Friday, January 19, 2018
This week's Link Dump is again sponsored by the Cats of Winter Amalgamated!
What the hell is the Hypatia Stone?
What the hell happened to Clem Graver?
What the hell happened to Malinda Snyder?
Who the hell was Lambert Simnel?
Who the hell betrayed Anne Frank? Nobody?
Watch out for those Mystery Poets!
Watch out for those ghost ewes!
Watch out for those haunted battleships!
Watch out for those haunted steamships!
Watch out for the Watra Mama!
The latest Great Pyramid weirdness.
The latest radio bursts from outer space weirdness.
Singing about Napoleon.
When cudgelling matches were a thing.
The link between the 1840 presidential election and American cuisine.
A ghost in yellow calico.
A history of mail-order magazines.
A history of "Laugh-In."
A lynching in Colorado.
An account of humpback whales saving seals.
A painting of proverbs.
Secret text in an Alexander Hamilton letter.
Marie Antoinette's household.
Ireland's "Vanishing Triangle."
The unsolved murder of a pub landlady.
The grave of a canine WWII vet.
Empress Josephine's chateau.
The lifestyles of the Georgian rural poor.
The true average lifespan of medieval people.
The dubious death of Jeremy Radcliffe.
The Spa Fields riots.
The unsolved murders at Lake Bodom.
The unsolved murder of Daisy Zick.
The prophecy of Benrose Billman.
Madame Tussaud's Napoleon relics.
This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: What not to do with rocks.
The Indian Armed Forces in WWI.
A mystic and con man in early 20th century Los Angeles.
Let's appreciate some dragons, shall we?
The letters of Lady Jane Grey.
A strange Iron Age fort.
The crimes that changed history.
Charles Hindley's Cries of London.
A "wretch robbed of life."
One for the Weird Wills file.
London's lost "city of the future."
The contentious burial of a General's dog.
Mr. Henderson teleports.
A 16th century witch trial.
A Saturday night in 1824 London.
World's worst maternity ward.
The execution of one very busy thief.
That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at Fortean Follies in a dentist's office. In the meantime, here's the late Edwin Hawkins.
Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Good news! Spring-heeled Jack likes to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, too! From the "[Greenwood, South Carolina] Index-Journal," October 24, 1985:
Hearne, Texas (AP) A tall, mysterious creature appears appears to have begun trick-or-treating a week early, say police who have been getting reports about something leaping from rooftop to rooftop and gnawing on front porches. The creature also has reportedly reportedly torn screen windows and scared a dog, police Chief James Bundren said Wednesday.I haven't found anything more about this story.
"It's Halloween time and there might be a lot of creatures out there. Every now and then someone calls and says they they think they heard the creature." One resident told authorities last week that something about six feet tall chewed up his porch, screen and railing, Bundren said. The resident beard a noise at the front door during the night and went to investigate. When be opened the door, Bundren said, he saw the "image of a man, but it had a head that was chewing and slapping at the door."
The resident told police he quickly slammed the door. He looked out the window and saw his frightened dog running down the street. Bundren said the pet still has not returned.
Another resident told police she heard something large land on one side of her roof, walk to the other side and leap off the carport, be said. But police found no tracks around the house.
"It raised all kinds of commotion around here after that happened," he said, adding that calls are still coming in from people saying they have heard the creature. Bundren said police have no suspects, but that the first homeowner may have seen a man holding a large dog in front of him.
Monday, January 15, 2018
For many years now, I've believed that what we call "weird" or "unusual" is, rather, the default position of the universe. What we think of as "normality" is a very rare and precious thing indeed. Strange, inexplicable things are thrown at us every day, but unless they seriously impact our lives, we are able to ignore them or explain them away to ourselves.
There is, for example, the fate of a New York man named Donald Kemp, which ranks as the most bizarre missing-persons case I've ever seen. His end was comprised of many smaller mysteries combined to cause one massive mystery...
...and he started out as such a perfectly ordinary guy.
Kemp's life had appeared unusually fortunate. The 35-year-old ad executive was successful at his job, intelligent, well-liked, and prosperous. Still, he began to be unsatisfied with his lot. A bad case of the "Is this all there is?" blues set in. After he became disabled from a 1976 auto accident, his two-year period of recuperation intensified these feelings of restlessness and dissatisfaction. In September 1982, this normally ambitious, meticulous man abandoned his life and headed for Jackson, Wyoming. Kemp had long been fascinated by the Lincoln assassination, and he decided to pursue his dream of writing a book about the tragic event. During his convalescence, he believed he took mental voyages to the "spirit world," where he was in touch with Mary Surratt, the woman hanged as a co-conspirator in Lincoln's murder. His book, he told friends, would combine Lincoln, spiritualism, and what he enigmatically described as "The Truth." "I have The Truth," he once said. "The Truth will come through me...I am attuned to a high spiritual plane...I am a messenger of God." On November 15, Kemp visited a museum in Cheyenne. He stayed for about two hours without speaking to anyone. After his departure, it was found that he had left behind his briefcase containing his diaries, address book, traveler's checks and his prescription eyeglasses.
If Kemp was God's messenger, the communication he delivered was intensely odd. On November 16, 1982, when he was two days short of his destination, his van was found on an exit ramp in a deserted stretch of road in central Wyoming. The vehicle's motor was running, the radio was playing, and all the doors were open. It seemed like he had planned only a very brief stop.
Instead, Don Kemp had vanished. A single set of footprints led from the van into the emptiness of the Wyoming prairie. While following this trail, searchers found Kemp's teapot. Four miles away, three of his socks were found in an abandoned barn. A few days later his laundry bag was discovered inside a haystack. There was, however, no body found, or any other clue where Kemp went or, perhaps even more importantly, why he went. Rod Johnson, the Deputy Sheriff in charge of the search, was at a loss to say what had become of Kemp. "I don't think he's out there," Johnson sighed. "If he was, I would have found him." Kemp's mother Mary quit her job to devote all her time to finding her son. She was convinced that he had been kidnapped for whatever inexplicable reason, and was still alive. "He didn't disappear into thin air," she said. "My son would not do this." A friend of Kemp's had a more pessimistic view. "I think poor Don was sitting on the fence of reality, and as he was driving down the highway he finally crossed over to the other side of the fence. I think he saw some sign in the desert and walked off." There were signs that just before he vanished, Kemp's mind was going into some dark places. One friend received a phone call from him where Kemp was sobbing and near-hysterical. When he stopped at motels, Kemp was fixated by movies with themes of disappearances. His final diary entry proclaimed himself to be "an emancipator of men."
|Map of the area where Kemp disappeared.|
A major blizzard hit the area several days after Kemp's disappearance, leading investigators to conclude the missing man was now certainly dead. No one, they concluded, could possibly have survived in that weather.
This is when our story goes from merely mysterious to impossibly weird. Three months after Kemp vanished, a friend of his named Judith Aiello returned to her New York home from a long vacation in Europe. Aiello had been out of the country for so long, she was unaware that Kemp was missing. She found a number of messages on her telephone answering machine...from a voice that she swore was that of Donald Kemp. The messages were very brief, merely asking her to call him back. The voice left a phone number where he could be reached.
When Aiello dialed this number, a man answered. She told investigators that when she asked him if Don Kemp was there, "He said 'Yes--no,' very quickly." When she said to tell Kemp that "Judy called," the man simply said "Fine," and hung up.
This number was traced to a house trailer in Casper, Wyoming. Mark Dennis, the man who lived there, insisted that he had not made those phone calls. He vowed that he had never even heard of Kemp, and certainly had no idea where he was. "It is bizarre," Dennis said. "It's puzzling. Nothing this strange has ever happened to me before. The only explanation I can think of is somebody got in my house to make the phone calls." As Aiello's number was unlisted, it could not be explained how Dennis--or any other stranger to Aiello--could have phoned her. Unsurprisingly, Dennis became the subject of intense interest to the police, but investigators could find no evidence whatsoever that he had anything to do with Kemp or his baffling disappearance. Adding to the eerie quality of the whole episode is that Dennis bore a startling resemblance to the missing man. Although Dennis was initially very cooperative with police, he eventually "lawyered up" and stopped talking. After Dennis was confronted by a very accusatory Mary Kemp--who refused to believe he did not know much more than he was willing to say--he quickly left town. (It must be said that all this can easily be read as the actions of a perfectly innocent man understandably frightened at finding himself mixed up in a particularly strange mystery.)
The phone calls to Aiello were not the only clues suggesting Kemp was still alive. Some people were certain that they saw him at an exhibit of Lincoln memorabilia held in Casper. Others believed they had spotted him in a Casper bar. However, hopes that the elusive ad executive had survived were dashed in 1986, when hunters found his badly decomposed remains just a few miles from where his van had been found. No sign of foul play was discovered, (although it's hard to figure how that could be established after such a long period of time,) leaving the authorities to conclude that Kemp voluntarily walked into the wild, where he probably died during the blizzard.
A very tidy solution...until you start thinking about those phone calls. If Kemp did not make these calls, who did, and why? Why was Aiello the only person to get these cryptic messages? Is it possible that Kemp did make these calls? Was he, as some have theorized, kidnapped, only to be murdered by his abductors and dumped where he was found? This theory, outlandish as it may sound, would at least explain the puzzling fact that it took so long for his body to be found on that flat, open, barren terrain.
In some of the wilder corners of the internet, it has even been suggested that his scholarly interest in the Lincoln assassination did him in. Did his research into the case lead him to stumble upon some "great secret" that forced shadowy powers-that-be into having him killed? Inevitably, others have proposed that the unfortunate man was kidnapped by space aliens.
On a more prosaic level, Mary Kemp maintained the darkest suspicions about Mark Dennis. She went to her grave in 2014 believing that he had killed her son, although no one was ever able to explain why this seemingly normal man would murder someone who was a complete stranger to him.
Speculate away. No matter how one looks at this case, it is damned difficult to find a "normal" answer for what happened to Donald Kemp.
[Note: In 2010, someone using the screen name "JGPiper" made several posts to an online forum discussing the Kemp mystery. This person claimed to be Kemp's sister, and provided some details that, believe it or not, just made the story even crazier. No one ever established if this person was who they claimed, or if their information was at all correct. If you're interested in going further down this particular rabbit hole, here's a link.]
Friday, January 12, 2018
This week's Link Dump is sponsored by the Cats of Winter Amalgamated!
Who the hell was D.B. Cooper? These people think they know!
Two possible spontaneous combustion cases in England.
The widow who dined with her husband. Or on her husband. Whatever.
If you're in the mood to read about popped-out livers, here you go.
Catherine of Aragon's loyal friend.
Children and the supernatural.
Shorter version: water is weird.
Shorter version: Mars is weird.
Shorter version: human history is weird.
A very well-preserved Chinese mummy.
One of the most notable features of the Georgian era: gout.
Bardstown, Kentucky is having more than its share of unsolved murders.
The morgue as public entertainment.
The Fairy Census.
Stella Alexander, Quaker and scholar.
The horrific Mossdale caving disaster.
Killer oak trees.
The restoration of a dragon bed.
The story behind Miss Hap, Korean War kitten.
When Bigfoot gets dressy.
The ship's cat in Georgian times.
The life of Napoleon IV.
Some early UFO mysteries.
A 17th century witch trial.
Murder, suicide, and a newspaperman.
UFOs in the New World.
The scientific way to hunt ghosts.
Walking a mile in the Iceman's shoes.
An early female ballet choreographer.
Memorials to laboratory animals.
The truth about Victorian rakes.
The strange murder of a Vietnam vet.
The funeral of Edward VI.
The fatal can of beans.
The woman who served in the Georgian navy.
The Squibb family murders.
What books did pirates read?
The tiger that terrorized London.
The notorious Stanford White murder.
The life of Madame Lenormant.
More research into the "Bog Bodies."
A brief history of morganatic marriages.
If someone offers you the Barclay Challenge, don't take the bet.
This week in Russian Weird shows us how to go out for drinks.
That's it for this week! See you on Monday, when we'll look at what is probably the strangest missing-persons case I've ever heard of.
Yes. It's that strange. In the meantime, how about a little Macedonian folk music?
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
This account of a multi-faceted haunting appeared in the "Butte Weekly Miner," February 1, 1888:
Vincennes (Ind.) special: Mrs. Dell Freeman, of this city, keeper of the boarding house exclusively for women, finds herself without boarders owing to the strange sights and sounds seen and heard about her premises. At first the demonstration was confined to unusual rappings and noises at night, growing more frequent as time passed. Then the inmates would rush in terror from their rooms, claiming that cold hands had been laid upon their faces. On such occasions knocks on the headboards of the beds elsewhere became more violent and loud throughout the house.
The noises were like pistol shots or bullets crashing through the transoms. A tall, spare man, dressed in a white robe, was seen in the basement by three inmates at once. Mrs. Freeman made a statement today in which she says she has no fear of the strange visitations, though admitting that they cannot be accounted for. She says that once a sound of a crying child was heard coming from a corner of the room in which she sat. The sound gradually changed into a blood-curdling groan. Two persons besides herself were present. A flash of blue light arose from the corner, revealing the face of the sparely built man before mentioned. This man has appeared a dozen times in the full light of gas, but has disappeared when any one present moved. At night, on several occasions, in different rooms, the same man, lying in a coffin and borne by two spectral pallbearers, passed in review before occupants. The most startling event of this seemingly incredulous story is substantiated beyond doubt. Last Monday night Mrs. Freeman, after retiring, felt a quantity of some warm fluid apparently falling from the ceiling and striking her upon the shoulder. Upon lighting the gas she was horrified to find her gown and bed-clothing smirched with quantities of warm clotted blood. Her clothing has been subjected to washing, but the stains cannot be removed. Mrs. Freeman's strange experience is the talk of the city. The utmost vigilance on the part of two policeman, especially detailed, fails to unravel the mystery.
Another article in the "Cincinnati Enquirer" offered a few additional details:
For several days seemingly incredible stories of supernatural manifestations at the house of Mrs. Dell Freeman, on Water street, Vincennes, Ind., have engaged the attention of the curious. Police circles were first apprised of the ghostly visitations, with a request to keep the matter quiet, but so mysterious and hideous were the apparations that annoyed the inmates of Mrs. Freeman's home that they could not be concealed, even by those who had not experienced them.
Realizing that the mysteries of the haunted house were worth an investigation, your reporter called on Mrs. Freeman, and elicited the following story from her:
"My house many years ago was the finest in the city, and my mother lived here when a child. I have been living here only a few years. I don't believe in ghosts, but that strange and unearthly things have taken place within these walls during the past two weeks I cannot deny, as much as I would like to."
Mrs. Freeman then went on to state that she, as well as others, had been appalled by the appearance of phantom arms and legs and only portions of faces, which seemed to flit through the various rooms. These apparitions, she said, came generally in the dead of the night. She, however, however, did not feel much frightened at the manifestations, but when invisible hands rapped on her bed and shook the bedstead as though it would fall to pieces she felt uncomfortable.
Said she: "These supernatural visitations occur in their most violent form between the hours of 4 and 5 o'clock in the morning. Of late they have been so frequent and so annoying that none of us have been able to sleep. The doors and windows of the house are securely fastened, and yet the specters seem at times to come from every quarter. Knocks and sounds and startling reports of pistol shots are heard all through the night. Loud reports of a pistol are sometimes heard on the outside and the balls come crashing through the transom and strike the head of my bed with such force as to shiver it to pieces, and when we look there is not a trace of a thing. A tall man, sparely built, has been seen in the basement, I had a brave fellow to watch the thing, and he followed it around the cellar for a while, when it vanished like a puff of smoke."
Assuring the reporter that it was not a flight of imagination, Mrs. Freeman continued: "A sound is heard as if an awakening child is crying, but when we look the baby is asleep. The sound then proceeds from the corner of the room, and then grows into a horrid, fierce groan, and finally a weird, sickening blue light flashes from the door to the ceiling and disappears amid awful groans. I have heard whispers in my ears all night long. I have frequently seen a tall man standing at my side and have been startled by the suddenness with which he appeared and disappeared. Guitars have played soft music in the rooms at different times and our clock has played the prettiest tunes I ever listened to. Others heard the same."
"One night the bookcase doors opened softly, and in the full glare of the gas a strange man, with black, curly hair, broad face and broad shoulders, arose from behind the bookcase. On the first motion of one present he vanished and caused a woman to faint."
Several nights ago, after Mrs. Freeman had retired for the night, quantities of warm blood fell on her body from above and ran down her arms to the ends of the fingers. It stained her nightclothes and pillow, and the stains will not wash out. An investigation of the room failed to show whence the blood came. The most horrifying of all these spectral disturbances is the sight of a black velvet coffin without a lid, in which the form of the dark man referred to above is borne across the room. by spectral pallbearers.
This "ghost story," as startling as it may appear, is not exaggerated, and is given just as it was related.
Somewhat to my surprise, I've been unable to find anything more about the lively doings at Mrs. Freeman's. However, I did uncover a bit of background information about the lady herself. Even before her establishment acquired ghosts, her life seems to have been one long round of excitement. As you may have guessed, her boarding-house "exclusively for women" was, in fact, a brothel, and one that was a magnet for trouble. In 1880, one Samuel Besheares brutally attacked a man named John Fitzgerald inside her "bagnio," leaving the latter with injuries that were thought likely to be fatal.
In March 1883, Dell shot a Frenchman named Levi Laboute in the forehead as he was "trying to force an entrance to her house." Fortunately, "the wound, though severe, is not necessarily fatal." One newspaper predicted that as a result of the shooting, "The French boys will make it hot for Dell."
Two years later, two men named William Clarke and Jacob Vorhis got into a quarrel in the Freeman establishment, causing Dell and her girls to kick the obstreperous visitors out. When they were out on the street, the fight intensified, ending when Clarke fatally stabbed Vorhis. (Clarke escaped capture, and I have not been able to determine if he was ever caught.)
In 1888, Mrs. Freeman was charged with selling liquor on a Sunday, but owing to the absence of the prosecutor and his witnesses, the case against her was dismissed.
In 1889, our Dell was--for once--on the right side of the law. She brought a successful lawsuit against the proprietor of Green's Opera House after he refused to sell her a reserved seat ticket. On the other hand, in that same year she was also fined for "keeping a house of ill-fame."
Meanwhile, Dell's brother, Irwin Gammel, spent years going in and out of prison for various offenses (one newspaper described him as "one of the most desperate crooks in the county") until he died trying to escape the Knox county jail in 1901.
Ghosts seem to have been the least of Mrs. Freeman's problems.
Monday, January 8, 2018
Throughout history, untold numbers of women have entered into a marriage with a man who was not their true heart's desire. Many of them simply gritted their teeth and endured a lifetime of unhappiness. Some managed to overcome such unpropitious beginnings and find contentment, even love, in their wedded life. Others just fled at the first opportunity.
And then we have Christina Gilmour.
Christina Cochran was the daughter of a wealthy farmer and cheese-maker in Ayshire, Scotland. Aside from her considerable dowry, she was a pretty and personable girl, all of which naturally ensured that she had many suitors. However, there was only one man whom she wished to wed: a neighboring farmer named John Anderson. For some years, there had been an unofficial understanding that they would marry once Anderson--who was considerably poorer than the Cochrans--improved his financial status.
When Christina was 23, she attracted a particularly ardent admirer, John Gilmour. He was of higher social status than Anderson, being both rich and well-educated. In addition to these desirable qualities, Gilmour also possessed an excellent personal reputation. Christina, her heart still set on John Anderson, was indifferent to this latest suitor, but her parents found Gilmour to be a far preferable match for their eldest daughter, and urged Christina to accept his frequent proposals of marriage. She consistently refused, until the lovesick Gilmour finally threatened suicide. This melodramatic appeal, coupled with the pressure she was under from her parents, compelled Christina to ignore her heart and accept Gilmour's hand.
The first thing she did after saying "Yes" to Gilmour was to bring the news of her engagement to John Anderson. It is suspected that Christina was hoping this would force her old lover's hand and get him to agree to immediately marry her. If such was the case, her plan backfired: Anderson, like the hero in a soap opera, immediately said he was bowing out of the picture, and wished her well in her marriage.
One gets the impression that Mr. Anderson was secretly relieved to be jilted. Considering the subsequent events, it is possible that he knew our heroine better than most.
Christina fell into an epic funk. She moped around the house, took long solitary night walks, and sought consolation in large amounts of food. In short, she exhibited all the stereotypical behavior of a young person who has had a great disappointment in love. Despite Anderson's renunciation, Christina continued to correspond with him. Christina's parents, alarmed at her strange behavior, tried to arrange her marriage as soon as possible, but she obstinately kept putting off the wedding date. Finally--probably after realizing that Anderson was showing no sign of wanting to woo her back--the reluctant bride seemed to accept the inevitable. On November 29, 1842, Christina married John Gilmour, and the newlyweds settled down at his farm at Town of Inchinnan.
|The Gilmour residence|
On their wedding night, Gilmour was hit with the disconcerting news that Christina intended to be his wife only in the strictly legal sense. She flatly refused to consummate their marriage, preferring instead to spend her nights in a chair by the fireside. To his credit, Gilmour did not try to pressure his bride into sleeping with him. He attributed her behavior to "newlywed nerves," and assumed she would eventually come around. Christina, on the other hand, told a servant, Mary Paterson, that she had married Gilmour against her will. She added that she had "intended to take John Anderson."
On December 26, Mary Paterson left the farm to visit relatives in a neighboring parish. While it's not unusual to ask people setting out on a journey to bring back souvenirs, Christina's request was out of the ordinary: she asked Paterson to stop along the way and buy her some arsenic. Christina advised her not to buy it personally, but to stop at a particular house and get "a boy" to procure the poison. She said it was to kill some rats.
What would any true-crime story be without that classic rallying cry? "Arsenic for rats!"
Paterson forgot the location of the house she was supposed to visit, so bought the arsenic herself. On December 27, she stopped at a chemist's shop, said quite openly that it was for "Mrs. Gilmour of Inchinnan," and obtained a packet of the poison, which she dutifully passed on to her mistress. The following day, Christina showed Paterson what appeared to be the same packet of arsenic. She threw it into the fire, stating "it would be of no use to her, and she was frightened she could not use it right."
The day after that, John Gilmour--normally a strong, vigorously healthy man--suddenly and unaccountably became terribly sick. On January 2, Gilmour was still suffering greatly, but he insisted that he and Christina make a pre-scheduled New Year's visit to his family in Ayrshire. As he spent most of the visit vomiting and complaining of internal pain, it could not have been a very festive reunion. Upon returning to Inchinnan, his condition only worsened. Christina was his sole nurse, preparing all his meals. No doctor was summoned.
Early on the morning of January 6, Christina told Mary Paterson that she was going into the nearby town of Renfew. "She wanted something, to see if it would do her husband any good." She returned several hours later, without giving any details on the "something" she bought for the invalid. A while later, another servant, John Muir, found a black bag at the back of the Gilmour home. He had not seen it there earlier in day. When he opened it, he found a small vial of liquid and a paper packet marked with the unsettling word, "Poison." He gave the bag to Mary Paterson, who brought it to her mistress. Christina took it from her, saying nonchalantly that she had bought turpentine to rub on her sick husband.
That night, Christina again left the house, taking with her a farm hand named Sandy Muir. She told Muir that she was going to visit an uncle who lived in Paisley, Robert Robertson. Perhaps he would have some idea of how to deal with her husband's baffling and persistent illness. When Robertson congratulated her on her marriage, Christina remarked that she had wed Gilmour against her inclination. "She would rather of preferred one Anderson." Robertson gave her a friendly lecture on marital duty and the need to make the best of her situation: "Many persons had not got the one they liked best." Christina took his words "quite pleasantly and reasonably." She explained that Gilmour was terribly ill, but refused to see a doctor. Robertson offered to send his personal physician, Dr. McKechnie, but Christina rebuffed the suggestion. She said she would rather that he, Robertson, came to Inchinnan first, "to see what Mr. Gilmour would say." He agreed to visit the next day, and Christina returned home.
Meanwhile, John Muir thought about that strange bag he had found. He thought about the new Mrs. Gilmour's very obvious unhappiness in her marriage. He thought of his master's mysterious and violent illness. He thought of a great many things. That evening, when the invalid was alone, Muir entered his room and asked if he would like to have a doctor brought in. Gilmour replied that if he was still ill in the morning, he would do exactly that. Muir volunteered to fetch one immediately. Gilmour agreed, suggesting one Dr. McLaws, in Renfrew. "Jock," Gilmour added, "this an unco thing!"
Translated into modern dialect, Gilmour was signaling that he knew something rum was up.
Dr. McLaws arrived that very night. He thought the patient was merely suffering from some minor "inflammatory" illness. He bled Gilmour, prescribed a turpentine rub, and went on his merry way.
The next morning, a young woman entered a chemist's shop and asked for arsenic. To kill rats. She gave her name as "Miss Robertson," and stated that the poison was for a local farmer named John Ferguson. As the chemist knew of no "John Ferguson" in the area, he was reluctant to hand over the arsenic. The lady quickly added that Ferguson was no near neighbor, but "up by Paisley." Satisfied with this explanation, the chemist obligingly handed over twopence worth of arsenic.
Later that day, Mr. Robertson paid another visit to the Gilmours. He found that John was still suffering greatly. Gilmour told him of Dr. McLaws' unfruitful visit, and said that if he got no better, he would send for Dr. McKechnie. The next morning, Robertson received an urgent message from the Gilmour home, asking that he return, and bring a doctor with him. It is not known who sent this summons.
Dr. McKechnie found that Gilmour was very feverish, and suffering from unquenchable thirst. He asked for samples of the sick man's vomit and stool, but Christina told him that none had been preserved. He ordered that some should be kept for him to examine the following day. He prescribed various medicines, as well as a "blister." The following day, Dr. McKechnie paid another visit, and found that the patient seemed better. When he asked Christina for the vomit and stool samples, she said "there was so little she did not think it worth while keeping them."
Unfortunately, the next day, January 10, Gilmour's condition took a turn for the worse. On the afternoon of January 11, he died. Sandy Muir later said that shortly before the end came, Gilmour asked that his body be autopsied. Gilmour said to Christina, "Oh, if you have given me anything, tell me before I die!"
Christina did not request a post-mortem on her husband. After the funeral on January 16, she returned to the home of her parents. She also wrote a letter to John Anderson, but, unfortunately, we do not know its exact contents.
Gilmour's neighbors and servants did not share his widow's evident eagerness to have his strange death shrugged off. When an openly discontented wife buys arsenic, and her husband's funeral soon follows, it is tempting to come to certain conclusions. So loud did the gossip become that law enforcement became involved. On April 21, a warrant was issued ordering the exhumation of John Gilmour and the detention of Christina Gilmour. When Christina's father, Alexander Cochran, became aware of this, he suggested to his daughter that it might be a good time for her to take a long vacation. He quickly made arrangements to have Christina brought to Liverpool and placed on a ship bound for America. She traveled under the name of "Mrs. John Spiers."
On April 22, John Gilmour was autopsied, with the verdict that the unfortunate man had died from the effects of a poison, most likely arsenic. Two days later, police arrived at the Cochran home bearing an arrest warrant, only to find they were a bit tardy. Christina had disappeared, and her relatives refused to give any idea where she might have gone. After a bit of detective work, the local police superintendent, a man named George McKay, managed to ascertain that she had fled the country, leading him to obtain a new warrant for her arrest. McKay alerted New York authorities about the fugitive heading their way, hopped on a ship, and managed to intercept Christina in Staten Island. "Mrs. Spiers" initially tried denying that she was Christina Gilmour, but unfortunately for her, McKay had once met her during her brief stint as Mrs. John Gilmour, and he recognized her immediately. Her last gambit having failed, Christina meekly surrendered.
This was the first case of extradition under the 1842 Webster-Ashburton Treaty between America and Great Britain, making the Gilmour case a footnote in transatlantic legal history. At her extradition hearing, the prisoner made a valiant effort to convince the court she was insane, but sadly for her, the court had little trouble coming to the conclusion that she was faking it, and ruled that she should be extradited. On August 16, McKay triumphantly placed his prisoner on a ship bound for Liverpool. One month later, she was committed for trial. In her statement before the court, Christina admitted buying arsenic (you may have already guessed that she was "Miss Robertson,") but insisted that it was only meant to kill herself. She stoutly denied giving arsenic to her husband at any time. Confronted with the fact that arsenic was found in her husband's body, she could only reply that "He got none from me, and I am not aware that he got it from anybody else."
Christina's murder trial began on January 12, 1844. The argument made by the defense was that John Gilmour had taken the arsenic himself, either accidentally or, distraught over the instant failure of his marriage, deliberately.
The court proceeding's dramatic highlight came when John Anderson took the stand. He stated that he had received two letters from the defendant since her husband's death: one in January 1843 and another on April 28. He had not kept either letter, leaving us entirely reliant on Anderson's memory for their contents. He said Christina wrote that she had bought arsenic in order to kill herself, but "she did not admit" giving it to her husband instead. She had also complained about being sent out of the country: she would have preferred to stay "till all was settled." Anderson added that Mrs. Gilmour, whom he had known since childhood, was "of a very gentle, mild, fine disposition." Other witnesses testified that although Christina may have regretted her marriage, she showed no indication of any personal rancor or dislike towards her husband, and appeared to have been genuinely distressed by his illness and death.
Unusually for a poisoning trial, the medical witnesses for both sides were in essential agreement: they had no doubt that John Gilmour had died from ingesting arsenic. The only question was, who was responsible for his poisoning: the dead man himself, or his wife? The judge, Lord Justice-Clerk Hope, gave a notable summing-up to the jury. He pointed out that Christina's statement that she had bought the arsenic for purposes of suicide might have been true. He believed that it was by no means proven that Mrs. Gilmour had been forced into the marriage against her will, thus leaving her with no obvious motive for the alleged crime. In his view, none of the prisoner's actions during her husband's life were at all suspicious. He told the jury that they "may say that without any proved act of administration on her part, your minds revolt from the notion that she committed the crime charged against her." If the jurors felt there were unanswered questions surrounding the case, the defendant deserved the full benefit of the doubt. In short, Hope essentially chucked the trial evidence out the window and instructed the jurors to free the defendant.
The panel obliged, returning a verdict of "Not Proven," that uniquely Scottish ruling that during its history was a friend to many a murderer. The decision was received in the courtroom with "loud, but not very general applause."
Christina never remarried. (Obviously John Anderson feared her second husband might fare no better than her first.) She returned to her home town, where she died over sixty years later in peace and demure respectability. Crime historian William Roughead, writing about the case some years after her death, reported that "a certain clergyman of my acquaintance," had known Christina in her later years. Roughead said the man described her as "a charming old lady, serene and beautiful, famed throughout the district for her singular piety."
Friday, January 5, 2018
For the first Link Dump of 2018, we are again sponsored by the League of New Year's Cats!
How the hell old was Old Tom Parr?
How the hell deep can humans dig?
Watch out for those Iowa vampires!
Watch out for those Welsh mines!
David Hume describes the execution of Viscount Stafford.
The cemetery of witty gravestones.
The Great London Fog and Frost.
Some New Year's witchcraft.
A Victorian dinosaur park.
The bad science that saved Victorian lives.
This week's "rewriting human history" link.
Thomas Edison's sci-fi novel.
The "Templar Stone" turns out not to be very Templar.
So, you're the first Chinese Emperor and you want to live forever. Here's how.
A trio of very unusual aviators.
Life, the Universe, and the Anthropic Principle.
The man who forfeited a Victoria Cross.
In related news, here's the guy who heard the above story and said "Hold my beer."
Rumors of WWII.
The woman who slept with both Napoleon and Wellington.
The first medical school for women.
A look at Twelfth Night.
The Doughnut Girls of WWI.
The first known practical joke.
A butcher's New Year murder.
This week's Advice From Thomas Morris: What not to do with your false teeth.
Conning the Conquistadors.
Another murder on New Year's Day.
And so we come to the end of this week's links. See you on Monday, when we'll look at that evergreen topic of arsenic poisoning! In the meantime, here's a look at how Latvians celebrate winter.
Yup. These are my people.