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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the League of High Society Cats!

Why the hell did the 1918 flu kill so many young people?

What the hell did 17th century food taste like?

What the hell was Mithraism?

Watch out for Jolly Jane!

Watch out for those naked Scottish mermaids!

Watch out for those false fashionistas!

Watch out for those hairy dwarfs!

Butchery on First Avenue.

Elizabeth Armstrong, who won the battle but really, really lost the war.

A murder and an early "paranormal investigation."

How a pigeon tendon confirmed Queen Victoria's chops as an art historian.  Never mind, just read.

R. Stevie Moore, the most prolific of musicians.

Byzantine science.

If you want to trace the steps of Lewis and Clark, just follow the mercury-laden latrines!

The man behind Gilligan's "Professor."   (Side note: I remember when I was 4 or 5 or so, watching "Gilligan's Island" simply because I had a major crush on Russell Johnson.  I thought the Professor was the best thing about the show.)

Peterborough folklore.

A "scandalous and formidable" lady.

A brief history of kitty litter.

Sammelbands and frisket-bites.

The last days of a 19th century poisoner.

A teenager's weird disappearance.

More proof of how life insurance has enriched the true-crime genre.

The dangers of "knitter's face."

Weird Wills of the Georgian era.

Wonderful photos of the old pubs of Wapping.

Tales from 19th century London prostitutes.

Tales from a 19th century Italian bandit.

People who got on Marie Antoinette's nerves.

A Mesopotamian marriage contract.

Because I know you're dying to discuss medieval toilet habits.

And then let's move on to Alexander Hamilton's secretions.  Not to mention his manicules.

And a bit of bodysnatching.

Unitarians, a Polish swamp, and a life-saving gnome.  Read on.

Thomas Cream: he wasn't Jack the Ripper, but he surely still deserved to hang.

Celebrating a WWII veteran on her 15th birthday.

The railroad telegraph version of Phone Calls From the Dead.

The tragic death of a 19th century stationer.

The murder of a society bootlegger.

The hazards of dating the dead.

Byron's manservant.

The executions of Old London.

An operatic parrot.

The execution of a famed Danish witch.

A ghost story from WWI.

The dreadful summer of 1816.

Postcards from the U.S./Mexico border, 1916.

The "Despard Plot."

Musical Renaissance knives.

And so yet another Link Dump comes to a close. See you on Monday, when we'll meet an unusually chatty cat. In the meantime, here's some Altan:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

The mysterious "Woman in Black" is a classic variety of apparition. One English example was reported in the "Nottingham Evening Post," December 21, 1928:
The Shropshire village of Northwood, between Wem and Ellesmere, is in state of excitement, caused by a mysterious apparition.

Accounts have been given by independent witnesses of the appearance of a woman, dressed in black, who vanishes in an instant when approached.

A farmer named Morris and workman named Peate were returning home at night with a horse and trap, when they saw the woman, whom they thought they recognised as the wife of a local farmer. They stopped the horse to give her a lift, but she vanished, and they got out of the trap and searched in vain for her.

A man named Egerton, in the same district, was walking along the road at night, and saw the woman in the glare of a passing motor-car. The car passed over the spot where the woman stood and he ran forward expecting to find her body in the road. There was nothing to be seen.

Mr. Arthur R. Ellis, of Wem, a dealer in wireless apparatus, was driving his car in the same district, and saw the woman, whom he knew well, standing in the road. He put on the brakes and swerved to avoid her, and pulled up, but there was nothing to be seen.

Unfortunately, I haven't found any more information about this story.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Murder in Euclid Heights

William Lowe Rice was, on the surface at least, a classic American success story. The 47-year-old attorney and housing developer rose out of obscurity to become powerful, socially prominent, and one of the richest men in Cleveland, Ohio. His specialty was in "readjusting" the finances of failing businesses. His remarkable success in saving companies from extinction earned him massive fees. After he refinanced the John Hartness Brown Building, he even wound up with a controlling interest in the project. By 1910, he had acquired a magnificent estate in posh Euclid Heights, a beautiful wife, and four charming daughters. He was respected, but not loved--Rice was a notorious skinflint who, it was whispered, had not been entirely scrupulous about how he acquired his wealth. Still, there were no signs that anyone might have hated Rice enough to see him dead.

But someone did.

August 4, 1910, found Rice temporarily living alone. His wife, Elise, and their daughters were visiting the family's vacation home in Massachusetts. The day progressed normally for Rice. He spent most of the day at his downtown law office. After work, he played golf at his club. He had a good game, which pleased him enormously. After the match, he showered and had dinner with a few friends, who later described him as having been "in the best of spirits."

The Rice mansion

At about 10:30 pm Rice left the club to walk home, which was about 500 yards away. He never made it. Around ten minutes later, when he was only several hundred feet from the back of his property, someone came out of the darkness and shot him several times.

Earl Davis, a bellboy at Rice's club, heard the gunshots, as well as the sound of footsteps running along the building's west side. He went outside to see what was going on, where he saw a patrolman, C.L. Wahl, who had also heard the shots and was coming to investigate. Davis told him about the footsteps, which sent Wahl off in pursuit. He soon caught up to the source of these running steps, a man who was heading toward a streetcar stop. The man seemed nonchalant, commenting only, "You're a pretty good runner, Officer." Wahl saw no sign that his quarry was at all troubled to see him, and since, at that time, he was unaware a crime had been committed, he let the man go on his way.

Just before 11 pm, a Dr. W.H. Phillips and some friends were driving near the club when they spotted something deeply startling: a bloody body lying by the side of the road, so badly wounded that they assumed he had been hit by a car. When they stopped to examine the man, they found he was still alive, but unconscious and obviously in grave condition.

As they were loading the victim into their car, they were joined by someone who had just gotten off a nearby streetcar. Seeing the commotion, he came by to see what was going on. The man was John Hartness Brown. He was a neighbor of Rice's, but he could hardly have been called a friend--in fact, it was said that he held a strong grudge against Rice for taking control of his building. Oddly, although Brown asked what had happened, and offered assistance, he showed no sign of recognizing the injured man.

Phillips and his friends rushed to the hospital, but it was futile: Rice died before they even got there.

When the body was examined at the morgue, it was found that this was no accident victim. He had been shot twice in the face. Before being shot, Rice had also suffered several deep cuts to his hands and arms, and had evidently been bludgeoned so badly that he may have been unconscious at the time he was shot. Rice had been a tall, athletic man, and it was clear that he had put up a fierce fight against his assailant.

News of this seemingly senseless murder turned Rice's normally quiet, luxurious neighborhood upside down. His fellow millionaires all quaked in fear, wondering if they had a maniac running loose in their midst. A large reward was offered for any information about the crime, and a large flock of police and private detectives were assigned to track down the killer. And it all did no good whatsoever. Although any number of increasingly lurid rumors sprang up about who had slaughtered Rice, and why, solid leads in the case were bafflingly absent.

The initial assumption was that Rice was the victim of street robbers, who killed him when he put up a fight. However, this theory was easily shown to be ridiculous. For one thing, it was an astonishingly public murder. He was killed on a normally populous avenue, next to a line where streetcars passed by every ten minutes or so, and in front of a row of occupied homes--surely not a preferred place for footpads to lurk. Most importantly, when found, he was still wearing three gold rings, a diamond collar stud, gold cuff links, and carrying over $100 in cash. Whoever killed Rice had other motives than mere robbery.

The murder had all the hallmarks of a revenge killing, (particularly when the interesting fact emerged that for some weeks before his death, Rice had been sleeping with two loaded guns under his bed.) However, although investigators soon learned that very many people disliked Rice, and most of his nearest and dearest did not seem particularly surprised he had met a violent end, they could not find anyone who had what seemed like sufficiently strong motive, means, and opportunity to do such a savage deed.

The Rice mystery made its first true headlong leap into The Weird when on the morning after the murder, a bag of dead chickens was found near the crime scene. This led to speculation that the dead man had run into a gang of chicken thieves, who killed him in order to make a clean getaway.

Although "death by chicken thief" has a pleasantly bizarre ring to it, County Prosecutor John Cline thought otherwise. Virtually from the beginning of the investigation, he had only one suspect: Lowe's neighbor and former business partner John Hartness Brown. Cline was convinced Brown was Rice's murderer.

Now his only problem was to prove it.

Unfortunately for Cline, Brown had an alibi. He claimed he had spent the evening of the murder visiting friends in another part of town, and did not arrive in the area of the murder until nearly 11:30 pm, when he returned to his neighborhood via streetcar. Try as Cline might, he was unable to break this alibi. He was also faced with the inconvenient fact that no trace of blood was seen on Brown, which would be nearly impossible if he had committed such a savage crime. Also, while Brown had reason to resent Rice for his brutal business practices, so did a great many others.

One would be tempted to entirely discount Brown as the murderer, except for one very peculiar detail: Soon after Rice's body was brought to the morgue, the attendant received a phone call from Brown, asking if Mr. Rice's body was there. The attendant testified that he had not volunteered Rice's name--Brown had been the first to mention the identity of the dead man. So why, when Brown saw Dr. Phillips and his party with the body, did he act like the victim was a stranger to him? (It is conceivable Brown hired a hit man, but no evidence for that ever surfaced.)

The investigation into Rice's murder gradually came to a sputtering, inconclusive end. There is an anecdote that says it all about this strangely baffling case. In the 1950s, an attorney asked a couple of elderly lawyers who had known Rice what they thought about the murder. They both nodded sagely and said, "Everyone knew who did it."

These men each named a different person as the killer.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Association of Medieval Cats!

Watch out for those Rolling Muffs!

A less famous example of "Devil's Footprints."

Teenage boys will be teenage boys.  Even if they're mammoths.

The "worst orchestra in the world."  Not to boast, but back in the day, I was associated with a country-rock band that I can proudly say was even worse.

The stone that could rewrite art history.

Vignettes of ordinary life in 18th century England.

The long history of Natchitoches, Louisiana.

A forgotten king of 20th century fashion.

The un-sheikhed Sheikh.

Ghosts wearing grave-clothes.

The Case of the Murderous Maid.

Pro tip: If you're about to be hanged, it's good to have an executioner with a lot of debts.

Personal documents of WWI.

Crows are being put to work as street cleaners.

The real history of the Orient Express.

A quiet Welsh brothel.

The "solitary and deluded vice."  Yes, it's just what you think.

Recreating the diet of a 17th century sailor.  No, you wouldn't want to eat it.

A handy guide to contacting the dead.

The girl who was supposedly kidnapped by Bigfoot.

Ancient pregnancy tests.

Saints really knew how to multitask.

The paranormal side of WWI.

Louis XVI's brother in Scotland.

The lives of children of some famous political figures.

The Rolands, among the many victims of the French Revolution.

Dragon folklore.

An early female archaeologist.

Some ancient reconstructed faces.

2017's strangest unsolved murders.

The 1817 death of Princess Charlotte.

The weird death of John Wheeler.

The "X-ray murder case."

Ireland's Witch Detectives.

The "peppermints on the beach" murder.

The "monks of emptiness."

When women didn't want women to vote.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  What to do with a pigeon's backside.  No, seriously.

Dreaming of the Sphinx.

Sex in the Medieval City.

The connection between "Don Quixote" and digital piracy.

Are we hardwired to see ghosts?

High-tech ghosts.

A Christmas earthquake.

Plots, gunpowder, and orange juice.

More on the Gunpowder Plot.

Patents for flying saucers.

A "new" portrait of Mary Queen of Scots.

Burke and Hare, murderers-for-profit.

The peculiar disappearance of a Japanese tourist in Canada.

This was a big week in Russian Weird: a Siberian time capsule.

And here's this Russian who's really a Martian.

There are no urban legends quite like Soviet Urban Legends.

That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at an unsolved Ohio murder. In the meantime, here's this little gem I found by a happy accident on YouTube:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Many writers incorporate elements of their personal lives in their fiction, but few go quite so far as Christine Sturm, nurse turned would-be Agatha Christie. Here is a UPI story from 1953:

Clovis, N.M., Jan. 29--Police disclosed today that the manuscript of a murder story led them to a shallow grave where a baby's body had been buried. They arrested the author and charged her with second-degree murder.

The infant had died six years ago shortly after its birth to Mrs. Christine Sturm, 27, an amateur mystery story writer, authorities said.

Mrs. Sturm was arrested and charged with the child's murder after Sheriff Val Baumgart had read a nine-page manuscript she had prepared for an "unsolved mystery" fiction writing contest. After reading the story the sheriff sent detectives to dig in a garage.

The investigators found the infant's skeleton wrapped in brown paper and buried eight inches beneath the surface of the dirt floor of the garage.

On instructions from the district attorney's office, Baumgart refused to make public any of the passages from the manuscript except for its closing sentence: "You can't lead a double life and be happy."

A two-count bill of information alleged that Mrs. Sturm killed the child sometime in February, 1947, by "exposure" with intent to take its life.

"It was an unsolved crime the way she wrote it and would have remained really an unsolved crime if it hadn't been written," Baumgart said. "It was a pretty good story for an amateur writer. It might have won the contest if we hadn't gotten our hands on it first."

The sheriff said the manuscript failed to say what caused the baby's death, but that the "story" described "all the details of how it was buried."

No attempt had been made to disguise the characters involved with fictional names, the sheriff said.

Baumgart said the manuscript was turned over to him by Mrs. Sturm's former husband, Dan Sturm, a carpenter. He said the couple were divorced three weeks ago after having been married since Dec. 24, 1946.

Baumgart said Sturm told him he did not know of the child's birth and was unaware his wife was seven months pregnant at the time of their marriage. Sturm said the child was not his.

The couple has one child of their own, a three-year-old son, who was placed in Mrs. Sturm's custody at the time of the divorce.

Baumgart said Sturm apparently "just happened" to find the manuscript. It never was submitted in the contest, he said.
Christine Sturm was charged with second-degree murder, but at the hearing, the Judge dismissed the case on the grounds that—by only a few months--the statute of limitations had expired. She left the courtroom a free woman, and vanished into obscurity.

The only positive thing that can be said about this story is that her baby finally got a decent burial.

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Case of the Disappearing Bride

In August 1934, a beautiful 21-year-old redhead named Olga Schultz married handsome Wyoming oilman Carl Mauger. It had been a true whirlwind courtship, with the wedding taking place only a few weeks after the couple first met.

The newlyweds elected to spend their honeymoon elk hunting. It was a natural setting for Olga--she was a country girl who had spent her life hunting, fishing, and hiking. The wilderness was familiar territory for her. The Maugers pitched their tent at Togwotee Pass, 40 miles west of Dubois. On September 17, six days into their stay, Olga and Carl hiked off into the wilds, seeking a game trail. Olga carried with her a small hatchet and a bag of sandwiches. According to Carl, after they had been hiking for some time, Olga said she was tired. She opted to stop and rest while Carl climbed a ridge to "spot" elk. He estimated he was gone for about twenty minutes. When he returned, Olga had vanished. When Carl's search for her proved fruitless, he returned to camp and summoned help.

Within a couple of days, over 300 people were scouring the area, looking for some sign of Olga. Bloodhounds and trackers from the nearby Indian Agency were enlisted in the search. Not a single trace of the missing woman was ever found. The heavy clothing she was wearing, her hatchet, and the bag of sandwiches were never found, as well.

The cross marks the site where Olga vanished.

Carl Mauger was, inevitably, looked upon with some suspicion by the authorities--in fact, they kept him in jail for two months while they interrogated him repeatedly. But his simple, straightforward story remained consistent throughout, and police finally concluded that there was no evidence that he played any role in his new wife's peculiar disappearance.

However, it did emerge that the newlyweds had a complicated history. Before he met Olga, Carl had been courting a young woman named Ella Tchack for five years. While Ella was eager to marry him, Carl kept putting off setting a wedding date, using the excuse that they should wait until he had steady employment. One night, the pair attended a dance, where Olga happened to catch Carl's eye. And that, as they say, was that. Although Ella agreed to step out of the picture, Olga's sister Edith Thompson later said that after Olga and Carl married, Ella sent them a letter threatening to commit suicide.

Carl Mauger

Even more ominously, Mrs. Thompson also claimed that Olga personified that old adage about "marrying in haste." She stated that her sister regretted her marriage practically from the moment the ring was placed on her finger. She had read Ella's letter, and felt very badly about it. Edith recalled that as she was helping Olga pack for the honeymoon, her sister begged her to come with them.

"Why, Ollie," Edith replied, "three persons never go on a honeymoon." She noted that Olga's expression was terribly sad, "not at all like that of a bride."

Although Olga Mauger's disappearance is still remembered as Wyoming's oldest "cold case," no one to date has found any clues indicating what became of her. All anyone can offer is speculation.

Did Olga suffer a terrible accident in that notoriously rough, mountainous country? Did she fall into some ravine or gulch? Working against that theory is the fact that she vanished in a small area, every inch of which was repeatedly searched. For years after she vanished, hunters in the area kept a sharp lookout for some trace of the missing woman, but nothing was ever found. If she had been murdered or committed suicide, the same question applies: where is the body?

Edith Thompson was convinced that Olga disappeared voluntarily. She believed that her sister, fearing that she had made a terrible mistake by marrying Carl, bolted the camp the minute her husband was out of sight. She made her way to the nearby highway, where she could hitch a ride to virtually anywhere. Edith pointed out that Olga had $30 in cash when she vanished, and she was a skilled stenographer, which would have been enough to enable her to start anew. However, if Olga had run away, why did she not contact any of her family or friends? And if Edith was correct that Olga felt that Carl should have married Ella, why not simply divorce him?

Seven years after Olga went on that fateful hike in the woods, Carl Mauger obtained a divorce and remarried. His new wife was none other than the remarkably patient Ella Tchack. Out of deference to the feelings of Olga's family, he did not seek to have his first wife legally declared dead.

Edith Thompson professed to be delighted by Carl's remarriage, saying that it was what Olga would have wanted. She still believed her sister was alive somewhere. "I continue to haunt the mail box, expecting to hear from her someday."

Unfortunately, no one has ever heard from Olga Mauger again.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Maurice Boulanger's Cats of November!

Watch out for those British werecats!

Watch out for those Portuguese werewolves!

Watch out for those Georgian-era cocktails!

Watch out for those Halloween turnips!

A sudden death leads to some foul suspicions.

A German couple's...unusual way with costumes.

The last will of a 19th century Indian woman married to a British man.

The Great Pyramid's secret vault.

Why England celebrates the Gunpowder Plot.

Bartending in Antarctica.

Some smuggler folklore.

The link between Marilyn Monroe's diary and Aleister Crowley.  (Yes, of course it's JFK.)

Restoring a Pompeiian sundial.

Newly discovered Caribbean cave art.

The man who fought the real pirates of the Caribbean.

A brief history of forensic autopsies.

Napoleon Bonaparte gives a TED talk.

An infamous New Zealand "baby farmer."

The legendary "Sultan Massacre House."

Medieval monster scholars.

The French celebration of All Saints' Day.

The famed ghost of William Terriss.

One man's creative burial.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  What not to do with an egg-cup.

The face of a Scottish witch.

The death of a god.

The execution of Mrs. Chippy, ship's cat.

"Death with dignity," Regency style.

Fighting fire with fire in medieval times.

Geoffrey Chaucer, civil servant.

19th century Halloween superstitions.

We're getting a visitor from outer space.

Paranormal purples.

A New York Fire Dog.

While we're at it, meet Mickey the Fire Cat.  You're welcome.

History in a paper bag.

Bewitched dancing horses.

The rise and fall of "the most haunted house in Scotland."

And we're done!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a bride's mysterious disappearance.  In the meantime, here's the world's tastiest orchestra.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

It's been far too long since we've looked at a Mystery Blood story, and this one's a pip. From the "Buffalo Evening News," March 17, 1885:
Mysterious blood stains on the door-steps of several Linwood avenue houses are creating a great excitement in the neighborhood. Dr. Appleby, who lives at 180 Linwood avenue, observed some blood stains on a neighbor's house on Sunday. Out of politeness he said nothing till he observed his own marked the same way. Others were afterward discovered all spattered with blood. It looked in most cases as though some one had taken a brush broom and thrown the drops on with it. In others it appeared as though it had dripped steadily for a few minutes and collected in a pool.

"Cats," said one.

"No, the stains are 7 feet high on my front door."

"Some one with a cut finger went along spattering it on."

"No; there's none on the sidewalk and too much on the doorstep."

"Red paint," said another.

"No, it washes off."

"Mysterious," said all.

The most mysterious part of it is that only some of the houses are marked. The ones who got the benefit are Dr. Appleby, George Lewis, Mr. Leslie, Hudson H. Parke and Mr. Howell. Mr. Howell's house was the worst marked of all. The nervousness is so great that the men are not allowed to go "downtown" nights for fear something might happen.

The police know nothing of the matter and as it has not been reported to them officially have made no investigation.
As usually is the case with these sort of incidents, I've found no follow-up stories.

As a side note, this headline makes me think I have to start a new blog post label: "Ber-lud!"

Monday, October 30, 2017

Elliott O'Donnell's Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Halloween; Or, How Not to Hunt For Ghosts

"Illustrated Police News," December 28, 1872

In his book "Haunted Churches," famed "ghost hunter" Elliott O'Donnell related his experience with trying to chase down the spirit of an ancient nun: an expedition that wound up going down the toilet, in every sense of the phrase.

Let this be a cautionary tale for anyone who goes searching for spooks this Halloween.

A few miles from Hitchin, in a wood on the summit of a hill, are the ruins of Minsden church, at one time a chapel of ease, said to have given shelter to many a passing pilgrim. Tradition associates it with Alice Perrers, mistress of Edward III and Lady of Hitchin Manor, who is credited with stealing her royal lover's rings when he was on his death-bed and powerless to prevent her. In the seventeenth century it witnessed the marriage of Sir John Barrington, Bart., to Susan Draper.

After that time nothing of any note seems to have happened there, and, about 1738, it became so dilapidated that pieces of masonry and plaster not infrequently fell on the clergy and congregation, to the consternation of both.

Probably, soon after that date it was abandoned, some say on account of widespread rumours of its being haunted by the ghost of a nun, alleged to have been murdered during the reign of Henry VIII, when a convent was either attached to the church or occupied its site.

I first heard of the reputed haunting through a photographer living in the neighbourhood of Minsden, who sent me a photograph taken, he said, in broad daylight at the ruins. The chief interest in the photograph lay in what resembled the shadowy form of a nun. The photographer did not claim he had photographed a ghost, he merely called my attention to the shadowy form and implied he could not account for it. He referred to a local belief in the haunting of the spot by the phantom of a murdered nun, and suggested that we should visit the ruins; he would ask a few of his friends to accompany us and I could invite a few of mine. It was October, and, at my suggestion, we chose for the date of our visit to the ruins All Hallows E'en, that being one of the nights in the year when denizens of the spirit world are popularly believed to be in closest touch with the material inhabitants of this plane. Also, since All Hallows E'en is one of the occasions when the working of certain spells is deemed likely to produce interesting results, I asked a lady, who is well versed in such things, to be one of the party. Others I invited were H. V. Morton, the well-known author, Wyndham Lewis, "Beachcomber," and R. Blumenfelt, son of the Editor of The Daily Express.

When I arrived at King's Cross I saw a crowd of people collected in front of the Ladies' Waiting Room. Intuition warned me of the reason, and when I cautiously elbowed my way through the gaping throng, I perceived, as I had anticipated, my mediumistic friend, clad--and this I had not anticipated--in orthodox witch's costume, namely, high cap, cloak, gown covered with demons and black cats and, of course, in one hand, a broomstick. The picture was startling enough, and the expressions on the faces of the spectators were a study. While some showed wonder and others amusement, a few looked positively scared; probably they thought she was the escaped inmate of some home for the mentally defective.

Of my three friends, Morton, Wyndham Lewis and Blumenfelt there was not a sign. Indeed, I did not see them till I had bundled the witch into a third-class compartment, much to the consternation of a female occupant, who at once flew out of it. I then caught sight of them stealing surreptitiously into a first-class compartment, as far away from us as possible.

The Hitchin photographer lived with two very proper, elderly female relatives, and when they caught sight of the witch, standing beside me in the doorway, they were immeasurably shocked. "Who is this person?" they demanded. "She must not enter this house." And when I endeavoured to explain why she had come, their indignation grew. "Tom," one of them exclaimed, turning to the photographer, who cowered against the wall, looking extremely sheepish and uncomfortable, "Tom, you never told us a person dressed like this was coming. It's a scandal. What would your dear father, aye, and grandfather say? Why, they never missed a Sunday at chapel in their lives. The mere thought of a woman in such an attire as this," pointing at the witch, who maintained an imperturbability that suggested she was not altogether unaccustomed to such harangues, "coming to the house is enough to make them turn in their graves. Tell her to go away at once." Tom making no response, I had to intervene, and after much pleading obtained permission for the witch to sit with us in Tom's studio till it was time for us to go to the haunted ruins, on the condition, however, that, after leaving the house then, she was never to set foot in it again.

The ruins were several miles distant, and it was well-nigh midnight when we arrived there. As we drew near to the wood, there was a ghostly rustling of leaves, which made the more nervous of the party clutch hold of one another, followed by a buzzing and whirling, as a number of birds, scared at our approach, left their homes in the ivy-clad ruins of the church and flew frantically away.

I had brought with me a variety of articles necessary for the working of the spells, and I proposed that, while the witch muttered appropriate incantations, Messrs. Morton, Wyndham Lewis and Blumenfelt should try their luck with hempseed and apples.

Most All Hallow E'en keepers know the hempseed spell. Walking alone in the dark one has to scatter hempseed over the left shoulder, drawing mould over it afterwards with a hoe or other instrument, and repeating, as one does so, these words: 
Hempseed I sow, yes, hempseed I hoe;
Oh, those who's to meet me come after me and mow.

And then, if the Powers that govern the Unknown ordain it, one hears footsteps in one's rear and, on turning fearfully around, sees the immaterial counter-part of whoever is to come into one's life within the next twelve months and affect it most. If you are destined to die during that period, you see a skeleton. All this may sound just fanciful and old world, superstitious tripe: but, nevertheless, I have known occasions when something quite unexpected and unquestionably superphysical has happened. On this particular occasion, when asked if they would separate and, alone, amid the gloom and shadows of the trees, put the spell to the test, Messrs. Morton, Wyndham Lewis and Blumenfelt answered in the negative, a very decided negative; they much preferred remaining together.

The witch did her best to persuade the ghost to manifest itself. Seated on the damp soil she crooned, and incanted, and moaned, there was a note of occasional real misery in the last; but the other world remained obdurate, it would not come at her calling, and perhaps it was just as well, because some of the party might, I think, have been more than a wee bit startled; at least I gathered so from their close proximity to one another and from what, every now and then, sounded suspiciously like the chattering of teeth, though the cold--and out there it was cold--might have had something to do with the last.

Our pulses gave a sudden jump when one of the party exclaimed: "What's that?" We looked, and for a few seconds I thought that the witch's endeavours had at last succeeded in bringing the superphysical, but investigation proved it was only the ghostly effect of the moonlight on one of the ivy-clad ruin arches. We were discussing our disappointment, "professed" disappointment, I fancy, on the part of several, when from afar came a sound like the report of a firearm. "A strange hour and season for anyone to be out shooting," someone observed, and we thought no more about it.

As it was now about four o'clock, the chance of the ghost appearing seemed so remote that we set out on our homeward journey.

And now came our only real thrill. It was a still, grey, chilly morning. There had been a slight fog rising from the damp ground during the night, and it was now so thick that those of our party who were in front, myself among them, could not see the witch and photographer, who were trudging along some little distance in the rear. Through the mist the black shades of trees and hedges stood out faintly. We were hastening, thinking longingly of breakfast and a cheery fire, when suddenly dark figures sprang out from seemingly nowhere, and peremptory tones commanded us to halt. They were policemen, four of them, who in the mist--my eyes, no doubt, were strained by hours of high nerve tension vigil--appeared magnified into giants. They asked what we were doing, tramping a lonely highway at that unearthly hour, and when I said: "Looking for a ghost," the leader of them responded nastily: "That's a good 'un. You don't expect us to swallow that." He went on to inform us that the booking office at Wellyn railway station had been broken into during the night and the official in charge of it fired at, which explained the report of firearms we had heard.

He was about to search us, and I was feeling somewhat anxious, because one of our party had, I knew, a revolver on him, when I was seized with a sudden inspiration. "Do you know Mr.--?" I said, naming the local photographer.

"Very well," the Sergeant replied, "but he's not here."

"No," I answered, "but he's following with a lady, clad as a witch, and one or two other people. Do you not know last night was All Hallow's E'en, when the dead from cross-roads and cemeteries are permitted to mingle once more with the living? We came hoping to see the ghost of the nun that rumour alleges haunts the ruins of Minsden church. Haven't you heard of her?"

"Now I come to think of it," the Sergeant said, "I 'ave 'eard of the party, but I don't pay any attention to tales of that sort. You'll all 'ave to come along to the Police Station and answer such questions as may be put to you."

Grunts and ejaculations of dismay came from Morton, Wyndham Lewis and Blumenfelt, who had hitherto been dumb, too overcome, so I imagined, with the horror of the situation to speak.

Now the appalling thoughts of not getting to their respective newspaper headquarters in time loosened their tongue strings, nor did I feel too happy, for I was cold and shivering and wanted a hot drink very badly.

To my infinite relief, however, at this very critical moment, there loomed into view the witch, photographer and the rest of the party, who were all local. On hearing them corroborate my story, the Police Sergeant capitulated, and all ended well, at least so far as concerned that little incident; but there was some bother when we got back to the photographer's house and tried to smuggle in the witch. One of Tom's elderly relatives hearing us, and making sure we were burglars, or the house was on fire, started to scream, and it took desperate efforts on Tom's part to calm her. Fortunately, she was far too frightened to come out of her bedroom, or she must have seen the witch.

Our train back to London did not arrive for nearly two hours, and all that time we sat huddled together in the dreary room, in momentary dread of one or other of Tom's aged relatives descending on us. To render the situation more embarrassing and alarming, the witch, doubtless affected by sitting on the cold ground for so long, had to retire with sudden haste to the toilet which, as bad luck would have it, was upstairs, next to one of the aged relative's bedrooms. She contrived to get there without attracting attention but, on leaving the place, in her anxiety to catch the train, she slipped, and descending amid an avalanche of paper parcels, landed on the floor with a terrific crash. This was altogether too much for Messrs. Morton, Wyndham Lewis and Blumenfelt. They decamped pell-mell, meanly leaving me to grab hold of the witch and drag her and her many parcels to the station.

So ended my first visit to the haunted church of Minsden.
On the bright side, I'm sure O'Donnell could not possibly have seen any Halloween ghost or goblin that was nearly as terrifying as his photographer friend's little old aunties.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Cats of Halloween!

Where the hell is the head of William Mons?

Where the hell is the grave of Virginia Dare?

Watch out for Green Jean!

Watch out for those mud monsters!

Watch out for those haunted toilets!

The Great Balloon Riot.

Poe was not a fan of urbanization.

This might be the skull of the oldest known tsunami victim.

The ghostly love story that inspired forest conservation.

If you're going to be a robber, you should at least be polite about it.

Some helpful tips for keeping away witches.  Of course, considering that Halloween is just around the corner, you might not want to.

George III's Golden Jubilee.

Skeleton folklore.

This is your chance to live in Lizzie Borden's house.

Having a few friends over for dinner, Gilded Age style.

Mystery Fires in Malaysia.

How to amass a fortune from salt.

Poe as a critic.  (Incidentally, if you've never read any of his reviews, do check them out.  The guy was a hoot.  People never believe me when I tell Poe was really a humorist and satirist, not a "horror" writer, but it's true.)

A ghost from 19th century Los Angeles.

Tangled up in blue ghosts.

Napoleon's Kindle.

Locusta, the first known serial killer.

Cocaine and Mark Twain.

The rather scary world of Victorian hairspray.

Mothman and the collapsed bridge.

14th century Court of Chivalry records.

The haunted Hollywood Reporter building.

What it's like being a professional fake Amazon reviewer.

Adolf Hitler, cryptozoologist.

Remembering the 1918 influenza epidemic.

The galaxy's loneliest cemetery.

As a connoisseur of Weird Wills, I love this one. 

According to science, you don't exist.

The Countess, the spider, and a cure for gout.

"At once the case was clear; he had two bladders."  Or, Sentences I Never Thought Would Appear On My Blog.

The mystery of the Cornell Pumpkin.

The first salaried female journalist.

What would the WLD be without those regular "rewriting human history" links?

And, finally, this week in South African Weird: a hospital has an unusual post-op case.

And that's a wrap!  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a celebrated ghost-hunter's Halloween-Gone-Wrong.  In the meantime, here's a spot of Beethoven.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Just how much is an embalmed corpse worth, as far as entertainment dollars go? One early 20th century lawsuit attempted to decide just that. From the "Quad City times," October 13, 1903:
Des Moines, Oct. 13--The $10,000 damage suit brought to determine the possession of the body of the late John Allen has been set for trial to Judge McHenry's division of the district court Wednesday of this week. This case will attract much attention and furnish some interesting reading for the public inasmuch as it is the first one of its kind ever tried in the courts here and has a decidedly grewsome flavor to start with.

Eleanor Langford and her husband, Homer Langford, are suing to recover $10,000 and the body of John Allen, the father of Eleanor Langford. William C. Harbach, M.E. Pettiss, the Pettis company and the Rex Embalming Fluid company are named as defendants in the suit. It is claimed that Allen died Nov. 11, 1896, and was ordered buried by Coroner Ankeny, that defendants afterwards had the remains exhumed, preserved them with the Rex Embalming fluid as an experiment, and proceeded to exhibit the body in this city and other parts of the country, charging money for these exhibitions and as a result selling great quantities of the Rex embalming fluid.

It is also claimed that the body has been mistreated, exposed to the rats so that the right foot has been gnawed off. The daughter asks to recover the body, and if not that the price of the clothing and casket, which is valued at about $80. In addition to this the sum of $10,000 damages are asked for from the court. It is expected that the body of the dead man, which it is claimed is in possession of the Rex Embalming Fluid company, will be brought into court and furnish a grewsome exhibit.
Much to my disappointment, I couldn't find any information about how this lawsuit was concluded, leaving me unable to say how much Mr. Allen's petrified remains were worth in a court of law, not to mention who wound up in possession of this tribute to the wonders of Rex Embalming fluid.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Dead Woman and the Vanished Pears: The Mystery of Kathryn Scharn

Kathryn "Katie" Scharn had about as good a life as any working-class girl could hope for in early 20th century New York City. The 23-year-old had a steady job at a pencil factory, a decent apartment she shared with her 18-year-old brother Fred, many friends, and enough personal attractions to gather her many male admirers. A very ordinary existence, to be sure, but one far from unpleasant.

And then one day, her story stopped being ordinary, and turned as unpleasant as you can get.

August 19, 1900 started out very typically for Kathryn. It was her day off, so she spent the morning doing some household chores. After breakfast, she cleaned the house, stopped at her work to pick up wages, and then went shopping with her boss at the factory, Maggie Bird. She told Bird that she had a double-date that evening: she would be going out with Fred, his girlfriend Nettie Harris, and Kathryn's current beau, Lincoln Price. Kathryn commented that it was important to keep this date. She had stood up Price once before, which made him angry. As she planned to marry Price, she wanted to keep him in a good mood. That same morning, a special-delivery letter arrived for her, but unfortunately, we have no idea who sent it or what the letter said. Kathryn arrived home some time around three p.m. From then, we know little of her activities. Shortly before 7 p.m., neighbors saw her taking in some curtains that were hanging on her clothesline. She placed on her bed the lace shirtwaist she would wear on her date that night. Then she went down to the grocery store next door and bought three pears. A young man who worked there saw her pause outside the store, and take one of the pears out of the bag. She appeared about to eat it. The store's wagon driver also observed Kathryn reaching for the fruit.

About an hour later, a neighbor, Mrs. Carlsen, heard the Scharn's doorbell being repeatedly rung. Curious about why Kathryn did not answer the door, she went downstairs to investigate. She found two little girls, trying to deliver the Scharn laundry. Mrs. Carlsen took the basket and told the girls she'd give it to Kathryn the next morning.

Kathryn did not keep her double-date that night. Some time after midnight, Fred Scharn returned home, after having been out for most of the day. He was deeply puzzled about his sister's failure to join the scheduled outing. He was even more perturbed when he found their front door was unlocked. Kathryn was always careful to keep it locked. The apartment was completely dark, and eerily silent. When Fred went into her bedroom, he found her body lying across the bed. There was a dreadful wound on the back of her head.

When Fred realized Kathryn was dead, he went into a panic. Curiously, he did not immediately send for police. Instead, he ran to the house of the Scharn landlord, one Dr. A.H. Tyler. He was greeted by Tyler's housekeeper, Mrs. Lawler, who told the sobbing, hysterical youth that the doctor was out. When she learned of what Fred had found, she brought him to the police station.

Doctors determined Kathryn had been killed sometime between 10 and 11 p.m. She had been hit on the back of the head with a hammer normally kept under the kitchen sink. (It was found on her bedroom floor.) However, these blows had not killed her. She had been strangled to death. This level of ferocity suggested that this was not a murder committed by an ordinary burglar. Rather, she likely had been killed by someone she knew, someone who had, for whatever reason, a deep personal rage against the young woman. Kathryn was fully dressed, but her shirt was torn and her arms bruised and scratched. She clearly had fought violently for her life. Her purse was empty and several rings had been wrenched from her fingers. Her bureau drawers had been ransacked, but, oddly, Fred's belongings were untouched. Also oddly, a black mask was lying on the floor. Perhaps the strangest thing of all is that no one in this crowded, flimsy tenement building reported having heard any unusual noises. Mrs. Carlsen, who lived directly below the Scharns, said that she could hear every footstep Fred or Kathryn made. Yet somehow, she heard nothing when her neighbor was beaten and strangled to death.

Elmira Star, August 20, 1900

Police Inspector Harley was given the task of finding Kathryn's killer. The officer took an instant dislike to Fred Scharn--something that was to affect the entire course of the investigation.

Harley intently questioned Fred about his activities for that day. Fred had spent the morning at his job in a printing house. Around noon, he came home for a few hours. From four-thirty until close to midnight, he was at the house of his girlfriend, Nettie Harris. Then he returned to his apartment and found Kathryn. Harley wasn't convinced. He was privately skeptical about Fred's alibi.

Harley also talked to Lincoln Price. Price said he had known Kathryn for four years, and they were engaged to be married. He had given her the rings (cheap ones, worth only a few dollars) that had been torn off her fingers. He said that on August 19, he was at his job at a downtown bank until one p.m. He went to a saloon, where he stayed until shortly before 7:30, when he left to meet Kathryn at the 166th Street El station. He hung around the station for some time, waiting, and when she failed to arrive, went back to the saloon. The bar owner corroborated his alibi. What Kathryn's fiance did not say--it was left to the newspapers to dig this up--Price's real name was "Louis Lincoln Eisenprice." Oh, and he had a wife and small child lurking in the background. Price had once been arrested for attempting to strangle his wife, but the charges had been dismissed.

Dr. Tyler had little to offer investigators. He shrugged that he knew nothing about the dead woman, "except that she was a quiet and orderly tenant who paid her rent." Newspaper reporters brought up the intriguing fact that four years earlier, a 12-year-old girl named Mamie Cunningham had been murdered in precisely the same way as Kathryn Scharn: hit with a hammer and then strangled. The murder remained unsolved. The two victims had one other thing in common: they were both tenants of Dr. Tyler's. This coincidence--if it was merely a coincidence--appears to have been unexplored by the police.

Harley was momentarily interested in one of Kathryn's workmates, Julia Lang. According to Price/Eisenprice, Lang and Kathryn had had a bitter quarrel over him. Did this factory girl have a secret side as a Mad Strangler? Well, no. Lang had an alibi, and vehemently denied Price's story. Lang asserted that she and Kathryn had been good friends, and had never quarreled, about Price or anything else. There seemed no reason not to believe her.

Harley delved into the dead woman's extensive love life, but that proved to cast little light on the increasingly baffling crime. Letters were found in her apartment from Price, bitterly scolding Kathryn for seeing other men. They also found notes to her from a Charles Yuling, but he had the proverbial cast-iron alibi. Sidney M. Rogers, whose photo was found on Kathryn's bureau? He wasn't even in New York at the time of the murder.

Harley gave up looking for other suspects, and cast his attention entirely on Fred, whom he had placed under arrest. Everyone who knew the Scharns stated that Fred had adored his sister, and the siblings had never been known to even quarrel. The Inspector took a cynical view of this testimony. His inability to find Kathryn's killer left him convinced that Fred had to be the culprit.

All he had to do was find some evidence to prove it.

When police found a three-dollar pawn ticket in Fred's possession, Harley immediately concluded that Fred had bludgeoned and strangled his sister for the sake of pawning the cheap rings she wore. When Harley confronted Fred with this accusation, the prisoner's lawyer objected, pointing out that there was "no record" to support such a monstrous charge. Harley snapped out a response that speaks eloquently of the quality of his investigation: "Record? What do you want with a record? Isn't every liar a thief?"

Harley was further encouraged to discover that Fred had lied about spending all the evening of the 19th at Nettie Harris' house. A witness spotted the couple a few blocks from her home at about 9:30 p.m., which Fred had to admit was the truth: he and Nettie had gone for a brief walk. Fred left Nettie's home at precisely 11:50 p.m. (Her stepfather recalled the time because that was when he went downstairs to wind the clock.) Harley did the math: It took 32 minutes by train and a five-minute walk to get from Nettie's to the Scharn apartment, and Fred had arrived home between 12:30 and 1 a.m. In short, Fred's movements during the time Kathryn was murdered were fully accounted for.

Even this did not stop Gotham's Inspector Javert from trying to hang the crime around Fred's neck. He dug more into Fred's background. He discovered that Fred had been fired from his previous job at a piano company. He had fraudulently padded the amount of work he supposedly did, in order to get extra wages. Harley also learned that Fred's pawn ticket was for a gold watch. This watch had been stolen from one of Fred's neighbors. The Inspector gleefully added burglary to the charges against Fred.

At this point, Harley decided that Kathryn had not died between 10 and 11. He now declared that, despite the medical evidence, she had really been murdered sometime around 4 p.m. Why? Because that was the only time that Fred could possibly have done the deed. And the neighbors who saw Kathryn taking down the curtains around 7? The clerk who sold her pears around that time? Harley waved away such trifles. Those witnesses, he declared, were all mistaken. Fred murdered his sister around 4 p.m., and Harley was damned if he was going to let a few inconvenient details spoil that narrative.

Kathryn's inquest was held on October 12. The D.A. laid out the case against Fred. The evidence indicated that the killer was very familiar with the layout of the apartment, even knowing where the hammer was stored. Kathryn had been paid earlier on that day, and money was still in her purse after her shopping trip. However, after her death, the purse was empty. Fred had money in his pocket when he was arrested, although he had not recently been paid at his job. Kathryn's belongings were ransacked, but Fred's were untouched. Fred had told lies about his whereabouts. Fred himself, on the advice of his attorney, refused to testify.

It was looking very bad for young Scharn. How Inspector Harley must have been gloating! But then, the proceedings were interrupted by an event straight out of the last act of a "Perry Mason" episode. During the recess, a 17-year-old girl named Ella Conroy approached Fred's lawyer. She wanted to testify. After hearing her story, he instantly agreed.

Conroy worked as a cashier in the grocery store next door to the Scharns. Although she and Kathryn did not know each other, Conroy had often seen her around the neighborhood, so had no problem recognizing her. Conroy told the court that on the evening of the murder, Kathryn came into the grocery and purchased three pears. "They were three for five and she walked over to the cash register and paid me a nickel." The time, she said firmly, was ten minutes to seven. Conroy explained that she had not come forward before because "I didn't think it was necessary, and I didn't want the notoriety." But now, she realized, "Fred Scharn needs me."

And that was that. All of Harley's dearest hopes for a nice clean frame-up were dashed. The coroner's jury wasted little time in reaching a verdict that Kathryn Scharn had been murdered "By person or persons unknown."

There the matter has rested ever since. Kathryn's murder remains unsolved, and is now long forgotten. What makes this particularly frustrating is that I believe this mystery would have been eminently "solvable," given a competent inquiry. The victim was almost certainly killed by someone she knew, and for motives that probably stemmed from jealousy or personal spite. If Harley had only let go of his fixation on Fred Scharn, and focused on following the clues wherever they may have taken him, he probably would have found the guilty party. For instance, I would like to know more about Dr. Tyler. As Kathryn's landlord, he had a key to her apartment, which could explain why Fred found the door unlocked. Contemporary newspapers reported gossip that his relationship with Kathryn was rather closer than he wished to let on. He was not at his home at the time of the murder, and as far as I can tell, his movements that night are unknown. (He told reporters that his whereabouts on August 19 were none of anybody's business.) It is hard to overlook the eerily similar murder of Mamie Cunningham. And, of course, there is the strange fact that after finding his sister's body, Fred instinctively sought out, not the police, but the landlord.

Then there is the married "fiance," Mr. Price/Eisenprice. He too had a key to the Scharn apartment. He was deeply jealous of the other men in Kathryn's life and he had a history of physical violence. The only corroboration for Price's alibi was the owner of the saloon he visited, but the man could conceivably have been mistaken or deliberately lying. Newspaper reports described Kathryn as having a "double life" where she frequented what they quaintly called "low establishments." This suggests that there may have been other men in her life who never even surfaced in this generally lackluster and inept investigation.

What also bothers me are those damned pears. You see, even though two people had seen Kathryn reaching into her bag, evidently about to eat the fruit, her autopsy showed that no trace of the pears was found in her stomach. It was speculated that she had run into someone she knew in the street--her killer, perhaps?--which interrupted her before she could eat.

But if that was the case, what became of the pears? The Scharn apartment and garbage can had been searched, without finding a trace of them. Those three pears vanished as thoroughly and mysteriously as the man or woman who killed Kathryn Scharn.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Weekend Link Dump

This week's Link Dump is sponsored by Cats on Stamps Worldwide!

Why the hell did we start making cheese?

Who the hell was "Miranda Eve?"  Now we know!

Who the hell murdered the women of Niceville?

Watch out for those orange ghosts!

Watch out for those yellow cat-witches!

Watch out for those killer carpets!

Watch out for the Monster of Ryde!

The health benefits of train collisions.

The formal charges made against Marie Antoinette.

The family correspondence of an early 19th century family.

Secrets of an Indian river.

Australian "tombstone fairies."

Stalin's weird death.

An ancient Chinese child's mysterious tomb.

A Turk is shipwrecked in Dutch Pennsylvania.  It did not go well for him.

The dead man in Clerkenwell.

Cadiz after Trafalgar.

Scientists discover that dogs have facial expressions.   Well, knock me down with a stick, guys.

The goddess in the car.

A learned Victorian dog.

Eliza Ross, female "burker."

The Welsh "skeleton tree."

19th century London street sellers.

The man who fell 15,000 feet, and lived to tell about it.

In which I learn they used to hold Dark Shadows beauty contents.

In which John Quincy Adams plays the Kevin Bacon role in "Footloose."  Or something.

The greatest cat newsletter of the 1980s.

Some myths about the Wars of the Roses.

Mysteries of Lizzie.

Japan's Bunny Island.

Ireland's Jealous Wall.

The worst music festival.

One house you probably don't want to buy.

The ghosts of Paris.

More files on the JFK assassination are about to be released.

The problems with taking ants to court.

This would actually explain much about Florida.  And Congress.

The man who invented camping.

Mary Jones, victim of judicial overkill.

Ludwig II, world's greatest opera buff.

David Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee.

A list of Halloween murders.

A list of Halloween unsolved mysteries.

Singing mermaids.

Penguin eggs and the worst journey in the world.

Was Mata Hari really a spy?

Does the Great Sphinx have a twin?

How Charlie Chaplin's wife rescued his fortune.

Mapping our unknown world.

J.S. Bach, dorm parent.

Infancy in the Georgian era.

Conan Doyle talks spiritualism.

A haunted castle in Sherwood Forest.

Why it's unlucky to open an umbrella inside your house.

A "deliberate, damnable murder."

And, finally, let's end on a cheery note:  A cat sanctuary is saved.

That's it for this week!  See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at an unsolved murder in early 20th century New York.  In the meantime, here's a bit of Haydn: