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

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Talking Cat of Florida


"Adelaide!" said Mrs. Cornett, "do you mean to encourage that cat to go out and gossip about us in the servants' hall?"
~Saki, "Tobermory"

Some of you may remember my post paying tribute to Kurwenal, Nazi Germany's most famous talking dog.

"But, Undine," you probably asked yourself. "What about cats? If there is any breed of animal that seems a natural for shooting off at the mouth and putting humans in their proper place, surely it would be our beloved masters, the felines. Where are your talking cats?"

Glad you asked.

On June 7, 1963, Mrs. Ruth Deem (some sources say "Deems,") of Lake Hamilton, Florida, heard mewing in some tall grass near her home. When her husband James went to investigate, he found a wet, bedraggled, and very unhappy white kitten. The little creature was in poor health--it was anyone's guess how long he had been abandoned--but veterinary care enabled him to pull through.

And so the Deems found they had acquired a new member of their household. As they already had a pure black cat named "Blackie," it seemed only natural to name the kitten "Whitey."

All was entirely normal until Whitey was six months old. One morning, he jumped on Mrs. Deem's bed and stared her straight in the eye. As is common with cats, he was demanding that his lazy human get up and provide him with breakfast. What is not so common is that, according to Mrs. Deem, Whitey then declared, "I'm hungry!"

"I thought I was hearing things," Mrs. Deem later recalled. "A cat can't talk."

She stared at her pet. "Mama," he said impatiently, "I'm hungry."

"What did you say?"

"I'm hungry."

I'm not sure what you would do if a cat suddenly began asking for a meal, but I would probably react in the same way as Mrs. Deem: get up and give the cat a meal. She said nothing about the incident to her husband or anyone else.

A few days later, Mr. Deem was lying on his bed. Whitey jumped up to join him. "Whitey," James said playfully, "you're a bad cat."

"I am not a bad cat," Whitey retorted. "I want to go out."

"Did you hear that?" Mr. Deem shouted to his wife. She then confessed that this was old news to her.

Whitey and the Deems


Whitey proved to be quite the chatterbox. Whenever Mrs. Deem returned from the store, he would greet her with "What did you bring me?" He would paw through the groceries until he found what he wanted, and then say, "Open!" One day when he was out by their front porch, he summoned her with "Come! Come! He's a big one!" She discovered that the object of Whitey's admiration was a large snake. When she screamed, the cat snorted, "Mama's a coward." (It must be said that our hero had his softer side. He was fond of telling Mrs. Deem "I love you, Mama.") Whitey was also a big fan of watching TV, although he seemed confused about whether the action he saw onscreen was real or not.

The Deems shared the news about their remarkable cat to the neighbors, who reacted pretty much the way you'd think. One friend, Marshall Ferguson, privately believed the Deems were "loose upstairs," until the day Whitey trotted past him, calling, "Where's Ma?" A few days later, Whitey marched up to Mrs. Deem tattling that Ferguson had once hit him with a newspaper. Ruth went over to the neighbor and asked if he had ever hit Whitey. He recalled that once, he saw Whitey and Blackie fighting. He had struck them with a rolled up newspaper to stop them.

But how did Ruth know about this? Then it hit him. "That damn cat told her."



Unfortunately, Whitey was fond of street brawls. Around this same time, another cat fight landed him in the vet's office. He told the vet's assistant, "I want to go home."

The startled man looked around him. There was nobody else in the room....except that cat. He told the vet what had happened. The vet presumed that it was his employee who really needed medical help. The vet went and took a peek at Whitey. Whitey said, "I want to go home."

Oh.

Inevitably, word spread that there was something unusual about Mr. and Mrs. Deem's cat. Their home was soon overrun with newspaper reporters, paranormal investigators, and simple pesky looky-loos. In true cat fashion, Whitey generally refused to cooperate with these intruders, staying exasperatingly mute in their presence. There were, however, one or two exceptions. One day, a traveling preacher sought out the Deems, eager to meet their loquacious cat. As he was chatting with them, they were all disconcerted to hear Whitey tell the visitor, "Why don't you go home?" The cat added, "He's a stinker!"

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself?" the embarrassed Mrs. Deem told her pet.

"I am not!" snapped Whitey.

On another occasion, the Deems were on a road trip to North Carolina. Finding it difficult to get hotel rooms with two cats in tow, the couple slept in their car. One night, as a policeman walked past their car, he heard a voice from inside the car cry, "Help! Help!" When he approached the car, he found two sleeping humans plus a large white cat.

The cat informed this officer of the law, "I want out, please. No one loves me."

Perverse, demanding, manipulative, and utterly indifferent to the feelings of humans. In short, Whitey was said to talk exactly the way you would expect a cat to talk, if it ever wished to talk. The moral is becoming clear: if you have a cat, and he or she stays silent, be grateful.

Sadly, Whitey was a cat who made poor lifestyle choices. He refused to remain an indoor cat. He was constantly demanding to be let outside, where he would wander the world and find trouble around practically every corner. During his travels, Whitey got into fights, was catnapped by strangers curious about this celebrity feline, was poisoned (whether by accident or deliberate malice was never known,) and even, on one occasion, was shot. Poor Whitey was a regular visitor to the vet's office.

On one of his journeys, Whitey was seen lounging around a vacant lot by a neighbor, Joe Rhodes. Rhodes approached the cat with the intention of rounding him up and bringing him back to the Deems.

"You can't catch me," Whitey told him.

We are told Rhodes was so surprised, "he nearly fell down."

In 1964, "Fate" magazine published an article by Susy Smith about Florida's most loquacious feline. Smith wrote that while Whitey had, to date, remained silent in her presence, she was eager to pay the cat another visit. "I will never be satisfied until Whitey speaks to me."

I cannot say if Whitey ever did. As far as I can tell, by 1967 he had simply disappeared from the newspapers. I fear it's possible that around that time, Whitey's many vicissitudes took its toll on him, and he passed away. Hopefully, I'm wrong, and he instead spent many more years happily driving everyone around him stark staring mad.

In 1964, a friend of Mr. and Mrs. Deem, the Rev. Bennett William Palmer, told a reporter, "There is no element of rumor or hearsay or gossip in any of the stories regarding the talking cat. Every story which has gone to press has been vouched for by from one to three witnesses who have claimed to have heard the cat talk. Unbelievable as it is to many, it is as authentic as human testimony can make it."

Every now and then, I come across a story where I simply do not know what to say about it. The Talking Cat of Florida is one of them.


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.