"...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

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Clipping of the Day



I love a supernatural tale with a long pedigree, and you don't get much more august than the ill-fated Witch of Berkeley. The famed demonic legend was recorded by the 12th century historian William of Malmesbury in his "Chronicle of the Kings of England."  It is filled with the sort of choice language one rarely sees in the drier witch tales of more recent vintage. And you have to love the crowd-pleaser of an ending.

A woman used to reside in Berkeley accustomed, as it afterwards appeared, to crimes, not ignorant of the ancient auguries, a patroness of the palate, arbitress of petulance, putting no moderation to her sins, because she was as yet on this side of old age, although beating on the door of it with a near foot. When this woman was on a certain day holding a feast, a raven, which she kept as a pet, croaked something louder than usual. Upon hearing this, the knife fell from her hand, her countenance became pale, and, groaning, she exclaimed, "To-day my plough has come to its last furrow; to-day I shall hear and receive a great misfortune." 
While speaking the words, the messenger of miseries entered. Being asked why he came with a face so full of expression, "I bring news to you," he said, "from that town," and named the place, "of the death of your son, and destruction of all the family, by a sudden ruin." At these words the woman, wounded in her mind with grief, immediately swooned away, and feeling the disease creep to her vitals, invited her surviving children, a monk and nun, with speedy letters, and addressed them, upon their arrival, with a sobbing voice. "I, my sons, by my miserable fate, have always used daemoniac arts; I have been the sink of all vices, the mistress of enticements. There was, however, among these evils, a hope of your religion, which might soothe my miserable soul. Despairing of myself, 1 reclined upon you; I proposed you to be my defenders against daemons, protectors against the most cruel enemies. Now therefore, because I have reached the end of my life, and shall have those exactors of the punishment whom I had advisers in my sin, I ask you, by the maternal bosom which you have sucked, if you have any faith, any piety, that you at least attempt to alleviate my sufferings; and though you will not recall the sentence issued concerning my soul, yet perhaps you will preserve my body by this means. Sew it in a stag's hide, afterwards recline it in a stone sarcophagus, fasten the cover with lead and iron; besides this, surround the stone with three iron chains, viz. of great weight; let there be psalmsingers for fifty nights, and the same number of masses in the days, which may mitigate the ferocious attacks of my enemies. So, if I should lie securely for three nights, on the fourth day bury your mother in the ground, although I fear that the Earth, which I have so often burthened with my vices, will not receive me in her bosom." 
Her desires were complied with in the most attentive form. But oh! her wickedness: pious tears, vows, prayers, availed nothing; so great was the wickedness of the woman, so great was the violence of the devil. For, on the first two nights, when choirs of clerks were singing psalms around the body, certain devils, breaking with the greatest ease the door of the church fastened with a huge bolt, burst asunder the two chains at the extremities. The middle one, which was more elaborately wrought, remained entire. On the third night, about cock-crowing, the whole monastery seemed to be overturned from its foundations by the noise of the approaching enemies. One more terrible than the rest in look, and taller in stature, shaking the doors with greater force, dashed them into fragments. The clerks stood stiff with terror, their hair on end, and bereft of speech. He advancing with a proud step to the coffin, and calling the woman by name, ordered her to arise. Upon her answering that she could not on account of the chains, "You shall be loosed," said he, "and to your evil;" and immediately broke the chain, which had eluded the ferocity of the rest, with as much ease as packthread. He also kicked off the lid of the coffin with his foot, and having taken her by the hand, drew her out of the church in the sight of them all. Before the doors stood a proud black horse neighing, with iron hooks projecting over his whole back. The woman was put upon it, and soon disappeared from the eyes of the spectators, with the whole company. The cries of the woman, supplicating for help, were heard for nearly four miles.

You really can't beat medieval chronicles for cautionary tales.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Who Was Mary Doefour?




I commented on an earlier post that as eerie as unsolved disappearances may be, it is equally disturbing when a person--whether alive or dead--is found, with no clue as to their identity. They are each unwelcome reminders that we all stand on shakier ground than we would like to think.

Today's post, sadly, features examples of both these sort of cases.

In November 1926, Anna Myrle Sizer, a pretty 28-year-old elementary school teacher from Mt. Vernon, Iowa, got off a train in nearby Marion. She had been in poor health for some time, and was on her way to visit her doctor. Her family and friends never saw her again. Although there was a long and intensive search for her--Sizer's family even hired detectives who pursued possible leads for years--no clue to her fate could be found. She had simply vanished. No one believed she had disappeared voluntarily. Sizer was an intelligent, hard-working, responsible woman of "very high character," with no motive whatsoever to leave her life. In the words of her father, "She was not the kind of girl to take a sudden notion to go someplace." A few days after Anna disappeared, a policeman saw a woman matching her description walking aimlessly along Highway 30, between Cedar Rapids and Chicago. Unfortunately, he had not at that time heard of the Sizer disappearance, so he did not detain her. Sizer's family finally came to the conclusion that some psychotic stranger had murdered her and successfully hidden the body. Although they never really stopped looking for Anna--and certainly never forgot her--her loved ones eventually went on with their lives. Anna Sizer's story, however unresolved it may have been, was seen as permanently closed.

In March 1978, an elderly woman died of a heart attack in her bed at the Queenwood East Nursing Home in Morton, Illinois. She was called "Mary Doefour," but the only thing anyone could say for sure about her was that this was not her birth name. Over fifty years earlier, the then-attractive young woman had been found wandering dazedly along U.S. 30, just outside of Chicago. She had been beaten and raped. The traumatized woman was suffering from amnesia, so was unable to say who she was or where she lived. She could only say vaguely that she thought she was a schoolteacher.

The mystery woman received scant press coverage, and no one came forward to identify her. The authorities felt they had no choice but to place her in the Manteno State Hospital. She, literally, became "just another Doe." Chillingly, there were so many woman patients whose identities were unknown that they were all given the name "Mary Doe," with a number added to differentiate them. This proved to be the start of many long, nightmarish years for the woman in various state institutions. Although she was clearly not insane--and some nurses believed that if she had ever been given proper therapy, her memory would have returned--"Mary Doefour" was condemned to a bleak life imprisonment for the crime of being a victim. As a result of the rape, she gave birth to a child, who was immediately placed in an orphanage. She was terrified of men, although after she went blind late in life, that fear subsided. She was given electro-shock therapy and kept in a drugged stupor, thus ensuring that her mind and memory remained a permanent blank. She became one of the living dead, scarcely able to speak or function normally.

After her passing, "Mary" would have been quickly forgotten if her story hadn't caught the attention of Rick Baker, a reporter for the "Bloomington Pantagraph." He became intrigued by the grim mystery surrounding her, and wrote a story about the woman, hoping this bit of publicity might finally uncover the secret of her identity. It did not.

When Baker was later hired by the "Peoria Journal Star," he persuaded his new editor that the Doefour puzzle was worth pursuing. By this point, it had become a personal obsession with Baker to get to the bottom of this tragic woman's life. Although she was beyond all rescuing, perhaps he could at least give her the dignity of her real name.

Baker's follow-up story on Doefour inspired a reader in Iowa to send him a letter. She said the mystery reminded her of a Mt. Vernon, Iowa schoolteacher who had vanished around 1930. She thought the teacher's name had been "Alice Zaiser."

It wasn't much of a lead, but it was the best Baker had to work with. He made some calls to Mt. Vernon, and was eventually able to contact this missing schoolteacher's brother, Harold. He was able to inform Baker that his long-lost sister's name had been Anna Myrle Sizer. Her family had never heard from her again after she got off a train in the fall of 1926. "My parents died waiting to hear from her."

A mysteriously missing teacher in Iowa and a mysteriously found teacher in Illinois. Both had light brown hair and blue eyes. They were about the same age. Could these two women have been one and the same?

Baker had a personal meeting with Harold Sizer, who was understandably reluctant to believe that his sister spent the last fifty years of her life in asylums. There truly are worse fates than death. Although he told the reporter that he simply refused to accept that Anna could have been "Mary Doefour," he did provide a photograph of his sister.

Baker could only find people who had known the asylum patient in her old age. However, when these eyewitnesses were shown the photo of Anna Sizer, they believed they were looking at a young "Mary Doefour." Both women had similar physical characteristics, including a vaccination scar on the left upper arm. Unfortunately, "Mary" had been cremated, making any more scientific comparisons impossible.



Baker wanted to examine "Mary's" extant medical records, in the hope of finding more clues to her identity. However, they could not be unsealed unless one of her relatives petitioned a judge to force the state to turn them over.

Harold Sizer was presented with all the evidence Baker had collected suggesting that "Mary Doefour" was his missing sister. He was asked if he would give his consent to initiate legal proceedings to have Doefour's records revealed.

Harold refused. He stated that Baker had failed to convince him that "Mary" could possibly be his Anna. He claimed to see no resemblance between the two women. And he did not want Baker, or anyone else, pursuing the issue any longer. This belated investigation was, Sizer said plaintively, "just rubbing salt in the wounds." Although Baker's motives had been good, he realized he was merely forcing Anna's surviving family to relive the most painful episode of their lives, for no really useful purpose. After all, whatever the truth may have been about "Mary," she was long past the need for any human help. Baker was conducting a search that was over fifty years too late.

So that was that. Although Baker remained personally convinced that he had solved this twin riddle, his theory can never be proven.

Anna Sizer and Mary Doefour. May they--or she--rest in peace.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Weekend Link Dump



Cats everywhere would like to interrupt this regularly scheduled Link Dump for a very special message.





What the hell is this Neolithic statuette?

What the hell were the Wollaton Park gnomes?

What the hell did Lincoln sound like?

Why the hell did rich young Englishmen go on the Grand Tour?

Watch out for those Irish meteors!  Or are they robots?

Watch out for those tree werewolves!

Nessie has a twin!

The remarkable Library of Congress card catalog.

The avant-garde artist hidden by the Iron Curtain.

Fiddling the expense books in Georgian England.

Norman Mailer's fatal mistake.

A novel way to become telepathic.

Fairies in 1930s Ireland.

The myth of the "German corpse factory."

The people who never forget.

The best article about magnetized cockroaches you'll read all week.

Why you wouldn't want to walk around 1820s Vienna.

Clara Coffin's Fortean road trip.

When fiction becomes fact.

Legendary 19th century murders.

The sad tale of "The Italian boy."

Some wicked medieval women.

How to fight magic with magic.

A colonial memoir.

Ancient Egyptian footprints.

Taking a poltergeist to court.

The woman who scooped the world about WWII.

The beginnings of the English Civil War.

The ever-popular cuckold's horns.

The ever-popular Abelard and Heloise.

Some romantic gravestones.

An 1871 UFO.

Sophie Dawes: smuggler's daughter, courtesan, aristocrat, and poisoner.  My kind of girl.

The search for King Tut's secret chamber.

Ancient Pueblo people and the Golden Ratio.

The strange case of the Welsh UFO.

Valentine's Day leads to a breach of promise case.

Valentine's Day can be the death of you.

A Valentine's Day love story.  Featuring syphilis.

Medieval love spells.

Some vintage poker anecdotes.

A California poltergeist.

This week's Advice From Thomas Morris:  Quails and beer.  Good for whatever ails you.

Interesting theory of how places can affect the mind--and vice versa.

A rather horrible way to make yourself invisible.

The Victorian art of Valentine's Day rejection.

A scandalous 1850s novel.

The ever-popular Vinegar Valentines.

Oh, okay.

The execution of Silly Mary and Country Kate.

That time Marcel Proust appeared in someone's home movie.

The birth of the King Arthur legends.

A how-to guide for Victorian hangmen.

A colorful French counter-revolutionary.

The above-average average man.

Winston Churchill writes about UFOs.

A brief history of spanking machines.

One of the Web's weirdest archives.

And...that's that for this week. See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at a tragic case of lost identity. In the meantime, here's one of my all-time favorite newsreels.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day



The nineteenth of "Boston Post's" "Famous Cats of New England" profiles the talented and very well-groomed Leo:
The cat who gets his face washed dally with a face cloth; whose golden-brown coat is carefully brushed and combed dally, and who dons a rubber rain blanket whenever he goes out in the rain—that's Leo; who was bom in Rhode Island. Just at present Leo is stopping in Roxbury, for his mistress, Mrs. E. Wescott, corning to Boston to study voice culture, brought Leo along to enjoy the cultural advantages of Boston.

Next year, in all probability, Leo will go with his missy on a tour of the West. Since his birth, 14 years ago in Little Rhody, Leo has travelled extensively; having been in five states. To have killed barn rats in five states is a boast which Leo feels few other New England cats could make good on. This he has done--not only this, but mastered all sorts of begging; rolling over and being a dead cat tricks, and he feels it reflects especial credit upon him because when he first came to his mistress he was a very wee, lost, sick kitten.


Monday, February 13, 2017

The Most Amazing Dog




...Because let's face it, smart-mouthed Nazi dachshunds are what this blog is all about.

In the 1930s, a dachshund named Kuno von Schwertberg--remembered in history by his nickname, "Kurwenal"--lived in Weimar, Germany with his owner, the equally impressively-named Baroness Mathilde Freiin von Freytag-Loringhoven.



The Baroness was a devotee of what was known as "New Animal Psychology"--essentially, the belief that animals had latent intellectual and communicative abilities equal to humans. This school of thought was highly fashionable in Nazi Germany, where they thought of dogs as more "human" than Jews or other non-Aryan races. The regime even created a special "dog college" where they hoped to train mastiffs to work as four-legged concentration camp guards.

Mathilde saw her dachshund as the perfect evidence for this theory. Kurwenal, she informed the world, was able to both read and carry on conversations. He communicated by barking the number of times necessary to correspond with a consecutively numbered alphabet. It was, for matters of convenience, a phonetic alphabet, but it got the job done. (Kurwenal once expressed frustration with the cumbersome system. He wished he could talk like a parrot.) He could also tell time.

Kurwenal displayed a sophisticated taste in literature. While one would assume his favorite reading would be "Lassie" stories or novels where cats meet a hideous fate, our hero showed an easy familiarity with Shakespeare and proclaimed that Goethe was superior to Schiller. He also had a taste for zoology books. (Sadly, the dachshund disliked music, which he decreed was "very disgusting." He could not bear singing, either. Something to keep in mind if you are in the habit of crooning lullabies to your dog.)

This was one opinionated dachshund. He was fond of pink roses and large cheeses, (Kurwenal was quite chubby,) and would chat about his desire to eat cats. He had an eye for pretty women that, curiously, did not extend to females of his own species. When he was once asked if he would like to become a father one day, he snapped, "No!" (One scientist suggested that the dog's superior intellect had caused his "private parts" to atrophy.)

Kurwenal never bothered to hide his impatience with what he considered to be silly questions or frivolous wastes of his valuable time. One one of his birthdays, he was treated to a visit from children belonging to the Nazi's animal protection organization. When the children began reading a long poem in his honor, Kurwenal quickly grew bored. After only a few stanzas, he interrupted by barking out "No more poetry!" The birthday boy was presented with a large teddy bear. The giver said placatingly, "Now, does this bear not look very nice?"

"No!" Kurwenal responded. "He looks horrible!"  He also advised the youngsters that he planned to vote for Paul von Hindenburg rather than Hitler, and, oh, to have seen the faces of everyone present when he did.

Kurwenal--who liked to describe himself as "intentionally witty"--was the dog world's first stand-up comedian. When he heard rumors that wartime economy might lead to sausages made of dog meat, he protested, "the Christian religion prohibits killing!" When one Swiss investigator tried to trick Kurwenal into showing himself to be a fraud, the dog yelped contemptuously, "I answer no doubters! Go bother the asses instead!"

One senses that Kurwenal was the canine Tobermory.

The loquacious hound was studied by several scientists, with predictably varying results. The zoologists Ludwig Plate and Max Muller declared that the little canine's talents were all completely genuine. Muller wrote, "The thought-communicating red dachshund...barks, in his number alphabet, utterances of a surprising, even weird, depth of thought. The constant association of the dog with his teacher enables him to display an answer to questions, sequences of thought which surprise us extremely. This dachshund lives in the intellectual sense, more in man's sphere than in the animal's." Physiologist Otto Renner, on the other hand, was convinced that Kurwenal was merely following subtle cues provided by his owner. [Cf. Lady the Wonder Horse.]

As was the case with Lady Wonder's owner, the Baroness was casual about her pet's talents. "There's nothing mysterious or freakish about the things these dogs do," she once commented. "The truth is that these dogs have an intelligence similar to humans, but much lower in degree. Except for the fact that they are given their first lessons at a very early age, there is no undue pressure put upon them to make them learn.

"I give Kurwenal dainties when he performs especially well, but that's all the encouragement he gets. I never try to force him to do things as circus dogs are forced. It's simply that I worked very hard training him and tried to be very patient."

Kurwenal died late in 1937. "I am not afraid of dying," he barked out on his deathbed. "Dogs have souls and they are like the souls of men." He was buried in the Baroness' Weimar town house. The residence is now an office building, but the grave of the dachshund once known as "the most amazing dog in the world" is still preserved. The epitaph on his tombstone (translated from the German) reads:

"KURWENAL
The wisest and noblest of all dogs.
The world-famous mathematician, thinker, and writer."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Weekend Link Dump



Normal people with normal lives have trees in their backyard that sprout beautiful leaves, tasty fruits, scented blossoms.

Here at Strange Company HQ, the trees sprout kittens.




Why the hell do we sleep?

Why the hell do whales leap in the air?  Now we know!

What the hell are the mystery walls of Bayers Lake?

What the hell happened to the sun in 5480 BC?

Watch out for those clog-wearing devils!

How Victorian boarding school students kept themselves...uh, entertained.

A French ballerina became richer than a queen.

A human dowsing rod who found corpses rather than water.  Or something.

The all-American Napoleon III.

Our galaxy has a strange supersonic cloud powered by a black hole bouncing around the place.  So, you know, duck.

And here we have giant Transylvanian dinosaur-eating monsters.   It's going to be quite a weekend.

The remarkable journeys of Alexander von Humboldt.  (My favorite detail about Humboldt's life: Poe dedicated "Eureka" to him.)

Two photogenic Staten Island dogs.

The lost city of the Monkey God.

Eat your heart out, Tom Brady.

When Louisa met Joseph.

The lost redheaded Spaniard.

The British Museum's oldest portrait.

The influential wife of William the Conqueror.

Why a raven's nest can be unexpectedly useful.

A miser comes to a sad end.  As they so often do.

The history of the Cretan Labyrinth.

A country music singer's busy ghost.

The complex relationship between cats and humans.

A new Dead Sea Scrolls cave has been discovered.

Why outer space now has a soccer ball.

A 16th century English merchant in Constantinople.

The case of the stolen moon rocks.

That time Charles Dickens served on a coroner's jury.

That time Abraham Lincoln turned true-crime writer.

That time George Washington was related to Odin.

The last surviving copy of a 17th century schoolbook.

Just a reminder that the law doesn't need a body to convict you of murder.

Georgian-era shopping.

Victorian electric rat-traps.

What it means when you dream about food.

In search of Haitian zombies.

Toronto's "most haunted" house.

Victorian fashion gets the blues.

Georgians, on the other hand, are in the pink.

The Icelandic Dracula.

The burning of a witch.

The first fatal submarine accident.

How to play Victorian monopoly.

WWII military slang.

The Broad Haven Triangle mystery.

A 17th century "alien encounter."

One of the last public uses of the guillotine.

A look at nautical superstitions.  Avoid those bananas!

The skeleton in the priest hole.

Two baby-farmers meet the noose.

Arsenic family values.

And here we come to the end of our latest WLD. See you on Monday, when we'll be looking at an unusually chatty dachshund. In the meantime, here's some Locatelli:

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day



I'm not sure if this story is vaguely creepy, sweetly touching, or just sad. Possibly all three. From the "New York Journal," April 25, 1907:
This is a plain statement of the facts in a peculiar case--a case illustrating one of the strange beliefs of theosophy, exemplified in an everyday, well-ordered, happy American home, not in India, where miracles, viewed from this distance, seem natural. That the souls of human beings, for purposes which men can hardly pretend to understand, may enter the bodies of the lower animals and dwell there for years is a conviction familiar to all who have ever read a word of Oriental mysticism.

But no one would expect to find the belief in the transmigration of souls specialized in the everyday affairs of plain people in the State of New York. The strangest things happen, however, and not always in faraway places. Sometimes they are at our very doors, as in the present instance. No opinion is expressed or even hinted at. This is a question of fact. This is the way the doctrine of metempsychosis appears when it is viewed at close quarters.

If one should hunt the whole country over it would be impossible to find a more firm believer in theosophy in all its forms and phases, than Mrs. Henry K. Gilette, of Vestal Centre, N.Y., for she is certain that the soul of her sister has taken refuge in the body of a Maltese cat. It is also safe to make the statement that no cat in the entire world receives more attention and better care than this same Maltese cat. It has a bedroom, fully furnished, for its own exclusive use, has its place at the family table, eats with the family and is guarded with as much care as it would be if it were one of Mrs. Gilette's own children.

The Journal sent one of its representatives to Vestal Centre to get a story of the affair, and to describe the cat's mode of life, etc. The account which follows proves that oft-repeated axiom, "Truth is stranger than fiction."

To begin with, Vestal Centre is a typical country village, situated in Brome County, about fifteen miles from Binghamton. The only public conveyance that stops at this village is an old stage, once painted red.

The Gilettes for several generations have been farmers, and the homestead, with its eighty acres of more, is situated on a branch road, nearly a mile from the cluster of houses and the country store and post office combined that forms the village of Vestal Centre. The farm house is a fair-sized, comfortable looking dwelling, two stories high, with a small lawn and numerous trees in front, a garden with currant and berry bushes in the rear and a cluster of barns, sheds and outhouses near it.

Mrs. Gilette is a rosy matron of thirty-five, and well educated. She is the mother of three children, two boys and a girl. A conspicuous place in the sitting room, into which the Journal man was invited to enter, was occupied by a large old-fashioned rocking chair, which had in it a silk-covered cushion, and on this cushion was sleeping a large Maltese cat. The object of the call was made known, and what Mrs. Gilette said, in substance, follows:

"You see, Minnie and I," nodding her head at the cat, "were sent to a school near Hudson, N.Y., after we had attended for a number of years the village school in Greene, Chenango County. While at Hudson we first heard of theosophy. I think I can say we studied theosophy. For several months we inquired what theosophists believe; correspondd with several devout believers in its themes, and in the end were convinced of the merit of the faith, if I may so term it. I have always been called an infidel, since my return from school, by the country folk about my old home in Chenengo County, and where I lived until I married, and by my neighbors here as well. My maiden name was Paddock.

"Minnie, my sister, was never very strong. She was four years younger than I am, and ever since I can remember she had a peculiar cough; consumption caused her death almost three years ago. I can remember the day she died almost as though it was yesterday. Minnie had her bed in the large front room, where there was plenty of light and air. In the early Spring she seemed to rally some, but on July 26 she passed away. About three hours before her death she asked all to leave the roome except myself, and of course her request was complied with. She called me close to her side, and taking my hand, she pointed to that cat"--again Mrs. Gilette indicated the object of her remarks by a nod of her head--"and said: 'Edna, you have been such a good sister to me that I always want to be near you. I shall die today. Until I am called to inhabit another form my spirit will enter the body of your kitten.'

"Before my sister's death the kitten was a most troublesome creature, getting into all kinds of mischief, upsetting milk pans and was a general nuisance, so much of one in fact, that I had threatened to have it drowned a dozen times. Almost immediately after my sister died, the disposition of the kitten changed, and it has since that event, been the best kitten you ever saw. I firmly believe the spirit of my sister is in that cat. We call it Minnie. That was, as I have told you, the name of my sister. We have given this pretty little creature the best of care."


While Mrs. Gilette was talking Minnie awoke from her nap, and after rubbin up against the Journal man's trousers, as sort of an introduction, jumped into his lap. After purring in acknowledgment of being stroked it settled itself down in his lap for another snooze. The cat was large, well fed. Later it did a number of tricks that showed its intelligence. Mrs. Gilette stated that Minnie was never taught to do those tricks, but did them when asked to from the very first.

The visitors asked questions regarding the cat's mode of life and was ushered into a large front room on the second story of the house. The furniture consisted of an old fashioned black walnut bedroom suite, with a marble topped dresser and a double bed. On the dresser lay combs and brushes and the windows were draped with chinz of a pretty pattern. The floor was carpeted and the room had the appearance of one that was used by some member of the household. It was, without doubt, the best located room in the house and appeared to be the best furnished.

"This is Minnie's room," announced Mrs. Gilette.

"What?" asked the Journal man, not thinking he understood aright.

"This is Minnie's room," she reaffirmed. "Every night about 8 o'clock Minnie comes to where I am, pulls on my dress, and then we come up here. She jumps on the bed and I cover her up with the bed clothes, leaving, of course, her head, which is on the pillow, exposed."

"You really mean what you are telling me?"

"Certainly I do. Why should not my sister have a bedroom of her own, I should like to know? When I put Minnie to bed we talk over old times for a while, and then I lock the door, for there is no telling what might happen during the night. Some crank of a scientist might try to steal Minnie. You should remember she is one of the family, and is entitled to all the care she receives. When I leave home to stay over night, I always take Minnie with me, and then she sleeps with me. When she goes out of the house some one is near her all the time to see that no harm comes to her. She has never shown any inclination to catch mice, but instead exhibits fear when my cat brings a dead mouse into the house."

At this time the hour for dinner had arrived, and Mr. Gilette and his farm hands were duly introduced. The Sunday Journal's representative accepted a cordial invitation to stay to dinner. He was not a little surprised when Minnie jumped into a high chair and sat down on her haunches. The plate had been placed in front of Minnie's chair. After serving the Journal man Mrs. Gilette next turned her attention to Minnie. Her meat was cut up and placed on a plate and milk was poured into a large open dish. The cat began eating and behaved itself very genteelly. It did not eat in a ravenous manner, as most animals do. When the meat was placed on the plate it formed an irregular pile. Minnie with her right front paw pulled each separate piece of meat to an unoccupied part of the plate and then ate it. The cat finished its meal before the rest of the family did, but remained in the chair until all left the table.

Mrs. Gilette is firmly convinced that the cat is possessed of her dead sister's spirit, and no power on earth could make her think otherwise.

I must confess that when I found this tale, my first thought was of Saki's short story "Laura." Let us hope Edna and Minnie had a happier ending than that ill-fated otter.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Camden Town Murder

Emily Dimmock


In mid-1907, a young married couple, Bert and Phyllis Shaw, moved into a Camden Town, London rooming house run by a Mrs. Stocks. The Shaws seemed a pleasant and perfectly ordinary working-class couple. The 19-year-old Bert was a dining-car cook for the Midland Railway. Phyllis was a vivacious and highly attractive 23-year-old.

Life went on an apparently unremarkable course for some weeks. However, during Bert's frequent absences from home, Phyllis kept herself busy with pursuits that would soon lead to one of the most famous crime mysteries of the Edwardian era.

On the morning of September 12, 1907, Bert's mother paid an expected visit to the Stocks rooming house. Phyllis was supposed to have met her at the station, but unaccountably failed to show up.  Mrs. Stocks told her that Bert was at work, and his bride was apparently still in bed.

As the two women were chatting, Bert arrived home. He told them that he'd run up and fetch Phyllis. A couple of minutes later, he returned, looking decidedly out of sorts. The door was locked, he said, and she didn't answer his knocks. He got the spare key to the room from his landlady and led the women back upstairs.

When he opened the door, they were nonplussed to see that the front parlor had been ransacked. Cupboards and drawers had been yanked open, and their contents flung haphazardly to the ground. Bert rushed to the bedroom door, to find that was locked as well. By now in a state of panic, he flung violently at the door and broke it open.

By this point, all three knew there was reason to be alarmed, but it is unlikely they were at all prepared for the horror that greeted them. The small room was covered in blood. And the naked body of Phyllis Shaw was sprawled on the bed. Her throat had been cut so violently she was nearly decapitated. Her facial expression was eerily peaceful and there were no signs of a struggle, suggesting that the victim had been taken unawares sometime during the night, probably as she slept.  The murder weapon was never found.



The police soon learned that Mr. and Mrs. Shaw were not nearly what they had seemed. "Phyllis" was, in reality, named Emily Dimmock. She and Bert were not married.

Emily was born into a working-class family. While still in her teens, she made a go at working in domestic service, but such a dreary existence was not at all to her liking. She soon jettisoned manual labor for the much more congenial life of a prostitute. The pretty, seductive girl had no problem attracting a large clientele. Among her gentlemen friends was Bert Shaw. The two hit it off so well that he invited her to live with him as his wife. He offered her security and stability, so she readily agreed.  However, she led a double life. During Bert's long hours on the railway, she continued to bring men to their room, expertly slipping her guests past the prying gaze of her landlady. It was soon established that Bert Shaw was many miles away from home at the time of the murder, so he was easily ruled out as a suspect. It was obvious that the poor woman had been murdered by one of her clients. But who was he?

The killer had taken with him a few valuables: Bert's cigarette-case and watch, as well as Emily's purse and "wedding ring." The oddest sign of disarray was something that was not missing, but found on the scene. Emily had the habit of collecting postcards in an album. This album was lying open in her bedroom. Some of the postcards had been torn out. Remains of a dinner for two were found on a table in the parlor. Emily Dimmock's last meal was eaten in the company of her murderer.

Emily's favorite place to meet men was a Camden Town pub called the Rising Sun. Police inquiries revealed that a few days before her death, Emily was at the pub, where she picked up a sailor named Robert Percival Roberts. He was so taken with the young woman that he spent the following two nights in her company. He told police that he would have liked to have spent the night of September 11--what proved to be Emily's last night on earth--with her as well, but she told him she had made an appointment with another client. Like Bert Shaw, Roberts had a watertight alibi for the night of the murder, but he was able to give investigators their first important clue. He told them that as he was preparing to sneak out of Emily's room on the morning of the 11th, a neighbor slipped two pieces of mail under her door. One was an advertising circular, but the other was a letter. Emily showed it to Roberts, as proof that she could not see him that evening. Roberts recalled that the note read, "Will you meet me at the Eagle, Camden Town, 8:30 tonight, Wednesday?" It was signed, "Bert."

Emily had also shown Roberts one of her postcards, which was written in the same handwriting as the note. It read, "Phillis darling, if it pleases you meet me at 8:15 p.m. at the..." followed by a sketch of a rising sun. The signature was, "Yours to a cinder, Alice." Afterwards, Emily burned the letter and placed the postcard in a drawer. (Charred fragments of the letter were later found in the fireplace, corroborating Roberts' story.)



Detectives theorized that this card--presumably written by Emily's murderer--was what prompted the killer to search her rooms. The card was not immediately found, and the presumption was that the fiend had taken it away with him. However, as Bert Shaw was packing his possessions--resuming life at Mrs. Stocks' rooming house understandably held no appeal for him--he found the card, hidden behind a newspaper lining of a drawer.

The "Alice" card was reprinted in dozens of newspapers, in the hope that someone would recognize the handwriting. On September 29, the "News of the World" offered a £100 reward for anyone who could provide information about "Alice."

Ruby Young


Among the "News of the World's" readers was a young woman named Ruby Young. She liked to call herself an artist's model, but that was merely a discreet cover for the fact that she followed the same profession as the late Emily Dimmock. She immediately recognized the postcard's handwriting as that belonging to her former lover, a young engraver named Robert Wood. Before she could contact police, Wood himself showed up at her door. When she confronted him about the card, he did not bother denying that it was his. What he wanted from her was her silence.

Robert Wood


Wood explained that a few days before the murder, he had visited the Rising Sun, where he made the acquaintance of a personable lady who gave her name as "Phyllis." As they drank and chatted, "Phyllis" asked him to buy her a postcard. Instead, Wood offered her one he had in his pocket. Phyllis asked him to write something on it and send it to her, as a memento. She told him to sign the card, "Alice." Wood told Ruby that he had seen "Phyllis" at the pub on a couple of further occasions over the next two days, but that had been the extent of his involvement with her. He begged Ruby not to go to the police, which would only serve to involve him in a crime of which he was, of course, completely innocent.

Ruby was still very fond of Wood, and had no wish to cause him trouble. Tempting though the reward may have been, she promised not to contact the authorities.

The writing of the now-famous "Alice" card was also recognized by a Mr. Tinkham, the foreman at the factory where Wood worked. Robert implored him to keep this information to himself. "My father's health is in a bad state," he explained. "If he learns I've been consorting with prostitutes it could kill him." Tinkham, like Ruby, was touched by the pleas of this young man who had always impressed him as kind, courteous, and talented. He agreed.

Wood, unfortunately for himself, tried just too hard to establish an alibi. On September 20, Wood went to a friend of his named Joseph Lambert. On the night of September 11, Lambert had entered a pub, where he saw Wood talking to a young woman with her hair in curlers. Lambert did not know the girl, but easily surmised she was a prostitute. Wood was obviously concerned about that chance meeting. He confided that Tinkham was "talking about the Camden Town murder. If he says anything to you, will you tell him that we met and had a drink, but leave the girl out?"

Lambert instantly realized that he had seen Wood with the murder victim just hours before her death. When he confronted Wood with this, his friend glibly repeated his line about his ailing father, and assured Lambert that he, Wood, could easily "clear myself."

Lambert knew and liked Wood's family. Wishing to spare them any unnecessary trouble, he joined the growing list of people willing to keep their mouths shut for Robert Wood.

As it happened, all Wood's efforts to keep his name out of the investigation were for naught. A friend of Dimmock's, Emily Lawrence, had given detectives a detailed description of a young man who had had drinks with Dimmock in the Rising Sun on September 9. Dimmock had later told Lawrence that she was afraid of this man, whom she only referred to as "that bastard," although she did not say why. Police turned up a number of witnesses who had seen Dimmock with a man of this same description on the three nights preceding her death. They all described him as about thirty years old and 5'8" tall. He had a "long thin blotchy face and sunken eyes...a man of good education and of shabby-genteel appearance." This was an excellent description of Robert Wood.

Police had also talked to a man named Robert McCowan who had been walking by the Stocks rooming house around 4:45 a.m. on the morning of September 12. He had seen a man leave the rooming house--a man who must have killed Emily just a short time earlier. McCowan did not see his face clearly, but noted that the man had a distinctive jerky walk.

Wood's final piece of bad luck came when Ruby Young, troubled by Wood's strange insistence on her silence, confided the whole story to a girlfriend. She added that Wood had also made her promise that if the police contacted her, she was to give him a false alibi. This friend could not resist sharing this juicy bit of information to a man she was friendly with.

This man was a journalist for the "Weekly Dispatch."

The journalist wasted no time in going to Ruby Young. Seeing that the cat was well and truly out of the bag, she reluctantly agreed to tell him everything she knew. He arranged a meeting with her at Piccadilly Station. What he did not tell her was that he was bringing along a third party to this interview: Inspector Arthur Neil of Scotland Yard.

When Neil heard Young's story, he was instantly convinced that he finally had the name of Emily Dimmock's killer. He arrested Wood on October 4th.



At the police station, Wood behaved with the same curiously oblivious stupidity he had shown ever since the murder. He gave a statement repeating the less-than-truthful tale he had fed Ruby Young and Mr. Tinkham. He also repeated the false alibi he had asked Young to tell police, blissfully unaware that she had already told Neil about how Wood had asked her to lie for him. He claimed that on the night of the murder, he was at his home with his father, who was ill in bed.  Unsurprisingly, he was then escorted to a cell in Brixton jail, where he awaited trial by making a number of sketches, many of which were reprinted in the newspapers.





Wood's trial at the Old Bailey began three months to the day after Emily Dimmock's body was discovered. People who knew Wood expressed their passionate disbelief that this soft-spoken young man from a respectable family could possibly have committed such a grotesque crime. His employers readily put up £1000 towards his defense. Wood's boyish looks, mild manner, and obvious artistic talent gained him much public sympathy. It also did not hurt his case that many saw the victim as a wretched "fallen woman" who had undoubtedly gotten what was coming to her.

The trial went along fairly predictable lines. Crown counsel Sir Charles Mathews naturally stressed Wood's clumsy, desperate attempts to set up false alibis for himself. Numerous witnesses identified Wood as the "shabby-genteel" man so often in Dimmock's company before her murder. Mathews also noted that when Dimmock met Wood in the Eagle, she was wearing curlers in her hair. Surely, such casual dress indicated that Wood was someone well-known and familiar to her. If he had been a stranger, she would have taken more pains with her appearance. Several women attested that they knew Wood had been acquainted with Dimmock for at least a year and a half. Even Wood had had to concede that he indeed had written the "Rising Sun" postcard and the letter Dimmock had shown Roberts. Mathews demonstrated that Wood had an odd gait similar to that of the man McCowan had observed leaving the murder scene.  The Rising Sun's barmaid related seeing Wood and Dimmock together in the pub on the night of September 11.  She said the pair left together at about 9:30.  Wood was the last known person to see Emily alive.  Although Wood claimed that he and Emily parted company outside the pub, he had no alibi for several hours after leaving the Rising Sun

Wood in the dock. From the "Penny Illustrated Paper"


Wood did not do himself any favors when he took the witness stand. He came off as insincere and unsettlingly blasé about being accused of a woman's brutal murder. He tended to smile at odd moments, and, in general, seemed to view his trial as a rather uninteresting stage production. He spent most of his time in court sketching the participants.  In "Science and the Criminal," written a few years after the trial, Charles Ainsworth Mitchell observed,
"Throughout his ordeal Wood seemed to be more concerned about the impression he was making upon the spectators in court than about the necessity of accounting satisfactorily for many suspicious circumstances that told against him.

"So well did he appear to be able to control his emotions that, as he himself wrote afterwards, he could notice whether one of the actresses who attended the trial day by day, smiled upon him. 
"Never for one moment did he lose this self-control or appear otherwise than an unconcerned witness of the events upon which his life depended. 
"This absence of nerves in the accused is what struck most people as one of the strangest features in a strange trial, and caused Mr. Hall Caine, who was present in the court throughout the whole time, to write of him: 'That he felt nothing I will not dare to say, that his mental processes were not frequently stirred to such pain as comes of baffling difficulties, but that the ordeal of his trial was a terrible one to him I absolutely refuse to believe. Robert Wood, innocent of the murder of Emily Dimmock, is yet the most remarkable man alive.' 
"In what trial upon a charge of murder has there ever been witnessed the sight of the prisoner, whose life was hanging in the balance, laughing and chatting with his friends, and making sketches of the judge, the counsel, and the witnesses? Even at the most crucial moment of the trial, when the jury had withdrawn to consider their verdict he exhibited no trace of anxiety, but until called below sat calmly sketching, while he waited for their return. 
"And thus Mr. Hall Caine wondered, as he got the prisoner to sign his name upon the back of a copy of the charred fragments of the letter, whether 'with all his mental alertness, his intellectual activity, his temperamental composure, this was not one of those men, the rare and mysterious men, who lack some necessary quality on the moral side of their nature.'"

What probably saved Wood was the fact that his employer's money had bought the pricey services of Edward Marshall Hall, one of the great defense advocates of his era. Hall was a masterful tactician and brilliant orator who had a gift for hypnotizing juries and bending them to his will. Robert Wood was a particularly difficult defense case, but Hall was in his prime and more than ready for the challenge.

Hall soon made short work of McCowan's eyewitness testimony. Despite the fact that McCowan had picked Wood out of a lineup as the man he had observed leaving Dimmock's house, (he instantly recognized Wood's walk,) Hall was able to get the hapless man to concede that the light had been poor when he walked past the rooming house. Without too much trouble, he was able to browbeat McCowan into admitting that well, no, when it came down to it, he could not be certain the man he saw was actually leaving the Stocks home, let alone that the mystery man was in fact the defendant.

Wood's sketch of Ruby Young in the courtroom


Ruby Young's seemingly damning testimony was similarly demolished when Hall presented her with a deceptively simple question. Referring to Wood's request that she provide him with an alibi, Hall asked, "Have you ever thought that, regarding the evidence of Dr. Thompson, who places the time of murder at three or four o'clock in the morning, the alibi Wood arranged with you from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. on the previous evening to the murder would be a useless alibi for the murder, but a perfect alibi for the meeting of the girl?"

Young sheepishly admitted this hadn't occurred to her.

Hall hammered into the jurors' heads that the defendant had no motive to kill Dimmock. The articles stolen from her room had never been traced to Wood. Neither had the murder weapon. He dismissed Wood's clumsy falsehoods as the natural result of an innocent man who feared embarrassing himself and his family by the revelation that he associated with prostitutes. By the time he was through, the judge had no choice but to instruct the jury that "strong as the suspicion in this case undoubtedly is, I do not think that the prosecution has brought the case home near enough to the deceased."

Wood's portrait of the judge, Mr. Justice Grantham





With those words, everyone knew that Robert Wood's neck was safe. The jury's verdict of "Not Guilty" was received with enthusiastic cheers by the crowd gathered outside the courtroom. Theatrical productions were interrupted to deliver the glad news of the acquittal. London treated Wood like a popular hero. Ruby Young, on the other hand, had to be smuggled out of the building for her own safety. Vox populi saw her as a Judas who betrayed her lover for, not the usual thirty pieces of silver, but £100. (Money she never received, incidentally.)



In the face of such public hostility, Young changed her name and disappeared somewhere in London's underclass. One report says she eventually married a journalist. It is also uncertain what became of Robert Wood.  It has been stated that he too adopted a different name and emigrated to Australia, where he found success as a commercial artist.  Others claim he kept his real name and remained in England, where he married, had children, and lived to a ripe and happy old age.

No one else was ever charged with Emily Dimmock's murder, although the mystery has inspired a good deal of speculation. Perhaps, some argue, Dimmock was murdered by a casual pickup who was never identified? Others wonder if, after all, Bert Shaw could somehow have secretly slipped off his train and returned home just long enough to murder his faithless "wife." Several of Dimmock's clients had contracted syphilis from her, and at least two of these men had vowed to "cut her" because of it. Could one of them have come through on this threat? There have even been efforts--inspired by Patricia Cornwell's eccentric belief that artist Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper--to tie that painter to this later prostitute killing. (Side note: Sickert did a ghoulish series of paintings inspired by Dimmock's murder.)

Although defendants have been hanged on far less evidence, it is fair to say that Robert Wood deserved acquittal. The case against him, while highly suggestive, lacked definitive proof. There is, however, one item that provides a haunting coda to this case.  As noted before, during his trial, Wood entertained himself by sketching people in the courtroom. He also produced one drawing that Edward Marshall Hall must have been deeply thankful the jury never saw. It was a sketch of a woman very like the one Wood had been accused of murdering. He depicted this woman as an alluring but heartless puppetmaster, toying with and discarding men for her own amusement.



From what we know of him, Wood was the classic example of a "proper" middle-class gentleman who was attracted to the wild side. He enjoyed the society of London's shadier characters--something he had been very anxious to hide from his family. (Wood described his relatives as "a bit goody-goody.") He was both irresistibly attracted to women like Emily Dimmock and disgusted by them. He recognized their power over him, and hated them for it.

Perhaps that was what Dimmock feared about Wood. She instinctively sensed hatred behind his meek demeanor.

Hatred enough to cause Wood, in one dark, impulsive moment, to pick up a kitchen knife or one of Bert's razors, and slit her throat as she slept?

[Note: Many years after Wood's acquittal, Edward Marshall Hall told his daughter that at the time of the trial, he sincerely believed his client to be innocent. However, he came to believe otherwise. Unfortunately, we do not know what led to Hall's change of opinion.]

Friday, February 3, 2017

Weekend Link Dump



This week's Link Dump is as easy as "ABC!"






Yes, we're still wondering, "What the hell was the Tunguska Event?"  Probably always will.

Why the hell are all these people becoming amnesiacs?

What the hell is in the Vatican's secret archives?

Watch out for the Pombero!

Watch out for the phantom white hounds!

Watch out for the sewer werewolves!

Neanderthal rocks.

Dogs are nice.

The theory of humanity coming to a thirsty end.

In which Napoleon writes alt-history.

The effects of spending a year in space.

The latest from the "pushing back human history" file.

Amsterdam's Cat Boat.  (I may have previously linked to another site's story about the boat, but what the hell, it deserves an encore.)

A female 19th century cartoonist.

An 18th century snowman.

The man with a snake in his heart.  There.  That's a click-bait headline you can only find in the WLD.

Stonehenge as seen in medieval times.

A heroine of the French Revolution.

A "rogue of a soldier" comes to a bad end.

Can't have too many stories about Spring-Heeled Jack.

Minnie Pearl, immortalized in chicken wire.

Lincoln's head is a hall of records.

You never know what you'll find in a field.

The woman who wound up being married to a rooster.

A lost continent is no longer lost.

38,000 year-old rock art is no longer lost.

The hidden cells of Newgate.

When vanity kills.

The truth and fiction behind a famous 19th century photograph.

Road trips are overrated.  Speaking as someone who once had to travel from Los Angeles to Toronto on a dilapidated Greyhound bus filled with extras from "The Walking Dead," all I can say is "Tell me about it."

Victorians loved their seances.

Female Hawaiian royals on stamps.

Doppelgangers have their uses.

The mysterious Lady Macclesfield.

Dying really is an episode of "This is Your Life."  Oh, swell.  That Greyhound will probably be front and center.

The less pretty side of the Victorians.

The less pretty side of the Georgians.

The varied portraits of George III's wife.

A 400-year-old shopping list.

One really old fish.

Jane Austen's bawdy juvenilia.

A racetrack that was once fit for an emperor.

Rediscovering George III.

Bionic cats!

A handy guide to the Year of the Rooster.

Marie Antoinette's last letter.

A "chronicle of horribles."

So, when we die,we're not really dead.  Or something.

This week in Russian Weird: their cats are psychic.  Not sure how that makes them different from cats in the rest of the world.

That's it for this week.  See you on Monday, when we'll look at a notorious Edwardian murder mystery.  In the meantime, here's my favorite version of one of my favorite songs:


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Newspaper Clipping of the Day




The latest of the "Boston Post's" "Famous Cats of New England," is Billy, fire station mascot:
As handsome a cat as ever washed his face in Brookline, Mass., that richest town in the U.S.A. and pride of all New England, is Billy, the cat at Station A firehouse. More pedigreed felines there may be that dwell in the millionaires' mansions that dot the old town, but a cleaner looking, prettier mannered, more popular cat could not be found.

"His blacks so black and his whites so white" runs the loved little nursery jingle. It must have been written as an ode to Station A's Billy. For an inky black back and tail contrast smartly with the unbroken whiteness of forepaws, face, and breast. Just two black patches of fur for "eyebrows" give Billy a forever surprised and wide-awake look.

The cat who believes in "safety first" is Billy. He has learned to distinguish perfectly between the ringing of the noon bells and the bell that signals "fire."

Billy has a favorite sunny sleeping spot right in front of where the engines must pass. Let the noon bell ring and Billy never bats an eyelash--just slumbers on. Let the fire warning ring, though, and like a streak--the sort of streak that only a cat in flight can make--Billy has dashed to the stairway and pulled himself out of the way of all the wheels. In the seven years he has been around the fire station not a single one of his lives has been imperiled.

The two platoon system has Bill's vote every time. Since the men have been coming and going in two shifts it means that treats from their lunch boxes have just doubled, and Billy has grown fat with feasting. Much as the men of Station A enjoy this privilege, the chief says that he thinks Bill enjoys it most of all.
~December 26, 1920