband overboard.  She dashed back into the cabin, grabbed an inflated mattress, and threw it towards Benjamin. 

The older man then grabbed her and pulled her up on deck.  He gave her a pair of men’s tennis shoes to wear, and threw her into the canoe with them.  Lillian pleaded to bring Barbara along, but the men ignored her and paddled off.

At one point, Lillian said, the older man tried to have “abnormal relations” with her, but she was able to fight him off.  A while after that, the younger man exited the canoe when they were in about 3 feet of water and waded off to shore.  When Lillian was alone with the white-haired man, he again tried to force himself on her, but this time she was too exhausted to resist.  Just before dawn, he put her into the Bo-Peep and disappeared.

It was, of course, all very weird stuff, and the cops weren’t buying it.  For one thing, they found that the Penguin had been equipped with a .32 automatic and a Bowie knife.  Why didn’t Benjamin or his wife go for these weapons?  And why did Lillian, who was a good swimmer, stay on the Bo-Peep instead of wading to shore?  And why would these alleged miscreants attack and drown Benjamin, anyway?  What did they gain from this heinous deed?

A week after Benjamin disappeared from the Penguin, at least one part of Lillian’s story was verified, when her husband’s corpse, bound hand and foot, washed up on a Long Island beach.  Collings had suffered eight severe blows to the head, two hard enough to crack his skull.  However, the autopsy found that he died from drowning.

"Lancaster New Era," September 16, 1931

Suffolk County District Attorney Alexander Blue remained convinced that Lillian was telling a pack of lies.  However, when no less than 11 police interrogations--one lasting 13 hours--failed to shake her story in the slightest, Blue had no choice but to drop her as a suspect.

But if Lillian Collings did not murder her husband, who did?  That, detectives soon learned, was the tough part.  The few possible clues that trickled in were almost laughably flimsy.  A water-logged note was found in the sea.  The only legible lines read, “The Penguin murder…I took May home…Sing Sing…Lena came out…Sold without profit.”

This was about as helpful as you would think.

Police heard a rumor that Benjamin had impregnated an Italian farm girl who underwent an abortion at the hands of a “notorious criminal surgery ring.”  According to this tale, her family murdered Collings in revenge.  A colorful story, but one without a shred of evidence to back it up.  Lillian was shown a parade of all the area’s “usual suspects” but she failed to identify any of them.  A $2,500 reward found no takers.  Eventually, detectives were forced to give up, and Benjamin Collings’ murder drifted into that purgatory known as “the cold case file.”

Friday, September 22, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to this week's Link Dump!  Grab your cup and discuss the latest from Strange Company HQ.

A 19th century Cain and Abel.

A massive ancient underground city.

Public execution as a Mom & Pop business.

The house that was once "The Blue Belle of Brooklyn."

Those underrated Neanderthals.

A husband returns from the dead.

HMS Alexander fights an unequal battle.

Murder at a "swinger's palace."

The "open air schools" from the early 1900s.

Bread in Shropshire folklore.

A wooden structure from half a million years ago.

The worst space-related disaster.

Why it's called an "Irish goodbye."

The women of the East India Company.

A visit to Paddington Old Cemetery.  Complete with dogs.

The 19th century pizza that's a dessert.

An amazing photo from space.

Sketches from the American Civil War.

A case of Victorian negligence.

No money, no funeral.

Cartography and WWI.

Don't forget about those underwater UFOs!

The last intact shipwreck from the American Revolution.

Nearly a century after a woman disappeared, police are just now investigating the mystery.

A very creepy ghost story from Thailand.

Why the British Army was not ready for WWII.

An Englishman in the 19th century Bombay police.

The Old West's last stagecoach robbery.

Something is generating water on the Moon.

Napoleon as a statesman.

The oldest known depiction of the known world.

How carrots became orange.

This is probably not King Arthur's sword.

An unsung survivor.

If a gnome mysteriously shows up in your yard, watch out.

From "chintz" to "chintzy."

The robber baron who caused America's first depression.

In search of the golden owl.

The coronation of George III.

A "lost" Roman city has been uncovered.

The dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park.

The opposite of "deja vu."

The grim history behind some cave art in Borneo.

Anna Kingsford, Victorian radical.  (I wrote about the more Fortean side of her career here.)

The strange practice of optography.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a peculiar murder on a boat.  In the meantime, bring on the pipe organs!

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This curious little melodrama was reported in the “Los Angeles Herald,” September 11, 1909:

PARIS, Sept. 10--A strange lost child is perplexing the Paris police. An American mother is claiming the girl as her daughter, but the latter disclaims her mother. The girl is 6 years old, but talks with astonishing volubility. She happened to call on a policeman voluntarily one day, but as she could not speak any apparently known language, he took her to the police station, where all the experts and interpreters at first failed to understand what the girl wanted.

Finally it turned out that she spoke some sort of Armenian dialect, and an interpreter was found. The child said she had been taken away from her grandmother's home in Syria by a strange woman, who wanted to take her to America, and who, in fact, brought her as far as Paris. The little girl said she had taken the first opportunity to run away from the woman. The police were astonished at the fluency with which the girl talked, and were about to send her temporarily to a home when the strange woman of whom she had spoken appeared and said the child was her daughter. "I am not your daughter," retorted the little one.

"I know my mother. She is very different from this person." The police were seriously embarrassed. They put off the inquiry for the day to obtain a second interpreter, for the mother, or alleged mother, herself speaks a strange mixture of English and French.

As soon as the two were again confronted with each other the precocious child threw up her hands and looked at the young woman in horror. "She is not my mother," she exclaimed.

The woman said she was born in Marseilles, but went to New York when very young. She married an Italian in New York when she was 14 years old and had this child. Her husband died the day the child was born. She kept the baby for one year, then sent her to be taken care of by the child's grandfather in Syria. Having heard that the grandfather had died, she went to Syria to secure the child.

On the way the little girl showed a vicious temper and did all the mischief she could. On reaching the Lyons railway station in Paris she sat down in the waiting room and fell asleep. During that time, she alleges, the child took the bag in which she had all her money, amounting to some $600, and gave it to some strange woman, who disappeared. When she woke she slapped the child, who then ran away into the street, and did not know what had become of her child until she saw her picture in the papers.

The child, who does not understand a word of her mother's language, was then told what she had said, and denied it all. For a whole hour the little one contradicted it in every detail.

She insisted the woman was not her mother. Until three weeks ago she had never seen the woman. It is not true her grandfather is dead. She knew her real mother very well, for she left Syria only a year ago, and was married again in a town not far from Jerusalem. She added: 

"This woman came one day to my grandfather's house when I was alone. She told me my grandfather was waiting for me in the train.

“I got in and he was not there. The train started away, and I cried, and wanted to go back. Then the woman beat me, and the train went on. At Beyrouth she took me on board a big steamer and we went to Port Said, Alexandria, and Marseilles.

“As soon as we got to Paris I took the first chance and ran away from her. I do not want to be with the woman any more. She has beaten me and made me suffer. I want to go back to grandpapa. She says my name is Annette.

It is not true. I am called Marianne." 

After this both the alleged mother and the child had a fit of crying, and between the two contradictory statements the police are unable to make out the truth. Curiously enough, however, the child is wonderfully like the woman who claims to be her mother.

Although the story above was published in a number of newspapers in both Europe and America, I was unable to learn how the mystery of the child’s true identity was resolved.

[Note: @JimChaffeeEM on Twitter found this story from the New York Sun, which states that this woman apparently "bought" the child for use as a servant!]

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Haunted Man of Fort Yukon

Illustration by F.S. Coburn

This tale of an unusual haunting appeared in the July 1896 issue of “Borderland” under the title “A Haunted Man, A Strange True Story of the Far North-West.”

Our lot has been cast for some years in the interior of California--not Bret Harte's California, where miners camp in the pine woods of the Sierras--but that hot country far to the south, on whose grey hillsides oranges ripen and green lines of vineyard vary the monotony of treeless plains. The broad level of our valley is protected from the wind by low encircling hills. Month after month the sunshine is unclouded--one wearies sometimes of the pale blue sky--and life seems changeless as the weather. To Europeans the country is very still, very lonely, almost suggesting Matthew Arnold's "Grande Chartreuse," but the passing pageantry of the "distant road" is out of sight and the silence unbroken.

The little town which gives its name to the great county once had a boom, who so has seen, which, according to Rudyard Kipling, may henceforth "talk with his enemies in the gate," so unique is the experience. One of its results was the erection of hotels on large tracts of land in the back country-as the interior is called-with a view to helping the sale thereof. Our quiet existence in one of these for the boom had passed- -was agreeably enlivened by the arrival of a sick friend--unseen for years. A former residence in the rigorous climate of that portion of British territory bordering on Alaska had begun to undermine his constitution, and, after retiring from a government position in Canada, health-seeking had become the object of his life. In hope of alleviation he had wandered far and wide, maintaining with indomitable energy the struggle against mortal disease, and returning to California as a last resort. But the odds were against him. The battle was fought out in the end of 1890--beneath the sands of Arizona he waits the resurrection.

We had known of his years of hardship and adventure in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company. But, in these last months of his life he related to us an experience so inexplicable that the late Professor Spencer Baird, of the Smithsonian Institute, Washington, took it down from his lips, intending to publish it. The Professor died--and the story, though set up in type, remained untold--then, and as far as is known ever since. Should it now see the light, will his two relatives, if surviving, pardon its publication without their consent.

Belonging to a Scotch Canadian family, our friend possessed the characteristics of his race. Conscientious, kind, reliable, he added to a horror of exaggeration a deficiency in imagination. A strict churchman free from credulity, his mental attitude toward the supernatural resembled that of the late Sir David Brewster, concerning whom his daughter wrote, "He saw ghosts, but never believed in them." That the story rests solely upon his evidence is its weak point. Nevertheless, being curious, I give it for what it is worth. It covers four years of his life on the Alaskan frontier, prior to 1867, when the Russian province became American territory. The date is only approximate, but I believe it immediately preceded that above mentioned.

The Hudson's Bay Company had an important trading station on the great Yukon River, of which our friend, whom I will call Graham, was in charge, assisted by a partner.

This settlement, known as Fort Yukon, was a rendezvous for the hunters and trappers of the surrounding region-natives, half-breeds, whites-who brought with them furs for sale or in exchange for stores of various kinds. To obtain skins, Graham and his partner would also organize hunting expeditions into the forests of some days' or week's duration. One evening, while sitting at supper, his partner being absent with the hunters, he received information from some of his men that the large store adjoining the house was haunted. The Indians, who always turned to him in perplexity, begged him to come and lay the ghost. Armed with stick and lantern he proceeded to investigate the cause of the disturbance. The store had been closed for the night, a careful search revealed nothing, and Graham extinguished his light. An unglazed window in the wall behind the counter opened upon a shed where skins were stored, it being the custom at busy times to throw furs received in payment through this opening to be afterwards sorted. As Graham deposited his lantern two shining eyes glared at him from this window. He swung his stick vigorously, eliciting a canine yell, and with the satisfaction of having laid the ghost--the natives alone doubting--he retired to his couch and slept the sleep of the just.

But not for long. In the small hours of the night he was awakened by the whines of his absent partner's dogs, who, in evident terror, had come to his room for protection. One of them, a little skye terrier, burrowing among his pillows to find a hiding place. The air was full of curious sound, as of a silken banner flapping in the breeze. He rose and lighted his lamp, nothing was visible, the night still and windless. Closely followed by the dogs, he crossed the passage to his partner's room. The noise accompanied him, and was as loud there as in his own. He returned with the noise, and finding sleep impossible, rolled himself in his blankets in a corner where the flapping sound seemed a trifle less pronounced. Towards morning it ceased. This troubled night proved to be the commencement of the period spoken of, during which Graham, shrewd, sensible Scotchman that he was, became literally a haunted man. There were intervals of respite, the manifestations not being continuous. They took the orthodox form of knocks and rustlings, varied by the sound of carpenters' tools, sawing, planing, &c., going on to such an extent that the hearers would involuntarily look round for some result of the industry.

These sounds were not only "in the dead waste and middle of the night," but more frequently in broad and cheerful daylight, heard by all in Graham's company. According to old exorcists the Monday ghost is the most difficult to lay. "Graham's ghost” became a general acquaintance in the country; anyone might hear him who chanced to meet Graham while he was "walking." The Furies were not then more constant to Orestes than was to him this undesired companion. In the distances of the great North-West the poet's words were fulfilled to the letter. "Where'er he went, a thousand miles, It followed him." To select a few instances from many, Graham was enjoying a shooting and fishing excursion upon the Yukon with a clerical friend from Toronto. It was one of the ghosts' days, and as leading the way he paddled his canoe he became aware of vigorous hammering upon the narrow seat. His friend had previously expressed a wish to hear the unseen visitant, and when within hailing distance Graham shouted, "Here he is!" Arriving alongside, so interested was the clergyman in the repeated sound, that he proposed changing canoes. They did so; the ghost went with Graham. They changed canoes three times with the same result, to the disgust of the ghost's would-be acquaintance, who, if living, doubtless remembers the circumstance. On another occasion a party of eighteen persons from the Settlement, including Graham, started for a camping trip in the woods which skirt the great river. The first night after the tents were pitched upon its banks, a heavy fall of rain ensued, soaking everything, and Graham, who had fixed a waterproof awning to the largest boat, invited everyone to share its shelter. When all were comfortably settled, an inquirer incautiously asked the ghost's whereabouts. "Oh, he's not here,' ," said Graham, "we've left him at home." Immediately, as if in response to the statement, three tremendous blows were struck upon the mast, just above Graham's head. There was no one in that part of the boat at the moment, and the lights were in such a position that sleight of hand would have been detected. The company scattered back to their damp resting places, leaving Graham to the sole enjoyment of shelter and ghost then, a new arrival in Fort Yukon. He was considerate enough not to trouble the party farther, confining his few attentions for the remainder of the trip to his usual victim.

Of the ghost's appearances there are but few recorded instances. Graham's exact mind attached little credence to them ascribing the majority to the imagination or nervousness of impressionable minds. One visible manifestation was, however, attended by such disastrous consequences that it is worthy of note. Graham was on a hunting expedition of some days' journey in the interior, when a messenger arrived from Fort Yukon urgently requesting his immediate return, for Louis, an intelligent half-breed, who lived in the forest near the Fort, was mysteriously dying. As Graham had called at Louis's some two days previously, and left him in perfect health, he was surprised at the news, and went back without delay. He found poor Louis in a sad condition suffering paroxysms of terror which the kindly priest with prayers and exorcisms strove to allay. Louis became somewhat calmer, and told Graham the cause of his fear, seemingly insufficient thus to unhinge his mind. When Graham left his house he left his ghost behind him, probably for the first time in those haunted years. Louis, busy in the room, was suddenly aware of another presence, and saw a young man sitting beside his fireplace. His face was thoughtful, his dress, the style prevailing in the earlier part of this century, even to the voluminous neckcloth. The apparition was not more terrible than was Dr. Jessop's studious ghost in the library of the Norfolk country house. But Louis felt that it was supernatural. His blood froze as the ghost turned to him and "addressed itself to motion." At that moment his wife opened the door. The vision vanished, "passed," he said, "as though across a mirror," and he fell fainting upon the floor. Graham had not spoken of his ghost to Louis, so that apart from his presence there was nothing especially suggesting it to his thoughts. Nevertheless, it proved the beginning of sorrows to the poor fellow, who, shortly afterwards, died insane.

Things had been quiet for some time in the ghostly line. Graham was anxious to visit Toronto, and fearing that the company of an uninvited spirit might render him an unwelcome guest, flattered himself that his ghost was elsewhere. He was rash enough to express this belief in talking with friends one day, and was immediately startled by feeling the grip of a hand upon his shoulder lasting nearly a minute. His coat was off at the time, and he described the grasp felt through his shirt as a firm, soft one, so unlike the horny hand which he had associated with the frequent use of carpenter's tools, that poor Graham wondered how many there were of them. Needless to state, he postponed his journey.

When Epworth Rectory was burned down its tenant at will, named Jeffreys by the Wesleys, appears to have perished in the flames, and the lively Emilia, who chased him down the long passages, "desiring nothing better," to quote John's letters, found on the rebuilding of the house that her occupation was gone. But Graham's ghost--a pity he was nameless--had more vitality. The house and store were burned and somewhat differently rebuilt. A large chamber with wide open fireplace served in winter as a bedroom for Graham and his partner. Their beds were each in a recess on either side of the projecting chimney, so that neither could see the other. One cold morning Graham was awakened by the noise of ashes being raked together, and the arrangement of fuel and striking of flint and steel to obtain a light. Supposing it to be his partner, who had gone to rest feeling unwell, Graham told him not to trouble himself, but if he required a fire, to call one of the men to light it. There was no answer, the striking continued. Graham rose and looked; his partner was asleep, and the grey ashes on the hearth lay undisturbed. The spiritual visitant henceforth frequently diversified his carpentering operations by such attentions to the fireplace, and was as busy in the new house as in the old.

On rare occasions the ghost spoke. Graham never distinguished anything articulate, nor did he encourage its conversation. Others asserted that they understood his meaning. Once with apparent reason. Unfortunately, I cannot describe its voice. The following incident is especially incredible. Were it not for the veracity of the witness, who solemnly averred he saw it, not once, but often, it would not be included in this narrative. In very severe weather, Graham's foreman, with one or two others, would sleep on the floor of the partner's room, as near as possible to the great fireplace, each wrapped in his blankets. The ghost now developed a new and playful habit. At times, an unseen force would actually hold the blankets down on either side of a sleeper's head, effectually waking and almost suffocating him. Graham assured me that he had frequently seen one man or another, for all were alike favoured, struggling violently to free himself from the invisible incubus, which fortunately made itself felt only for a few moments. The phenomenon generally occurred in the early morning, but, though the ghost struck him on various occasions, Graham was not subjected to this unprovoked assault. Eventually it became more partial in the matter to another Scotchman, MacDonald by name, a recent arrival at the Fort and Graham's new foreman. One morning he saw him wrestling longer than usual with the mysterious foe, and when he emerged from his blankets, scared and panting, he exclaimed that the ghost had spoken, informing him that having haunted Graham for years, and made nothing of him, he had concluded to transfer his attentions elsewhere. Hearing nothing himself Graham was as incredulous as ever. Yet, singularly enough, from that time the inexplicable persecution ceased, though why MacDonald rather than himself should be the chosen medium of communication was unknown. Not a suggestion of carpentering, nor a knock remained. The sleepers henceforth lay at peace upon the floor, the ghost went as he came, and, like the ancient king, "departed without being desired."

Four years had passed since the frightened dogs cowered in Graham's room, and his journey to Toronto had not yet been taken. Waiting awhile to assure himself of his freedom, he left the Hudson's Bay Territory, never to return. Nothing more was heard of the unseen presence by anyone; nothing came of it, an unsatisfactory ending to a ghost story. Long afterwards, when worn in spirit with years of suffering, the memory of his former experience cast a shadow upon his failing life. Would the ghost come back to vex him, taking advantage of his weakness? It did not trouble him, however, and the quiet of his death-bed under the odd sky of the South was unbroken.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

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

And the Strange Company HQ choir is singing with joy!

A marriage ends in murder.

Norway's "gold find of the century."

The man who was tried for being a werewolf.

Feeling under the weather?  Try a...uh, rectal dilator.

Here's your big chance to smell like mummified organs!

Why you would not want this pilot to fly your plane.

Mysterious Arabian stone structures.

The airships of medieval Ireland.

Possible life on a faraway planet.

The music of the Holocaust.

The real nurses of MASH.

A look at Victorian "mystery" novels.

The forgotten calotype.

The church that features a mammoth bone.

The lesser-known geysers of Yellowstone.

Mysterious ancient jade discs.

How to reuse all those spare tombstones you have lying around.

Nothing says "fun visit to a hotel!" like having to sign a liability waiver.

The Age of Enlightenment in Slovenia.

The oldest known evidence of footwear.

In search of lost books.

How to smuggle elephants.

A new look at the "magic bullet theory."

London's churchyard gardens.

Science tries to explain why vampires hate garlic.

Mount Shasta's very weird reputation.

The sin-eaters.

A scandalous elopement, 1825.

When the Sahara Desert was green.

When you could send kids via Parcel Post.

Before Count Dracula, there was The Vampyre.

The short life of a "typical" 19th century working-class woman.

The origins of Sinn Féin.

Some mysterious ancient stones.

An 1804 child star.

Early Modern medicine for travelers.

A visit to St. Anne's Limehouse.

That's a wrap for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an unusual ghost story.  In the meantime, the Bee Gees go rockabilly!

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

"An Unmade Bed," Eugene Delacroix

This account of a man with unusual ideas about healthy living appeared in the "Birmingham Journal" on January 11, 1862.  It is a reprint of a story that appeared in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for March, 1753.  (Via Newspapers.com)

At Burcott, near Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, lives John Tallis, whose manner of life is very extraordinary. He was born at Solihull in Warwickshire about the year 1676. In the beginning of 1724, being then about forty-eight years of age, he caused a room to be prepared for his reception, with such scrupulous diligence to prevent the accession of fresh air, that only one window was admitted, consisting but of four panes, and the glass was directed to be more than thrice as thick as common, from an opinion that by a body so subtle as the air thin glass might be pervaded. 
To this room he retired from the world; but still regarding that fluid which supplies to all animals the breath of life, his mortal enemy, he thought some further precaution necessary for his defense.  Therefore he went to bed, from which he has not since risen; and as his head in this situation is chiefly exposed, he has covered it with swathings, wrappers and caps, that consist of near 100 yards of flannel; and he is often as long and as busily employed in adjusting the several strings by which these innumerable coverings are secured, as a sailor in righting his tackle after a storm. 
He has stoppers fitted to each nostril; he usually holds a piece of ivory in his mouth, and a piece of woollen cloth is laid over his face; his shirts are lined with swanskin, and the breast and sides are quilted. When I beheld him, he opened his eyes, and stretched himself like a bat that is just awaking from a sleep of six or seven months: but as he awaked thirsty and disordered, he reached his cup, which was constantly placed near him with some cooling liquor; and having drank, he exhibited his right hand decorated with many rings, which he surveyed with great appearance of satisfaction and complacency, and entered into a description of Babel, the Nile, and crocodiles. 
With respect to his religious opinion, he is a Quietist; and though he is not useful, he is at least harmless. There appears to be some tincture of avarice in his disposition, and the dark corner into which he is retired from the more fashionable vanities of life, does not appear wholly to have excluded affectation and pride. 
There is no need to caution mankind against his peculiar extravagancies, and it might be thought that there was as little reason to recommend them as patterns of imitation. However, though I do not wish the ladies to adopt his headdress of 100 yards of flannel, yet I think they should not sacrifice the vigour of health and the bloom of beauty, to a fly-cap or any fashionable mode of more southern climates, till our air is equally temperate by the return of the sun; and that they would no longer increase the infelicities of our long season of darkness, by giving it power to rob us of that, without which the sweetness of spring, and the splendor of summer, would cease to be the means of happiness.

Although one might assume Mr. Tallis' aversion to air would not be conducive to a long life, it was not until he reached the venerable age of 80 in 1755 that he finally achieved his ultimate goal, and ceased to breathe at all.

Monday, September 11, 2023

A Murder and a Disappearance: The Wood Mystery

As I have mentioned on this blog before, the most horrifying things can--and often do--happen to the most unlikely people.  The following mystery definitely belongs in that category.

In 2011, 79-year-old James William “Bill” Wood had been married to Kaidena “Kay” Lozelle, seven years his junior, for three years.  (The pair were both widowed at the time of their marriage.)  They lived in the rural town of Norwalk, just outside of Des Moines, Iowa.  Everyone who knew the pair described them as very much in love, and very happy with their quiet existence.  Kay, a former grocery store worker, enjoyed collecting china dolls.  Bill was a retired ironworker who was employed at J.W. Perry Inc., a Des Moines florist.  Bill’s favorite toy was a Model A Ford that he kept in prime condition and often drove in parades.  They both had a love for antiques, of which they had an impressive collection.

This pleasant life the couple shared came to a brutal end on the night of July 30, 2011, when a fire was reported at their home.  After the fire department put out the blaze, the Woods were nowhere to be found.

On the following day, the couple’s red Chevrolet Silverado pickup was discovered outside an expensive apartment complex in Kansas City, Missouri.  Several people saw the man who had abandoned the car.  They described him as being in his late 40s to early 60s, slender, short white hair, and well over six feet tall.  He had parked the car some time before the Wood house was set on fire.  That same day, the charred body of Bill Wood was found in the remains of his home.  The autopsy found that he had died of multiple gunshot wounds.  Kay--whether alive, or, as everyone feared, dead--remained missing.

"Des Moines Register," October 5, 2011, via Newspapers.com

To date, that is all we know for certain about this particularly baffling murder and disappearance.  Although the man seen driving the couple’s truck was obviously the main suspect, what motive could this person--who has never been identified--have to destroy this well-liked pair?

"Indianola Record-Herald," August 6, 2014

Relatives speculated that robbery was the answer.  Bill’s brother Henry noted that the Woods were last seen attending an antiques auction in Stuart, Iowa.  “I think there is a really big chance that something happened in Stuart.  Bill probably has some antiques that are very rare.  He liked nice stuff.  He probably had expensive stuff.  If he found something he wanted, he bought it.”  Perhaps at this auction, the Woods were seen buying something valuable, or they told the wrong person about their collection at home.  (The fire obviously made it impossible to know if anything had been stolen.)

Although relatives still hold out hope that Bill’s murder and Kay’s disappearance will one day be solved, as the years go by, that is looking tragically unlikely.

Friday, September 8, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

The staffers at Strange Company HQ have started the new school year, and things are going about as usual.

Pro tip: Never film yourself being an idiot.  Better still, don't be an idiot.

The days of professional "knocker-uppers."  It wasn't what you may be thinking.

Scientists have found a weird golden egg by an underwater volcano.  It's just been that kind of year.

A "singular discovery of hidden treasure."

A Victorian clergyman's embarrassing holiday.

Why we'd all better hope we never see a Miyake Event.

War and the "slide-rule strategy."

Aliens.  It's always aliens.

A man murders his grandchildren.

Why one man was very happy to be struck by lightning.

The death of Winston Churchill's three-year-old daughter.

The first English children's novel.

The life of a now-forgotten female Victorian writer.

Science is now suggesting that Vlad the Impaler was a vegan.  I tried going vegan once.  After a few weeks without butter and cheese, I wanted to throw people on stakes, too.

Neanderthals and ancient bee burrows.

A ride on a crocodile.

The Franco-Prussian Battle of Havana.

Traffic jams in 18th century London.

The real "home on the range."

The Japanese "first lady of billiards."

The bees of Childeric I.

A CGI reconstruction of an Aztec city.

A house-for-sale with a dark history.

Who's up for harvesting some shroud pins?

Very stylish 3,200 year-old pants.

The glider that was built to escape Colditz Castle.

Edinburgh's hidden Victorian history.

Thailand's homemade rocket festival.

That time Dorothy Parker was fired from "Vanity Fair."

That time when New Zealand women were given the right to vote.

That time when humans nearly became extinct.

That time when the CIA recruited vampires.

What we are learning about ancient visitors to an Egyptian temple.

The hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73.

The history of a London slum.

A newly-discovered poem written by Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

The Groton Tragedy.

How sharks deal with hurricanes.

The woman who slept for 32 years.  Maybe.

A 19th century sanatorium for European soldiers in Australia.

The Harvard professor who was executed for murder.

A visit to "the heart of screenland."

The bureaucratic side of the Inquisition.

Europe's oldest known village.

A Mystery Boom in Pennsylvania.

The cutlers of London's East End.

A look at "illustrated weeklies."

The oldest known condom.

An explanation of cul-de-sacs and dead ends.

Florence Maybrick, who may or may not have murdered her husband.  

The infamous Night Stalker.

Berkeley's hippie revolution was not all peace and love.

This week in Russian Weird looks at a cat who represents an expletive.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a couple's tragic--and highly mysterious--fate.  In the meantime, here's a bit of musical history.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

On January 29, 1900, the “San Francisco Examiner” published a perfect example of the sort of ghosts you’ll get when there’s a cat around:

SAN RAFAEL, January 28. After driving one prisoner to suicide and frightening confessions out of a dozen others, the ghost of the Marin County Jail has at last been discovered.

The spook was nothing more than a sedate old pussy cat prowling through the bastille late at night, looking for rats and mice. She bears no resemblance whatever to the spirit of a departed Chinese, and is still following her legitimate occupation at the jail. 

Some years ago a Chinese hanged himself in the cell where so many superstitious prisoners have since claimed to have seen his ghost. The shadowy figure, wearing chains that clinked, glided along the wall, with his queue sticking up in the air, so the terrified hobos said, and they begged to be removed from the haunted cell before they died of fear. In a corner near the haunted cell is a water tank, upon which the cat jumps in her rat-hunting rounds.

While moving around on the tank her body casts a shadow which a fevered mind might liken unto the shape of a hanged Chinese. Her swaying tail supplies the queue. When prowling behind the tank the cat bumps into some chains banging there, and thus produces the blood-chilling clank. The cat belonged to the Mongolian who killed himself, and while living in the cell with him she learned the run of the jail. She is now a free feline enjoying a good home with A. Kappenmann and using the jail only for a hunting ground whenever she can break in.

A tramp serving a term for petty larceny killed himself in the haunted jail because of the moving shadows and the rattling chains. Another prisoner pleaded guilty when he might have later gone free, and was sent to San Quentin to escape the cat. He said he would lose his mind if the ghost bothered him much longer.

Only a few nights ago Anton Jason, a sixteen-year-old boy, was found cowering in the haunted cell and howling for help.  Jason said the ghost was scaring him to death and begged the jailer to save him. Since then a watch has been kept until the ghost was caught with a dead mouse in her teeth. The prisoners are happy now and the jail officials no longer tumble out in the night to prop a tottering reason on its throne. 

This is not the first time the cat has distinguished herself. It is only a short time ago that she saved Miss Bertha Kappenmann from being burned to death by awakening her from her sleep after the young woman’s clothes caught fire from the stove by which she was seated.

Three years earlier, there was another ghost outbreak at the jail.  No word on whether or not cats were involved. 

Monday, September 4, 2023

The Ghosts of Eagle Market

Eagle Market as it looks today, via Wikipedia

Suburban shopping malls can be called many things, but “Fortean” is not one of them.  You go in, buy your clothes or shoes or living-room rug or whatever, stop at the food court for an indigestible sandwich, and off you go to do other daily errands.  They are generally not places of mystery, or alarm, or downright spookiness.

All that is what gives the shopping mall discussed in today’s post a proud place in the hallowed halls of Strange Company HQ.  You don’t see very many malls where the most notable customers are ghosts.

In 1975, the east-end slums of Derby City, England, were cleared to make way for the building of the Eagle Market shopping mall.  Right from the start, the project seemed to have a curse over it.  Construction workers reported that when they were alone, they would hear uncanny noises and screams around them.  Tools would mysteriously vanish, only to reappear in the most unlikely places.  After the mall opened, the eerie occurrences only increased, terrifying the shop owners.  Local newspapers, naturally, had a field day telling readers about the “haunted mall.”  The stories became so widespread that the Eagle Market’s management, concerned about what this would do to their business, took out a court injunction ordering reporters to stop covering the supernatural doings.

This attack on freedom of the press did nothing to calm things down at the Eagle Market.  The standard poltergeist rappings, crashes, screams, and disappearing objects continued.  Electrical devices would turn themselves on and off.  Clothes hangers would swing on their racks.  Mall staffers would hear their names called out…only to find they were completely alone.  A number of shop managers saw shadowy figures flitting through their storerooms and walking through walls.  One night, long after the mall closed for the day, security guards spotted a little girl wandering through a clothes store.  Assuming the child had accidentally strayed from her parents and been locked in, the guards thoroughly searched the mall for her.  However, she was never seen again.  On another occasion, half-a-dozen shoppers were treated to the sight of a group of flying shoes.

The Derby City Council leaders were so concerned about Eagle Market business owners possibly abandoning the mall, that they resorted to one of the most delightful details I’ve found in any supernatural case:  they issued a pamphlet titled “Your Poltergeist and How to Deal With It.”

The document assured mall tenants that poltergeist phenomena was “common” and “natural.”  Just one of those things business owners sometimes had to deal with, like chronically late employees or shoplifters.  Given time, the pamphlet stated consolingly, the ghostly activity would fade, and then go away entirely.

Eight years went by, and this optimistic prediction had yet to come true.  In early December 1983, a janitor quit after hearing a woman’s voice screaming “almost like a dog in pain.”  Fearing further walkouts, the mall owners summoned a group of Anglican church leaders, headed by the Bishop of Derby.  The clergymen were brought to the mall’s basement, where they conducted an exorcism.

Regular readers of this blog will know that poltergeists tend to respond to such things with a horse laugh.  The occult occurrences continued at such a rate, that a second exorcism was conducted a few months later.  This repeat attempt appeared to be more successful.  The poltergeist activity gradually dwindled until the mall was rebuilt in 1990.

As far as I know, the site--now known as "Derbion”--is now as humdrum and unghostly as any decent shopping mall should be.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to the first Link Dump of September 2023!

It's almost time for the first day of school!

Who the hell invented the alphabet?

No, there was never a Papal Toilet Chair, and I know you're as disappointed to hear that as I am.

The baseball player and the Nazi nuclear scientist.

The vocabulary of beer.

Prehistoric hopping hobbits.

America's first ventriloquist.

A tour of Waddesdon Manor.

Shoes may have been worn over 100,000 years ago.

So, when did people start levitating?

A Neolithic village has been discovered in France.

The town that disappeared.

The time capsule that turned into Al Capone's vault.

The Norwegian cheese beloved by South Koreans.

Why science is fascinated by the vagus nerve.

The tradition of "touching the corpse" of a murder victim.

The search for a "lost" royal wedding dress.

America's first mascot.

An ancient dragon made of mussel shells.

The Mormon king of Beaver Island.

Henry VIII's psalter.

How the word "jaywalker" came to be.

Portraits of members of the Franklin Expedition.

What we know about Stone Age burials.

A slave bedroom in Pompeii.

The women behind Magna Carta.

A walk along Britain's oldest road.

The world's most expensive cheese.

There is an "Antarctica accent."

The women of the East India Company.

So maybe we don't understand as much about human origins as we thought.

Ice Age humans may have made Southern California uninhabitable.  I live in Southern California, and I can assure you that modern humans are well on track to doing the same thing.

America's first Independence Day celebration.

A "world-first" discovery that you definitely don't want to experience.

Alaska's Island of Feral Cows.

Lahaina's "miracle house."

Nickie, Motorcycle Squad Cat.

A shark sighting in...Idaho?

The world's oldest hotel.

Turncoats in the English Civil Wars.

The Dedham Tragedy.

Why some people eat dirt.

A land fraud that changed American history.

The dog who served on both sides of the American Revolution.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll visit a haunted shopping mall.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Telemann.

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

I have to admit, just before I hit the "publish" button for this post, I thought, “Do I really want a blog that features tales of women being wooed by talking corpses?”  

And then I remembered just what sort of joint I’m running here.  The “Los Angeles Herald,” November 27, 1887:

A great many people are under the impression that when the breath is out of the body there is nothing animate or intelligent remaining. It is true that religion teaches us to believe that the better part of man--the soul--lives after the collapse of the mental frame. But nowhere until recently has the idea ever been advanced that a corpse can be so arranged under the ministrations of science as to preserve the intelligence and perspicacity of the natural man. It has, however, been left to an undertaker of this city to demonstrate that this very thing can be done.

Not a great while since there died in San Francisco a gentleman who was on a visit to this coast from the East. He was apparently a person who commanded sufficient means for all the ordinary purposes of life, but when he died only a small sum of money was found in his possession. His relatives were communicated with, and instructions came from his wife to have the body embalmed, preparatory to shipment to his old home in the East. This was done, and the bill, representing rather a steep figure, forwarded to the grieving widow. The sum so far exceeded her expectations, that she indignantly refused to pay it, and the corpse was left on the hands of the undertaker.

This gentleman had read somewhere that in a similar case down in Arizona the conductor of funerals had utilized the corpses left on his hands as an advertisement for his trade. Acting upon this suggestion he had the cadaver in question taken from the neat metallic coffin to which it had been fitted and dressed up in a Prince Albert suit, adjusted to a sitting position in a chair in the back parlor of his establishment. So perfectly had the embalming been accomplished, that with the exception of the grayish pallor which overspread the face, the dead man looked as natural as life. The circumstance suggested to an ingenious young man connected with the undertaking establishment the idea of utilizing the corpse for entertaining visitors. To this end the chair in which it sat was placed against a thin partition, which had been previously pierced for the reception of a speaking tube.

This was so arranged that the tube rested against the coat collar of the corpse. By speaking through this from the other side of the partition, in the dim light of the back parlor, to the casual observer it appeared as if the corpse was talking. 

Fortunately, however, the upright position and graceful poise of the body of this interesting person, led all who looked upon it to conclude that it was only a middle-aged gentleman sitting there at his ease. But this was not all.

The undertaker's ingenious clerk had attached to the right arm of the corpse the wire of a galvanic battery, and by the proper manipulation of the instrument he could cause the arm to rise or fall or gently circle around any object near it. One day a spinster lady of uncertain age came into the parlor to make some inquiries relative to a prospective funeral. As she entered, the corpse, which she supposed to be a well-dressed visitor, gracefully bowing, invited her to take a seat at his side, where a vacant chair was ready for her service.

"Take a seat, Miss, sit here, (indicating the chair.)  “I am charmed to have the pleasure of seeing in this desolate apartment a lady of such fascinations.”

"You are very polite, l am sure," murmured the flattered fair one. 

"I make it a point, my dear," continued the corpse, "to note every beautiful face that comes into this room. You must know that I remain here all the time, night and day, and my only happiness consists in receiving and entertaining the occasional visitor."

"Why, how curious! You stay here all the time?" 

"All the time, my dear, night and day. In fact, I never leave this chair," softly and sadly remarked the dead man. 

“Are you doing a penance, sir?" inquired the lady.

"Oh, no; the undertaker is my jailer." 

For a single moment the lady was frightened. The thought occurred to her that she was in the presence of a maniac and a thrill of apprehension shot through her heart. But the calm, serene face reassured her, and when the corpse gently raised its right arm and calmly encircled her waist, she no longer doubted its sanity. 

"You are very beautiful, my dear," sighed the middle-aged cadaver. 

"Oh, sir, how strangely you talk," and the lady blushed to the tips of her pink-like ears.

"You see, my dear, to a lonely man like myself, condemned to sit day after day in this darkened chamber, such a lovely vision as yourself comes to me like a gleam of sunlight. I trace in your fair face some of the sweetest memories of my youth, when in long by-gone years I was loved and was beloved in return. When you entered this dreary place a moment ago you seemed to bring me a vision of the beautiful world which lies beyond the threshold l am never allowed to pass, and my withered heart turned to you with an emotion of delight." 

It must not be supposed that the lady listened to these bold words without sweet and tender reflections. Upon the possibilities they might lead to. She was not very old, but she had wanted a husband longer than she cared to acknowledge, and words like these naturally raised a flood of most agreeable thoughts. Nevertheless she deprecated the dead man's enthusiasm and insisted that he was speaking unadvisedly.

Still she turned upon him a tender glance, which would have had anything but a chilling effect upon the ardor of a veritable wooer.  It seemed to send fire through the veins of the dead man. The arm tightened around her waist. His words grew musical and soft. 

“I see in you, my dear," continued the corpse, "the embodiment of all my dreams of bliss. If I only had your sweet companionship in this desolate room its gloom would take the hue of radiant sunshine, and I should be content to sit here forever, warmed by our smiles and gladdened by the tender glance of your eyes." 

“Oh, sir," sighed the lady. 

''Can it be possible, continued the enraptured dead man, "that you reciprocate my passion; that you will be mine?" 

The fair head was gently inclining to the shoulder of the corpse when the undertaker entered. The lady screamed. The corpse sat upright.

“Why, how is this?" exclaimed the astonished dealer in coffins. 

"Oh, sir," gasped the fair one, "this gentleman has been talking so very strangely." 

“Talking?” shouted the undertaker. "Why you must be mad. How can a dead man talk?" 

"Dead?” screamed the lady. 

"Why, yes; look at him. Lord help you! You have been courted by a corpse." 

The astonished spinster cast one fond despairing look on the ashen face of her wooer, and, flinging her arms above her head, cried piteously: "Heavens! does my beauty charm the dead?" and fainted away.

You have to admit that this isn’t the sort of love story you see every day.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Murder of a Prohibitionist: The Myrtle Cook Mystery

"The Columbia Record," September 14, 1925, via Newspapers.com

Some murder cases are impossible to solve because of the inability to find anyone who had a discernible motive to kill the victim.  Other cases grow cold because so many people had a motive, the police are left spoiled for choice.  The following 1925 mystery is a perfect example of the latter.

If one wanted to be tactful, one could describe Myrtle Underwood Cook of Vinton, Iowa, as a strong-minded, courageous woman of deeply-held beliefs.  Or you could be blunt and suggest that she was an overbearing, bigoted busybody.  The 41-year old Mrs. Cook was a very active lady.  She was an ardent prohibitionist--so ardent, that she habitually copied license plate numbers of cars she suspected were rum-running, and spied on her neighbors for any sign of illegal tippling.  She made a perfect pest of herself to the local authorities, demanding that they go after anyone she believed was distributing alcohol.  She managed to have a number of bootleggers arrested.  When she wasn’t chasing after peddlers of bathtub gin, Mrs. Cook was head of the Benton County women’s organization of the Ku Klux Klan.  Although fellow prohibitionists considered her a local hero, she was, unsurprisingly, not very popular in other circles.  In fact, a sizable portion of Vinton's residents saw her as a “meddler and a disagreeable gossip.”

Myrtle lived with her mother-in-law, Elizabeth Cook, and her sixteen-year-old daughter Gertrude.  Myrtle’s relationship with her husband, Clifford Cook, was an unusual one, particularly by the standards of her time.  Clifford had not lived with his wife and daughter for five years, working various jobs such as driving a truck and acting as a traveling salesman--any profession, it seemed, that could keep him well away from the bosom of his family.  However, he would visit his home every couple of weeks, and he and Myrtle regularly corresponded, so you could not exactly call them estranged.  Perhaps Clifford just wanted to have a drink in peace now and then.

On the night of September 7, 1925, Myrtle was sitting in her living room, writing a speech for the next day’s meeting of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.  (She was president of the local chapter.)  Her work was forever interrupted when someone crept up to the living room window, and fired a gun.  The bullet went through her heart, killing her less than an hour later.

Elizabeth Cook told police that in the moments before Myrtle died, she named her killer.  However, investigators dismissed the claim.  The man--who was never publicly named--was a businessman of irreproachable reputation.  They simply couldn’t see him as an assassin.  Police believed that if Myrtle really had accused this man, it must have been a case of mistaken identity.

Not unreasonably, police immediately assumed that a bootlegger was the murderer.  Their first suspect was Harold Ponder, a major figure in a prominent local liquor ring.  Ponder had been serving a sentence in the Fort Madison Penitentiary, but he had escaped prison three weeks before Myrtle’s murder.  And he was known to have been in Vinton just before and after the shooting.  The theory was that Ponder had killed her in order to implicate a rival ring.  Ponder was captured in October, but authorities were unable to find any solid evidence linking him to the slaying.

A few days after the murder, four young men were arrested for having egged Myrtle’s house back in July.  One of the youths was the son of a state senator.  However, as was the case with Ponder, there was nothing to implicate them in the murder.

Police then turned their interest to the dead woman’s husband.  At the time of the murder, Clifford was living in a rooming house in Sioux City.  However, he had recently lost his job there.  According to Clifford, when he was unable to find other work, he gave up on Sioux City and headed back to Vinton on September 6.  Because of slippery roads, he said, he spent the night of September 7 in a hotel in Grundy Center, some 50 miles from Vinton.  When he arrived home the following day, he was greeted by the sight of crepe and flowers on the door.  His sobbing daughter ran out to him, crying, “Oh, daddy, mama is gone.”

Detectives soon learned that Clifford could not keep his story straight.  He had told the coroner’s jury--under oath, of course--that he had no female acquaintances in Sioux City.  However, during a later round of questioning, he admitted that he had spent most of the day that his wife died in the company of one Hester Sieling.  (He and Sieling later married.)  Clifford’s lawyer argued that while his client may have been an unfaithful husband, that didn’t make him a murderous one.  Police were unable to prove otherwise.  And as Myrtle was not insured, Clifford had no financial motive to see her dead.  The coroner’s jury concluded that they could not say who shot Myrtle, but they recommended that police keep their eyes on her husband.  (For what it’s worth, Clifford declared that some of his late wife’s many enemies had hired a hit man.)

"Cedar Rapids Gazette," September 7, 2000

In his 1986 book “Tobin Tales,” prominent Vinton judge John W. Tobin suggested that Myrtle’s shooting was accidental.  He pointed out that her home was near railroad tracks that were a hangout for drunks, drug addicts, and other undesirables.  Perhaps one lowlife, trying to shoot another lowlife, happened to hit Mrs. Cook instead?  Tobin also noted that a salesman testified to seeing Clifford in the Grundy Center hotel on the night Myrtle was killed, thus corroborating his alibi.

Although Myrtle Cook’s murder was never solved--and almost certainly never will be--her death had a lasting impact on her town.  Vinton residents, disliking the negative publicity the murder brought to their community, turned against having the KKK in their midst.  The Klan soon went underground, and eventually disappeared from Vinton altogether.  Locals--no matter where they stood on Prohibition--agreed that the lawlessness brought on by rum-running had to end.  The liquor gangs were also largely run out of town, leaving Vinton a considerably more peaceful place.

It is possible that Myrtle’s spirit wound up feeling vindicated.