"...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, January 30, 2023

The Witch-Cats of Scrabster

Show me a story about beer-swilling Scottish witch cats, and, naturally, my immediate reaction is to yell for joy and start typing.  A blogger lives for that sort of thing.

Our little tale opens in late 1718, at the Burnside of Scrabster home of a mason named William Montgomery.  He and his family had a cat problem.  Of late, a number of highly sinister felines had mysteriously invaded his home.  They terrorized his servant into quitting, (after hearing the cats talking among themselves in human and intelligible voices,) and left Mrs. Montgomery so frazzled that she threatened to leave her husband and retire to the less cat-plagued town of Thurso.  Worst of all, the diabolical kitties drank up his ale.

Montgomery decided serious measures were called for.  Arming himself with a sword, a dirk, and an ax, he launched an assault on the unwanted guests, killing two of the cats and wounding several others.  At least, he thought at the time that two of them were dead. Curiously enough, by the following morning their corpses had mysteriously vanished.  He also noted that the wounds he had inflicted drew no blood.

Then things really got weird. A local woman, Helen Andrew, who had long been suspected of being a witch, died unexpectedly.  Another reputed sorceress named McHuistan killed herself by leaping into the sea.  Most startling of all, an old lady named Margaret Nin-Gilbert had one of her legs suddenly fall off.  The local residents--who could put two and two together as well as anyone--immediately concluded that the three women were among the cats who had infested the Montgomery home. Nin-Gilbert’s “black and putrefied” leg was presented to the local sheriff (something which must have really made his day) and he was ordered to take the appropriate steps.

Margaret was quickly arrested.  Under what was probably not very gentle questioning, she soon admitted that she had been inside Montgomery’s house in the form of a “feltered [shaggy] cat,” and that the loss of her leg was due to the injuries his dirk had inflicted.  Nin-Gilbert stated that the trouble began when a woman named Margaret Olson had been evicted from her lodgings due to the “wickedness of her behavior.”  The Montgomery family moved into her former home.  As a result, Olson solicited Nin-Gilbert to “do mischief” in revenge.  

Besides Olson, Nin-Gilbert named four other women as her cat-confederates.  Naturally, they were arrested as well.  Margaret died in jail soon afterward.  (Accounts vary as to whether she succumbed to natural causes, or if she was murdered by the women who were, thanks to her, fellow inmates.)

Eventually, the whole affair reached the ears of Lord Advocate Robert Dundas.  He wrote a stern letter to the sheriff scolding him for proceeding on such a matter without his authority.  The entire case, to his mind, was so utterly absurd that he ordered the investigation to cease.  The women Nin-Gilbert had accused were freed, and that, it seems, was that.

Unfortunately, history does not record if Montgomery ever saw the cats again.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is honored to be hosted by the Cats of the Crystal Palace.

They are the champions!

What the hell is the "Baghdad Battery?"

The world's oldest known runestone.

Nothing to see here, just the Earth's core doing weird things.

A bit of life insurance fraud.

Ancient bioweapons.

Any holiday featuring pancakes and coffee is good by me.

The interesting explanation of why the Navajo Code was impossible to decipher.

Some forgotten warrior queens.

A new theory about the Nazca Lines.

So, it seems that everything we thought we knew about the origin of modern birds is wrong.

A man's mysterious murder of his wife.

A look at Napoleon's first division at Waterloo.

The latest from ancient Egypt.

The mystery of the "Balochistan Sphinx."

Mustaches cause appendicitis.  No, really.

Amsterdam's Cat Police.

The world's oldest restaurant.

The "other" Queen Cleopatra.

An attempted suicide at Clapham Common.

The odd death of a Georgian-era caricaturist.

A strange 7,000 year old mass grave.

A look at the Battle of Verdun.

Photos of a lost corner of Whitechapel.

The career of a Victorian fore-edge painter.

The oldest ceremony in the world.

Victorian mourning, economy style.

A million-year-old ax factory.

A child's tragic life and death.

HMS Proserpine's icy nightmare.

The Elizabethan energy crisis.

A look at the Roman Empire's navy.

A look at Gobekli Tepe.

The world's oldest billboard.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll meet some Scottish witch cats.  Beer-loving Scottish witch cats.  In the meantime, bring on James and Linda.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

"Ghost pops up to inform everyone, 'I was murdered'" is a classic genre of spook tales.  The following excellent example appeared in the "Caledonian Mercury," January 19, 1861:

The Kendal Mercury relates the following strange story: 

At the high end of Stramongate, in Kitty Gibson's yard, stand some very old buildings, and in one of these, a part of which faces the street, and was, about a century ago, a public-house known by the sign of the Black Horse, the following strange occurrences took place a few days ago: 

There is a cottage at the upper end of this yard, which is occupied by a man named Joseph Allinson, bobbin-turner, and one of the inmates, a young woman of the name of Marian Allan, sister of Mrs. Allinson, who has been bedridden and nearly blind for some time past, and an object of sympathy, on account of her sufferings, is the "medium" through which the strange story now in circulation has been set afloat. 

It appears that on Monday evening last, whilst some five or six men and women were sitting by the fireside downstairs, all at once they were considerably alarmed by some heavy sounds, as if some one was knocking violently in a room upstairs. This noise continued for some time--knock--knock--knock--louder and louder so much so that the concussion shook the house as if it were about to be brought down altogether, one person stating that the chair in which he was sitting was fairly lifted up. 

What could be the cause of this fearful noise? It was suggested that perhaps the poor young woman ill in bed and helpless might have fallen on the floor, and was knocking for assistance. On proceeding to her apartment, she gave forth this curious revelation, which bids fair to emulate the far-famed ,"Cock Lane Ghost." An apparition had visited her (which she was permitted to behold for a time, and then her eyesight left her as before), the figure of a man dressed in black, of a grim and rough aspect. She describes something breathed in her face, that the lighted candle in the room burned dim, and finally either went out of its own accord, or was extinguished by some unseen hand, when the figure appeared as stated. On acquiring sufficient utterance, she inquired of the ghost, in the name of the Holy Trinity, why she was troubled with his presence. On the third time of asking, the spectre spoke in a thick, husky, hollow voice, telling her, whilst pointing in the direction below, to follow him to the cellar of the house, where, on removing the flagstone on the hearth, something would be found buried, which was the special purpose of his visit to reveal. On stating this, the form of the unearthly visitant vanished like a dim shadow.

Slowly and silently the parties in the house went to the locality in the cellar pointed out by the man in black, dug up the earth flag, and found a quantity of bones (which yet remain for the inspection of the curious) buried a little below the surface. A quantity of hops, in good preservation, were found scattered here and there over the soil. 

These bones (human they are said to be by some accounted-competent judges in such matters) have been examined by scores of people. Their state of decay leads to the supposition that a long time has elapsed since they were put beneath the ground. It is to be regretted that the ghost did not reveal more of the "secrets of his prison-house. " It may be he was forbidden to do so no one can tell, only that conjecture is rife as to the history of these canonised bones. Whether some foul unnatural murder has been committed of ancient date, long hidden but now come out under these circumstances, we are not prepared to say. The revelation and discovery so far are the foremost topics of remark both in the town and country, from the latter of which a great number of dealers in the marvellous have been to satisfy themselves as to the truth of what they had heard.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Screams in the Night: An Unusual Mystery at Sea

As has often been said, strange things happen at sea.  One particularly eerie incident was recorded by nautical explorer Rex Clement in his 1924 book “A Gipsy of the Horn.”  He tells of a night some twenty years past when, while sailing the Pacific in a windjammer, he and his crew heard a sound they would never forget…

One dark, moonless night just before we got clear of the “forties," with a fresh breeze blowing and the ship running quietly along under t’gallant'sls, there occurred a most uncanny experience.

It was about four bells in the middle watch, the “churchyard” watch, as the four hours after midnight is called, that it happened. We of the mate's watch were on deck--the men for'ard, Burton and I under the break, and Mr. Thomas pacing the poop above our heads. Suddenly, apparently close aboard on the port hand, there came howling out of the darkness a most frightful, wailing cry, ghastly in its agony and intensity. Not of overpowering volume--a score of men shouting together could have raised as loud a hail-it was the indescribable calibre and agony of the shriek that almost froze the blood in our veins.

We rushed to the rail, the mate and the men too, and stared searchingly into the blackness to wind'ard. The starbowlines, who a moment before had been sleeping the sleep of tired men in their bunks below, rushed out on deck. Shipwreck would hardly bring foremast Jack out before he was called, but that cry roused him like the last summons. If ever men were “horrorstruck" we were.

Even the old man was awakened by it and came up on deck. Everyone was listening intensely, straining their eyes into the blackness that enveloped us.

A moment or two passed and then as we listened, wondering, and silent, again that appalling scream rang out, rising to the point of almost unbearable torture and dying crazily away in broken whimperings.

No one did anything, or even spoke. We stood like stones, simply staring into the mystery-laden gloom. How long we peered and listened, waiting for a repetition of the sound, I do not know. But minutes passed and still it did not come, and slowly, like men coming out of a trance, we began to move about and speak to each other again.

We heard it no more and gradually, one at a time, trickled back to fok'sle and half-deck. As far as the occupants of the latter were concerned, no one evinced any inclination to turn in and we sat around, smoking and discussing what the sound we had heard could possibly be. Nobody slept much more that night and thankful we were when the grey dawn broke over the tumbling, untenanted sea.

This was all. In bare words it doesn't sound very dreadful, but it made that night a night of terror. For long enough afterwards the echoes of that awful scream would ring in my ears, and even now it sends a shiver through me to think of it.

Who and what it was that caused it we never learnt. We hazarded a variety of guesses, many of them farfetched enough. The cry of a whale was suggested, but I never heard a whale utter any sounds with its throat. Some other sea-monster, somebody else thought, that only rarely comes to the surface but this was more unlikely still. The scream of seals or sea-lions on an island beach was another hypothesis--again, the nearest land was Easter Island, six hundred miles to the north'ard. Besides, the shriek we heard had certainly a human, if not a diabolic, origin. Whether it was, as some imagined, a shipwrecked boat's crew who saw our lights and in their extremity raised a sort of death-scream, or whether, as others asserted, it had a supernatural origin, remained a mystery insoluble.

Some time after, Nils, our taciturn Russian Finn, who was as superstitious as big Mac, told me we should have called out: “Jou wass come here, oldt man,” and the thing, whatever it was, would have come and done us no harm. Nils evidently thought it was a seaspirit. Who shall say? For my own part, I hold with Hamlet that “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy," and certainly more than one can well put a name to.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

This week's Link Dump is hosted by the fearsome Brunnhilde!

Why the hell do we yawn?

Librarians on horseback.

The (homicidal) Flower of Temple Street.

The painful life of the inventor of Coca-Cola.

The time the FBI got involved with an allegedly haunted school.

The loss of HMS Wasp.

The ghosts of Old Edinburgh.

Why 1642 was a bad year for the Earl of Leicester.

Some superstitions about blood.

A poetic bereavement therapy.

How donkeys changed human history.

The Fire Dog who dined with Teddy Roosevelt.

Rudyard Kipling's years in India were...um, lively?

An Indiana banshee.

So, let's talk meowing nuns.

The legend of the White Woman of Gippsland.

The "Irish giant" is finally taken out of display.  After 200 years or so.

Charles Dickens' Deputy.

Archaeological predictions for 2023.

A murderer cheats the chair.

The literature of ancient Egypt.

A look at a medieval marriage.

The birth of the Burgundian kingdom.

A newly-discovered previous owner of the Voynich Manuscript.

The sort of thing that happens when you mix erring wives and jealous husbands.

Lawless women in the Star Chamber.

A hanging as entertainment.

The origins of "stump speech."

The mystery of the disappearing poet.

Why Roman Empire baths disappeared.

An old coin and a "lost" Roman Emperor.

Celebrating the Lunar New Year on the front lines of WWI.

So maybe we shouldn't blame rats for the Black Death.

19th century letters of introduction.

A 2,500 year old love letter.

17 interesting Georgians.

A little bit of paradise in Cornwall.

The dogs who explored Antarctica.

A Juvenile Almanack.

Ireland's Great Hunger.

What we know about ancient Egyptian medicine.

Queen Victoria as an artist.

A brief history of Jell-O salad.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at an eerie little mystery at sea.  In the meantime, here's a British folk group that you've probably never heard of before.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

There's that old saying about how nothing is certain but death and taxes.  Well, here's a story that manages to combine the two.  The "Nevada State Journal," October 1, 1907:

LONDON, Sept. 30--Tax Assessor H.M.W. Richards called on the 300-year-old ghosts in the eerie predawn hours today to support the claim of their host, the owner of a lonely country mansion, that his taxes should be reduced because the house was haunted. 

The investigation took all night. As the sun rose, Richards stumbled from the ancient 12- room cobwebbed mansion and left immediately without comment for an extended weekend in other parts of the country to consider his decision. 

Richards was aided in his investigation by a London medium, Mrs. Florence Thompson, four psychic investigators, the caretaker and newsmen--10 persons in all.  Mrs. Thompson insisted the ghosts kept the rendezvous. 

According to the legend, the house is haunted by the ghosts of a beautiful young girl and her handsome lover who crossed the wishes of the girl's father. The irate father shut both of them in a cellar closet and they died in each other's arms. Since then their spirits have been earthbound. 

The present owner, D. Key, of Eel Pie Island, Twickenham, whose family has owned the mansion for the past 100 years, complained to Richards that mansion has been haunted ever since that closet door closed and no one would live there except the caretaker, Miss Amy Dickinson, gaunt and crippled 67-year-old spinster. Because of this, Key said, he wanted a tax reduction. 

Richards, tax assessor and a member of the city council of Apsley Guise, Bedfordshire, which heard the complaint, was not convinced. He wanted a demonstration.

Unfortunately for Mr. Key, although Richards eventually came to the conclusion that the house was indeed haunted, the Luton area assessment committee felt otherwise.  Ghosts or no ghosts, they ruled, Key had to pay his taxes in full.

It was a nice try, though.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Disappearance, Suicide, and Possibly Murder: The Strange Case of Diane Schulte

22-year-old Diane Marie Schulte lived in Nampa, Idaho with her husband of two years, 24-year-old Fred Schulte.  They had moved to Nampa from Iowa in the spring of 1976.  Neither of the Schultes could be described as social butterflies, but Diane possessed an unusually reserved and non-social disposition.  She spent most of her free time at home, where she occupied herself with macrame, reading, and her three cats.   She was described in an official report as “extremely introverted and insecure," and that she “responds antagonistically when approached by strangers, or believes a stranger is encroaching on her psychological territory.” Diane was long estranged from her parents, had no friends in the area, and apart from her husband, the one person she was close to was her grandmother, who lived far away in Flint, Michigan.  Diane and her grandmother only rarely saw each other in person, but they spoke often on the phone.  Most people would find Diane’s life a dull and lonely one, but it suited her.  She seemed quite content with her lot, and neighbors believed that she and her husband, whom co-workers described as “solid and happy,” were extremely devoted to each other.  Diane once wrote to her husband, “I know that I don’t always show it, but I love you with all my heart and soul. Your love is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

On March 25, 1977, the Schultes visited the local library.  Afterwards, Fred suggested that they go for a walk, but Diane declined, saying she wasn’t feeling well.  The following morning, Fred went to his job at a Boise unemployment office.  Later that morning, a neighbor observed Diane outside the house, as if she was preparing to go for a walk.  (Something she often did, with or without Fred.)  When Fred returned home that evening, his wife was gone.

Aside from Diane’s uncharacteristic absence, everything in the house seemed normal.  Her car was in the driveway, and there was mail and a UPS box waiting on the front porch.  All of Diane’s possessions, including her purse, were inside.  The only items missing were the keys to a P.O. box and their rented house.  Her three cats were shut up in a spare bedroom, which is what she always did when about to go somewhere.  However, her watch and wedding ring were on a desk.  She always left them there when she was at home or preparing to leave for just a very brief time.  Fred found the situation weird enough to immediately contact police.

Unfortunately, this was one of those missing-persons cases where investigators were immediately stymied by a lack of clues.  Diane’s grandmother told police that the last time they talked, just the day before Diane disappeared, her granddaughter was “highly upset and emotional”--possibly because Diane’s parents were planning to visit her later that year.  (According to Fred, Diane "hated" her mother, and her father had caused her a great deal of pain.)  Diane was so anxious to avoid this reunion, she asked Fred to persuade them not to come.  On the other hand, Fred stated that when he last saw his wife, she was in an “unusually good mood.”

A friend of Diane’s named Sue Stampe told a reporter that everyone who knew the couple was baffled.  “We’ve all talked to the police and with each other, and we don’t know what to think,” she said.  Stampe added that in the last letter Diane sent her, “I never heard anyone be so happily married.  But sometimes it’s hard to tell about Diane.  She doesn’t always tell you what she really feels.”

On April 1, operating on the (not unreasonable) theory that “It’s usually the spouse who did it,” police asked Fred to take a polygraph test.  He seemed perfectly willing to cooperate, but on April 3--shortly before Fred was to be polygraphed--the mystery took a sudden, shocking turn, when Fred’s corpse was discovered inside Diane’s car.  He had been speeding down Highway 95, when he shot himself in the head.  The car subsequently crashed down into a canyon.

Fred left behind two documents: a will and a suicide note.  In the latter, he stated that he was killing himself because “I have given up hope of Diane’s returning alive…She was always warm and loving and supportive and fun. She was everything I’ve ever wanted and needed in a woman.  In turn, I gave her the strength to cope with a world that terrified her...Having lived with her, I find that I cannot live without her, so by the time you read this, I will have taken my own life.”  

Then, his note took an abrupt turn.  About a month before Diane disappeared, a ten-year-old Nampa boy named Steven White was murdered.  (The case was not solved until 2001.) Fred referenced the crime, stating “I challenge any sane, thinking person to spend one full day really observing this insane, absolutely absurd world we’re living in. Can you honestly say that you’re proud of it? That it makes any sense at all? That there is any justice in it? Diane Schultes and Steven Whites are being cut down left and right while the criminal elements (from the nickel-and-dime shoplifter to the politicians and businessmen that run the world) are free to ply their trades with virtually no fear of punishment.”

“Why does so much of the GNP of the world go into producing ships and war planes that are blown to bits when the same GNP could produce food, clothing, and other niceties of life? That is to say, productive rather than destructive items? Why is there so much war, crime, pollution, injustice, inflation, vandalism, etc.? I say it is because our society is disintegrating and doing so more rapidly each year.”

He gave no hint that he knew where Diane was, or how she had died.

Fred’s death was all the police needed to close the books on the case.  Investigators reasoned that his premature certainty that his wife was dead, plus his own suicide, were both indicators of guilt.  Nampa Police Detective Robert Shank admitted that his belief that Fred murdered his wife was based on “supposition and intuition,” rather than “factual proof,” but added that “on the little bits of evidence we picked up, we believe he killed her.”  The “bits of evidence,” however, were frustratingly vague: a missing living room rug, a dent in the floor that could have been made by a bullet, and a four-inch hole cut from a drape.

Shank may have been correct.  However, if Fred was entirely innocent, under the circumstances it would not have been illogical for him to conclude that his wife was the victim of foul play, and was never coming back.  Considering that the key to the couple's P.O. box was missing, it is conceivable that Diane went for a walk to check on the box (something she did regularly) and along the way was kidnapped by a passing psychopath.  There is another possibility, one apparently not considered by investigators: suicide.  Perhaps when Fred realized she was mysteriously missing, he guessed she had left to kill herself, but for whatever reason, didn’t want to share his suspicions with authorities.

Diane Schulte’s fate remains a complete mystery, and at this late date, it is a riddle that probably will never be solved.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

It's a Friday the 13th Link Dump! Bring on the black cats!

East End entertainers of 1922.

Some vintage children's games that are, frankly, extremely creepy.

A 3,000 year old wishing well.

The man who became a verb.

Alexander the Great as horse whisperer.

Two prison warders find themselves up before the bench.

A previously-unknown ancient population.

The tomb archaeologists are scared to open.  Not without reason.

The death of a legendary tree.

Smallpox may have been around much earlier than we thought.

A case of murder during prayer.

A look at Europe's "bog bodies."

The coffin plate in the parlor.

The doctor and the Confederate General.

That time when John Wilkes was expelled from Parliament.

Lost medieval sword-fighting tricks.

We have finally learned why ancient Rome had such good concrete.

The rat graves of Washington, D.C.  I suppose there are a few one-liners in that statement, but let's not swing at the easy ones.

The world's youngest serial killer.  (And no one knows where he is now.  Lovely.)

The worst murderer of all time.

The origins of "y'all."

How to defeat the Mongols.

An artist at the Elizabethan court.

Born in India, destitute in Glasgow.  (Part 2 is here.)

The "world's best McDonald's" is not where you might think.

Death by piano playing.

A sculpture with quite a past.

The man who asked to go to prison.

Stalin's purge of the Red Army.

A brief history of street food sellers.

A brief history of Angel Island Immigration Station.

A mysterious amnesiac.

When our planet was "snowball Earth."

A misunderstood Roman Empress.

Ancient stone tools which may have been made by monkeys.

18th century wigmakers.

Life in a Victorian prison.

In which Victor Hugo meets Dom Pedro II.

Two silent movie star cats.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a particularly sad missing-person case.  In the meantime, bring on the Celtic-Indian bagpipes!

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Accounts of mysterious "rains" of money are more common than you might think.  The following example comes from the "Stockport Advertiser," June 4, 1981:

They could be forgiven for thinking it's raining pennies from heaven down Reddish way. 

For cash has been literally falling from the sky on St Elisabeth’s Church — but the well-wisher is remaining strictly anonymous! And the more the rector, the Rev. Graham Marshall, finds more suddenly appears. 

Said Mr Marshall: "Apparently last Thursday evening while I was on holiday, a little girl was walking in the church grounds when a 50p piece dropped in front of her. 

“She thought it must have been thrown at her but couldn’t see anyone around. When she looked down she found several pounds' worth of coins lying there in the grass. 

“I came back on Saturday and a local shopkeeper rang me up and told me children had been spending large amounts of money on sweets. They told her it had just come out of the sky. 

“At that stage I went over to the church and there was quite a crowd of people there collecting coins that had just appeared on the ground. 

“While I was there another one appeared. One minute there was nothing there and the next thing there were more coins. 

“I like to think it’s a magpie or some other bird nesting in the roof which has decided it’s about time it paid some rent.” 

But Mr. Marshall (pictured left outside the church) has been on to the roof and there is not a bird’s nest in sight. 

He added: “It will probably turn out to be birds but at the moment I can’t explain it. Some of the coins are stuck so far in the ground that I’m beginning to wonder if they’ve come from down below the church!


This was the only story I found about the phenomenon, so I can't say how long the showers of coins lasted, or if the mystery of their appearance was ever solved.

Monday, January 9, 2023

The Ghost That Loved Bread: More Welsh Weirdness

The following poltergeist account is frustratingly brief and unresolved, but it’s such a delightfully quirky deviation from the usual pot-throwing, wall-banging polt that I thought it deserved a post.  It was written by Mary L. Lewes in the “Occult Review” for December 1912:

In the year 1907 the Rev. A. B. Clarke was Vicar of Llanarfon in Carmarthenshire. From a certain date in that year up to the time of Mr. Clarke leaving the parish on obtaining his new preferment in the next year, the following extraordinary circumstance repeatedly occurred: Whenever a loaf of bread was placed and left upon the table in any room, no matter what, of the vicarage house at Llanarfon, it was invariably found nibbled all round, when the room where it had been placed was again entered. This happened so often as to cause considerable annoyance to Mr. and Mrs. Clarke and the members of their household, and every possible attempt was made to discover who or what the marauder was.

Rats, mice, or even possibly a neurotic servant-maid were suspected; but the charge in each case was incapable of being sustained. More than once was a loaf placed upon the dining room table, the windows of the room shut and fastened, a chimneyboard placed in the fire-grate, the furniture moved out from the wall, the door locked from the outside, and both door and windows afterwards watched. And yet on entering the room the loaf was invariably found gnawed, and this even when, for the sake of experiment, it had been suspended from the ceiling by a string.

On one occasion a young man, with the approval of the master and mistress of the house, concealed himself in the dining-room, and the loaf was still found to have been nibbled, though the young man declared he had heard and seen nothing. However, he may possibly have fallen asleep and not cared to acknowledge he had done so. This unpleasant happening went on for more than twelve months, and several outside persons besides Mr. Clarke and his family are cognizant of it. It is not generally known whether it still occurs, the subject being, we understand, taboo by those interested in the benefice of Llanarfon.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Strange Company HQ celebrates the first Link Dump of the New Year!

A mystery from 150 years ago.

Poe's best-selling work during his lifetime was a book about seashells.   Because it's a funny old world.

The sort of thing that happens when a widow asks her cheapskate boyfriend to deal with her late husband's ashes.  Suffice to say, D.H. Lawrence is probably not resting in peace.

The link between the meat trade and 18th century criminality.

How John the Baptist's head wound up in a French cathedral.

Evidence of early Ice Age writing.

The Philippine resistance movement in WWII.

A new theory about ancient Egyptian mummification.

HMS Phaeton and Beaufort's ruse: an escape at sea in 1795.

A tragic "message from the sea."

A heartbroken crow.

Some vintage "manly exercises."

A UK village that is visited by a lot of UFOs.

A weird vintage "diverting game."

A prolific Dutch serial killer.

How lasers are finding ancient civilizations.

The British Museum Bindery fire.

Superstitions just ain't what they used to be.

The policeman and the polar bear.

The Paris Expo of 1900.

The rarest mineral on Earth.

Catherine of Aragon as a diplomat.

The history of addressing someone as "man."

A "diabolical crime."

The sort of thing that happens when you buy a home with a very dark past.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a quirky poltergeist account.  In the meantime, here's a fun blast from the musical past.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

If you have a taste for the odder side of life, you have probably heard of the still-unexplained “Max Headroom” hijacking.  A similar, but less-remembered incident occurred in southern England ten years earlier, and a good time was definitely not had by all.  The Arlington Heights “Daily Herald,” December 12, 1977:

The Voice of Asteron has not been identified, as of this writing, making him the first UFV (Unidentified Flying Voice) in space-age history. Breaking in on a Southern Television evening news program with a series of bleeps, UFV announced to the world, or at least to the people in that part of England: 

“This is the voice of Asteron. I am an authorized representative of the intergalactic mission, and I have a message for the planet earth. We are beginning to enter the period of Aquarius, and there are many corrections which have to be made by earth people. 

“All your weapons of evil must be destroyed. You only have a short time to learn to live together in peace--or leave the galaxy.” 

A Southern Television spokesman, sounding rather like a TV critic, said of the impromptu substitute programming: “This is a pretty sick hoax.” 

The police found the Voice of Asteron guilty of disturbing the peace. A police spokesman complained: “Most people took it quite seriously, and some were frightened. We had to send a patrol car around to calm one elderly woman.” 

An average viewer named Rex Monger was invited to give his opinion on UFV. 

“The man seemed to suggest that he was speaking from a spacecraft traveling within the vicinity of earth,” Monger concluded. “He sounded pretty fed up with the way we are running things down here.” 

American hoax-veterans recalled Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast, which convinced a lot of radio listeners that New Jersey was being invaded by Martians back in 1938. Younger students of put-on thought the whole business--including the TV and police spokesmen and the man-in-the-street--bore a certain resemblance to a Monty Python script.

In all the excitement over what other people thought, nobody got around to asking: Who is the Voice of Asteron and what was he thinking? Here are a couple of guesses:

The Voice of Asteron is that awful earth-bound fellow--the practical joker. (The trouble with this theory is that if UFV was just out to scare folks, wouldn’t he have invented a more frightening request than “live together in peace,” and a more chilling punishment than “leave the galaxy”?)

The Voice of Asteron is an engineer with a lot of sophisticated equipment and an irresistible urge to test it. As the ultimate Good Buddy of the CB world, all he wanted to prove was that he could jam a network. The rest was fancy plot. 

The Voice of Asteron is a media freak--a man who has steeped himself in science fiction, seen “Network” one too many times and been carried away into staging his own events. 

The Voice of Asteron is a pacifist who has, in all earnestness, dramatized his message to attract the most attention, little realizing that his audience would pay attention to everything except what he actually said.

The voice of Asteron is a combination of all four of the above. 

In his short story “The Enormous Radio,” John Cheever imagined what it would be like if, out of one’s speaker, suddenly emerged the private conversations of apartment neighbors. Cheever’s fable gave off the curiously haunted sense of a universe out of kilter, though nothing that exceptional was said. It was the sheer unexpectedness, plus the disturbing confusion between the boundaries of public and private. The same might be said of the Voice of Asteron. One can imagine a network television commentator advocating more and bigger weapons--and causing no particular disturbance at all. The television set in the corner is the familiar monster, out of whose mouth come the most bizarre advertisements, the least credible plots, the cruelest images. Yet, if all the sponsors and staff announcers are in place, nobody blinks a fixated eye--except, of course, any aliens from outer space, who might well require a visit from their nearest intergalactic policeman to calm them down.

As was the case with the “Max Headroom” hoax, the identity of “Asteron” has never been discovered.

Monday, January 2, 2023

The Markley Mystery

"Chillicothe Gazette," January 6, 1996, via Newspapers.com

In 1995, John and Shelley Markley lived with their five children (aged between 8 and 15) in Bristolville, Ohio, where John worked as a truck driver.  The Markleys, who had been married 16 years, appeared to be an entirely normal, happy suburban middle-class couple.  However, in recent years the household saw its share of tragedies.  In 1993, their home was destroyed in a fire.  The following year, John’s father and one of his nephews both died.  (The latter was a suicide.)  In 1992, John’s twin sister Bonnie was diagnosed with breast cancer.  John and Bonnie were very close, and he did everything he could think of to help her, including raising $15,000 dollars so she could go to Mexico for some experimental treatments.  However, despite all John’s efforts and prayers, Bonnie died on December 13, 1995.  John was devastated by his loss, even saying he was “angry with God” for not sparing her.

On December 15--two days after Bonnie’s death--the Markley children returned home from school.  A strange scene awaited them.  The doors were unlocked and the family car was gone.  The children found that the coffee pot was still on, and John’s watch, which he constantly wore, was on a shelf over the stove.  Bonnie’s purse was still there, but her checkbook was missing.  Upstairs in their parents’ bedroom, the gun cabinet which was always kept locked, was now standing open.  (The children had no idea how many guns their parents owned, so they could not say if anything was missing.)  Their safe was also open, with its contents scattered across the floor, as though someone had frantically searched for some particular item.  The mourning clothes they had planned to wear at Bonnie’s memorial service that evening were laid out on their bed.  Perhaps the strangest detail was in the garage.  John kept a 1978 Corvette there, always covered by two tarps.  Those tarps were now gone.  The confused children phoned an aunt and uncle, who took them to their house.

At first, no one was particularly alarmed by John and Shelly’s absence.  However, when they failed to show up at Bonnie’s funeral the following day, everyone knew something was terribly wrong, and the couple was reported missing.

The subsequent investigation uncovered some troubling clues.  On the day the Markleys disappeared, a check for $1,000 dollars with Shelly’s signature on it was cashed at a Bloomfield, Ohio bank.  A teller saw the couple at the bank’s drive-thru, with a man sitting in the car with them.  Unfortunately, that man has yet to be identified.  Their car was eventually found abandoned in a parking lot ten miles from the Markley home.  Inside was the couple’s cell phone and the two missing tarps.  The keys were missing.  The car was covered in mud, as if it had been driven off-road.

The bank teller was the last known person to have seen the Markleys.  To date, no one knows if they are alive or dead, or if they left on their own free will or (as is considered far more likely) were the victims of foul play.

A curious sequel to the mystery came when Steven Durst, one of John’s co-workers, claimed to be holding the couple captive in return for a $100,000 ransom.  However, no evidence could be found that Durst was anything more than a heartless creep with odd tastes in get-rich-quick schemes.  Durst was convicted of extortion and sentenced to four to ten years.

However, some suspected that Durst was indeed involved in the dual disappearance.  At the time the couple vanished, Durst was out of work, and he was telling people that the Markleys owed him $1000--an interesting detail, considering that the last known sighting of the couple was when they were withdrawing from the bank that exact sum, in the company of a third person.  In 1996, Jane Timko, the lead investigator in the case, said “I truly believe that Steven Durst knows what happened to them and he just won’t say.”

In 2015, law enforcement announced that they had “new leads,” but this information--whatever it may have been--obviously did little to clarify the mystery.  The case of the disappearance of the Markleys appears to have gone well and truly cold.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Best of Strange Company 2022

Yet another year has gone by, so it’s time to take a look at the Top Ten Strange Company posts for 2022!  As usual, it was an eclectic mix, with, I hope something for everybody!

Or, at least, everybody with weird tastes.

1. In Which Mr. Buchmann Takes an Unexpected Journey.  A 16th century man is kidnapped by fairies, and doesn’t enjoy it very much.

2. The Runcorn Poltergeist.  A polt case with some unique touches.

3. Down the Driveway, and Into Oblivion: The Disappearance of Charles Ulrich.  The title pretty much says it all: a man inexplicably vanishes from his own home, and is never seen again.

4. The Rougham Mirage.  The “ghost” of a Georgian-era mansion.

5. The Deathless Arm of Dan Donnelly; Or, You Never Know What Will Get You Into the History Books.  A 19th century boxer’s right arm has quite the afterlife.

6. One Night in Maracaibo.  A “strange meteorological occurrence” in 1886.

7.  The Fall of the House of Windham.  A wealthy family is unlucky enough to have one very eccentric relative.

8. Weekend Link Dump, August 19.  Can’t have a Top Ten list without one!

9. The Precolitsch; Or, When Hungarian Gypsies Say There is Trouble Ahead, Believe Them.  A creepy tale about a weird Transylvanian creature.

10. The Ngatea Crop Circle.  One of the more interesting “crop circle” stories.

And there you have it:  the best--or, at least, most viewed--blog posts of the year.  Here's to--God willing--a 2023 full of disappearances, ghosts, UFOs, and killer monsters!