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

Friday, June 30, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


“The Witches’ Cove,” Follower of Jan Mandijn

I’m on my own for this week’s Link Dump. The Strange Company staff is still off on summer vacation.

Why the hell did the last Ice Age end?

A visit to Britain's only tea plantation.

If you've lost something, make this cake.

The generation that never learned to write by hand.  I'm old enough to remember being graded on my handwriting in school.  Never got a better grade than "C."  I was so happy to learn to type.

The first Accession Council.

A look at a forgotten Victorian writer.

The Stonehenges of Poland.

In which an expert advises us how to steal art.

The mystery of the Peach Creek pebble-thrower.

One of America's worst generals really, really screws up.

A widow marries the driver of her late husband's hearse.  Talk about "meet cute."

Mutiny on the USS Somers.

The latest in underwater archaeology.

The woman who has lived her whole life in the same house. All 105 years of it.

Fry pancakes and vanquish burglars, all at the same time!

The book that can kill you.

The tennis star and the Bosnian pyramid.

Nothing says "unlucky day" like being hanged by mistake.

Captain Death of the privateer "Terrible."  He sounds nice.

A monument to the "world's smartest dog."

A pneumatic dusting machine.

The baptism of Miss Charles Marsden.

A brief history of crime-scene dust.

A brief history of the word "which."

A brief history of British baseball.

A brief history of glass.

One very awful husband.

The earliest known manufactured mirrors.

As if life isn't weird enough, now orcas are attacking boats.

Thomas Edison tricks the press.

A Victorian Londoner goes from rags to riches.

Edward II and the problem of historical hindsight.

In which Mr. Zinsmeister spoils a picnic.

An Italian vendetta.

That time when Ireland had a tribe of werewolves.

That time when it was thought that Africa had unicorns.

That time when the Devil wrote a letter.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a mysterious drowning on the Fourth of July.  In the meantime, here's a trio I recently discovered from the country of Georgia.  I'd like to see more music videos featuring donkeys.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

As regular readers of this blog know, every now and then I use “Newspaper Clipping” day to showcase what I call “mini-mysteries”--interesting disappearances or murders where not enough information is available for a regular blog post.  This week, we look at a “Missing 411”-style vanishing in the Montana wilderness.  The “Red Lodge Picket-Journal,” June 4, 1940:

What was the fate of Walter Orndorff? Almost four years ago to the day the then 16-year-old Laurel youth vanished as completely as if he had been swallowed by one of the majestic East Rosebud mountains in which he was lost while on a fishing trip.  The disappearance was so absolute--not a single trace was found of Walter or any of his fishing equipment or lunch box--that the mystery remains one of the oddest in the annals of Carbon County sheriff’s records.

That he is dead, no one who took part in the summer’s search doubts for a moment.  The then virtually inaccessible rocky crags and steep canyons were no country a comparatively inexperienced youth could live in for long.

Add the facts he was lightly and that snows blanketed the area the night of the day he was lost and it is readily understood why hope of finding him alive faded. 

His disappearance was as casual as it was abrupt.  He was fishing at Slough Lake, about 35 miles west of here, with an uncle, Earl Hayden of Greenfield Mo., and with several youthful Laurel friends on Sunday, May 31, 1936.

Walter wasn’t having much luck. Quietly he remarked he was trying his luck at Shadow Lake, and he crossed a foot bridge going west. 

He was about 50 feet away when his uncle looked up at his departure.  It was the last time he was reported seen by human eye.  He simply vanished.

Considering that he was sought for three months by trained woodsmen, that experienced ranchers, forest rangers, and sheriff officials applied every bit of knowledge at their disposal without a trace of the youth, the mystery naturally deepens. 

If he had drowned, the waters would have given him up; if he had fallen exhausted, some trace would have been found by those who canvassed every foot of the Slough creek basin. 

True, the country was wild, but from two to 100 men were in constant search for a summer. Every cranny was explored. No trace. 

It would seem uncanny, but Undersheriff Bill Moore of Carbon county has a theory that explains all that--a hitherto unprinted theory that in Bill’s mind is rapidly taking on the stature of fact.

Bill explains the mystery this way:

“We didn’t hear about the disappearance until Monday. Then Dave Branger of the Branger ranch at East Rosebud phoned Sheriff McFate. Branger said the boy’s relatives were still searching and wanted help.

“McFate appointed me to investigate, and I was fortunate in securing the services of Deputy Game Warden Carl Benson and Forest Ranger Warren Akers, both then, as now, stationed at Red Lodge.

“At East Rosebud we rented a pack-horse and Carl and I started the long tortuous trail on foot to Slough Lake.  Warren remained to corral more help.

That Monday night Carl and myself reached the lake and decided to camp for an early start next morning. It had snowed all day. There wasn't a dry place to pitch our tent, and it was bitter cold.  Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep.   All night we kept up a huge fire, partly to keep warm, but mostly as a signal to the lost boy.

“At 3 a.m. we got ready to go. Carl fired a couple of shots, thinking the lad might hear. Soon I heard a deafening, thundering noise, the loudest ever heard and I knew what it was.

“It was a tremendous rock slide. The rocks, loosened by the spring moisture, were started rolling by the step of an animal or human.

“Today I rather think it might have been the boy scrambling for shelter. Whatever was at the base of that mountain range from Slough Creek to Phantom and Shadow lakes was buried in the deluge.

“That’s my theory, and I think it’s true that the boy was buried in the avalanche of dirt and rocks, every trace of him being buried with him.

“It’s not a pretty supposition, but it’s the only possible explanation left.”

A $100 reward was raised for the lad’s recovery, dead or alive. Though a crew of trail makers for the federal forest service were located in the area all that summer, though they spent every spare moment searching, nothing was discovered. 

Sheriff McFate highly praises those who aided in the hunt without pay. The Branger brothers, George Wright of the Mackay ranch, forest rangers, and many others spent their time and money in the futile search.

Whether Moore’s theory is true or not, the mystery remains one of the most incredible in Montana’s history.

As far as I’ve been able to tell, Orndorff’s body has yet to be found.

Monday, June 26, 2023

The Ghost Bungalow

In the April 1931 issue of “Occult Review,” one Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph W. Nicholson related a story he titled “A Pathan-Haunted Bungalow.”  He described a particularly malevolent haunting, with an enigmatic ending that would not be out-of-place in one of M.R. James’ more sinister tales.

In 1897, Nicholson was quartered at a station in India’s North-West Province.  One night, a young man who had just come up from Bombay related an experience he and two other men had while living at Surat, on the West Coast.

The three men were employed on the Bombay, Baroda & C.I. Railway, so they decided to make their residence in Surat, as it was conveniently situated near the part of the line where they were working.  They soon found what seemed like an ideal residence--a large, comfortable bungalow with a remarkably low rent.  The landlord had one odd requirement: that they pay at least three months’ rent in advance.  However, as the bungalow came so cheap, the men did not consider this as any disadvantage.

The house had two stories.  The lower contained a large drawing-room, flanked on each side by other rooms, while the bedrooms were on the top floor.  There was a wide veranda running along the length of the bungalow, with a staircase at one end leading to the upper story.

On their first night in the house, the men fastened all the doors and windows.  Two of them went to bed, leaving the third, whose name was Woodburn, downstairs to turn out the lights.  As he was doing so, he suddenly felt “a presence” near him.  When he looked around, he was startled to see a “Pathan,” (a tribe residing in the North-West) dressed in their trademark flowing white robes.  The man was glaring at him in a highly unnerving fashion.

Woodburn demanded to know what the stranger was doing there.  The Pathan’s response was to hiss at him through his teeth.  Woodburn threw a punch at the man, only to have his fist go completely through the figure.  Then the Pathan slowly faded away.

Woodburn, now quite thoroughly shaken, ran up to join his companions.  It took some time before he was calm enough to tell the others what had happened.  He strongly hinted that the ghostly Pathan had somehow threatened him, but when the men pressed him for details, Woodburn refused.  If he told them, he said, the Pathan would surely return and kill him.

Woodburn, quite understandably, declared that he would not spend another night in the house.  The other two men disagreed, pointing out that they couldn’t afford to just throw away all the rent they had paid.  The trio finally came to a compromise: they would stay for the three months, but sleep in the same room and keep a light burning until dawn.

All the rest of that night, the men heard the most terrifying groans and screams, along with the sound of loud hissing coming from the drawing-room.  On several occasions, they tried rushing into the drawing-room suddenly, but when they did, the noises would immediately cease.

Every night, the men were plagued by these chilling spectral sounds, and now and then they would see the Pathan on the veranda, or spying on them through the windows of the drawing-room.  One night, Nicholson’s informant heard a threatening hissing sound.  He then saw through the glazed door of the drawing-room the face of the Pathan, giving him an evil grin.  When he went in search of the figure, he saw nothing, but felt a sharp slap on his cheek.  Every now and then, invisible hands would throw stones at them from outside.  The stones would somehow go through the windows of the drawing-room without breaking the panes of glass.

On one occasion, a friend of the three men, a sailor in the Coast Guard, came for a short stay.  He laughed at their tales of the ghost, and said he had no fear of sleeping in the room next to the drawing-room.  However--assuming the bungalow was being plagued by some human miscreant--he took the precaution of putting a loaded revolver under his pillow, and keeping a cutlass by his side.  During the night, he was suddenly awakened by the feeling that someone was unfastening the straps of his bed and dumping him on the floor.  When he leaped to his feet, he was shocked to see the tall Pathan standing over him.

The sailor spoke to the intruder, but getting no reply, he lunged at him with the cutlass.  He was appalled to see the blade pass harmlessly through the Pathan, who continued to stand there, hissing at him.  The terrified sailor fled upstairs, shrieking “I’ve seen him!  I’ve seen him!”

The men searched the records of Surat in an effort to learn why the bungalow was haunted.  All they could discover is that for many years past, it was known as the “Bhut [ghost] Bungalow.”  None of the local residents would go near it after dark, and no servant could be persuaded to spend the night there.  There was a tomb in the back of the house, which was said to be that of a very evil man.  It was believed that his spirit was haunting the place.

Not long after the men finally the house, Nicholson’s informant ran into Woodburn--who had become uncharacteristically quiet and somber--at a spot some three hundred miles from Surat.  The informant again begged Woodburn to say what sort of threat the ghostly Pathan had made to him.  Surely, now that they were so far from the bungalow, the apparition was no longer of any danger?  The shuddering Woodburn refused to talk.  He was still convinced that if he did, the Pathan would hear him and take his life.

Three months later, Woodburn died of cholera.  This surprised his doctor, as the attack was so mild it should not have been fatal.  The doctor told Nicholson’s informant that something had obviously been deeply troubling Woodburn--a mental burden so great “that he had no wish to bear it any longer.”

Friday, June 23, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Welcome to the first Link Dump of Summer 2023!

Time to hit the beach!

A Christmastime unsolved mystery.

The site that went from penal colony to spaceport.

There are a whole lot of undiscovered shipwrecks out there.

Two French naval disasters.

A look at Leopold I of Belgium.

The woes of an English Renaissance feminist.

The oldest known Neanderthal engravings.

It's no surprise that the world's dirtiest man was killed by taking a bath.

A Brooklyn suffragette cat.

In search of the Orient Express.

The actor, the fascist, and the reincarnated queen.

An occurrence at Gill Creek.

A talented bookbinder goes bankrupt.  Such was life in Victorian London.

Bellamy's refreshment rooms, the establishment that kept British MPs fed.

The good old days when throwing hand grenades was a college sport.

It took some time for the media to notice the Wright brothers.

19th century fathers who poisoned their children.

A crocodile just gave birth, and everyone's confused.

That time an ostrich tried to kill Johnny Cash.

The mystery of the rat in the skull.

A rebellious traveler.

A 500-year-old man who died with his boots on.

Impoverished villagers make a very lucky find.

The village that really, really likes asparagus.

A mysterious ancient tomb in Turkey.

The Druids of Primrose Hill.

The first woman to swim the English Channel.

The Society of American Widows.

Photos of ordinary life in 19th century China.

A prehistoric cave carved by humans.

Some unusual underground ruins.

When "it don't" was proper English.

The midwife who identified "milk sickness."

Is it a ghost?  Or carbon monoxide?

History's largest naval showdown.

A strange encounter on a train.

Octopuses and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

What the Vikings ate.

The downhill slide of a former football hero.

Napoleon's son had quite a cradle.

The Stillwell Murder.

Accept it, guys, there's no such thing as a genuine vampire hunting kit.

Iceland's oldest known drawing.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll visit a haunted bungalow in India.  In the meantime, here's Alla Francesca.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This story about a ship that had a really hard time keeping cooks appeared in the "Hull Daily Mail," December 19, 1946:

Two cooks who disappeared from a ship at the same spot on successive trips have created a new mystery of the sea. 

The story starts in September, when the 2,400 ton freighter Bantria, of the Cunard Line, was on a Mediterranean trip. While off Genoa the ship's cook, Clarence Arthur Laurie, aged 45, was reported missing. The ship turned and searched in vain. 

On her next trip, the Bantria was again in the Mediterranean when the new cook, Frank McNaught, aged 40, a single man, of 21 Armley-road, Liverpool, disappeared. Again the ship turned and made a search, but without success. 

The ship is now in Liverpool, and a BOT inquiry has failed to elucidate the double mystery. 

A member of the Bantria's crew said: "Each cook vanished when we were at sea during the night, and nobody knows how. Neither man appeared to have any trouble, or any enemies in the ship. No one suggests this is a hoodoo ship, but it does take a bit of explaining." 

Now comes the climax of the story. When someone called on Laurie's wife at her home in Bradford, to notify her of her husband's disappearance, the woman held up her hand and said: "Don't tell me. I know he's gone. I saw it in a vision last night through a spiritualist." 

A friend of McNaught, the second cook, said he had an idea that something was going to happen to him on the voyage, but said he was not afraid. 

The Bantria set sail with a third cook, one Fred Mather.  Mather told a reporter that he had not known about the double disappearance when he signed on.  He added cheerfully, "I'm not worrying.  I don't believe in such things.  But if I don't come back you'll know there's something in it."

I couldn't find anything more about the Bantria, so hopefully the blithe Mr. Mather did "come back."

Monday, June 19, 2023

The Murder of the Unknown Sailor

Grave of the Unknown Sailor, via Wikipedia

From the time I first began studying true crime (which was, as I recall, at the “shouldn’t be reading about such things” age) I have found it interesting how some dark deeds, no matter how weird or memorable they may be, are soon forgotten, while more banal deviltries somehow manage to lodge in the public consciousness for years, even centuries.  An outstanding example of the latter is the following case.

On September 24, 1786, three Irish sailors, Michael Casey, James Marshall, and Edward Lanigon (or Lonegan) were walking the London to Portsmouth road, returning to their ship from shore leave.  To make their long journey more palatable, they stopped at a pub at Moushill, near Godalming.  There, they met another sailor who was taking the same route back to Portsmouth.  This man--whose name was fated to remain unrecorded--was obviously a generous and convivial sort.  He bought the three men drinks, and volunteered to continue to supply them with liquid refreshment for the rest of their journey.  He paid the bill with a guinea--a considerable sum of money in those times.  This show of affluence put some very dark ideas in the minds of his new acquaintances.

The quartet left Moushill together.  Two miles later, they stopped at the Red Lion Inn in Thursley, where, once again, the anonymous sailor paid the tab.

Tragically, the sailor was buying rounds of drinks for exactly the wrong people.  Instead of feeling gratitude and friendship to their benefactor, his munificence made his companions conclude that he made an excellent target for robbery.  On a deserted stretch of the pathway somewhere between Thursley and Hindhead, the three Irishmen pounced on the stranger.  They stripped him of his clothing, and, despite his pleas for mercy, repeatedly stabbed the man.  His throat was cut so badly he was nearly decapitated.  When the murderers had finished their work, they rolled the mutilated corpse off the pathway and down into an area fittingly named the “Devil’s Punch Bowl.”

Fortunately for justice, the three villains were unaware that they had eyewitnesses.  Two local men saw them dumping something down the slope, but sensing that there was some evil business afoot, they were afraid to investigate until the trio had left.  When they saw what the men had rolled off the pathway, they ran back to the Red Lion for help.  An impromptu posse of eight or nine men immediately set off in pursuit.  They caught up to the Irishmen at a pub in Rake, where the murderers were trying to sell their victim’s possessions.  After a brief struggle, the sailors were taken into custody.

En route to Guildford jail, the group made a macabre side trip.  The murderers were taken to the house where the body of their victim had been taken, and they were ordered to touch the body.  (In the “old days,” there was a surprisingly persistent belief that if a killer touched the corpse, the wounds would bleed afresh.)  It was reported that one of the criminals--we do not know which one--openly wept at the grisly sight, but the other two showed the heartless indifference one would expect from such men.

The Irishmen stood trial at the Lent Assizes on April 5, 1787.  They were charged with two crimes: theft, and, of course, “wilful murder of a male person unknown.”  The case against them was about as irrefutable as they come, and two days later, they faced the inevitable penalty.  They were brought to Hindhead Hill and hanged in front of an immense crowd.  Afterwards, their corpses were covered in tar and hung on a gibbet thirty feet high and eleven feet in diameter.  They were left to rot, as a gruesome public warning for anyone who might consider similar crimes.

Meanwhile, their victim was treated with great respect, even reverence.  The poignant nature of his murder--killed for being too bountiful--as well as his anonymity, touched everyone’s hearts.  The man was given a dignified funeral in Thursley churchyard, and a collection was taken for a headstone to mark the grave.  The stone depicted the murder (now known to locals simply as “The Deed,”) and the inscription read:

In Memory of

A generous but unfortunate Sailor,

Who was barbarously murder’d on Hindhead

On Sep 24th 1786

By three Villains

After he had liberally treated them,

And promised them his father [sic] Assistance

On the Road to Portsmouth

With pitying Eyes to see my Grave shall come,

And with a generous Tear bedew my Tomb,

Here shall they read my melancholy Fate,

With Murder and Barbarity complete,

In perfect Health, and in the Flow’r of Age

I fell a Victim to three Ruffians Rage;

On bended Knees I mercy strove t’obtain

Their Thirst of Blood made all Entreaties vain

No dear Relation or still dearer Friend

Weeps my hard Lot, or miserable End

Yet o’er my sad Remains (my name unknown)

A generous Public have inscribed this stone

This unfortunate man (generally known as the Unknown Sailor) has never been forgotten by local residents and historians, all haunted by the mystery of his identity.  One researcher, Peter Moorey, believed he had finally solved the puzzle in his book “Who Was the Sailor Murdered at Hindhead?”  Moorey had discovered that in 1932, a woman named Anne Macmillan wrote a letter to the “Farnham Herald,” claiming that the victim was her father’s great-uncle, and that the story of his ghastly end was well-known in her family.  Although she did not know the man’s first name, she was able to say that he was the brother of Samuel Hardman, a soldier in the 10th Light Dragoons, and that he died leaving an unclaimed fortune of a quarter of a million pounds--a sum that she said still remained in Chancery.  Mrs. Macmillan knew all the details of the crime and its aftermath, and added that when the bones of the gibbeted murderers began to fall through the bars someone with a taste for memorable souvenirs gathered up a middle finger bone from each of the corpses, tipped them in gold, and presented them to the family to use as toothpicks.

Armed with this information, Moorey did some digging.  He found the records of Lieutenant Samuel Hardman in the National Archives, which told him that Samuel lived in Lambeth, Surrey.  Moorey examined the baptism records for the parish, where he found the entry, “1752 August ye 30th Edward son of Samuel Hardman and Mary his wife.”

It can probably never be proven that Edward Hardman was the Unknown Sailor.  Macmillan’s account is a plausible one, but if the family was told of his murder, it is strange that no one around Hindhead ever learned his identity.

Rest in Peace, poor sailor, whoever you were.  Ave Atque Vale.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Watch out during this week's Link Dump.  We have a bunch of criminals in our midst.

What's on the menu when you live at the South Pole.

Seriously, why do English kings seem to have a thing for winding up in parking lots?

The memorial to the Poem Tree.

Money-saving recipes from the Depression era.

Saturn's moon is believed to be inhabitable.  Don't count on spending a vacation there, though.

The Robinson Crusoe of Singapore.

The history of the word "defenestration."

Virginia's "TV fairy."

A look at Charlotte Corday's assassination manifesto.

An early 20th century English painter.

Remembering one East India Company soldier and forgetting another.

Scandal hits the House of Capet.

An unsolved child-murder in Maryland.

Those dangerous cups of tea.

Childbirth during the Georgian era.

A cat's birthday festival.

The fine art of genealogy snobbery.

The medical equipment required for a 19th century military expedition.

A murder mystery from 700 years ago.

Yet another "pushing back human history" link.

A Clown Motel's appropriately ghoulish history.

A handy guide to Elizabethan curses and insults.

One from the "ghostly faces in window panes" file.

How to survive historical catastrophes.

Thomas Cromwell's Book of Hours has been identified.

A dog catches a murderer.

British "factory girls" in WWII.

One very bad mother.

The prosecution of killer pigs.

The world's first museum.

Poland's Green Mosque.

AI is now imitating John Lennon.

An ancient "lost world."

The 1857 Language of Flowers.

A feud turns deadly.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a never-forgotten 18th century murder.  In the meantime, get ready for summer!

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Consider this to be a brief sequel to my recent post about Libelous Tombstones.  I found this story after that post was published.  And it's a goodie.  The "Washington Times," February 25, 1899:

Did you ever visit--when you were in London--the Dogs' Cemetery in Hyde Park? If you ever were there, you will be pained to know that the old custodian, Mr. Woolridge, died last month.

If you do not know the cemetery, listen to the story told by Mr. Woolridge to Mr. G. R. Sims.

It is a tale of petty and malignant vengeance, and we repeat it in Mr. Sims' own words. Over the grave of a cat you will find a pathetic statement to the effect that poor pussy was cruelly poisoned, and, in spite of all that veterinary science could do, died in a few hours in the arms of her broken-hearted mistress. Then immediately beneath this statement you will find inscription in the hieroglyphics of the Third Dynasty, or something of the sort. This will astonish you.

"What on earth," you will say, "has a cat's grave to do with hieroglyphics?" Listen and you shall hear. When the lady buried her beloved cat in the Hyde Park Cemetery, her. heart was filled with bitter hatred of its cowardly assassin. So she cursed that assassin in fine Biblical language.  The curse was carved on the tombstone.  It cursed the murderer in his uprising, and his down-sitting.  It cursed him on earth and it cursed him in hell.  As old Woolridge said, it was the sort of curse that made you blind and took your breath away. 

Now, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, was Ranger of. Hyde Park, and his attention was called to the curse, and George Ranger was shocked. So the officials communicated with the lady and ordered her to remove the cursing portion of pussy's headstone.  Eventually the lady yielded, and the headstone was to be altered.

When it was brought back and set up again the space which the curse had hitherto occupied was filled with ancient hieroglyphics.  But the lady had not abandoned her curse. It was that hardly anybody could read it. She had taken the headstone to the British Museum, engaged the services of a learned professor, and the professor had translated the curse into ancient Egyptian. And so pussy's murderer is still cursed upon pussy's tombstone in the Hyde Park Cemetery.

Monday, June 12, 2023

The Whatley Mystery

"Austin American Statesman," February 8, 1976, via Newspapers.com

John Whatley was, in many ways, a quintessential Texas self-made man.  He was born in Mexico in 1903, but as a young man, was compelled to flee across the border when revolutionaries appropriated his father’s lands.  Whately started a dairy and went into land investments, with such success that he eventually acquired a 1,500 acre ranch outside Bastrop, and a net worth estimated at somewhere between $2-7 million.

Whatley’s personal life was considerably bumpier than his professional career.  After going through four divorces, in 1972 he married a 64-year-old named Faye. (I wasn't able to find her previous surname in any of the accounts of this case).  They both had adult children from their previous unions: John had a son named Barney, and Faye a daughter (her son had been killed in a plane crash.)  The Whatleys appeared an oddly matched couple:  Faye was an outgoing, gracious, popular person, while John was a reserved type who rarely socialized.  Despite John’s wealth, the couple led a fairly modest lifestyle.  Still, to outside eyes, the marriage seemed happy enough.  The Whatleys had few close friends, but no enemies, either.

On January 30, 1976, the Whatleys planned to go to Houston to attend the wedding rehearsal for Faye’s granddaughter.  When they failed to show up to the rehearsal or the wedding held on the next day, Faye’s family asked the Bastrop County Sheriff’s office to go to the Whatley ranch to do a welfare check.  The police found that the couple’s twin Mercedes cars were parked in the garage.  The Whatley dogs were running free across the property, but their owners were nowhere to be found.  

Finding that the front door was locked, the sheriff entered the home through an open window.  None of the couple’s possessions, including eyeglasses and wallets, were missing.  Everything appeared to be in order, except for one ominous thing: a hole in a bedroom window, evidently made by a gunshot from a .22 caliber bullet.  The window shade was pulled down, and although it also had a bullet hole, it did not match the trajectory of the shot fired through the window itself.  A second bullet mark was on the tile interior of the window, so it was theorized that after the gunman fired through the window, he/she pulled down the shade and fired an additional shot through it.  (Yes, I know that makes little sense, but as you will see, this is one of those cases where almost nothing is very logical.)  John owned two .22 caliber revolvers, but one of them was missing.  The strangest touch of all was that someone had removed the bedroom door.  It has been speculated that the door was used as a makeshift stretcher to remove a body (or bodies,) although a sheet or blanket would be a more obvious item to use.  (Over a year after the Whatleys vanished, the door was found inside a barn on their property.  A barn that had already been searched numerous times.)

Investigators learned that the couple had last been seen on the evening of January 27, when a man who had been hired to pick pecans on the ranch got into a quarrel with John, who appeared to be very drunk at the time.  The following morning, another ranch hand showed up for work.  He knocked at the Whatley’s door, but no one answered.  The January 28 edition of the “Austin American Statesman” was still in the mailbox, suggesting that the couple vanished sometime during the night of the 27th.  At around 9:45 that night, some hunters saw a blue or green Ford van with a camper driving in the direction of the Whatley ranch.  Less than an hour later, someone else saw this same auto driving in the opposite direction.

That is all we know for certain about the disappearance of John and Faye Whatley.  To date, no trace of either of them has been found.  

Did John’s wealth cause someone to kidnap the couple?  But if such was the case, where was the ransom demand?

For a while, authorities turned their attention to John’s son Barney, who worked for Austin’s city sanitation department.  Barney freely told investigators that he saw little of his father, and considered himself to be financially independent of John.  It was noted that he owned a green Ford van which matched the description of the auto seen around the Whatley ranch.  Barney denied any knowledge of what happened to his father and stepmother, but he refused to take a polygraph.  All this might seem a bit suspicious, but although Barney stood to inherit half his father’s estate, John’s disappearance meant that his son would have to wait seven years before having him declared legally dead.  If Barney wanted his father’s money, it would have been more to his benefit to arrange an obvious murder, not a vanishing.

In 1984, serial killer Henry Lee Lucas confessed to murdering the Whatleys.  He told police that he and an accomplice had stabbed the couple and dumped their bodies in the Nevada desert.  Although the story he told seemed plausible enough, authorities simply could not make up their minds if it was enough to warrant filing murder charges.  Although Lucas was indeed a prolific murderer, he had the ghoulish habit of “confessing” to killings he could not possibly have committed.  On the whole, it seems most likely that he was not involved in the Whatley case.

Or was John not a victim, but a villain?  When police searched the ranch, they found a box of legal documents.  When a man goes through four failed marriages, it’s generally a sign that he is not a prince among husbands, and these documents indicated that such was the case with John Whatley.  In fact, only three months after John and Faye married, he filed for divorce.  Faye responded with a countersuit alleging that John abused her.  For whatever reason, the couple dropped their suits, although it seems probable that the marriage remained troubled.  All this has led some to surmise that John, wishing to avoid another expensive and scandalous divorce, murdered Faye.  According to this theory, the green van seen in the vicinity was driven by an accomplice who helped John hide the body and flee, probably back to his homeland of Mexico.  It is certainly not an impossible scenario, but, unfortunately, one that doesn’t have a speck of actual evidence to back it up.

A newspaper reporter named Nat Henderson suggested there was a link between the Whatley mystery and a murder which had taken place two decades before the couple disappeared.  In 1955, two brothers, Calvin and Charlie White, murdered a 78-year-old man named Felix Heidel on his small Texas ranch.  The killers gave his body a shallow burial not far from what would become the property of John Whatley.  The motive for the slaying was to put Heidel out of the way so the murderers could rustle his herd of 24 cattle.  (The Whites were arrested after trying to sell the cows to an Austin cattle buyer.  Charlie died in the electric chair, while Calvin cheated “Old Sparky” by dying of natural causes in his cell.)  Henderson thought it possible that Whatley--who was far wealthier than poor Heidel--was murdered for similar reasons.

Two months after the Whatleys vanished, Bastrop County Sheriff Jimmy Nutt told a reporter, “We’re up against a stone wall--nothing to go on but guesses.”  Unfortunately, that statement still holds true nearly fifty years later.

Friday, June 9, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

For this week's Link Dump, we are proud to have as our host the lovely Dossie!

Watch out for the Bonnacon!

Some Brooklyn life-saving pets.

An escape from Death Row.

19th century love gone wrong.

The link between fairies and prehistoric sites.

An Indian doctor explains early 20th century English etiquette.

That time when there was a Masonic Pug Society.

The man who inspired Father's Day.

The man who fought in both the Civil War and WWI.

That day when it was very unlucky to be named "Edward Gallagher."

A mysterious species buried their dead 100,000 years before humans.

They're not saying it's aliens, but...oh, hold on, they are saying it.

Ancient Romans loved their tweezers.

A 1943 low point in Allied air wars.

In the Netherlands, fish have their own doorbells.

The birds of Barrackpore Menagerie.

The rat-catcher's daughters.

The 18th century pleasure gardens at Marylebone.

The formation of the coalition that defeated Napoleon.

I really have to take my hat off to these people.  It usually takes me several weeks just to knit a shawl.

A prehistoric triple burial.

The "Women's Land Army" of WWII.

Birds are art critics.

A legendary lost city has been found.

Death-bed promises can be...uncomfortable.

The Hampton Court robbery.

Ancient Egyptians had some weird tastes in drinks.

An alleged alien abduction.

How East Grinstead became known as the "Hub of Weird."

If you want to spend the weekend reading about snail slime, this is your lucky day.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll take another peek into the Mysterious Disappearance file.  In the meantime, here's what happens when Chinese folk music runs into the Rolling Stones.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Come on, did you really think I was going to ignore that headline?  This week’s Newspaper Blast From the Past appeared in the (Regina, Saskatchewan) “Leader-Post,” January 3, 1907:

OTTAWA, Jan. 2:— A most remarkable little object, apparently half fish and half gorilla, was found yesterday evening by Mrs. R.C. Tate, 496 Rideau Street, under circumstances that almost rival some of the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. Certainly the supposed merman is one of the most hideously grotesque little things that can be imagined, and to run across it as Mrs. Tate did, in the dark garret, would disturb the nerves of the boldest. 

One glance at the horrid Chinese idol, Hindu god, or whatever it is, and Mrs. Tate dropped it back into the glass box from which she had taken it and rushed down stairs in a condition bordering upon hysteria. Several of the neighbours rushed into the house upon hearing the cries, and it was some time before the ladies could look upon the savage semi-fish without a shudder. 

Stories were told of people in possession of such a replica of oriental religious value being mysteriously stricken down by unknown assassins, and Mrs. Tate refused to have the image in the house over night, remembering possibly the fantastic stories such as the “Moon-Stone” and other tales where idols’ ears and images’ eyes played most important roles in the deaths of whole families. As a solution in the matter, the peculiar object was taken to The Citizen office, where it now is, and may be seen by the morbidly curious. Just what the thing is supposed to represent is a mystery--in fact, more than one man has believed it to be a real merman, half ape and half shark. The story of the find is a most interesting and peculiar one. About a foot long, the merman’s lower half is fish, with fully developed tail, and six perfect fins. The upper part is certainly petrified, and a perfectly formed human or ape-like body. The hands are webbed with fierce-looking claws, while the big head, wrinkled and fearful, is turned to one side with a most malignant leer. Sharp teeth appear in the gums and the body is covered with long hairs.  Altogether the effect is absolutely horrifying. 

“A year ago in February,” said Mrs. Tate, in telling the finding of the object, “a tall, dark-eyed man, with black hair, wearing a slouch hat and long grey coat, came to the front door and handed in a long glass box, hermetically sealed and apparently filled with wood. ‘Give this to the man who used to live here,’ the stranger said, smiling. ‘He will know what I mean.’” The box was taken in and put in the hall for a week. No one called for it, and the garret was finally its resting place, where it lay for almost a year. 

During Christmas week, Mrs. Tate made a lot of passe-partout work, and yesterday decided to make one more for a friend, overlooked at Christmas. No glass was to be had, and the lady was in despair until she thought of the glass box upstairs, left by the stranger a year ago. A little trouble brought the box to light, now covered with cobwebs, but hermetically sealed as first seen. Taking a knife, the six glass sides were removed, when a black, cloth-covered board was found, with something fastened to it, and wrapped in yards and yards of wool. The last fold was torn away and the frightful little grinning merman was seen in the dim light of the attic. Uttering a shriek, Mrs. Tate rushed down-stairs and the house was in an uproar in a moment. 

Why the strange man left the object for the former tenant, whose person left her recently, Mrs. Tate does not know; why the former tenant failed to call for his oriental idol, or whatever it is--all these points are a mystery.

In case you were wondering, the paper failed to include a photo of this dreadful and shocking object.  Damn it.

Monday, June 5, 2023

Dr. Moore and the Fairies

"Fairy Banquet," Arthur Rackham

As I believe I’ve mentioned before, when you come across an old pamphlet with those enticing words, “strange and wonderful news” in the title (and, boy howdy, were there plenty of those,) you’re about to embark on quite a wild ride.  The following tale is no exception:

Strange and Wonderful News from the county of Wicklow in Ireland, or, a Full and True Relation of what happened to one Dr. Moore (late Schoolmaster in London). How he was taken invisibly from his Friends, what happened to him in his absence, and how and by what means he was found, and brought back to the same Place. (With Allowance) London, printed for T. K., 1678.

Dr. Moore having lately purchased an estate in the county of Wicklow, did (together with Mr. Richard Uniack, and one Mr. Laughlin Moore), about three weeks since, go down to view his concerns there: And being come to their Inne at a place called Dromgreagh near Baltinglass, where they intended to lodge that night, the Doctor began a discourse of several things that happened to him in his childhood near that place, and that it was about thirty-four years since he had been in that country: That he had been often told by his mother, and several others of his relations, of spirits which they call'd Fairies, who used frequently to carry him away, and continue him with them for some time, without doing him the least prejudice: but his mother being very much frighted and concern'd thereat, did, as often as he was missing, send to a certain old woman, her neighbour in the country, who, by repeating some spells or exorcisms, would suddenly cause his return. Mr. Uniack used several arguments to disswade the doctor from the belief of so idle and improbable a story; but notwithstanding what was said to the contrary, the Doctor did positively affirm the truth thereof. And during the dispute, the Doctor on a sudden starting up, told them he must leave their company, for he was called away. Mr. Uniack perceiving him to be raised off from the ground, catches fast hold of his arm with one hand, and intwined his arm within the doctor's arm, and with his other hand grasped the Doctor's shoulder; Laughlin Moore likewise held him on the other side: but the Doctor (maugre their strength) was lifted off the ground. Laughlin Moore's fear caused him presently to let go; but Mr. Uniack continued his hold, and was carried above a yard from the ground, and then by some extraordinary unperceived force was compelled to quit. The Doctor was hurried immediately out of the room, but whether conveyed through the window, or out at the door, they, being so affrighted, none of them could declare.

The two gentlemen being greatly surprised at the strangeness of the accident, and troubled for the loss of their friend, call'd for the innkeeper, to whom they related what had befallen their companion. He seem'd not to be much terrified thereat, as if such disasters were common thereabouts; but told them, that within a quarter of a mile there lived a woman, who by the neighbourhood was call'd a wise woman, and who did usually give intelligence of several things that had been lost, and of cattel that were gone astray, and he doubted not but if the woman were sent for, she could resolve them where their friend was, and by what means conveyed away. They forthwith sent a messenger for the woman, who being come, Mr. Uniack demanded if she could give them any account of a gentleman, one Dr. Moore, that had been spirited out of their company about an hour before. The woman told him she could, and that he was then in a wood about a mile distant, preparing to take horse; that in one hand he had a glass of wine, in the other a piece of bread; that he was very much courted to eat and drink, but if he did either, he should never be free from a consumption, and pine away to death. Mr. Uniack gave the woman a cobb, [an irregularly shaped type of coin] and desired her to use some means for preventing his eating and drinking. She answered, He should neither eat nor drink with them: and then struck down her hand, as if she were snatching at something. When she had thus done, she often repeated a spell or charm in Irish, the substance whereof was; First she runs his pedigree back four generations, and calls his ancestors by their several names: then summons him from the East, the West, the North, and the South, from troops and regiments, especially from the governour mounted on the sorrel horse, &c. And after having repeated the charm, she gave them an account of the several places the doctor should be carried unto that night.

At first, from the wood to a Danes Fort about seven miles distant, where there should be great revelling and dancing, together with a variety of meats and liquors, to the eating and drinking whereof he should be very much importuned, but promised she would prevent his doing either. And from that fort he was to be carried twenty miles farther, where there would likewise be great merriment, and then to the Seven Churches; and towards daybreak should be returned safe to the company of his friends, without any damage or mischief whatsoever and so took leave of Mr. Uniack and Mr. Moore.

About six o'clock the next morning, Dr. Moore knocked at the door, and being let in, desired meat and drink might be provided for him, for that he was both hungry and thirsty, having been hurried from place to place all that night and after having refreshed himself, discours'd of the manner of his being taken away; that it seem'd to him there came into the room about twenty men, some mounted on horseback, others on foot, and laid hold on him that he was sensible of Mr. Uniack's and Mr. Moore's endeavours to have kept him, and of the force they used; but it was all to no purpose, for had there been fourty more they would have signified nothing; that from the house he was carried to a wood, about a mile distant, where was a fine horse prepared, and as he was about to mount, a glass of wine was given him and a crust of bread, but when he offered to eat and drink, they were both struck out of his hand. That from thence he went in the same company that had taken him away, to a Danes Fort about seven miles from the wood; that he imagined himself to be mounted on a white horse, whose motion was exceeding swift, and when they came to the fort, their company multiplied to about three hundred large and well-proportioned men and women; he who seem'd to be chief was mounted on a sorrel horse; that they all dismounted and fell to dancing, and that it came to the doctor's turn to lead a dance, which he did remember the tune he danced unto.

That after the dancing there appear'd a most sumptuous banquet, and the governour took him by the hand and desired him to eat; which he several times attempted, but was prevented by something that still struck the meat out of his hand: and so gives an account how from thence he was carried to the several places the old woman had mentioned the night before; and that about break of day, he found himself alone within sight of the inne.

Mr. Uniack was so curious as to go seven miles out of his way to see the Danes Fort, and the doctor was his guide; who traced the path he had travelled the night before so exactly, that if his horse went but a yard out of the track, he would presently turn him into it again; and that upon view of the fort, he found the grass so trodden down, and the ground beaten, as if five hundred men had been there.

This was related by Mr. Uniack in the presence of one Dr. Murphy, a civilian, Dr. Moore himself, and Mr. Ludlow, one of the six clerks of the high court of chancery, November 18, 1678.

For satisfaction of the licenser, I certifie this following relation was sent to me from Dublin, by a person whom I credit, and recommended in a letter bearing date the 23rd of November last, as true news much spoken of there.

Just another day in the 17th century Irish neighborhood, I guess

Friday, June 2, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

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

And the Strange Company staffers are over the moon about it.

What the hell was the Tunguska Event?  (As an aside, I've read a lot about Tunguska--it's among my favorite historical mysteries--and I find it fascinating how many highly respectable Russian scientists just shrug and say matter-of-factly, "Eh, UFO crash.")

The sounds of Stonehenge.

The Windrush generation.

When Detroit was a "Little Paris."

A voyage down the new Suez Canal.

Why the ancient Chinese had jade burial suits.

A marriage saved by singing dogs.

A famed cadaver tomb.

The Roman Woman of Spitalfields.

An e-reader...from the 1930s.

When you summon your intended bridegroom and the Devil shows up instead.

How 1942 was the turning point in WWII.

The autobiographies of a Yorkshire gentlewoman.  Complete with ungrateful nieces and eye-pecking chickens!

A glimpse of medieval stand-up comedy.

The difficulties of being an English MP during the Civil War and interregnum.

The last day of Constantinople.

Willie Todd, who'd die to be married.

Nothing to see here, just octopuses building underwater cities.

1872's Great Diamond Hoax.

Repairing Notre Dame requires getting medieval.

More evidence that Neanderthals were more sophisticated than we thought.

The tragic end of the first female balloon pilot.

Some mysterious ancient carvings.

Somebody really wanted a portrait of Marie Antoinette's poodle.

The battle of Bound Brook.

The life of an 18th century Maid of Honor.

The first Penguin Books.

The oldest known Arabic cookbook.

A look at corpse medicine.

An escape from Sing Sing.

The Enola Mountain tragedy.

This week in Russian Weird visits a Chinese palace in Siberia.

Deacon Brodie's notorious double life.

A series of unsolved murders of young women.

Robots in 7th century India.

"The Wolf," a major figure in 11th century England.

That time America almost became a nation of hippo ranchers.

Part 2 of the "love poisoner."

That time when a chimpanzee war broke out in Nigeria.

The first American hotels.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a man who had a distressing Fairy Problem.  In the meantime, if you've never heard a Belarusian dulcimer, here's your big opportunity.