"...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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day, New Year's Edition

In which some amateur theatricals turn into an episode of "Midsomer Murders":

Los Angeles Herald Jan 2, 1893

San Francisco, Jan. 1.—The old year was closed last night by a unique and terrible tragedy by which Sidney McCoy, a young lawyer, aged 32, lost his life, and Miss Grace King, aged 19, is in a precarious condition. A party of friends, numbering about 50, assembled last night at McCoy's, on Guerrero street, to watch the old year out and the new year in. The feature of the entertainment was the production of a short play written by McCoy and performed by amateurs. The plot of the play was the betrayal of a band of Russian Nihilists by one of their number. The Nihilists discover the traitoress, a young woman, and condemn her to death. They decide by lot who shall perform the execution, and the duty fell to the character portrayed by McCoy. Miss King played the part of the traitoress. She is given the choice of being killed or stabbing herself, and chooses the latter alternative. McCoy banded her a stout dagger which had been in the family for years. In the play the girl, instead of killing herself, was to stab her executioner, and as she received the knife, Miss King leaned forward to touch McCoy on the breast with the knife. At the same instant McCoy started toward the girl, who stumbled, and falling forward with the dagger in her hand, drove it through McCoy's heart. McCoy showed wonderful vitality and presence of mind. He walked into the next room and asked for a doctor, and then fell dead.

The girl knew there had been an accident of some kind, but did not know McCoy was killed. She was taken home and afterwards, on the advice of friends, gave herself up to the police She was taken to the city prison at 6 o'clock in the morning, and when she entered the prison fainted, and has since remained unconscious. This morning McCoy's two brothers secured her release by giving $10,000 bond for her appearance. The girl was then taken home and is in a critical condition.

The accident is explained by the fact that recently Miss King suffered from a sprained ankle. She had been using crutches to walk wish, but had laid them aside to participate in the play. As she made the motion to stab McCoy, she rested her weight on her weak foot. It gave way and she fell forward.

May all of you have a great New Year's Eve. Just give those Russian Nihilist plays a pass, OK?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Otto's in the Attic; or, Hell, Dolly!

Walburga Oesterreich, 1930, via Wikipedia

Throughout human history, many people have been "kept men" or "kept women" who provide sexual and emotional services for others.

They just usually aren't kept up in the attic.

Let me introduce you to Walburga "Dolly" Oesterreich and Otto Sanhuber, a couple whose romance was, well, just made for this blog.

This utterly cracked love story began some time around 1912, with a Milwaukee apron-factory owner named Fred Oesterreich. Fred, although financially well-to-do, was an unsatisfactory sort--loud-mouthed, overbearing, crude, and often intoxicated. His wife Dolly could have put up with all that. What she could not tolerate was the fact that Fred was also lousy in bed. Mrs. Oesterreich, a woman of healthy physical appetites, berated her husband so loudly and violently about his conjugal deficiencies that neighbors occasionally were compelled to summon the police.

It was not surprising that Dolly would find solace in a lover. What was surprising was that her choice for that role was a worker in her husband's factory, Otto Sanhuber. Sanhuber was an orphan who could not say for sure who his biological parents were, or even when he was born, but he thought his birth name was "Otto Weir" and that he was about 17 years old.  Otto was meek, painfully shy, friendless, under five feet tall, and generally resembled a bespectacled, woebegone cod.

As Pascal once wrote, the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. Dolly eyed this unprepossessing boy and saw many hidden possibilities. According to most accounts of this case, one day, she summoned Otto to her home to "repair a sewing machine." When he arrived, he found the lady of the house wearing nothing but a silk robe. She led him off to her bedroom to inspect the damaged appliance.

Well, the result was, Otto soon got to work all right, but not on the machine. Dolly, to her delight, discovered that her instincts were correct. Between the sheets, the cod proved to be a stallion.

All went well for some months. Otto continued to sneak over to the Oesterreich home whenever the husband was away. Dolly continued to congratulate herself on her excellent taste in men. Fred continued to drink and bluster. Everyone was happy.

The first sign of trouble appeared when a busybody neighbor informed Fred that his wife was having a suspicious amount of trouble with her sewing machine. When Mr. Oesterreich questioned Dolly about her visitor, she calmly asserted that such stories were all lies.

Dolly now realized she had to act fast to avoid having her secret life come out. She did not want Fred to learn what she was up to, but she most certainly did not want to give up Otto. If only she could keep her toy boy close at hand, but safely out of sight...

And then she thought of her house's attic.

There was a small cubbyhole in the attic, conveniently above the master bedroom. It could only be entered via a small trap door in the ceiling.  Dolly decorated it with a cot, a table, a chair, and other household items. She told Otto to quit his job at the apron factory. And one day when Fred was safely out of the way, she installed her lover in his new apartment, right above the Oesterreich bed.

Otto obediently settled in to his new hermit existence. As he was to plaintively explain years later, Dolly "was the first person in my life to give me love and affection."  When Fred was away, Otto would come down and attend to the housework--he took great pride in his talent for washing floors, preparing food, and doing laundry--but he never went outdoors. When the ostensible "man of the house" was in residence, he remained immured in his little attic cave.

Otto spent his time in seclusion devouring adventure novels that Dolly got him from the local library. He lived in a strange dream-world, immersing himself in tales of travel and derring-do that could not be more different from his voluntary virtual premature burial. Reading such stories so fired up his imagination that he began writing some of his own. Dolly typed them up and sent them off to the pulp magazines under a pseudonym. They began selling, too. The attic recluse soon had a career in the world of pulp fiction.

Otto was still perfectly happy. So was Dolly.

Fred, on the other hand, feared he was losing his sanity. He'd occasionally hear strange noises coming from the direction of the ceiling. Food he could swear he had seen just a short time before would suddenly be gone. His cigars began disappearing. Once, when he was in the backyard, he swore he saw a face in the attic window.

Dolly would sigh and suggest her husband consult a doctor.

Fred eventually became so rattled that he insisted on moving to a different house. Dolly selected one with a generously-sized attic. When the Oesterreichs changed addresses, so did Otto. Poor Fred continued to think he was hearing mice--mighty large mice--and his food and cigars continued to vanish, but his wife's broad hints about delirium tremens and the probability that he needed professional help ensured that he kept his complaints to a minimum.

One night, the Oesterreichs came home unexpectedly early from a party. Fred caught Otto in the kitchen, eating a leg of lamb. Assuming Sanhuber was just an ordinary--if particularly brazen--burglar, he gave the intruder a sound thrashing and threw him out.

The next day, the now-homeless Otto secretly met with Dolly. As usual, Mrs. Oesterreich had a plan. She gave him his earnings as a writer and told him to use the money to go to Los Angeles. They would keep in touch via a post-office box, and she would persuade her husband to move there as soon as she could.

As usual, Otto did what he was told. He took the next train for the City of the Angels, where he got a job as a janitor in an apartment house. Rather than enjoying his new-found freedom, he was a baby unwillingly torn from the womb. He missed his quiet, safe little cubbyhole, and the private little world he had built with his literary work and with Dolly.

Fred agreed that he could use some California sunshine, and by 1918 the Oesterreichs were gracing Los Angeles with their curious presence. Fred bought a controlling interest in a garment factory downtown. Dolly found a charming residence featuring an attic room right above the master bedroom. And very soon, Otto was contentedly snuggled away in his new cave.

The little household hummed away nicely until the night of August 22, 1922. Neighbors heard ominous crashing noises coming from the Oesterreich house. When these sounds were followed by several gunshots, they called the police.

When officers arrived at the home, they were greeted by the dead body of Fred Oesterreich on the living-room floor. He had been shot several times with a .25-caliber revolver. They found the hysterical Mrs. Oesterreich locked in a closet in the master bedroom.

Dolly told the police that she and her husband had arrived home, and surprised a burglar. The intruder shot her husband, and then imprisoned her in the closet to prevent her from summoning help. As far as she could tell, all the criminal had taken was her husband's diamond-studded watch.

Detectives seem to have sensed from the beginning that there was something a little off about Mrs. Oesterreich's story--not to mention something a little off about Mrs. Oesterreich herself--but lacking any way to disprove her account, Fred's murder seemed fated to remain unsolved.

Shortly after becoming a widow, Dolly hired an attorney named Herman Shapiro to help her sort out her late husband's estate. The two soon became lovers.  She gave the lawyer a present: A diamond-studded watch. "It had been my dear husband's," she said.

Dolly put her home up for sale--too many burglaries, and all that--and bought a smaller one in another part of the city. It had a lovely attic, which made Otto very happy.

One day, she gave another of her gentlemen friends, Ray Klumb, a large envelope. When he looked inside, he saw it contained a 25-caliber revolver. Dolly explained that she kept it for self-protection, but since "dear Fred" had been killed with a similar gun, it might be awkward if the police found it in her possession. She asked him to get rid of it for her.

Like our old friend Madalynne Obenchain, Dolly Oesterreich was one of those women with a gift for getting men to do the most damn fool things. Klumb asked no questions, and obediently threw the gun into the La Brea tar pits.  (Sources give differing accounts of what became of this gun.  Some say it lies hidden in the tar pits to this day.  Others claim it was eventually found by police, but by then the weapon was too damaged to be able to positively connect it to Fred's shooting.)

The Chief of Detectives, Herman Cline, still felt in his bones that Mrs. Oesterreich had something to do with her husband's death, but he couldn't prove it. That is to say, he couldn't prove it until nearly a year later, when he somehow discovered that Herman Shapiro was sporting a diamond-studded watch. When Cline learned where Shapiro had obtained the item, he wasted no time charging Dolly with murder.

When she was put under arrest, Dolly stoutly denied everything, and demanded to see her lawyer. She privately told Shapiro to go to her bedroom and knock three times on the trap door in the closet. She explained that "a half-brother of mine who's a sort of a vagabond" was up there. Shapiro was to tell him that she had to go away on a business trip, but she would see him soon.

When Shapiro rapped on the trap door--it would be entertaining to know what was going through his mind at the time--Otto emerged. When he heard Dolly's message, Sanhuber sighed and commented, "It's too bad that she has been so upset over something that I did."

Well, the cat was now well and truly out of the bag. Shapiro had no difficulty getting the entire story out of Dolly's housemate. On the fatal night, the Oesterreichs had come home drunk and, as usual, quarreling violently. Otto feared for his lady-love's safety, and decided he had had about enough of Fred Oesterreich. He got Dolly's gun and, like a hero straight out of his beloved adventure stories, confronted her husband.

"Unhand this lovely woman!" Otto declared.

I earnestly hope he really did say that.

Fred, unimpressed by Otto's gift for dialogue, lunged at him. Otto panicked, and without thinking, shot his assailant.

Otto and Dolly realized their only hope was to make it look like a robbery. Dolly took Fred's watch and hid it in some couch cushions. Then, she locked herself in the closet and shoved the key through the crack underneath the door, while Otto fled to the sanctuary of his cubbyhole.

Shapiro was merely a civil attorney. He immediately realized that a crime this weird needed expert attention. He hired for Dolly the services of Frank Dominguez, one of the best criminal lawyers in the city. He told Dominguez to go to Dolly's house, and tell the guy hiding in her attic to get lost, pronto.

By this point, leaving the cozy security of his attic was probably the last thing Otto wanted to do, but he obediently skedaddled off.   He changed his name to "Walter Klein," and eventually settled in Vancouver.  Dominguez then presented a pretty little fait-accompli to the District Attorney. With no witnesses, no confession, and no weapon traceable to the killing, there was really no case against his client, right?

The authorities felt they had no choice but to set Dolly free. She settled down without Otto, but with the compensatory delights of Fred's substantial estate. Otto married, and eventually returned to Los Angeles. He got another job as a night janitor in an apartment house, which suited him, as his years in attics left him with a distaste for the light of day. He and Dolly had finally parted ways, and the story seemed over.

Well, with people like Otto and Dolly, the story is never really over. By 1930, Mrs. Oesterreich and Shapiro had a falling-out.  (Among other things, he learned she was cheating on him with her business manager, Ray Hedrick.)

Hell hath no fury like a L.A. shyster scorned.  Shapiro went to the District Attorney, claiming that the Widow Oesterreich was threatening his life. He wished, he said, to make a formal affidavit about the death of her husband. He told everything he knew about Dolly--which was plenty--and by the time he finally finished dishing the dirt, she and Otto were both indicted for murder.

Incidentally, the police had some other issues they were eager to discuss with Dolly.  In 1927, Fred Oesterreich's apron plant in Milwaukee had burned to the ground.  Investigators determined the fire been due to arson, and law enforcement had reason to believe that Fred's widow had commissioned the blaze in order to collect the insurance money.

Not content with having grassed on his old flame, Shapiro also filed a suit against Dolly, claiming that she had violated an agreement to assign to him her insurance claims in that matter of Fred's incinerated factory. Hedrick's wife, Geneva, brought her own legal charges against Mrs. Oesterreich, for alienation of affections.

Dolly, dauntless as ever, denied everything. Meek little Otto, on the other hand, told the grand jury exactly the same story he gave Shapiro all those years before. Perhaps he was feeling nostalgic for his cubbyhole, and figured a jail cell would be an acceptable substitute. He was put on trial first. His lawyer persuaded him to retract his confession, so the only evidence against him put before the jury was Shapiro's account of the murder, which the defense scornfully dismissed as a fantasy invented by Dolly's disgruntled ex-inamorato.

Sanhuber was found guilty of manslaughter.  This left everyone with an interesting legal problem on their hands. Fred Oesterreich had been shot eight years before Sanhuber went on trial. The statute of limitations for manslaughter ran out after three. Thanks to that delay in the course of justice, conviction be damned, the justice system had no choice but to let Otto go.

After his release, Sanhuber permanently disappeared from view, probably headed for the nearest available attic.

At Dolly's trial, the defense presented by her attorney, the famed Jerry Geisler, was simple: Otto was to blame for everything. After Fred's death, she had not come forward with the truth because explaining her unconventional private life might have been, well, a bit embarrassing.

Dolly Oesterreich was just too much for the jury. They found themselves unable to reach a verdict. The DA, hoping against hope, kept the case against her open for six more years until he finally gave up and dropped the charges.  (The arson allegations--which also included some vague talk of bribery and blackmail--never stuck, either.  Some crooks just have the devil's own luck.)

Dolly lived uncharacteristically quietly in Los Angeles until her death in 1961, at the age of about 81.  She had married her "longtime sweetheart" Ray Hedrick just two weeks earlier, so he wound up with what was reported to be Dolly's multi-million dollar estate.

Please don't ask me to provide a moral for this story.  I have not the slightest idea what it might be.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Weekend Link Dump, Post-Christmas Wrap-Up Edition

Strange Company is still allowing the cats to read the archives of this blog.

It's still not going over all that well.

Here is this week's frolic through the frightening:

What the hell is...well, all this stuff?

What the hell did this airline pilot narrowly avoid hitting?

Watch out for those Icelandic elves!

Watch out for those Victorian Christmas cards!

Watch out for those Yule Cats!

Watch out for those Ptolemies!

It took EsoterX to point out to us that Santa Claus is basically just a sort of paranormal Godfather with some super-demonic hired muscle.

You doubt the truth of the link posted above, you say?  Take a look at these Santas and you tell me he's wrong.  (H/t Chris Woodyard.)

Worst Christmas present ever?

When good library books go bad.

Bluebottle and Crazy Bananas are mad.  You won't like Bluebottle and Crazy Bananas when they're mad.

Well, someone new has claimed to solve the Dyatlov Pass mystery.  Uh, well...maybe. *Cough*

George Bailey, Commie Stooge.

RIP, Hollywood Park, murdered by a long line of corporate idiots.  Meanwhile, Keith Brackpool and Frank Stronach are doing an excellent job of driving Santa Anita down the same path...

Halley's Comet:  Catalyst for plague and famine?

The one thing weirder than a Victorian post-mortem photograph?  A Victorian post-mortem, period, of course!

So, in other words, we're all carrying around alien DNA.  Which would sure as hell explain a lot.

Well, that does it for this week.  See you on Monday, when I shall tell the tale of a lethal love affair that was...well...strange company, indeed.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Have a Very Scary Christmas!

To the delight of absolutely no one, I've been sharing a number of When Santas Go Bad stories on Twitter, and, for God-knows-what reason--probably having to do with some really suspect eggnog--I curated the whole lot of them on Storify.

So, here they all are. Enjoy!

Or not.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day, Christmas Edition

As it is Christmas Eve, I'm taking a brief detour from all the usual murders, premature burials, disappearances, venomous ghosts, Mystery Blood, Mystery Explosions, and all the other gruesome doings we know and love.

Instead, here is a story from the "Auckland Star" of April 17, 1907, describing the Boston Animal Rescue League's annual Cat Christmas Party.  This seems to have been a tradition with them for some years, and I for one would take it over pretty much any other kind of party I know.

During this holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, don't forget to do an extra act of kindness for some cat, dog, horse, bird, or any other helpless creature who needs some love.

And not to fear; I'll be back with the usual creepy, blood-soaked mayhem on Friday.

via Papers Past

Louis Wain, "A Cat's Christmas Party," c. 1906 via Library of Congress

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Eve With Strange Company

I'd like to present one of my favorite Christmas-themed stories:  "Bertie's Christmas Eve," by the inimitable Saki.  Bertie, somehow, just seemed to fit right in with this blog.

May you enjoy your holidays as much as our protagonist did, with none of the morning-after payback.

It was Christmas Eve, and the family circle of Luke Steffink, Esq., was aglow with the amiability and random mirth which the occasion demanded. A long and lavish dinner had been partaken of, waits had been round and sung carols; the house-party had regaled itself with more caroling on its own account, and there had been romping which, even in a pulpit reference, could not have been condemned as ragging. In the midst of the general glow, however, there was one black unkindled cinder.

Bertie Steffink, nephew of the aforementioned Luke, had early in life adopted the profession of ne'er-do-weel; his father had been something of the kind before him. At the age of eighteen Bertie had commenced that round of visits to our Colonial possessions, so seemly and desirable in the case of a Prince of the Blood, so suggestive of insincerity in a young man of the middle-class. He had gone to grow tea in Ceylon and fruit in British Columbia, and to help sheep to grow wool in Australia. At the age of twenty he had just returned from some similar errand in Canada, from which it may be gathered that the trial he gave to these various experiments was of the summary drum-head nature. Luke Steffink, who fulfilled the troubled role of guardian and deputy-parent to Bertie, deplored the persistent manifestation of the homing instinct on his nephew's part, and his solemn thanks earlier in the day for the blessing of reporting a united family had no reference to Bertie's return.

Arrangements had been promptly made for packing the youth off to a distant corner of Rhodesia, whence return would be a difficult matter; the journey to this uninviting destination was imminent, in fact a more careful and willing traveller would have already begun to think about his packing. Hence Bertie was in no mood to share in the festive spirit which displayed itself around him, and resentment smouldered within him at the eager, self-absorbed discussion of social plans for the coming months which he heard on all sides. Beyond depressing his uncle and the family circle generally by singing "Say au revoir, and not good-bye," he had taken no part in the evening's conviviality.

Eleven o'clock had struck some half-hour ago, and the elder Steffinks began to throw out suggestions leading up to that process which they called retiring for the night.

"Come, Teddie, it's time you were in your little bed, you know," said Luke Steffink to his thirteen-year-old son.

"That's where we all ought to be," said Mrs. Steffink.

"There wouldn't be room," said Bertie.

The remark was considered to border on the scandalous; everybody ate raisins and almonds with the nervous industry of sheep feeding during threatening weather.

"In Russia," said Horace Bordenby, who was staying in the house as a Christmas guest, "I've read that the peasants believe that if you go into a cow-house or stable at midnight on Christmas Eve you will hear the animals talk. They're supposed to have the gift of speech at that one moment of the year."

"Oh, DO let's ALL go down to the cow-house and listen to what they've got to say!" exclaimed Beryl, to whom anything was thrilling and amusing if you did it in a troop.

Mrs. Steffink made a laughing protest, but gave a virtual consent by saying, "We must all wrap up well, then." The idea seemed a scatterbrained one to her, and almost heathenish, but if afforded an opportunity for "throwing the young people together," and as such she welcomed it. Mr. Horace Bordenby was a young man with quite substantial prospects, and he had danced with Beryl at a local subscription ball a sufficient number of times to warrant the authorised inquiry on the part of the neighbours whether "there was anything in it." Though Mrs. Steffink would not have put it in so many words, she shared the idea of the Russian peasantry that on this night the beast might speak.

The cow-house stood at the junction of the garden with a small paddock, an isolated survival, in a suburban neighbourhood; of what had once been a small farm. Luke Steffink was complacently proud of his cow-house and his two cows; he felt that they gave him a stamp of solidity which no number of Wyandottes or Orpingtons could impart. They even seemed to link him in a sort of inconsequent way with those patriarchs who derived importance from their floating capital of flocks and herbs, he-asses and she-asses. It had been an anxious and momentous occasion when he had had to decide definitely between "the Byre" and "the Ranch" for the naming of his villa residence. A December midnight was hardly the moment he would have chosen for showing his farm-building to visitors, but since it was a fine night, and the young people were anxious for an excuse for a mild frolic, Luke consented to chaperon the expedition. The servants had long since gone to bed, so the house was left in charge of Bertie, who scornfully declined to stir out on the pretext of listening to bovine conversation.

"We must go quietly," said Luke, as he headed the procession of giggling young folk, brought up in the rear by the shawled and hooded figure of Mrs. Steffink; "I've always laid stress on keeping this a quiet and orderly neighbourhood."

It was a few minutes to midnight when the party reached the cow-house and made its way in by the light of Luke's stable lantern. For a moment every one stood in silence, almost with a feeling of being in church.

"Daisy -- the one lying down -- is by a shorthorn bull out of a Guernsey cow," announced Luke in a hushed voice, which was in keeping with the foregoing impression.

"Is she?" said Bordenby, rather as if he had expected her to be by Rembrandt.

"Myrtle is --"

Myrtle's family history was cut short by a little scream from the women of the party.

The cow-house door had closed noiselessly behind them and the key had turned gratingly in the lock; then they heard Bertie's voice pleasantly wishing them good-night and his footsteps retreating along the garden path.

Luke Steffink strode to the window; it was a small square opening of the old-fashioned sort, with iron bars let into the stonework.

"Unlock the door this instant," he shouted, with as much air of menacing authority as a hen might assume when screaming through the bars of a coop at a marauding hawk. In reply to his summons the hall-door closed with a defiant bang.

A neighbouring clock struck the hour of midnight. If the cows had received the gift of human speech at that moment they would not have been able to make themselves heard. Seven or eight other voices were engaged in describing Bertie's present conduct and his general character at a high pressure of excitement and indignation.

In the course of half an hour or so everything that it was permissible to say about Bertie had been said some dozens of times, and other topics began to come to the front -- the extreme mustiness of the cow-house, the possibility of it catching fire, and the probability of it being a Rowton House for the vagrant rats of the neighbourhood. And still no sign of deliverance came to the unwilling vigil-keepers.

Towards one o'clock the sound of rather boisterous and undisciplined carol-singing approached rapidly, and came to a sudden anchorage, apparently just outside the garden-gate. A motor-load of youthful "bloods," in a high state of conviviality, had made a temporary halt for repairs; the stoppage, however, did not extend to the vocal efforts of the party, and the watchers in the cow-shed were treated to a highly unauthorised rendering of "Good King Wenceslas," in which the adjective "good" appeared to be very carelessly applied.

The noise had the effect of bringing Bertie out into the garden, but he utterly ignored the pale, angry faces peering out at the cow-house window, and concentrated his attention on the revellers outside the gate.

"Wassail, you chaps!" he shouted.

"Wassail, old sport!" they shouted back; "we'd jolly well drink y'r health, only we've nothing to drink it in."

"Come and wassail inside," said Bertie hospitably; "I'm all alone, and there's heap's of 'wet'."

They were total strangers, but his touch of kindness made them instantly his kin. In another moment the unauthorised version of King Wenceslas, which, like many other scandals, grew worse on repetition, went echoing up the garden path; two of the revellers gave an impromptu performance on the way by executing the staircase waltz up the terraces of what Luke Steffink, hitherto with some justification, called his rock-garden. The rock part of it was still there when the waltz had been accorded its third encore. Luke, more than ever like a cooped hen behind the cow-house bars, was in a position to realise the feelings of concert-goers unable to countermand the call for an encore which they neither desire or deserve.

The hall door closed with a bang on Bertie's guests, and the sounds of merriment became faint and muffled to the weary watchers at the other end of the garden. Presently two ominous pops, in quick succession, made themselves distinctly heard.

"They've got at the champagne!" exclaimed Mrs. Steffink.

"Perhaps it's the sparkling Moselle," said Luke hopefully.

Three or four more pops were heard.

"The champagne and the sparkling Moselle," said Mrs. Steffink.

Luke uncorked an expletive which, like brandy in a temperance household, was only used on rare emergencies. Mr. Horace Bordenby had been making use of similar expressions under his breath for a considerable time past. The experiment of "throwing the young people together" had been prolonged beyond a point when it was likely to produce any romantic result.

Some forty minutes later the hall door opened and disgorged a crowd that had thrown off any restraint of shyness that might have influenced its earlier actions. Its vocal efforts in the direction of carol singing were now supplemented by instrumental music; a Christmas-tree that had been prepared for the children of the gardener and other household retainers had yielded a rich spoil of tin trumpets, rattles, and drums. The life-story of King Wenceslas had been dropped, Luke was thankful to notice, but it was intensely irritating for the chilled prisoners in the cow-house to be told that it was a hot time in the old town tonight, together with some accurate but entirely superfluous information as to the imminence of Christmas morning. Judging by the protests which began to be shouted from the upper windows of neighbouring houses the sentiments prevailing in the cow-house were heartily echoed in other quarters.

The revellers found their car, and, what was more remarkable, managed to drive off in it, with a parting fanfare of tin trumpets. The lively beat of a drum disclosed the fact that the master of the revels remained on the scene.

"Bertie!" came in an angry, imploring chorus of shouts and screams from the cow-house window.

"Hullo," cried the owner of the name, turning his rather errant steps in the direction of the summons; "are you people still there? Must have heard everything cows got to say by this time. If you haven't, no use waiting. After all, it's a Russian legend, and Russian Chrismush Eve not due for 'nother fortnight. Better come out."

After one or two ineffectual attempts he managed to pitch the key of the cow-house door in through the window. Then, lifting his voice in the strains of "I'm afraid to go home in the dark," with a lusty drum accompaniment, he led the way back to the house. The hurried procession of the released that followed in his steps came in for a good deal of the adverse comment that his exuberant display had evoked.

It was the happiest Christmas Eve he had ever spent. To quote his own words, he had a rotten Christmas.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays from Strange Company!

And, of course, the cats.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

In the words of the classic pop song, Strange Company believes we all need somebody to lean on.

The cats heartily agree.

On to this week's link-o-rama:

What the hell is underneath Seattle?

What the hell were the Durham Lights?

What the hell were the fiery exhalations of Merionethshire?

What the hell was the Demon Child of Cleveland?

What the hell is this hellish Australian river?

What the hell is this chain-smoking rock?

What the hell is ordinary table salt?

What the hell is killing off sea stars?

Meet the Gannet Club.  And then duck.

At long last:  Black Plague--the video game!

The earliest known photo of Canada.

Another first:  the earliest known prison memoir written by an African-American.

Annie Rube:  Murderer, or nut case?  Or both?  We'll never know!

The Mystery of the Arctic Arsenic.

"Poetess Weds Lion-Tamer."  I don't think I need to say more.

Marital bliss, Georgian-style.

Maternal bliss, Queen Victoria-style.

A Nissan finds itself thrust into the world of the purranormal. Quote of the Week: "I don’t know what it is trying to tell me. I don’t know cat language."

Gift-distributing tips, just in time for the holidays!  I may add, that if my readers do not dress themselves like the young lady in the photo, I will be extremely disappointed. Thrill your friends!  Amaze your family!  Inspire the neighbors to call 911!

Louis de Luxembourg, aristocratic weasel.

My family was on this map.  Anyone else here have relatives who were DPs?

A look back at the talented, but fatally troubled jockey Mary Bacon.

A perfect gift for the witch on your Christmas list:  The amazing black roses of Halfeti.

Did this fellow help build Stonehenge?

Writers of horror fiction who could use some inspiration? Here's the tweet for you:

And finally, as this is the last Link Dump before the holiday, here is "The Night Before Christmas," Edgar Allan Poe style.  You're welcome.

See you all on Monday, with a story of a Christmas Eve spent with some very strange company.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

In September 1898, the mutilated body of a young woman was found in a pond in Bridgeport, Conncecticut. Her name—let alone the name of her murderer—remained a complete mystery until Frank Perkins, a resident of Middleborough, Massachusetts, identified the body as that of his twenty-year-old daughter Grace. Her dental records confirmed the father’s identification. Grace Marion [or Marian] Perkins had disappeared several weeks previously. She was last seen with her boyfriend of two years, Charles Bourne, who was also missing. After Miss Perkins’ body was identified, newspapers announced, “The friends of Bourne hope that when he returns he can give an account of himself that will clear him of any guilt,” but it was clearly looking bad for the young man.

A tragic, but fairly routine crime, right?

Well, no. Miss Perkins’ father brought his daughter’s remains home for burial, the grave was dug, and grieving family and friends gathered for the funeral.  Police continued their manhunt for the chief suspect in the girl's murder, Charles Bourne. And then, right before the funeral services took place, the Perkins home received unexpected visitors: Grace Perkins, alive, well, and cheerful, accompanied by none other than Charles Bourne. The pair had secretly run off together to Providence, R. I.

Grace, who had absolutely no idea that she was a murder victim, was quite shocked by the news, and who can blame her?

The body was eventually identified as a young woman named Emma Gill. She had gone to a midwife named Nancy Guilford for an abortion, which accidentally killed her. Guilford was found guilty of manslaughter and served eight years in the state prison.

[A footnote: Alas, the two runaway lovers did not have a happy ending together. The last we hear of Miss Perkins was in 1902, when she married, not Charles Bourne, but a George Sylvester Pierce.]

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Ghost and Mr. Koett

Fred Koett, circa 1927

According to numerous newspaper reports from 1927, a prosperous farmer named Fred Koett, who lived near Ellinwood, Barton County, Kansas, acquired a new, highly undesirable tenant: A very cranky ghost.

Early that year, the forty-one year old Koett, who was recently widowed, married a very pretty young woman who was less than half his age. After that event, his farmhouse, where he had lived his entire life without incident, became a nightmare.

Mayme Koett

The liveliness started on the very first day he and his bride returned to his family farm. That evening, Mayme, the new Mrs. Koett, was upstairs with the year-old baby of her predecessor. Mr. Koett was in the kitchen. He was about to blow out the lamp when he saw a face looking in the window. He hurried to investigate, but by the time he got outside, the Peeping Tom was gone. At the same time, he heard, from the direction of the woodshed, his dog barking madly. Then, in the barn, the cows and horses all suddenly became frenzied. The inmates of the chicken coop quickly followed suit. The increasingly irritated Koett could find no reason for the uproar.

The Koett farmhouse

Then, he saw a very tall, dim figure in the distance. “What are you doing there?” he shouted. The strange intruder said nothing, merely drifting quickly away. As the puzzled farmer watched, the figure appeared to float over a fence and disappeared into the orchard.

Koett, who had a firm disbelief in “spooks,” merely laughed and called after the figure, “That trick is a corker. Come back and do it again some time.”

He would soon regret that invitation.

When he returned to the house, he was baffled to find that during his absence, all the furniture had been rearranged. When he asked his wife why she had taken to redecorating in the middle of the night, she replied that she had done no such thing. She had been asleep all the time he had been gone.

Koett let the subject drop, but he did not sleep very well. The animals outside kept up their restless, noisy protests at…something. The night was further disturbed by a loud moaning noise outside the window.

When he got up the next morning, he found that someone had turned his first wife’s picture to the wall.

Koett continued to try to persuade his bride—and himself—that nothing abnormal was happening, but as the disturbances continued, he finally had to concede that something beyond his comprehension was invading his farm. At night, he and his wife would hear footsteps coming up the stairs, pausing to give three loud knocks at their door. One time, when Koett got out of bed in time to quickly throw open the door, he caught a glimpse of a tall, black shape moving down the hall. The climax came one eerily moonlit night, when both the Koetts both saw the portrait of his late wife slowly turn its own face to the wall.

That did it. The farmer held a private family meeting to come up with a plan of action for dealing with this…whatever it was. Figuring there was safety in numbers, Mayme’s mother and brother moved in, and Koett hired three tough, no-nonsense farmhands. One of these new employees, Charles Ammonds, was particularly scornful at the idea that there could be ghostly mischief afoot.

That attitude did not survive his first night in the place. At about ten pm, he woke up to strange moaning sounds in his bedroom closet. When he yanked open the door, the dark figure emerged. Ammonds tried tackling the intruder…and the next he knew he was flat on the floor.

The three farmhands gave their notice the next morning.

Still trying to tell themselves that all the menacing phenomena was the work of a neighbor, perhaps jealous at Koett’s wealth or his remarriage to a beautiful young girl, the family went to Wayne Lameraux, the county prosecutor, for help.

The official was probably not accustomed to being asked to arrest a phantom, so perhaps he can’t be blamed for not taking the matter very seriously. “Bring on your ghost,” he laughed, “and I’ll have him put under bonds to keep the peace.”

Not knowing what else to do, Koett wrote the Governor, who was intrigued enough to order the local sheriff, James Hill, to investigate. When Hill heard of Ammonds’ TKO, he scoffed, “anything that has two fists can be made to wear handcuffs.” He sent five armed deputies to Koett’s farm to guard the barn, the chicken coop, and the farmhouse itself.

A little after ten at night, the three officers camped outside the farmhouse saw the all-too-familiar blurred dark shape slowly moving in their direction. When the apparition ignored their orders to halt, they pounded it with six charges of buckshot. The whatever-it-was let out an eerie, highly offended wail and drifted back into the orchard. The next morning, the deputies left in triumph, assuring Koett that they had scared the trespasser off.

Those men did not know their ghost stories. The Thing was back that night, louder, busier, and obviously angrier than ever.

It never pays to irritate a spirit.

The weird goings-on continued.  Items around the house were mysteriously disarranged, at times when no one--well, no one human--was at home.  The strange spectral figure continued to drift in and out around the residence.  A ghostly face was often seen peering into windows. The final straw came when life at the farm went from merely unnerving to horrifying. After one encounter with the Thing, Koett’s dog was found stabbed with a pitchfork.

The farmer conceded defeat. He sold his animals and furniture and took his family to a location he kept secret, fearful that his phantom enemy might follow them. “I couldn’t stand it any longer,” he told a reporter. “I don’t know what it is that has caused so many mysterious happenings, but I’ve experienced things that are barely believable and I have stood it longer than any other man would.”

Koett had vowed he would return to his home and find some way to deal with the poltergeist once and for all, but he eventually realized that discretion was the better part of valor. The last we know of him records that he deserted the farm and moved to Arkansas. The Ghost of Barton County had the last laugh.

Ghosts usually do.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

This week, Strange Company's again gone completely to the dogs.

On to the latest link hijinks:

What the hell happened to Mary Boyle?

What the hell goes on in Arkansas?

What the hell is this distant planet?

What the hell happened to the Roanoke colony?

So, where the hell did those bloody paper towels come from?

So, what the hell did Kenneth Arnold see in 1947?

Meet the 30,000 year old Hell Cave.  If you dare.

"Right now, we've basically generated a big question mark."

The time Alva Vanderbilt turned herself into a walking Christmas tree.

Now, this is what I call a half-time show.

The time a statue of a dog caused medical students to riot.  Of course, if Anna Kingsford had still been alive, she could have instantly calmed the rioters by simply vaporizing them.

Hello, Peggy!

A roundup of some Weird Things Entombed in Ice.  If we don't get spring soon around here, I'll be one of them.

W.B Yeats dishes on Madame Blavatsky.

Alexander Graham Bell, you were badly upstaged...1,200 years ago.

Remembering the Outcast Dead of London.

Twitter cryptography?  Or the world's dullest spambot?  You make the call.

Russian Roswell Redux.

Start Worrying!  There probably is an afterlife.

I Have Met the Ultimate Enemy, and Yes Of Course It's Us.

A child's-eye view of medieval Russia.

Another glimpse of Onfim's world.

Everything's relative:  At one point, the earth was holding both mammoths and the Great Pyramid.

Good news:  E.T. has joined the NSA!

It's time for one of Strange Company's favorite holiday traditions:  Dave's Crap Tree!

Aaaaand, I think this deserves the last word:

Over and out, gang. I'll be back Monday with the tale of a Kansas farm that found itself invaded by a very, very unfriendly ghost.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Here is a 1908 newspaper report about a socialite's death that practically reeks of The Weird:

New York. June 19--The strange death of Miss Miriam Frances Bloomer from cyanide of potassium poisoning on Wednesday evening is a sealed mystery, along with the story of how she was burned with acid a year ago. Her brothers were permitted to start for Cincinnati with the body yesterday.

No further information was given regarding the tragic accident, which occurred in the apartment of J. Ralph Bloomer, a brother, at 40 East Twenty-Sixth street, than the statement issued by Coroner Acritelli that the poison had been left in a glass by Miss Bloomer's maid, who had been cleaning jewelry.

The reticence on the part of the family, the physicians, and the coroner to discuss the case veils the death of Miss Bloomer, who was at one time the fiancee of Congressman Nicholas Longworth, in almost as much mystery as was created just a year ago, when it became known that she had been strangely burned about the face and body by an acid.

J. Ralph Bloomer, who is a prosperous broker, with offices at 20 Broad Street, and Martin B. Bloomer, who is connected with the Link Chain Belt Company of New Jersey, accompanied the body, which will be buried from the Bloomer home at the Hotel Arms, Walnut Hills, Cincinnati.

Yesterday Coroner Acritelli, who issued a permit for the removal of the body on Wednesday night shortly after he was called into the case, gave a slightly different version of the facts from that which was supplied to the newspapers on the night of the tragedy. While discussing the case, the coroner exhibited the glass from which the fatal draught was taken, and which still contains as sediment a quantity of cyanide of potassium sufficient to kill a dozen people.

J. Ralph Bloomer has figured strangely in the life of his sister, who was tall, queenly, always exquisitely gowned and described as being a splendid type of the American beauty. Until he moved into the apartment at 40 East Twenty-Sixth Street, he occupied a part of a house at 35 Madison Square. It was at the latter address that the first accident occurred.

One morning in April 1907, Ralph Bloomer was notified by his sister's maid that Miss Bloomer had been seriously burned with acid during the night. He went to her bedroom, but was unable to get an explanation of the strange state of affairs. Miss Bloomer was in a semi-hypnotic state, but marks on the side of her face, her body, one hand, and a leg, showed that she had in some strange way been the victim of acid.

"The glass did not contain water when Miss Bloomer rushed into the bathroom of her brother's apartment to relieve a choking sensation caused by eating a cracker," the coroner said. "She evidently took no heed of what she was doing as right by the side of the glass which she took was another glass, which either she or the maid, Joanne Pierre, had filled with pure water for the purpose of rinsing a belt buckle which had first been placed in the glass containing the cyanide solution to remove tarnish."

The coroner said there was not enough of the poison in the untouched glass to have seriously harmed the young woman. The statement of Dr. Forbes Hawkes, who lives in the adjoining house and who was summoned immediately after the accident, with the circumstances as related by the maid and J. Ralph Bloomer, convinced the coroner, he said, that he would not be justified in holding a formal inquest.

The doctors who were called in could not rouse the patient, and were unable to make a diagnosis which was even satisfactory to themselves. Finally a clairvoyant, Mrs. Pandora, was taken to the sick room with the hope that the beautiful girl might yield to the influence of mystics, but this, too, failed of satisfactory result.

To the newspapers the family alternately denied and confirmed the story of the burning, but the true circumstances, if known to the immediate relatives, were never revealed to the public. As soon as she was able to be removed, Miss Bloomer appeared at Saranac Lake, where she remained in practical seclusion until September.

Yesterday Ralph Bloomer was almost prostrated by the shock of his sister's death and remained all day in the apartment where the accident occurred, until time to leave on the Pennsylvania Limited, by which the body was conveyed to their former home.

"I can make no explanation," he said through a friend. "It was such a terrible accident that I am not yet over the first shock. My sister was in the happiest frame of mind when I reached home Wednesday evening, and had for a number of days been making arrangements to go with a party of friends for an outing on Lake Erie. Before the close of the summer she intended going abroad with other members of our family."

Mr. Bloomer and his friends declined to discus the mystery of the burning.

Methinks it was a great pity that the coroner failed to hold that inquest.  There was obviously a great deal more to this death than meets the eye, but this polite disinterest ensured that it was uninvestigated and quickly forgotten.

So far as I know, none of the myriad oddities of poor Miss Bloomer's end--including how J. Ralph figured "strangely" in his sister's life--were ever publicly explained.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nicol Muschet: Murder By Committee

Current location of "Muschet's Cairn," via Wikipedia

I fully agree with Thomas De Quincey’s declaration that “something more goes to the composition of a fine murder than two blockheads to kill and be killed, a knife, a purse, and a dark lane.” Although I confess to a deplorable interest in true crime, I have no desire to read about deviltry notable only for its brutality. (I avoid such horrors as the Moors Murders or Frederick and Rosemary West, for example.) I only like reading about human wrongdoing if it has a strong element of mystery or weirdness to it, preferably both.

This preamble serves as my excuse for today’s topic. Nicol Muschet’s ugly murder of his wife would not normally be a subject I’d care to write about. Muschet was a banal young creep, and his remarkable clumsiness as a murderer ensured that he rapidly got the punishment he so obviously deserved. His guilt has no nagging question marks around it.

The sole interesting factor of this case is that he was one of those rare murderers to work with an advisory committee. With no effort at all on his part, Muschet gathered around him a large group of people eager to offer counsel and practical aid for ridding himself of his spouse. The fact that several of these people were among Edinburgh’s more distinguished citizens just makes things all the quainter. This remarkable example of “team spirit” justifies, I hope, my presenting this curious little peek into the social life of early 18th century Scotland.

Most of what we know about Muschet comes from the pamphlet—an almost mandatory feature for all the more notorious criminals of the era—giving a first person account of his life and crimes. It is most notable for displaying a quite nauseating blend of self-justification and bathetic assumed religiosity.

According to this document, Muschet was born in 1695 to parents “eminent where they lived for Piety.” His father died early in his life, but he retained a mother who raised him “in the true Presbyterian Principles of Religion.”

He attended the Edinburgh Medical College, and in 1716 became a surgeon’s apprentice. Free from his mother’s guidance, he gravitated to bad companions, spending his days in “vitious Practices.” He left his job—we are not told why, but it was certainly a fortunate turn for the medical profession—and returned home. However, the lure of observing a public dissection soon brought him back to town. On his return, he met a young woman named Margaret Hall. According to Muschet, Hall was a girl of highly dubious virtue who immediately launched a shameless pursuit of him, even though he found the company of such a wanton creature repellent. It is curious to read that—three weeks after their first meeting—we find our hero marrying the girl. (In his account, Muschet protests—rather too much—against the contemporary, and likely quite accurate, rumor that the marriage was of the shotgun variety, insisted upon by Hall’s father.)

Considering the circumstances—and the character of the bridegroom—it is no shock that the marriage quickly proved a failure, and Muschet made up his mind to leave his wife and go abroad. There was, however, one complication to this plan. Muschet, on top of all his other lovable qualities, was a selfish skinflint who dreaded the idea of having to pay his wife alimony. It was probably at that time that he began to ponder more drastic plans for ridding himself of his new spouse.

These plans kicked into overdrive when Muschet met James Campbell, whom he described as “the only Viceregent of the Devil.” When Campbell heard of his friend’s marital unhappiness, he soon proved that Muschet’s description of him was not inaccurate. He offered a deal—eventually formalized in a written contract—that in exchange for a fee, he would help Muschet obtain a divorce. Campbell promised to acquire legal affidavits from witnesses testifying to “the whorish practices of Margaret Hall.” His “hellish project,” to use the words of his friend Muschet, was simple: He would bring Hall to the home of one of his obliging friends (a town Magistrate,) drug her with laudanum, and while she was unconscious, bring in another crony—a Professor of Languages, no less—to, as crime historian William Roughead primly put it, “sustain the role of Iachimo.”

The conspiracy was aborted, thanks to their legal advisor, a James Russell (this lawyer was also responsible for the contract between the parties.) Russell informed them that unless they could prove some sort of prior acquaintance between Hall and the estimable Professor, their evidence of her “infidelity” would do them little good.

At this point, a kinsman named James Muschet and his wife Grissel enter the picture. “For a piece of Money” they eagerly entered into the increasingly popular game of ridding Muschet of his wife. However, their schemes to prove Hall was a loose woman were increasingly expensive and utterly ineffective, causing Muschet to finally abandon the notion of ending his marriage by legal means.

His good friend Campbell then made a suggestion that had probably already occurred to the enterprising young surgeon. Why not simply give Hall a dose of poison? James Muschet, in return for yet another “consideration,” cheerfully agreed to take on the job. James gave Hall “a dram” liberally laced with mercury, but although she became dreadfully sick, it failed to produce the desired results. On Campbell’s advice, they gave her several more doses of the poison, but their subject showed a maddening refusal to die.

Campbell—certainly a believer in the “if at first you don’t succeed” motto—proposed that James Muschet take Hall out drinking, and when she was sufficiently unsteady, simply drown her in a pond. (He even helpfully suggested two sites he thought appropriate for the deed.) James, however, refused to agree to the plan. Grissel dreamed up an alternate scheme—her husband would “on a pretense of kindness” take Hall out riding on a pillion behind him, and when they came to a river, hurl her into the water.

Campbell rejected the plan as too difficult and overly dependent on chance. He suggested James should simply knock Hall on the head and throw her “into some Hole without the Town, and immediately thereafter to flee to Paris.” Alas, James again declined to do Muschet’s dirty work for him. Matters were at a stalemate until May of 1720, when our merry band agreed to try Campbell’s latest plan: Grissel would invite Hall to her lodgings and keep her there until a late hour “by affording her Meat and Drink, and entertaining her with flattering Discourse.” When Hall walked home, James, lying in wait in a dark alley, would bludgeon her to death. They wound up trying this scheme several times, but every time James was ready to strike, “some Body going up or down prevented it.”

By this point, Muschet sighed, he was ready to give up on murdering his seemingly invulnerable spouse, but after a scolding from Grissel Muschet (“Is it reasonable, think you, so to do, when my Husband and I have wared so much Time and Pains to accomplish that Design, and in Expectation of our Reward, now to give it over?”) took up the enterprise anew. James Muschet did not have any more luck as an assassin than before. Always, it seems, whenever Hall was within his grasp, passerby prevented him from carrying out the deed. All that this long succession of late nights in cold alleyways accomplished was to give the would-be murderer “a violent Toothache, which occasioned him to keep his Room for two or three days.”

On October 17th, 1720, Muschet borrowed a knife from his landlady. That evening, he invited his wife for a walk. The original plan was that he would make one more attempt to lead her to the ever-lurking James Muschet, but Nicol tells us he realized that it was “but a light thing who was the executioner.” It finally dawned on Nicol Muschet that if you want something done right, you had damn well better do it yourself. He would be rid of these inept and costly middlemen and just do the deed on his own. He led his wife into the dark, quiet grounds of the King’s Park, near the palace of Holyrood. Muschet records that Hall began to weep, “and prayed that God might forgive me if I was taking her to any Mischief.”

Very soon after she said these words, Muschet launched his attack. Stabbing a woman to death was more difficult than Muschet had thought, and the struggle was a long and gruesome one. Finally, however, this ill-fated marriage reached its bloody end. According to a contemporary “Elegy” on her murder, Margaret Hall was only sixteen years old.

Muschet left Hall where she had fallen, and after boasting of his “horrid Wickedness” to his landlady and the Muschets (the latter demanded instant payment for their earlier participation,) he took himself to bed. One hopes he had a bad night.

Hall’s mutilated body was discovered at about ten the next morning, and the corpse was soon identified. Muschet took himself to Leith, but returned to Edinburgh that night, where Grissel gave him the pleasant news that “all Things are very well,” and that he could return to his lodgings. She and her husband, she assured him, would ably perjure themselves in his defense. However, when Muschet heard that his landlady was being questioned by the authorities, he sped back to Leith.

Meanwhile, Grissel Muschet, displaying the usual honor among thieves—or murderers—decided that the best protection for her and her spouse was to grass on their former employer. They told law enforcement everything they knew about the murder, and Grissel even helpfully led the City Guard to Muschet’s current address.

After his arrest, Muschet initially tried denying his guilt, but either, as he said, “Conscience, that great Accuser” got the better of him, or (more likely) he realized the game was up. He threw up his hands and signed a confession. The jury had little difficulty in convicting him, with the hanging set for January 6th, 1721.

In his published confession, Muschet made a grand show of “forgiving” Campbell, the Muschet pair, and his other partners in crime, whom he described as being entirely responsible for his black deeds. He also took the opportunity to castigate those who had spread talk that he had attempted suicide in prison, that he was a chronic inebriate, and that his relations with his landlady went beyond the bounds of propriety. He ended with the probably overoptimistic declaration, “Welcome Heaven and Eternal Enjoyment!”

Of all Muschet’s little helpers, only James Campbell faced any charges. Two months after Muschet was hanged, Campbell was found guilty for being “art and part” in the numerous attempts to murder Margaret Hall (the indefatigable James and Grissel again turned King's Evidence,) and he was sentenced to transportation to the West Indies for life. It seems, however, that he soon returned to Scotland, because he is next heard of as a prisoner in Edinburgh Castle. He is lost to history at that point, but it is assumed he died in captivity.

The killing of Margaret Hall has left memorials other than her husband’s pamphlet. A cairn was erected over the site of her death, although the monument has been relocated over the centuries. “Muschet’s Cairn” gained fame through being featured in Walter Scott’s “The Heart of Midlothian,” thus bestowing upon a nasty little killer a curious form of immortality.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Weekend Link Dump

This week's collection of links has left strange company positively flattened.

The cats say much the same.

On to the latest Pleasure Trip Through the Trippy:

What the hell is the Waffle Rock of West Virginia?

What the hell did Frederick William Birmingham build?

Who the hell murdered Richard Cornish?

What the hell did Captain M'Quhae see in the South Atlantic in 1848?

What the hell did Russell Yokum see in Oregon in 1981?

What the hell did numerous people see in New Hampshire in 1965?

What the hell did numerous people see in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania in 1965?

What the hell is everyone in Connecticut hearing right now?

What the hell is everyone around the new One World Trade Center hearing right now?

What the hell became of Belle Gunness, the world's worst blind date?

What the hell became of Edward II?  A fascinating historical detective work-in-progress.

What the hell have they discovered in Antarctica?

What the hell is happening on pig farms?

What the hell was in that medieval water?

Martha Marek, remarkably busy evildoer.

One can only say that Fate works in very strange ways.

How a life was saved by the love of a good goose.

And human history continues to be pushed back, back, back...

A 19th-century Nessie hunt.

Mark Twain, ghostwriter.

Why psychic research is not for the faint-hearted.

Why we put orange food coloring in cheeses.  As you may guess, it's a pretty stupid reason.

Scary fairies.

Probably the most beautiful human skull you'll ever see.

Out:  The Wheel of Fortune.  In:  The Wheel of Urine!

In a mood to mainline some pure, double-strength paranoia?  Here you go.

Still not paranoid enough for you?  How about contemplating that we're all just one giant 404 page?

Meet the Matron of Morbidity.

Napoleon and the Great Pyramid:  How a myth is born.

The strange portraits of Mrs. Faber.

Mushrooms and do-it-yourself climate change.

Well, there's no way this could possibly have an unfortunate ending, right?

"The Notification Was Posted on the Recipient's Gravestone Because He Is Deceased." Watch out for those Turkish process servers!

Why do witches ride broomsticks?  Well, because they can!

On a different note, here's a reminder that humans aren't the only ones hoping for a Merry Christmas.

And, finally, the photo of the week. Merlina's eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming!

Well, that's this week's serving of fresh, hot links.  See you on Monday, when we'll take a look at an 18th-century surgeon who saw wife-murder as a group effort.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

What can I say?  Mystery Blood Stories are just the gift that keeps on bleeding giving.  This latest one is found in the "Decatur Morning Review" for February 7, 1891.  It falls into the same simple-but-insane pattern we've come to know so well:

WASHINGTON CITY, Feb. 7.--Washington has a sensation over the mysteries in the house of Byron Sunderland, the pastor of the Presbyterian church which President and Mrs. Cleveland used to attend. Dr. Sunderland has been one of the characters of the national capitol for a good many years, but his church had no celebrity until it was selected as a place of worship by Mr. Cleveland because of old associations between his father and the pastor. During the period that it had a presidential pew the church was crowded regularly. Since Mr. Cleveland went away it has fallen back into obscurity.

The blood-stains, however, were in Dr. Sunderland's house and not in the church. He heard a loud noise during the night, but did not go down-stairs to investigate. Thursday morning two large pools of blood were found in the dining-room, while stains on the door and wall gave evidence of the conflict. As far as can be learned the house had not been broken into, and nobody had been in the house either. There were blood tracks from the sidewalk of the house to the square below, where they were lost. The police have not succeeded in clearing up the mystery.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Broughty Ferry Mystery; Or, The Case of the Lethal Lothario

On the surface, Jean Milne was the quintessential genteel spinster—a sort of non-ratiocinative Miss Marple. This resident of Broughty Ferry, Scotland was sixty-five years old in 1912. Her only close relative, a brother, died in 1903, leaving her a tidy fortune. She lived alone, without even a servant, in Elmgrove House, a large home well-shielded from the outside world by trees and shrubs. Despite her wealth, she generally led a quiet, Spartan life, choosing to keep herself somewhat distant from the town society. Milne was not exactly a recluse, but she was hardly sociable, either.

There were, however, hints that this demure Edwardian lady liked the occasional walk on the wild side. She had a passion for wearing colorful, girlish clothes, and three times a year, she would travel to London, where she would put herself up at a lavish hotel, see the sights, and generally kick up her heels for several months at a time.

She even, during what would prove to be the last of her trips to the capital, acquired a boyfriend, a gentleman she had met at her hotel—information she was not at all adverse to sharing with her friends back at Broughty Ferry. “Miss Milne was so kittenish over the matter,” one of these acquaintances recalled. “She giggled, just like a girl.” Milne even suggested the two would soon marry.

The poor woman’s romance soon proved to have the most frightful of consequences. On November 2, 1912, her postman noticed that Milne had not collected her mail for some two weeks, and he informed police of this oddity. The next morning, some officers went to Elmgrove to make sure all was well. After repeated knocking at the front door failed to get a response, they broke in, to be greeted by horror.

Milne was found dead by the foot of the stairs, fully dressed but partially covered by a sheet. Her head was bloody from several wounds, and her ankles tied together with a curtain cord. A blood-stained poker lay near her. The phone wires had been cut. The hallway was in disarray, indicating that she had put up a fierce fight with her attacker. Other than that, however, the house was in its usual order and nothing was missing, including the valuable jewelry the dead woman had been wearing, which ruled out an ordinary burglary. The autopsy indicated she had been dead for about three weeks. She had been beaten all over her body with some heavy object, presumably the poker. The wounds to her head were by themselves fairly slight, but in total they were enough to kill her by means of a cerebral hemorrhage.

The local police had the sense to realize that such a spectacular crime was rather out of their league, so Detective-Lieutenant John Trench of the Glasgow City Police, a man considered to be the best detective in Scotland, was brought in to handle the case.

Milne had last been seen alive on October 15. However, a collector for a local charity stated that he went to Elmgrove on the 21st, and, on approaching the house, saw a woman standing in an upper window who he assumed was Milne. When he knocked, there was no response. He noted that the cover of the front door’s lock was down. He returned later in the day. He saw no sign of anyone, but saw that the cover of the lock was now up, indicating that someone had recently used a key in the door. This testimony is one of the many irreconcilable oddities about the murder.

Trench found a half-smoked cigar in the dining-room fireplace. This, plus the fact that her table had been set for high tea for two, indicated that she had had male company—presumably her mysterious beau. (This was later confirmed when a local liquor dealer recalled that shortly before her death, Milne had ordered wine and whisky, explaining coyly that she expected “a gentleman friend to dinner.”) Trench also discovered something peculiar when he inspected the clothes Milne had worn at the time of her murder. They were full of small holes that he believed had been made by a two-pronged fork which was found near the murder scene. The autopsy report had made no reference to her being stabbed, so Trench urged that the body be exhumed for further examination, but, rather remarkably, this was refused, leaving the perforated garments an unresolved mystery.

It was obvious that Milne knew her murderer, and had, so to speak, let Death enter her house. All the doors and windows in Elmgrove were locked, and there was no indication of forced entry. Trench was of the opinion that Milne’s assailant had not meant to kill her—had, in fact, assumed she would survive. How else to explain the fact that the attacker had troubled to tie her ankles together and cut the phone line so she could not call police? The detective’s theory was that the two had quarreled, and Milne had reached for the poker—a weapon she had used before to scare off trespassing neighbor boys. Her adversary had wrenched it from her, and used it to—so he assumed—merely stun her enough for him to make his getaway. This is all plausible enough, but even Trench seemed to acknowledge that this still didn’t explain the stab marks on her clothing or the sheet covering her body.

And, of course, none of this helped to establish the crucial point: Who was the “gentleman friend” who presumably was responsible for her death? Milne does not seem to have told anyone anything about him, not even his name. One contemporary newspaper story claimed that correspondence found in the house gave some indication of his identity, causing Scotland Yard to be on the trail of a particular “dashing American.” This vital clue—if it actually existed outside of some journalist’s fancy—went nowhere.

A maid who worked in a neighboring house told police that sometime between October 6th and 12th, she had seen a tall, fair-haired, good-looking man in evening dress walking through the gardens of Elmgrove. John Wood, Milne’s gardener, stated that when she returned from her last visit to London, she talked much about a tea-planter she had met, a “German gentleman.” One day not long afterwards, Wood was at Elmgrove when the doorbell rang. He answered the door to find a man who asked if Miss Milne was in. When she heard the visitor, Wood said she eagerly “skipped along the passage,” “just like a lassie” to greet him. She then sent Wood on his way and escorted her guest to the sitting-room. It was the last time Wood saw his employer alive. Two sisters by the name of McIntosh related that on the evening of October 7th, they saw a stranger emerge from the entrance gate of Elmgrove. As the sisters knew Milne rarely had visitors, they were interested enough to observe the man closely. Several other townsfolk also claimed to have seen “the man” in the vicinity. A taxi-driver, Frederick Ewing, said that on October 15th, he picked up a fare at the local train station who demanded to be driven to Broughty Ferry. Unlike Wood’s “German gentleman,” this man spoke with an English accent. When they were near Elmgrove, the passenger stopped the cab, paid his fare, and exited.  A workman claimed that early on the morning of the 16th, he saw a stranger who generally matched the description given by the maid furtively come out of Elmgrove’s main entrance gate. After anxiously looking about to see if he was observed, this unknown man hurriedly walked away.  “Wanted” fliers offering a reward were sent out, giving a description of the suspect.

One of these fliers gained the attention of the prison authorities in Maidstone. As it happened, they had in custody a Canadian named Charles Warner, who had been their guest for the last two weeks as a result of trying to leave a restaurant without paying his bill. His jail-keepers thought he fit the description given of the Broughty Ferry murderer, and immediately decided that the mystery was solved. They took his photograph and sent it on to be examined by the local witnesses. Their reactions were definite enough for five of them to be sent to England to view the presumed fiend in person.

When they arrived, Warner was put in a lineup. All five witnesses instantaneously and unhesitatingly agreed that this was “the man.” Although Warner himself denounced the proceedings as “a farce,” declaring that he had never been in Scotland in his life, a warrant was instantly issued for his arrest on a charge of murder.

“You’ll be sorry for this in a few days,” he said as he was transported to Scotland. “I’m an innocent man.”

No one believed him. After all, just look at all the eyewitness testimony!

In London, there was another eyewitness parade, this time of people who had seen Milne with her beau in various places around the city. This proved to be a great letdown for the police. Not one of these witnesses recognized Warner.

Well, little matter. Off to Broughty Ferry he went, for further interrogation, and, as everyone assumed, a trial, a conviction, and a hanging.

Well, everyone except Lieutenant Trench. He was evidently not only an intelligent, observant, and honest man, but unusually open-minded. He had ample opportunity to observe the prisoner for himself, and the more he studied Warner, the more doubts he had about the man’s guilt. Warner, he learned, had for the last few months had been traveling through Europe. His brother, who had been providing him with a small allowance, had recently died. This left him stranded, and forced to live as a vagrant. He had last been in the Low Countries, after which he traveled to London, where he had remained until November 3rd—the day Milne’s body was discovered.

Trench questioned him about where he had been on October 16, the presumed day of Milne’s death. (It says much about the quality of the investigation into Milne’s death that apparently no one had bothered asking him this rather vital question before.) Warner replied that he had been in Antwerp. He left that city the next day for London. Unfortunately, Warner had been sleeping out of doors, without any friends or private address that could establish proof of his whereabouts.

Finally, Warner recalled one piece of evidence to back up his story: On the very day of Milne’s murder, he had pawned his coat. In what would prove to be the luckiest act of his life, he still had the ticket. Trench got this ticket from him, traveled to Antwerp, found the pawnshop, redeemed the coat, and presented the authorities with as pretty a cast-iron alibi as can be imagined.

The machinery of justice, which was busy laying the groundwork for Warner’s murder trial, suddenly found themselves stopped in their tracks. After a short period of digesting the highly undesirable news that they had been wasting their time on a demonstrably innocent man, they shrugged, sighed, and let Warner go. In January 1913, he boarded a liner headed for Canada, and he no doubt gratefully disappeared from history. He will always be remembered, however, as not just probably the only man in history whose life was saved by a pawn ticket, but as a sterling example of the grave dangers of eyewitness testimony.

By this point in our narrative, you’re undoubtedly asking, “So, if Charles Warner did not kill Jean Milne, who did?”

Well, after the "sure thing" suspect fizzled out so dramatically, everyone seems to have given up on ever being able to answer that question.