"...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, July 31, 2023

When Pearl Met Olga

Any would-be evildoer can hire an assassin to do their dirty work.  However, when you come across a case where said evildoer enlists an unwitting assassin, you know there is some truly Strange Company-level mayhem going on.

In the fall of 1946, a few months after graduating from high school in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, eighteen-year-old Pearl Lusk moved to New York, eager to start an independent new life in the exciting big city.  She initially moved in with her mother and stepfather in Brooklyn, but as soon as she got a job as a department store salesgirl, Lusk found a room on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Pearl quickly blossomed.  She began using makeup, had her hair redone in bouncy blond curls that matched her bubbly, outgoing personality, and redecorated her little room in cheery shades of pink and lavender.  She made many friends among her fellow salesgirls, and went on frequent dates with Manhattan’s young men.  As far as the latter went, Pearl was what was then called a “Nice Girl,” so she made sure that none of the dates went too far.  She received so many phone calls at her rooming house that the landlady began to grumble.

On Thanksgiving Day, as Pearl was riding the subway to spend the holiday with her mother, a man who introduced himself as Allen La Rue began flirting with her.  Although Pearl was delighted by the man’s dazzling good looks and easy charm, she was, as I said, a Nice Girl.  She politely chatted with the stranger, but refused his offer to have a drink with him, and declined to give her name and address.

Pearl went on her merry, busy way.  Then--on Christmas Eve, no less--her newly-crafted happiness threatened to come to an abrupt end.  Now that the Christmas rush was over, she was among the salesgirls laid off by her department store.  And Pearl’s landlady informed her that she was sick of having to constantly summon her to the telephone.  In the future, she was forbidding Pearl to speak to anyone but her mother.  

Pearl spent what must have been a bleak Christmas at her mother’s place.  On the following day, she again met handsome Mr. La Rue on the subway.  This time, Pearl agreed to have a drink with him.  Perhaps it would lift her spirits.

Pearl told La Rue about her recent problems, and he was very sympathetic.  As they talked, she sensed a change in his demeanor.  She later recalled, “He seemed interested in me like any other man at first, but the more I talked the more I felt he had some different kind of interest in me.”  She learned that La Rue did indeed have more than romance on his mind.  He offered Pearl what she needed most at that moment: a job.  La Rue explained that he was a private detective working for an insurance company.  He believed that a young woman named Olga, who was private secretary to the owner of the Croyden Hat Company, had stolen some expensive jewelry from one of his company’s clients, and was hiding them inside her clothes.  Unfortunately, Olga knew him by sight, so he couldn’t follow her without arousing her suspicions.  And he couldn’t ask the police to arrest her without proof that she really had the jewelry.  That was where Pearl came in.

La Rue showed her a photograph of Olga--a beautiful woman with long dark hair.  Pearl was to go to the Croyden Hat Company’s offices on some pretext so she could get a good look at Olga in person, just to ensure that Pearl could easily recognize her in a crowd.  He wanted Pearl to tail Olga when the suspected thief left work at five o’clock.  La Rue presented Pearl with an odd object that looked like a shoe box wrapped in plain brown paper, with a hole in one end and a short piece of wire hanging from the bottom.  La Rue told her that this was an X-ray camera.  Pearl was to follow Olga off the train, and when she was at close range of her quarry, pull the wire.  This would take an “X-ray” photo which would establish if Olga had the jewels or not.

Pearl was thrilled.  Not only was La Rue as handsome as a movie star, he had drawn her into something straight out of an exciting crime film.  She loved the thought that she, humble little Pearl Lusk, would help bring a jewel robber to justice!

Right at five p.m., Pearl followed Olga out of the office building and onto the subway heading to Brooklyn.  When the train arrived at the Fifty-fifth Street station, Pearl came close behind Olga as she got out, pointed the box at her, and pulled the wire.  Then, she hurried to La Rue’s apartment to return the camera.

The following morning, La Rue informed Pearl that unfortunately, the photo had not turned out well.  They would have to try again, with a better camera.

Three days later, on December 30, La Rue told Pearl that he had the new camera.  She was to meet him at an Automat near Union Square the following morning.  When Pearl arrived at the Automat, she saw him holding a box that was bigger and heavier than the last one.  It was wrapped in red and green holiday paper.  This time, La Rue wanted Pearl to go to Olga’s station in Brooklyn and follow her into the train as Olga headed for work.  When Olga got off the train at Times Square, she would take the photo in the same way as before.  La Rue told her to aim for Olga’s waist.  “That’s probably where she’s carrying the jewels.”

Pearl followed her instructions to the letter: when the train reached Times Square, she closely followed Olga through the door, pointed the box waist-high, and pulled the wire.  This time, however, it created a loud explosion that nearly knocked the box from her hands.  Olga screamed and collapsed, holding her shattered left leg.  

A subway guard rushed over, yelling, “What happened?  What happened?”  Pearl, dazed with shock, said, “I just took a woman’s picture and somebody shot her.”  A policeman grabbed the box from Pearl and ripped it open.  Inside was a sawed-off shotgun.  Pearl was horrified to realize that she was the “somebody.”

Pearl, in tears, wailed to Olga, “I’m awfully sorry I shot you.  There was this new job, you see, and I thought I was taking your picture with an X-ray camera.”

Olga seemed strangely unsurprised by this ghastly turn of events.  She muttered to herself, “Well, he got me this time.”

Pearl was, of course, hauled off to the police station for questioning.  Fortunately for herself, detectives soon recognized her Nice Girl status, and that she quite sincerely believed she had merely been tailing a jewel thief.  The true villain of the piece, they realized, was the man who had employed her.

"Knoxville News-Sentinel," January 7, 1947, via Newspapers.com

Olga knew who this man was.  In 1945, after a brief courtship, she married a highly attractive man named Alphonse Rocco.  Unfortunately, she soon learned that he was a dangerously jealous, controlling man with a criminal record.  Once she realized her new husband’s true nature, she left him to go live with her parents in Brooklyn, and had their marriage annulled.  Rocco responded by making several attempts on her life.  He would follow her around the city in a menacing manner and make phone calls telling her to “say her prayers.”  On one occasion, he kidnapped Olga and held her prisoner in a remote cabin for several days.  The terrified Olga repeatedly went to the police, begging for protection, but she said they always responded that she “should not worry.”

Olga and Alphonse, soon after their marriage

Finally, Olga spoke to some detectives who promised to guard her when she rode the subway to work.  However, on the following morning--December 31--she saw no sign of the detectives.  She did, however, notice a blond girl holding a large, Christmas-wrapped box.

When shown a photo of Rocco, Pearl immediately recognized him as her recent employer, Allen La Rue.  Meanwhile, doctors were forced to remove Olga’s leg six inches above the knee.

Six days after the shooting, police traced Rocco to the Catskills, riding in a stolen car.  State police found the car parked on the side of a mountain road.  Nearby, Rocco was sleeping under a tree.  When the police called on Rocco to surrender, he fired at them.  In the ensuing gun battle, Rocco was killed.  When Olga heard the news, she wept and said “At last I’ll be able to get a good night’s sleep.”

The two women he had victimized managed to get on with their lives.  Pearl eventually married, started a family, and settled down to a comfortable existence blissfully free of personable men with enticing job offers.

Olga sued the city for $200,000 on the grounds that the police had been negligent about not providing any protection from her psychotic ex-husband.  Sadly, her case was dismissed on the grounds that Pearl Lusk, and not Alphonse Rocco, had committed the shooting.  There was, defense lawyers argued, no legal duty on the part of the city to protect Olga from a young woman who posed no known threat and was completely unknown to the plaintiff.  The judge agreed.  He dismissed the case, adding regretfully that “it is most unfortunate that some redress cannot be afforded the plaintiff.”

A postscript: Even though their initial meeting had been, to say the least, unfortunate, Olga and Pearl eventually became friends.

You see, Olga Trapani Rocco was a Nice Girl, too.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Enjoy this week's Link Dump!

And then let's all join the Strange Company staffers for a swim!

Jesse Pomeroy, notorious "boy fiend."

A particularly horrifying suicide.

Some research on a troubled 19th century family.

Shropshire's forgotten ghosts.

A young gentleman's very unfortunate encounter with a bottle.

Life on a late 19th century Royal Navy warship.

The first woman to circumnavigate the world by car.

More evidence that we have been seriously underestimating early humans.  And don't get me started on Neanderthals.

The woman who refused to marry her rapist.

So, is the Loch Ness Monster just a freaking big eel?

The Renaissance tradition of "punitive portraits."

It's Swan Upping time on the Thames.

A lot of people have been noticing this peculiar shift in the UFO narrative.  We just have no idea what it means.

The 1814 burning of Washington, as seen by the British.

The California town that was submerged by a lake.

The Kentucky cave wars.

In praise of booze.

The Old Jokes' Home.

Some vintage descriptions of Amsterdam.

The rescue of a cat from a chimney.  It wasn't easy.

The vanished Viking settlers of Greenland.

What may be the earliest known curry in Southeast Asia.

The books that were hidden behind a wall for five centuries.

King James I was a very odd piece of work, but at least he bathed.

The origins of the expression "steal a march."

Finally, someone has created a murder map of medieval London.

A look at the Treaty of Lausanne.

A shockingly young father.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a bizarre attempted murder.  In the meantime, here's a bit of glass harp.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This account of an extremely eerie meeting in an Ohio cemetery appeared in the “St. Louis Globe-Democrat” on July 16, 1887:

Washington C.H., July 9. A Methodist minister, lately a resident of Hamilton County, O.,, who has been visiting friends in our city, relates the following thrilling episode in his life, which occurred while he was stopping at Van Wert, O.

“It was on a beautiful moonlight evening in June, and the atmosphere was just about as sultry as it has been at any time during the present summer. I was enjoying myself in the company of some relatives who lived about three miles from Van Wert, on the old Wilshire road. At a late hour I arose to go, but my friends insisted that I should remain for the night, as my way would be very lonesome. It was suggested that some ghost might appear to me at the cemetery or some individual might rob me. This was a beautiful burying ground, and was situated about midway on my route. I was quite amused at their artful method of persuasion and laughed vociferously. It was very ridiculous to me, indeed, that there should be a rattling of dry bones, or the apparition of a spirit in a modern cemetery. The people of to-day had made too much advancement, as I thought, for such idle fancies as that.

“Thus I proceeded on my way with no thought of danger—indifferent to the warnings that had just been given me. As I drew near to the cemetery, however, and began to see the tall, white shafts of marble looming up among the evergreens my imagination was tensioned to its utmost capacity, and, I confess, I was a fit subject for terror. It seemed as if all the spook stories to which I had listened in my childhood chased each other in quick succession through my brain, and the very chirrup of the crickets or the incessant song of the whippoorwill intensified the loneliness of this little nook of earth. The long line of dark trees that threw such strange shadows across the field and mellow light that fell from the moon upon every grotesque stump or stately monument, only served to intensify my loneliness.

“I arrived at last at the corner of the cemetery, and, oh horrors! right in the very center of this field of dead men’s bones, and from the shadow of a broad new tombstone, I saw a tall black creature rise and stand erect. The apparition seemed in the distance like a huge cadaver clothed in a robe of sack-cloth. The dreary eyes were sunken deep in their sockets, and the few irregular snags that served for teeth were pressed like fangs against the thin and wrinkled lips. The monster gazed a moment in all directions, then with a steady measured movement it made directly for me. I stopped and gazed upon the creature, and started back bewildered, but, at once regaining my senses, I concluded to proceed, and, if possible, to put on the appearance of unconcern. As I proceeded the spectre proceeded also, and, as certainly as I live in the present moment, it seemed as if we would both meet at the same point in the road. After going a short distance I slackened my pace, in order to let the mysterious something have all the room in front of me it might desire, and in a few moments I congratulated myself on being about twenty feet in the rear.

“Contrary to my anticipations, there was no conversation opened between us but in a strange, ghost-like manner, the long withered form moved ahead of me until it reached a little, old, abandoned burying ground at the right of the road. This spot was far more desolate than the new cemetery, for it had become entirely neglected, and at that late hour of the night appeared as an interminable thicket, so completely were the weeds, bushes, briers and trees tangled and matted together. Into this uncanny place my ghostly terrifier passed and disappeared. I have never understood the nature of this apparition up to the present time, and I am perfectly willing to give my name to anyone who would be inclined to doubt the occurrence.”

Monday, July 24, 2023

The Sailor, the Plums, and the Ghost: An Odd Night at Sea

The remarkable Nova Scotian-born seaman Joshua Slocum has a permanent place in maritime history as the first person to single-handedly sail around the world (1895-1898.)  On November 14, 1909, he set out on his boat, the “Spray,” from Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, for the West Indies.  He was never seen again.  His exact fate is still considered a classic mystery of the sea.

Slocum’s book about his round-the-world voyage, “Sailing Around the World,” is a must-read for anyone interested in tales of the sea or travel literature in general.  However, for the purposes of this blog, I will settle for quoting the passage describing how one night, the sailor’s solo expedition went all Strange Company on him.  The occurrence took place in late July 1895, when Slocum was between the Azores and Gibraltar.

Since reaching the islands, I had lived most luxuriously on fresh bread, butter, vegetables, and fruits of all kinds. Plums seemed the most plentiful on the Spray, and these I ate without stint. I had also a Pico white cheese that General Manning, the American consul general, had given me, which I supposed was to be eaten, and of this I partook with the plums. 

Alas! by night-time I was doubled up with cramps. The wind, which was already a smart breeze, was increasing somewhat, with a heavy sky to the sou’-west. Reefs had been turned out, and I must turn them in again somehow. Between cramps I got the main-sail down, hauled out the earrings as best I could, and tied away point by point, in the double reef. 

There being sea-room, I should, in strict prudence, have made all snug and gone down at once to my cabin. I am a careful man at sea, but this night, in the coming storm, I swayed up my sails, which, reefed though they were, were still too much in such heavy weather; and I saw to it that the sheets were securely belayed. In a word, I should have laid to, but did not. I gave her the double-reefed mainsail and whole jib instead, and set her on her course. Then I went below, and threw myself upon the cabin floor in great pain. 

How long I lay there I could not tell, for I became delirious. When I came to, as I thought, from my swoon, I realized that the sloop was plunging into a heavy sea, and looking out of the companionway, to my amazement I saw a tall man at the helm. His rigid hand, grasping the spokes of the wheel, held them as in a vise. One may imagine my astonishment. His rig was that of a foreign sailor, and the large red cap he wore was cockbilled over his left ear, and all was set off with shaggy black whiskers. He would have been taken for a pirate in any part of the world. While I gazed upon his threatening aspect I forgot the storm, and wondered if he had come to cut my throat. This he seemed to divine. 

“Señor,” said he, doffing his cap, “I have come to do you no harm.” And a smile, the faintest in the world, but still a smile, played on his face, which seemed not unkind when he spoke. 

"I have come to do you no harm. I have sailed free,” he said, “but was never worse than a contrabandista. I am one of Columbus’s crew,” he continued. “I am the pilot of the Pinta come to aid you. Lie quiet, señor captain,” he added, “and I will guide your ship tonight. you have a calentura, but you will be all right tomorrow.” 

I thought what a very devil he was to carry sail. Again, as if he read my mind, he exclaimed: “Yonder is the Pinta ahead; we must overtake her. Give her sail; give her sail! Vale, vale, muy vale!” Biting off a large quid of black twist, he said: “You did wrong, captain, to mix cheese with plums. White cheese is never safe unless you know whence it comes. Quien sabe, it may have been from leche de Capra and becoming capricious — ”

“Avast, there!” I cried. “I have no mind for moralizing.” 

I made shift to spread a mattress and lie on that instead of the hard floor, my eyes all the while fastened on my strange guest, who, remarking again that I would have “only pains and calentura,” chuckled as he chanted a wild song: 

High are the waves, fierce, gleaming, 

High is the tempest roar! 

High is the sea-bird screaming! 

High the Azore! 

I suppose I was now on the mend, for I was peevish, and complained: “I detest your jingle. Your Azore should be a roost, and would have been were it a respectable bird!” I begged he would tie a rope-yarn on the rest of the song, if there was any more of it. 

I was still in agony. Great seas were boarding the Spray, but in my fevered brain I thought they were boats falling on deck, that careless draymen were throwing from wagons on the pier to which I imagined the Spray was now moored, and without fenders to breast her off. 

“You’ll smash your boats!” I called out again and again, as the seas crashed on the cabin over my head. “You’ll smash your boats, but you can’t hurt the Spray. She is strong!” I cried. 

I found, when my pains and calentura had gone, that the deck, now as white as a shark’s tooth from seas washing over it, had been swept of everything movable. To my astonishment, I saw now at broad day that the Spray was still heading as I had left her, and was going like a race-horse. Columbus himself could not have held her more exactly on her course. The sloop had made ninety miles in the night through a rough sea. I felt grateful to the old pilot, but I marvelled some that he had not taken in the jib. 

The gale was moderating, and by noon the sun was shining. A meridian altitude and the distance on the patent log, which I always kept towing, told me that she had made a true course throughout the twenty-four hours. 

I was getting much better now, but was very weak, and did not turn out reefs that day or the night following, although the wind fell light; but I just put my wet clothes out in the sun when it was shining, and lying down there myself, fell asleep. 

Then who should visit me again but my old friend of the night before, this time, of course, in a dream. 

“You did well last night to take my advice,” said he, “and if you would, I should like to be with you often on the voyage, for the love of adventure alone.” 

Finishing what he had to say, he again doffed his cap and disappeared as mysteriously as he came, returning, I suppose, to the phantom Pinta. 

I awoke much refreshed, and with the feeling that I had been in the presence of a friend and a seaman of vast experience. I gathered up my clothes, which by this time were dry, then, by inspiration, I threw overboard all the plums in the vessel.

Yes, the story does read like food poisoning-induced delirium.  However, there is that matter about the “Spray” staying on course through a gale…

[Note: If you’d like to read more about Slocum’s adventurous life, Stan Grayson’s “A Man For All Oceans” is a terrific biography.]

Friday, July 21, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Step right in and enjoy yet another Summer Link Dump!

You might want to avoid the hammock, though.

Yet another homicidal rejected suitor.

Minnie, prolific feline hotel mascot.

A new look at a famous Elizabethan chronicle.

Connecticut's haunted, abandoned town.

Bobby pins, bobby socks, and bobbies.

The Great London Beer Flood.

Another day, another Jack the Ripper.

Why archaeologists rebury their excavations.

Bits of Beethoven's skull are returning to Vienna.  That's nice, I guess.

Exploring a volcanic underworld.

Women's football in the 1880s.

The clerks of the British House of Commons.

Something in space keeps lighting up, and we have no idea what it is.

A "too early date with death."

What we know--or can guess--about the life of one Anglo-Saxon girl.

A 17th century failed forensic toxicologist.

The latest discoveries at Pompeii.

The strange tale of Ethelbert the Orca's corpse.

A look at vintage patent medicines.

Murder at the QuikTrip.

A woman's murder is solved.  Maybe.

The Mitford sisters in contemporary newspapers.

In which crows and magpies have the last laugh on us.

The man who married five women and murdered five men.  In between rounds of golf.

The Thornley Crape Threat.

The tools of the ghost-hunter's trade.

The Sajama Lines of Bolivia.

Health care for pirates.

Even if I had $27,000 to spend on utter frivolity, (spoiler alert: I don't,) I would not use it to buy a pair of extremely ugly jeans.

Japan's 72 seasons.

The Haunted House of Wetmore.

"Having your coffee drinking interrupted by a meteorite" is an excellent definition of A Bad Day.

How horses see the world.

A road trip turns deadly.

Remember my recent post about libelous tombstones?  They go a long way back.

An early Christian text with an odd history.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a renowned sailor's very strange night at sea.  In the meantime, here's one for the guitar fans.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

Some ghosts hang around in ancient castles, clanking chains, walking through walls, and generally spooking the hell out of everyone.  Other ghosts hang out in libraries and play with the typewriter.  The “Leicester Evening Mail,” July 1, 1955:

Is there any explanation for the nocturnal tappings which sometimes can be heard in Coalville branch library? 

The noises, which were first heard by the cleaner, Mrs. D. Latimer, about three months ago, sound like someone using the typewriter in the small partitioned office to the rear of the library. The clicking sound is only heard at night after the library is closed to the public.

But perhaps the strangest phenomenon is that the keys only type out their message when the cover is left off the machine.

Mrs. Latimer, of 5 Avenue-road, Coalville, is baffled by the noises.

When she first heard them, she thought perhaps a cat had slipped unseen into the premises and had jumped on the typewriter keys.

Recently she heard it once more.  Quietly tip-toeing into the office she heard the tapping quite plainly, and strongly maintains that she actually saw the keys moving up and down.

The librarian, Mr. L.J. Mitchell, has also heard the tapping, but can offer no satisfactory explanation.

On July 4, the “Guardian Journal” carried a sequel:

In an attempt to solve the mystery of the “ghostly typist,” a typewriter loaded with a blank sheet of paper was left in an office at Coalville Public Library during the week-end. 

The typewriter was ready to record a message from a spirit which is said to tap the keys when the office is deserted. 

The tapping was first heard by a woman cleaner working in the library alone at night. She told the librarian, Mr. Leonard Mitchell: “I heard the noise of a typewriter and when I went to look who was in the office I am sure I saw the keys moving. But there was no one there.” 

The story was not taken seriously until Mr Mitchell and then one of his assistants also heard the tapping and found the office deserted. 

Premises adjoining the library in Hotel-street, Coalville, were searched with the assistance of the owners, but nothing was found to explain the tapping.

“I don’t believe in ghosts, but we have failed to find any logical explanation for the noise,” said Mr. Mitchell yesterday. “It is a standard typewriter, but the noise is only heard when it is left uncovered.  Apparently the spirit cannot remove the dustcover".

The following day, the “Journal” reported that the sheet of paper they left overnight was still blank.  Mitchell said he hadn’t decided whether to repeat the experiment.

And that, as far as I know, was the last published word about the Ghost Typist of Coalville.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Death of a Salesman: The Edwin Dusek Mystery

"Orlando Sentinel," August 5, 1973, via Newspapers.com

By all accounts, Edwin Dusek was nearly irreproachable.  The 45-year-old resident of Orlando, Florida worked as a salesman for Niveco, Inc., a supplier for mobile homes and campers.  In 1956, he married a librarian named Mary Zink.  The couple had three daughters.  Dusek was an exemplary husband and father, and a remarkably meticulous and reliable man--“almost perfect,” in the words of one observer.

On Monday morning, July 2, 1973, Dusek left home on his usual sales route.  It was later verified that he visited clients in San Mateo, Palatka, and Lake City.  At 6 p.m., he checked into the Alamo Plaza Motel in High Springs, where he spent every Monday night.  The motel owners had no idea what he did after that.  As it turned out, they were the last known people to see Dusek alive.  When the salesman failed to make his regular 7 a.m. call to his supervisor the following morning, Dusek was reported missing.

Around 2 p.m. on July 3, a realtor was showing some undeveloped property off the Millhopper extension.  He probably failed to make the sale after he discovered a dead body about 100 yards back from the road.  It was soon identified as that of Edwin Dusek.  The body was naked, except for his shirt and one sock.  Dusek’s car was found the next night parked in southeast Gainesville, about 10 miles from where his body had been found.  Dusek’s wallet containing $11 was on the floor board.  The rest of his clothing and the other sock were also in the car.  Sand from the property where Dusek was found covered both the back and front seats of the car.

Investigators believed that Dusek was shot twice in the head with his own 9-millimeter gun.  Dusek always carried the gun in his glove compartment, but it was missing from the car.  The murder weapon was never found.  Strangest of all was the fact that Dusek’s back was covered with numerous shallow pinpricks.

It was thought that Dusek had been murdered at the site where his body had been found.  There were indications that a scuffle or some sort of disturbance had taken place six feet from the corpse.

This proved to be one of those particularly frustrating murder cases where the police had virtually nothing to work with.  Dusek had no enemies, and there was no discernible motive for anyone to want him dead.  Lacking any other ideas, detectives toyed with the theory that Dusek had been murdered by a hitchhiker he had picked up, but those who knew the victim quickly quashed that idea.  They explained that Dusek would sternly lecture his friends about the risks of giving rides to strangers.

One month after Dusek’s death, Alachua County Sheriff’s Captain Wes Schellenger essentially admitted defeat.  “There are plenty of questions and no answers,” he told a reporter.  “We are going to need a break.  Someone will have to say something.”

To date, that “someone” has remained silent.  Considering how weird and baffling Dusek’s murder was, it got remarkably little press attention, and the mystery was soon forgotten by everyone but the victim’s family.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

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

Grab a beach chair. 

The fad of "ornamental hermits."

The restoration of a Chinese gunboat.

An investigation into undocumented prehistoric languages.

The recipe that inspired a whole lot of fish cookouts.

The murder that inspired America's first third political party.

A look at what is possibly the world's greatest collection of dog photographs.

Is your personality determined by where you live?

The tomb of a very successful medieval lawyer.

An Anglo-Indian family of public servants.

A skeptic looks at the Philadelphia Experiment.

The theory of advanced civilizations that predated humans.

Planning to do some bar-hopping?  Don't forget the poison-detecting guinea pigs!

Some vintage slang terms for sex.

The Wolf of Ansbach.

Specialized "widow's outfits."

Lawyers always have to stick their noses into everything.  Including contact with aliens.

The evolution of Barbie dolls.

A Victorian "calculating boy."

Murdering a murderer.

Some very old--and very freaking big--hand axes.

The Titanic rescuers.

The first Mardi Gras parade.

Discovering the wreck of a WWII carrier.

The shapeshifting spirits of Yorkshire.

The giants of Shropshire.

The flying humanoids of Chicago.

The hidden horse steps of Whitby.

A note that may--or may not--be in Chaucer's handwriting.

Let me make this very clear:  I do not want my house to rotate.

The pilots who inspired "The Little Prince."

The housewife who invented the dishwasher.

The cyclist whose death inspired the start of drug testing before races.  (Warning: there are photos showing him dead.)

The history of a famous quote about American riflemen.

The history of the Women's Royal Navy Service.

The history of the Hollywood sign.

The history of pointy hats.

The "blood falls" of Antarctica.

The Jersey Devil has been kidnapped.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a particularly puzzling murder.  In the meantime, here's a cheery little tune from the SFO.

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

This tale of what we would call a “poltergeist event” has enough unusual touches to make it worthy of notice.  The “Hagerstown Exponent,” July 28, 1880 (a reprint from the “Cincinnati Enquirer”):

Belle Center, Ohio, July 23. About three miles north-west of town there is a farm known as the Zahller Place, one of the oldest in the State, and owned by the heirs, one of whom occupies it. On last Friday afternoon the folks went blackberrying and two of the children went to a picnic nearby. About five o’clock the children returned, and they say as they came into the yard a man of small stature, bow-legged and very ragged, came out of the kitchen, walked past them, opened the garden gate and went in. He then jumped over the picket-fence into the barn-yard and disappeared in the barn. The children becoming frightened at his strange actions, went to a neighbor’s house about half a mile distant and returned home in the evening. When their parents returned, they related their story. Mr. Zahller tracked the man through the garden and barn-yard by noticing three large-headed nails in the impression of his boot-heel. At the barn all traces were lost.

Now comes the mystery: Mrs. Zahller went to the barn-yard to milk; corn-cobs commenced falling near like someone was throwing at her. Mr. Zahller was standing nearby but didn’t notice them. She asked him if he saw that. He answered no. Just then a large one hit near him, but he could not see where it came from. During Saturday the children were hit with corn-cobs, pieces of bark and small stones every time they attempted to go into the barn yard. Two of the family—one a boy of seven, and the other a young lady of eighteen—seemed to attract the most. When they came near the missiles were sure to fly. The boy, especially, was hurt about the face with small stones.

One of the neighbors, coming to witness the shower, was hit in the back by a wooden pin that had been used to fasten a large gate. A trace-chain that had been plowed up  and was hung on a corner of the corn-crib, near the barn, also went sailing in the air in search of something to light on. Hundreds of people have been to see this sight since Saturday and all came away satisfied that they saw chips, small stones, corn-cobs, &c., falling near them, but unable to explain where they came from. One man says he saw corn-cobs start from the ground and soar over his head and light on the ground without the least noise. Another one says he was standing near a chicken house, the door of which was open, when some half dozen cobs came flying out. The house was searched, but nothing found.  Some say the flying pieces are not noticed until they either strike them or fall on the ground nearby. The strangest thing is that they light as easy as a feather, no matter how large the article is. One man brought home a piece of an old walnut rail about a foot long and two by four inches thick. That, he says, he tried to aggravate the spirits, and said in a loud voice, “Don’t throw anymore corn-cobs; throw a club this time.” Just then this piece lit on his shoulder as easy as a feather and rolled to the ground. The whole neighborhood is excited, and watch the barn from morning until night, trying not to believe it, but at the same time convinced that they saw something, they know not what.

On September 16, the “Wilson World” carried a follow-up story, indicating that the strange manifestations were continuing to plague the farm.  They added one new detail:

This is not the only mystery that affects the good people of Belle Centre. They have been reveling in the luxury of a bona fide ghost, a ghost that walks in a lane, and rides sometimes, as the sequel will show; a ghost that appears in the form of a beautiful woman, and whom many people in this county say that they have seen.

The strange part of the story is that this apparition was heard on one occasion to speak. No one ever got their hand on the spook, although many attempted it, as when they would approach and attempt to grasp it, their hands only felt space, and would go right through the form. Many reputable witnesses, among them an old, staid citizen of Bellefontaine, testified that this form has appeared to them, and even by their side in their vehicles, always in the form of a handsome female, clad in fleecy or cloudy white, with a halo around her head, but that on attempting to touch her they would only grasp space, and the ghostly visitant would vanish. This apparition invariably appears in the road leading from Belle Centre to Lisle's Mill, and has been dubbed the ghost of Lisle's lane.

It has appeared to certain persons so often that they have got used to it, at it has always been friendly, and they therefore pay no attention to it. The time it was heard to speak was when a party of eight or ten coon-hunters were returning down the lane for home. As they emerged from a cornfield they came upon a belated traveler in a buggy, and at the same time were aware of the approach of the well known appearance. It immediately seemed to float in the buggy, where it seated itself on the vacant seat, paused a moment, and, as they rushed up, ejaculated "Keno,” and instantly vanished. leaving the traveler half dead from terror.

These are strange facts, but are vouched for by unimpeachable witnesses.

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Stove-Goblin of Zaragoza

Home appliances can be a pain in the neck.  They break down, malfunction, and often cost a bundle to replace.  However, there is one thing to be said for them: they generally don’t start talking to you.

However, on at least one occasion, that is exactly what happened.

The Palazón family lived in a simple apartment building in Zaragoza, Spain.  Their lives were perfectly quiet and ordinary until September 27th, 1934.  On that day, all High Strangeness Hell broke loose.  The family began hearing mysterious screams, loud laughter, and a strange male voice, all seeming to emanate from the kitchen stove.  Since the stove’s chimney was linked to other apartments in the building, they initially assumed that the sounds were coming from another unit.  When neighbors came to visit, they too heard the sounds, and word quickly spread through the area that the Palazóns had a talking stove on their hands.

While some continued to believe that the family was being harassed by a human prankster, most observers became convinced that the stove was being haunted by a “duende.”  (What Western folklore would call a “goblin.”)

Inevitably, the Palazón apartment became a gathering place for those with a taste for supernatural entertainment.  The duende--or whatever it was--was always eager to chat.  It would answer questions and make any variety of smart remarks.  For whatever reason, The Voice seemed fixated on the family’s 16-year-old maid, Pascuala Alcocer.  It would often call her name, and then laugh in a demented fashion that must have been particularly unsettling for the girl.

By November, the family felt they couldn’t take any more of both the crowds and their loud-mouthed stove, and they did what so many households plagued by Fortean problems have done: they went yelling for the police.  This worked as well as you might expect.  The Voice showed no fear of the officers, chatting away to them with its usual glibness.

One of the policemen asked the stove, "Who are you? Why are you doing this? Do you want money?" 

"No," said the stove.

All the flummoxed police officer could think of to say was, "Are you looking for a job?"


"Then who are you, what is it that you want, man?"

"Nothing," the stove calmly replied.  "I am not a man."

The police had no idea what to do.  Just try arresting a talking stove.  They sent an architect and some of his workmen to inspect the apartment.  They found no place where any human hoaxer could possibly hide.  When one of the workmen suggested measuring the chimney, The Voice replied, “You need not trouble, the diameter is just six inches.”  It was.

In a move that reeked of “We Don’t Have Any Better Ideas,” the entire apartment building was evacuated, and police put a 24-hour guard around it.  Psychologists were brought in.  A priest sprinkled the stove with holy water.  None of it did a bit of good.  It was looking that there was no power, either human or divine, that could shut up that damned stove.

And then, The Voice suddenly went silent.  After two days had passed with the stove being as quiet as any decent kitchen appliance should be, everyone decided that the episode was over, and life could get back to normal.  The guard withdrew, the psychologists went home, and the priest put away his holy water.  But as soon as the Palazóns returned to their apartment, they were greeted by the stove shrieking, “Cowards, cowards, cowards, here I am!”  The Voice then amiably gave its listeners permission to smoke, if they were so inclined.

The family threw in the towel, and moved not just out of the building, but out of Zaragoza altogether.  The Palazóns disappear from our story at that point, but I’m guessing they gave their stoves the side-eye for the rest of their lives.

Even with the apartment now vacant, The Voice carried on, taunting visitors with the words “I am coming, I am coming!”  Music-hall comedians began impersonating The Voice.  The talking stove was a popular figure in local advertisements.  Businesses, smelling a possible publicity bonanza, offered The Voice large sums of money to visit their establishments.  That stove was causing such an uproar throughout Spain that there was talk about calling in Scotland Yard.

By the end of November, the Governor of Zaragoza had enough of what he obviously thought was a lot of pure nonsense, and decided to wrap things up.  On December 4th, he issued a statement claiming that The Voice was the unwitting handiwork of Pascuala Alcocer.  He declared that her subconscious had produced The Voice by means of “unconscious ventriloquism.”  He described this as “a combination of ventriloquism and auto-suggestion.”  This novel argument failed to explain why The Voice was often heard when Alcocer was nowhere near the apartment.  Alcocer was briefly arrested, but as nobody could decide what to charge her with--”unconsciously impersonating a goblin” seemed a little too weird--she was allowed to return to her hometown.

The apartment got new tenants, and life quieted down.  Sort of.  The apartment’s residents still heard some mighty odd sounds, but by then, everyone was tired of dealing with a goblin, so such disturbances were ignored.

However, The Voice has not been forgotten.  Although the apartment complex was demolished in 1977, the building now at that site is known as the “Edificio Duende”--the “Goblin Building.”

Friday, July 7, 2023

Weekend Link Dump


"The Witches' Cove," Follower of Jan Mandijn

Enjoy this week's Link Dump.  Even though I still haven't been able to drag the Strange Company staffers away from the beach.

The "Titanic" of the Pacific.

The Green Scarf Bandit.

Itinerant immortals.

The myth of the "tapeworm diet."

Meet Penelope, the pregnancy-faking platypus.

In which the future King Edward VII begs to be adopted.

Archaeologists may have found the back door to Hell.  That's nice.

A mystery corpse in Pennsylvania.

The dreams of octopuses.

Some weird Stone Age holes.

A mystical mountain in Japan.

So, let's talk about boiled bodies.

The warmest place in the Arctic Circle.

The Spanish missionary who helped America gain its independence.

The troubled life of Alice Roosevelt.

Why the "Titan" was a tragedy waiting to happen.  I will restrict myself to saying only this: Stockton Rush was a very strange man.

A wind in Switzerland that can be really bad news.

The English aristocracy and the development of cricket.

Treachery and the Battle of Northampton.

Why professional cyclists shave.  A lot.

Pregnancy and childbirth in 19th century Britain.

An underground town in Australia.

An adrift ex-soldier.

An Iron Age "tree coffin."

The men who may have encountered a plesiosaur.

A young man's puzzling disappearance.

A boy's puzzling murder.

In which Louisa Adams throws a party for Andrew Jackson.

Food processing has been around a lot longer than we thought.

Feeding the U.S. Army in the 19th century.

The world's most expensive cow.  In other words, it costs a lot of moo-la.  I'm sorry, I couldn't stop myself there.

The days of switchboard operators.

The usefulness of ancient leftovers.

A 17th century feather cape returns home.

The weird magnetism of Mars.

A Civil War general vs. the press.

The Mütter Museum has a human remains problem.

If there was life on Mars, we may have accidentally killed it.  Typical humans.

Milwaukee loves typewriters.

Solving the mystery of the "Holocaust escape girls."

The Schoonmaker tragedy.

A cursed village.

That's all for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at the disadvantages of having a talking stove.  In the meantime, here's some Bach.  These days, you don't hear harpsichords nearly enough.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Via Newspapers.com

When you start to explore old newspapers, you quickly learn that back in the day, editors had a passionate love for stories involving live snakes or lizards emerging from people’s stomachs.  If these accounts are to be believed, our ancestors swallowed reptiles the way we swallow the morning coffee.  However, I dare anyone to top the story that appeared in the “Wayne County Herald,” August 18, 1864.  It is a reprint from the (St. John’s, New Brunswick) “Telegraph”:

A farmer in this county, James Mulock, of the flat lands has been some three years confined to his bed, through weakness produced from emaciation; the cause of his sickness was unknown, and the symptoms bore no resemblance to any other disease that has appeared in this community. All the doctors have prescribed for him, and all with the same result — complete failure. A few weeks ago, however, a gipsey woman, who has been telling fortunes for some time past, offered to cure him for $100, the sum to be placed in the hands of Mr. Ferguson, who was to be the judge of the cure; Mulock was to put himself completely in her hands, and leave his home for one week. He did so although his wife demurred to the arrangement, and tried to persuade him from it; he however persisted, and went with her, accompanied by his younger brother Charles, and now we may as well take the story of the latter:— 

“We went with her to her camp; immediately after entering we had some bread and ham; Jim and I both eating heartily. After dinner the gipsey said she wished to speak with me alone. I went into the woods back from the camp, when she at once asked me if I was willing that Jim should be hand-cuffed and his feet bound, and to submit altogether to her. I said I was not. Then, said she, it’s no use wasting words about the matter; if you don’t do so he’ll never be cured. I asked her to explain herself; she said she would not. I at last consented thinking to myself there can be nothing wrong while I am here. 

“At tea we had some salt pork fried, and some good bread. Next morning on waking, after a very watchful night, for I never closed my eyes, I found Jim completely tied up. He seemed rather put out, but the gipsey told him at once that she had done so, because he had to suffer a good deal of pain before being cured. I assented to this. He said he was willing to go through with it since he had begun. 

“We had breakfast, salt pork and bread. I fed Jim, and we laughed at the farce, as we considered it, not having faith in her. After breakfast I talked with the gipsey, and asked her what she meant; I told her I was no child, and must either know her plans or I would unloose Jim and go home again. She then told me she knew that Jim had some living reptile in him, and the only way to cure him was to feed him with salt food for a day or two, and then to stop him from drinking altogether, when the animal would come out to seek water. She said she had cured others, but I must expect to see him suffer awful pain and torture when his drink was completely stopped, but it would only be for 24 or 30 hours. 

“I went to Jim, told him all, and asked him if he was willing to undergo it. Says he, ‘Charley, that woman has it; I’ll stand it.’ 

“Well, that day passed, salt pork and bread, and to Jim a very limited supply of water; the next day the same, till after dinner, when the water was altogether stopped. Now commenced the work. He begged and prayed for water, he howled till he was hoarse; the woman then gave him a drink of what I considered water, but which she told me afterwards was salt pork fat, melted; he drank it in a few mouthfuls, and in a few minutes more he was worse than ever. He begged me to shoot him, to drown him, to do anything with him, only not leave him in that state. 

“Towards evening he became quite out of his mind; water and springs was all he raved about. He lay that way for some time, almost until morning, when he got into a high fever. I got alarmed, and told the gipsey I thought it had gone far enough, that Jim was too weak to stand it. She told me I could do as I liked, but if I would leave him two hours longer I would see whether she or the doctors were right. She likewise told him that if he was loosed, he would kill himself drinking at the first water he came to. 

“In about an hour after, she asked me to drag him to the spring, a few rods away from the camp. We got him inside it. She laid his head with his lips almost touching the water; she took up a birth pannikin and commenced lifting up water and letting it fall just before his lips. He was all this time as quiet as if he was dead; sometimes he gave a slight shiver; his mouth was wide open, and his eyelids opened and shut, the white of the eyes only being seen. 

“After about ten minutes she said to me, ‘Now who’s right? but keep quiet.’ I leaned over, and saw a large green lizard peeping out of his mouth; it did not seem as if it wanted to come out, but drew itself in again. ‘It will come out again,’ says the gipsey. While she was speaking two lizards glided out of his mouth into the water; the gipsey quietly killed one with a small stick, and I killed the other. We waited again for five minutes, when three came out, but not together. These we killed, although one almost escaped from the water to his mouth ere it was completely dispatched. We then waited nearly an hour longer, but no more made their appearance. 

“The gipsey then said, ‘There is no more,’ and proceeded to pour water on Jim’s forehead. She did so twenty minutes; she then gave him about a teaspoonful of water to drink; it actually hissed in his mouth. She kept him confined that day and half the next before she let him free, gradually increasing his allowance of water.” 

Such is the story told by Mr. Charles Mulock, and although I am not personally acquainted with the gentleman, I am told that he is one of the last men in the country to tell a wilful untruth. One fact, however, is clear — his brother has completely recovered his health, and not only his health, but his flesh, and now weighs 160 lbs., his former weight being only 73 lbs. This difference has been added in less than nine weeks. 

The lizards are of a bottle-green colour, about 5 inches long, red eyes and forked tongues. 

There is a peculiarity about them different from the rest of the lizard tribe, their being only two feet, and sloping from thence in a wedge shape into a tail. Two of them have been preserved in spirits and forwarded to Prof. Agassiz, of Harvard University. One is preserved in spirits and kept in Mr. Ferguson’s office.

Monday, July 3, 2023

A Death at Harvey's Lake: A Fourth of July Mystery

In keeping with that grand old Strange Company tradition of holiday-themed disaster and mayhem, this week we will look at one Fourth of July that was made infamous by the mysterious death of a young woman.

17-year-old Alice Crispell was a native of Lake Township, Pennsylvania.  Newspapers of the time had little to say about her life or personality.  She seems to have been a pleasant, thoroughly ordinary girl who, in normal circumstances, would have attracted little public attention, for either good or bad.

On the evening of July 4, 1913, Crispell went to Harvey’s Lake, a popular local summer resort, to meet a young miner from Wilkes-Barre, Herbert Johns.  The pair had some beer at the Oneonta Hotel, and at about 11:30 (according to Johns’ later account) they parted.  

When Alice failed to return home, her family was not initially alarmed.  The week before, Alice had gone to visit a married sister who lived in Wilkes-Barre, and it was assumed she had merely extended her visit.  For her part, this sister, Mrs. Martha Holcomb, thought Alice had returned home.

On the morning of July 7, a baggageman named George Casterline was driving around the lake when he saw something floating near the shore.  When he looked more closely, he realized it was a woman’s body, and the sheriff and coroner were called in.  The mystery of Alice Crispell’s whereabouts had finally been solved.

"Philadelphia Inquirer," July 13, 1913, via Newspapers.com

The body was badly decomposed, and had most likely been in the water since soon after Alice was last seen alive.  Several marks were found on the body and left temple, which might have been caused by a fall.  There were scratches on one hand that the coroner thought might have been teeth marks.  That was the only sign of a possible struggle.  There was no indication of sexual assault.  Alice’s clothing was intact except for her hat, which was found on the shore only a few feet away from where her corpse was discovered.

The police had little to work with.  On the night of the 4th, a couple heard what they thought might have been a scream for help, but they were so accustomed to hearing cries and shouts around the lake that they paid little attention at the time.

Operating on the theory that “the boyfriend always does it,” Herbert Johns was arrested on the afternoon that Alice’s body was discovered.  He vigorously denied having any role in her death.

The story Johns told the police was simple and consistent.  On the afternoon of July 4th, Alice came to his house for dinner.  Afterwards, they went to Harvey’s Lake, accompanied by Mrs. Holcomb, Johns’ sister Clara, and two friends of his, Henry Williams and a baker named Elcher.  They were all at the Oneonta until 10 p.m., when everyone left for home except Johns and Alice.  At 11:30, the pair walked down the road from the Oneonta, pausing near a boat house to chat.  Several people they knew, including Alice’s close friend and neighbor Stella Oney, walked by and spoke to them.  Ten minutes later, Johns left for home, assuming that Alice would catch up with Oney.

Oney told police that she had indeed talked to Alice and Johns near the boat house.  Both seemed to her to be in very good spirits.  She had asked Alice if she was heading home, and when Alice replied “not right away,” Oney went on her way.

1915 postcard showing the boat house where Crispell was last seen alive

The case against Johns was remarkably weak.  Literally all the prosecution had was the fact that he was the last known person to see Alice alive.  Herbert, who had been “keeping company” with Alice for about a year, had no known motive to harm her.  As far as anyone could tell, their relationship was a perfectly happy one.  Johns was a well-liked young man with an excellent reputation.  It was said that Alice was subject to fainting spells and “fits,” plus there was no question that she had been drinking a good deal of beer on the night of her death, to the point where she was visibly intoxicated.  To many, it seemed highly likely that her drowning was nothing more than a tragic, fatal accident.

During the investigation, much was made of a letter that Johns wrote to Alice on the morning of July 5th.  It was, as a reporter commented, “either the handiwork of an innocent man or of the most accomplished of criminals.”  The letter had a natural, casual tone, showing no indication that he knew Alice, whom he addressed as “darling,” was anything other than alive and well.

Despite her seeming cheerfulness on the night she died, some theorized that Alice had committed suicide.  Letters to friends indicated that she was often melancholy, and that she occasionally feared that Johns was reluctant to marry her.  She had a difficult relationship with her father, William Crispell, who sternly disapproved of her fondness for clubs and parties.  (During one quarrel over Alice’s lifestyle, Mr. Crispell had pointed a gun at her!)  Her father had seen her drinking at the Oneonta, and he later admitted that the sight had “disgusted” him.  Might her unease at being “caught” by Mr. Crispell increased whatever inner depression she may have felt?

Or could someone other than Johns have killed her?  There were rumors suggesting that William Crispell, angered with what he saw as his daughter’s “wayward” habits, may have, in a sudden fit of rage, pushed Alice into the lake.  Letters between Alice and Johns indicated that William Crispell occasionally beat her, and that Johns was afraid to go near her house “for fear the old man will shoot me.”  

Given the vague and inconclusive nature of the evidence presented to the Coroner’s Jury, it is small wonder that the jurors gave a verdict that was vague and inconclusive.  They stated that Johns had no part in Alice’s death, and it was highly unlikely that she had killed herself, but “a crime has been committed.”

Several weeks after Alice died, the Crispells received a postcard which had been sent from New Rochelle, New York.  It read, “Bert is innocent.  I killed Alice because of her love for Johns. A.N.”  “A.N.” was never identified.  Was this written by a murderer with a bad conscience, or--as seems much more likely--one of those depraved practical jokers who always seem to turn up in highly-publicized crime cases?

That enigmatic postcard proved to be the last word on the Crispell Mystery.  Although Alice’s death is still a well-remembered part of local history, all anyone can say is that late on the night of July 4th, the unfortunate girl drowned in Harvey’s Lake.  What we’ll never know is why she drowned.

[Note: I have no idea why the inquest jury downplayed the "accident" theory, as that seems to me the most obvious explanation for the tragedy.  It was a dark night, and Alice had been drinking.  I imagine it would have been very easy for her to take a bad step and...*splash*]