Monday Mystery: Villisca Axe Murders

A few years back, as part of this series, I wrote about the Hinterkaifeck murders of 1922. Today I’ve decided to blog about something similar, the murders this time taking place ten years prior in the state of Iowa.

The crime

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1912. Summer. A small town in a sleepy corner of Iowa. The Moore family (father Josiah, mother Sarah, and their four children: Herman Montgomery (11), Mary Katherine (10), Arthur Boyd (7), and Paul Vernon (5)) prepare to attend a Children’s Day Program in the local Presbyterian Church. The Moores were well-known and well-liked in the community. They even invited Ina Mae (8) and Lena Gertrude Stillinger (12), neighbours, to spend the night at their residence after church. The program ended at 9:30 p.m.; the party arrived back to the house roughly fifteen to thirty minutes later.

Early the next morning, about 7 a.m, Mary Peckham, the Moores’ neighbor, emerged from her house and started her day’s work. She soon became concerned when she noticed the Moores didn’t join her. Peckham went over to their house and knocked, waited for someone to answer. Nobody came, and so she attempted to open the door and discovered that it was locked. She let the Moores’ chickens out and called Josiah’s brother. He arrived, knocked on the door and shouted, but Ross Moore heard no response. He decided to try a spare key that he’d been given, unlocking the door and pushing inside. While Peckham stood on the porch, he stepped into the parlor and opened the guest bedroom door. Inside, he found the bodies of Ina and Lena Stillinger. He shouted to Peckham to call the sheriff, Hank Horton. His subsequent search of the house revealed the bodies of the Moore family, all of them bludgeoned to death. The murder weapon, an axe belonging to Josiah, was found in the guest room with the Stillinger sisters.

Local doctors concluded that the murders had taken place between midnight and 5 a.m. Investigators later found cigarettes in the attic, suggesting that the killer or killers waited in the attic until the Moore family and the Stillinger guests fell asleep. They then began in the master bedroom, killing Josiah and Sarah Moore first. Josiah received more blows from the axe than any other victim; his eyes were missing and while the killer used the blunt end of the axe on the rest of their victims, Josiah had been killed with the sharp edge. The killer(s) then went into the children’s rooms and bludgeoned Herman, Katherine, Boyd, and Paul in the same manner as their parents. They then returned to the master bedroom to inflict more blows on the Josiah and Sarah, knocking over a shoe that had filled with blood. Afterward, the killer(s) stepped downstairs and killed the Stillinger guests.

It is believed that Lena Stillinger was the only victim awake when murdered. There were signs she may have fought back; she was found lying crosswise on the bed, and with a defensive wound on her arm.

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The suspects

  1. Andrew Saywer: No real evidence linked Sawyer to the case, but his name came up often in grand jury testimonies. Thomas Dyer, a bridge foreman and pile driver for the Burlington Railroad, testified that Sawyer approached his crew at 6:00 a.m on the morning the bodies were discovered. He was clean-shaven and wearing a brown suit, but his shoes were covered in mud, his pants soaked to the knees. He asked for employment and was given a job on the spot. Dyer informed police that later that evening Sawyer purchased a newspaper and went off by himself to read it. The front page showed the Villisca murders and, according to Dyer, Sawyer “was much interested in it.” Dyer’s crew were uneasy that Sawyer slept with an axe next to him and talked much of the Villisca murders and whether or not a killer had been apprehended. Dyer later testified that prior to Sawyer’s arrest, he walked up behind him. Sawyer was rubbing his head with both hands and suddenly jumped up and said to himself, “I will cut your god damn heads off.” At the same time, he made striking motions with the axe and began hitting the piles in front of him.
    Dyer’s son testified that one day as the crew drove through Villisca, Sawyer showed him “where the man who killed the Moore family got out of town”. He said the man that did the job jumped over a manure box which he pointed out about 1½ blocks away, and then showed where he crossed the railroad track. J.R. said there were footprints in the soggy ground north of the embankment. Sawyer told J.R. to look on the other side of the car and said he would show him an old tree where the murderer stepped into the creek. According to J.R. Dyer, he looked over and saw such a tree south of the track about four blocks away. But he was dismissed as a suspect in the case when officials learned that he could prove he had been in Osceola, Iowa, on the night of the murders. He had been arrested for vagrancy there and was sent away by train about 11pm.
  2. Reverend Kelly: An English-born traveling minister, Kelly was in town on the night of the murders. He was described as odd, accused of peeping and several times asking young women to pose nude for him. On June 8, 1912, he came to Villisca to teach at the Children’s Day services, which the Moore family attended on June 9, 1912. He left town between 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on June 10, 1912, hours before the bodies were discovered.

    In the weeks that followed, he displayed a fascination with the case, writing many letters to the police, investigators, and family of the deceased. This aroused suspicion, and a private investigator wrote back to Reverend Kelly, asking for details that the minister might know about the murders. Kelly replied with great detail, claiming to have heard sounds and possibly witnessed them. His known mental illness made authorities question whether he knew the details intimately or was only imagining them.

    In 1914, two years after the murders, Kelly was arrested for sending obscene material through the mail. In 1917, he was arrested for the Villisca murders. Police obtained a confession from him; however, it followed many hours of interrogation and Kelly later recanted. After two separate trials, he was acquitted.

  3. Frank Fernando Jones: a Villisca resident and Iowa State Senator, Jones used to employ Josiah Moore at his implement store for years before Jones left and set up his own. This may have taken business away from Jones, including a tractor dealership. Moore was rumored to have had an affair with Jones’ daughter-in-law, though no evidence suggests this.
  4. William Mansfield: One theory suggests Senator Jones hired William “Blackie” Mansfield to murder the Moore family. It is believed that Mansfield was a serial killer because he murdered his wife, infant child, father- and mother-in-law with an axe two years after the Villisca crimes. He is also linked to axe crimes in Kansas only a few days after the murders. He was also a suspect in the double homicide of Jennie Peterson and Jennie Miller in Illinois. Each of the crime sites was accessible by train, and all murders were carried out in roughly the same manner.

    The Grand Jury of Montgomery County refused to indict him, on grounds that his alibi checked out. Nine months before the murders at Villisca, a similar case of axe murder occurred in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Two further axe murder cases occured in Kansas. Overall, there’s strong evidence they were carried out by the same person. Other murders that may be linked include the numerous unsolved axe murders along the Southern Pacific Railroad (1911-1912), the unsolved Axeman of New Orleans killings, as well as several other such murders.

    The murders in Colorado Springs were closely related to the Villisca case in particular. Bed sheets were used to cover the windows to prevent passersby from looking in, as was seen in the Moore house (the murderer hung aprons and skirts to cover the windows). The murderer in both cases also covered the heads of their victims with bedclothes. 

    Investigator Wilkerson stated he could prove Mansfield was present on the night of ech of the murders. In each case, a burning lamp with the chimney off was left at the foot of the bed and a basin in which the murderer washed was found in the kitchen. The murderer also avoided leaving fingerprints by wearing gloves (Mansfield would have known his fingerprints were on file at the federal military prison at Leavenworth).

    Mansfield was tried but never convicted.

Did the killer gain access to the house after nightfall, or did they really wait in the attic? Was the killer known to the family, or was it part of a serial spree? Who carried out the Villisca Axe Murders?

And why?

(If you would like to learn more about the murders, or visit the infamous house, click here)

Monday Mystery: The death of Annie Borjesson

On December 4, 2005, the body of Annie Borjesson, a 30-year-old Swedish woman, was discovered on the shore of Prestwick, a town on the west coast of Scotland. A few days later, on 7 December 2005, a local newspaper published a brief account of her death:

An area of Prestwick beach was cordoned off at the weekend after a woman’s body was found washed up on the shore. A dog walker discovered the 31-year-old woman’s body about 8.30am on Sunday near to Maryborough Road. A police investigation team quickly sealed off the area but there are no suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.

Police ruled the death a suicide by drowning, but Annie’s family wasn’t convinced. As they began to investigate, they found some unanswered questions.

Annie’s body arrived back in Sweden. There, the undertakers claimed she had several bruises that she seemed to have incurred while she was still alive. The autopsy in Scotland contained only a few notes.

Body was heavily contaminated by sand and seaweed…….lungs were congested…..air passages contained ‘a frothy material’. Conclusion: death by drowning.

Official reports had concluded that other marks on the corpse were the result of collisions with debris in the sea. Pieces of tissue removed during the post-mortem were also examined by the Swedish forensic service. A professor in strasbourg found tiny diatom shells – algae – in the sample and identified them as navicula lanceolata. It was an unexpected discovery. Far from confirming that Annie had drowned, it tended to cast doubt on the conclusion of the post-mortem. Navicula lanceolata is a freshwater rather than a seawater diatom.

annie

Annie lived in Edinburgh, but on December 3, she traveled 129 kilometers to Prestwick Airport for unknown reasons. There was a flight to Gothenburg around 6.30 that evening, and another the following morning. The family assume that she was intending to fly home. It transpired that she had an appointment in Sweden with her hairdresser, Inger Nossborn, on Monday. She tried to withdraw cash using her credit card twice, first £100, then £50. Both times, she didn’t have enough funds in her account to complete the transaction. She was later captured on CCTV.

In the first image from the airport, Annie was wearing a winter jacket, later found near her body on Prestwick beach, a red and white fleece, trousers and trainers. She also carried a shoulder back. In the second shot, around 3.16, she was seen walking towards the car park. Independent investigators recreated the route Annie took through the airport. Comparing this to the victim’s CCTV footage, they determined she would not have been able to complete the route in the recorded 55 seconds unless she had been running.In total, she spent less than five minutes at the airport. A friend later saw the footage and said Annie appeared to be walking around looking “annoyed and angry.” She then began walking toward Prestwick itself. She wasn’t familiar with the town, which was about a mile away from the airport. A witness later claimed to have seen a figure standing on the beach near the sea. The person was about 150 yards away, he and a friend reckoned. He or she was standing motionless at the edge of the water. By the time the friends turned for home, twenty minutes had elapsed since the first sighting, yet it seemed the lone figure on the shore hadn’t budged. There was no one else on the beach. It occurred to the man that the person might be contemplating suicide. He mentioned this possibility to his friend. But they thought no more about it until the following morning.

The entire investigation was shrouded in secrecy. Scottish authorities refused to release tissue samples that could help clarify the cause of death. When the family accessed Annie’s email account, they found that it had been wiped. A friend discovered that the victim’s phone company had failed to register any of the calls she had made to Annie during 2005. The phone company refused to discuss this.

This friend soon began to receive silent phone calls. Family members too had problems with their email accounts. It later came to light that Annie’s hair had been cut after her death and thrown away. Maria also discovered that her friend’s full name – Annie Kristina Borjesson – was almost identical to that of a journalist in the United States who, it was thought, had been investigating rendition flights through Prestwick Airport.

annie2

Annie’s family continues to campaign. Her mother met with the First Minister of Scotland and a petition of 3,000 signatures was signed for more information about Annie’s death.

Questions still remain unanswered.

Why would a woman living in Edinburgh travel 80 miles to commit suicide?

Why was she running in the airport?

And what did she mean, a day before her death, when she said to her family on the phone:

I have to take care of myself.

Monday Mystery-Sodder children disappearance

It’s been a while since I’ve revisited the Monday Mysteries series. This installment tells the story of the Sodder family, the house fire that claimed their home, and the mystery surrounding the fate of five of their children.

Prelude (1895-December 23rd, 1945)

George Sodder (Giorgio Soddu) was born in 1895. An Italian, he emigrated to the United States at age 13. Entering through Ellis Island, he said goodbye to his brother who turned straight for home. He quickly found work on the railroads in Pennsylvania and eventually married Jennie Cipriani (a fellow Italian-American) and settled in Fayetteville, West Virginia.

The couple lived in a two-storey timber frame house alongside many other Italian-Americans. George’s business prospered around the time the first of ten of their children were born, and soon the Sodder’s were one of the most respected families in the neighbourhood. However, by the time the last of their children were born in 1943 (Sylvia), George had become known for his outspoken views, especially against Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, often leading to arguments with other immigrants. His eldest son Joe was already fighting among the allied forces in Europe. A year later, Il Duce was dead, but the tension was still very much alive in Fayetteville.

On more than one occasion this came to the fore. A visiting life assurance salesman warned him that “your house will go up in smoke and your children are going to be destroyed”. On a separate occasion, a man seeking work went round to the back of the house and pointed to a pair of fuse boxes, warning George they’d “cause a fire someday” (though the house had been recently rewired and checked).

Weeks before the incident, his older sons had also noticed a strange car parked along the main highway through town, its occupants watching the younger Sodder children as they returned from school.

Christmas Eve, 1945

The Sodders celebrated Christmas Eve at home, missing only two of their children-Joe, who was at the front in Europe, and Marion (their eldest daughter), who was working a shift at a dime store downtown. When she did arrive home, she brought gifts to surprise three of her younger sisters (Martha, 12, Jennie, 8, and Betty, 6). Delighted with their new toys, the children asked could they stay up later than their bedtime. At 10:00 p.m., Jennie told the children they could stay up a little later, as long as the two oldest boys still awake (14-year-old Maurice and 10-year-old Louis), remembered to attend to the animals outside. George and the two oldest boys, John, 23 and George Jr., 16, tired from work all day, were already fast asleep. Jennie then took Sylvia (2) in her arms and went to bed.

At 12:30 a.m., the telephone rang. Jennie woke and went downstairs to answer. She didn’t recognise the voice on the other end of the line, a  woman asking for a name she was not familiar with. In the background, Jennie heard the sound of laughter and clinking glasses. She assured the caller she must have dialed the wrong number. Later, she recalled the woman’s weird laugh on the telephone. She hung up and decided to return to bed. As she did, she noticed that the lights were still on and the curtains were not drawn, two things the children should have attended to. Her daughter Marion had fallen asleep on the living room couch, so she assumed the other children had gone back up to the attic where they slept. Jennie closed the curtains, outed the lights, and trudged back upstairs.

She awoke an hour later to the sound of something hitting the roof. A loud bang, followed by a rolling noise. She listened for a moment, and when she heard nothing further, drifted back to sleep. At 1.30am, she woke to the smell of smoke. When she investigated, she found George’s office ablaze, fire ringed round the telephone line and the fuse box. She quickly roused her husband and their eldest sons.

George, Jennie, Marion, Sylvia and her two eldest brothers, who all slept on the second floor, escaped the house. They shouted to the children upstairs in the attic but heard no response. The stairs to the third floor were consumed by flame. John Sodder later said in a police interview that he went up to the attic to alert his siblings, though he then changed his story to say that he only called up and did not actually see them.

Outside, George and his wife struggled to rescue the children still trapped inside. They tried to contact the fire brigade but their phone wasn’t operating. Running to a neighbour’s house, Marion was met with the same ill-luck. Nearby, a driver who had seen the fire couldn’t reach an operator from the phone in a tavern.

George climbed the wall of the house and broke an attic window, slashing open his arm as he did so. He sent his sons to fetch the ladder they kept at the side of the house, but it was nowhere to be found. They tried to use a water barrel to extinguish the fire. Its contents were frozen solid. In a last desperate attempt to reach the attic, George tried to pull both of his business trucks up to the house to climb up to the window. Despite having worked fine only the day before, neither truck would start.

Over the next hour, the Sodders watched their family home burn to the ground. Low on manpower due to the war, the fire department did not respond until later that morning. By 10 a.m., the Sodder home lay in ruin. 

Morris, a firefighter and Jennie’s brother, helped search through the wreckage.

A few hours later, he told his sister the news. There were no bones in the ashes.

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The aftermath 

A few days after the fire, George bulldozed the site of their home, the family intent on making a memorial garden. The chief of the fire department wanted to conduct a more thorough investigation, but the Sodders could not bare the sight of their ruined home any longer.

An inquest into the fire the next day determined it was an accident caused by faulty wiring. Among the jurors was the insurance salesman who had threatened George two months previously.

Though death certs were issued for the five children who were presumed to have died in the fire, the Sodders still had questions. They argued the blaze could not have been as a result of an electrical fault, as the Christmas lights remained operational early on in the fire. They also found their ladder at the bottom of an embankment some distance from their house. On top of that, it was discovered that their telephone lines had been cut, not burned by the fire. A man was arrested in relation to this, though he maintains he meant to cut a power line. His identity remains unknown. George Sodder argued he may have also tampered with his trucks.

Jennie Sodder, on the other hand, wanted to follow up on the call placed to the house shortly before the fire. The placer of the call was eventually traced, though when questioned she maintains it was a simple case of wrong-number.

In 1946, her recollection of events received a boost from a local bus driver, who passing by the house that night had seen unidentified men throwing “balls of fire” at the house. When Sylvia found a green rubber ball a few months later, George postulated the noise his wife had heard was a form of grenade being thrown at the house, and that the fire had started on the roof.

Other witnesses claimed to have seen the children themselves. A woman who watched the fire from the road said she had seen some of them in a passing car. Another woman said she had served them breakfast the next morning at a rest-stop.

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Over the following years, the Sodders never gave up hope, offering a reward for information about the surviving children and erecting a billboard on U.S. route 19. This was met with a flurry of sightings and tips, all of which ultimately led to nothing. The most notable was the following photo, sent to the Sodders in 1967. Jennie found the letter, postmarked in Central City, Kentucky, with no return address. The picture inside was of a young man with features resembling Louis’s, who would have been in his 30s at the time if he was alive. On the back was written:

Louis Sodder. I love brother Frankie. Ilil Boys. A90132 or 35

The Sodders hired a P.I. to follow up on the letter, but no contact was ever received again.

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Today, Sylvia is the last surviving member of the Christmas Eve fire. Only two at the time, she maintains it was her earliest memory, and that her siblings survived.

Whether they did or not, we’ll likely never know.

 

 

Monday Mystery-Annie Chapman (Jack the Ripper Part II)

Background

So, it might not be exactly one week on, but I’ve finally got round to the second post in this series. Today we’re going to look at Jack the Ripper’s second murder, which happened on September 8th 1888. Of late, there has been much rumour on the identity of the murderer, with newspapers and books alike claiming they’ve solved it by DNA. Until some hard evidence surfaces (such as this DNA proof appearing in a journal and not in the Daily Mail), this blogger is not going to consider it worthwhile. Instead, we’re going to go back in time again to a misty London, and see what happened for ourselves.

Annie Chapman was born Eliza Ann Smith. She was the daughter of George Smith of the 2nd Regiment Life Guards and Ruth Chapman. Her parents married after her birth, on 22 February 1842, in Paddington. Smith was a soldier at the time of his marriage, later becoming a domestic servant. On 1 May 1869, Annie married her maternal relative John Chapman, a coachman, at All Saints Church in the Knightsbridge district of London. For some years the couple lived at addresses in West London, and they had three children:

  • Emily Ruth Chapman, born on 25 June 1870.
  • Annie Georgina Chapman, born on 5 June 1873.
  • John Alfred Chapman, born on 21 November 1880.

In 1881 the family moved to Berkshire where John Chapman took a job as coachman to a farm bailiff. But young John had been born disabled, while their firstborn, Emily Ruth, died of meningitis shortly after at the age of 12. Following this, both Chapman and her husband took to heavy drinking and separated in 1884. Annie Chapman eventually moved to Whitechapel, where in 1886 she was living with a man who made wire sieves; because of this she was often known as Annie “Sievey” or “Siffey”. After she and her husband separated, she had received an allowance of 10 shillings a week from him, but at the end of 1886 the payments stopped abruptly. On inquiring why they had stopped, she found her husband had died of alcohol-related causes. The sieve-maker left her soon after, possibly due to the cessation of her income. One of her friends later testified that Chapman became very depressed after this and seemed to give up on life. Her friends called her “Dark Annie”, for her dark brown hair. By 1888 Chapman was living in common lodging houses in Whitechapel, occasionally in the company of Edward “the Pensioner” Stanley, a bricklayer’s labourer. She earned some income from crochet work and selling flowers, supplemented by casual prostitution. An acquaintance described her as “very civil and industrious when sober”, but noted “I have often seen her the worse for drink.” In the week before her death she was feeling ill after being bruised in a fight with Eliza Cooper, a fellow resident in Crossingham’s lodging house at 35 Dorset Street, Spitalfields. The two were reportedly rivals for the affections of a local hawker called Harry, but Eliza claimed the fight was over a borrowed bar of soap that Annie had not returned.

The Murder

According to the lodging house deputy Tim Donovan and the watchman John Evans, at about 1:45 a.m. on the morning of her death, Chapman found herself without money for her lodging and went out to earn some on the street. At the inquest one of the witnesses, Mrs. Elizabeth Long testified that she had seen Chapman talking to a man at about 5:30 a.m. just beyond the back yard of 29 Hanbury Street, Spitalfields. Mrs. Long described him as over forty, and a little taller than Chapman, of dark complexion, and of foreign, “shabby-genteel” appearance. He was wearing a hat and dark overcoat. If correct in her identification of Chapman, it is likely that Long was the last person to see Chapman alive besides her murderer. Chapman’s body was discovered at just before 6:00 a.m. on the morning of 8 September 1888 by a resident of number 29, market porter John Davis. She was lying on the ground near a doorway in the back yard. John Richardson, the son of a resident of the house, had been in the back yard shortly before 5 a.m. to trim a loose piece of leather from his boot, and carpenter Albert Cadosch had entered the neighbouring yard at 27 Hanbury Street at about 5:30 a.m., and heard voices in the yard followed by the sound of something falling against the fence. He took no notice.

Evidence indicated that Chapman may have been killed as late as 5:30 a.m., in the enclosed back yard of a house occupied by sixteen people, none of whom had seen or heard anything at the time of the murder.The passage through the house to the back-yard was not locked, as it was frequented by the residents at all hours of the day, and the front door was wide open when the body was discovered. Richardson said that he had often seen strangers, both men and women, in the passage of the house. Her throat was cut from left to right, and she had been disembowelled, with her intestines thrown out of her abdomen over each of her shoulders. The morgue examination revealed that part of her uterus was missing. Chapman’s protruding tongue and swollen face led Dr Phillips to think that she may have been asphyxiated with the handkerchief around her neck before her throat was cut. As there was no blood trail leading to the yard, he was certain that she was killed where she was found. He concluded that she suffered from a long-standing lung disease, that the victim was sober at the time of death, and had not consumed alcoholic beverages for at least some hours before it. Phillips was of the opinion that the murderer must have possessed anatomical knowledge to have sliced out the reproductive organs in a single movement with a blade about 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) long. However, the idea that the murderer possessed surgical skill was dismissed by other experts.

Timeline

Now we shall examine a timeline of events, similar to last week, but this time stretching back to a few days before the murder occurred.

AUG 31, 1888
3:40am
Polly Nichols found dead in Buck’s Row.

SAT, SEP 1, 1888 Annie fought with and lost to a fellow lodger, Eliza Cooper, over a half-pennce.

MON, SEP 3, 1888 Annie’s friend, Amelia Palmer, saw Annie in Dorset St who complained about being ill. Palmer noticed a bruise on Annie’s right temple and asked, “How did you get that?” “Yes, look at my chest,” replied Annie, opening her dress to reveal another bruise. Annie also stated, “If my sister will send me the boots, I shall go hopping.”

TUE, SEP 4, 1888 Amelia saw Annie at the Spitalfields Church, and Annie again complained of feeling unwell, stating that she should go to the casual ward. Palmer noticed Annie’s pale condition, who replied that she had nothing to eat or drink all day. Palmer gave Annie 2d (1p) and told her to buy some tea, not rum.

FRI, SEP 7, 1888
2:00-3:00pm
Crossingham’s house deputy, Timothy Donovan, permitted Annie to sit in the kitchen, asking where she had been all week. “In the infirmary,” answered Annie.

FRI, SEP 7, 1888
5:00pm
Palmer met Annie in Dorset St. Annie was still feeling ill. “Are you going to Stratford to-day?” asked Palmer. Annie answered, “I feel too ill to do anything.”

FRI, SEP 7, 1888
c.5:10pm
Palmer saw Annie, again, in the same spot. Annie said, “It is of no use my going away. I shall have to go somewhere to get some money to pay my lodgings.”

FRI, SEP 7, 1888
11:30pm
Annie returned to the lodging-house and was, again, permitted to sit in the kitchen, leaving after only a short time.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.12:12am
Annie returned to the lodging-house, saying she had been to Vauxhall to see her sister, and that her relations gave her 5d (2 1/2p).Fellow lodger, William Stevens, saw Annie in the kitchen. Annie said she had been to the hospital and would go to the infirmary the next day. She had a bottle of lotion and a bottle of medicine. She took out a box of pills from her pocket, and, upon handling it, the box broke. Annie placed the pills in a torn piece of envelope she found on the floor near the fireplace.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
12:30am
Frederick Simmons, a fellow lodger, and Annie had a beer.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
1:00am
Simmons saw Annie leave Crossingham’s (#35 Dorset St), believing she went to the Brittannia pub, (located on the north-west corner of Dorset St and Commercial St).

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
1:30-1:45am
Annie returned to the lodging-house and was eating a baked potato in the kitchen. Donovan sent the night watchman, John Evans, for her doss money. Annie went to Donovan and said, “I haven’t sufficient money for a bed, but don’t let it. I shall not be long before I am in.” “You cant find money for your beer or your bed,” replied Donovan. “Never mind, Tim. I shall soon be back. Don’t let the bed,” Annie responded. (Donovan thought Annie was drunk.)

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.1:50am
Evans escorted Annie outside. Annie then said, “I won’t be long, Brummy. See that Tim keeps the bed for me.’ Annie then walked up Little Paternoster Row, into Brushfield St, and turned towards the Spitalfields Church. (Evans thought Annie was the worse for drink.)

SEP 8, 1888
2:30am
Emily Walter was in the backyard of 29 Hanbury St with a man. He was 37; Dark beard and moustache; foreign accent; dark vest and pants; black scarf and felt hat; short dark jacket.

          Hanbury St curves south-east from Commercial St to the junction of Baker’s Row and Old Montague St. #29 was on the North side of the street, between Wilkes St & Brick Ln. 27 Hanbury St was next door on the West side of #29. 29 Hanbury St, a 3-story building with residents living on each of the three floors and in the attic with a small business on the ground floor and one working out of the cellar. On the left-hand side of the buildings’ front was two doors: the door on the right led to the shop. The door on the left opened to a passageway containing stairs to the residences and another door leading to the backyard. #29 was owned by Mrs Amelia Richardson, who ran a packing case business out of the cellar and was assisted by Francis Tyler and her son, John Richardson. A cat’s meat shop was in the ground floor front room and was used by Mrs Harriet Hardyman and her 16 year old son. The ground floor back room was a kitchen. Mrs Richardson and her 14 year old grandson slept in the first floor front room. The first floor back room was occupied by Mr Waker and his adult, retarded son. Mr Thompson, his wife, and their adopted daughter slept in the second floor front room. Two unmarried sisters, Misses Copsey, lived in the second floor back room. Living in the front room of the attic was John Davis with his wife and three sons, and occupying the attic’s back room was Mrs Sarah Cox. Typically neither door was locked in the passageway. Three small stone steps led to the yard, which was about 14′ x 12′. The yard was part dirt and part paving stone. About 3′ to 3′-6″, left of the doorway, was a 5′-6″ high fence made of wooden pailings, separating the yards of #27 & #29. To the right of the doorway, were cellar doors, which led to a workshop. Two feet away, on the right, was a water pump. At the yard’s far left corner was a storage shed, and at the far right corner was a privy.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
3:00am
Davis woke up.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.3:50am
Thompson left for work without going into the back yard. Mrs Richardson, dozing fitfully, heard him pass her room and called out, “Good morning.”

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
4:45am
John Richardson stopped by to check the cellar door padlock, which he often did since it had been broken into some months earlier. He was not actually in the yard, since he could see the padlock from the top of the steps.Richardson sat on the steps, trying to trim a piece of leather from his boots with a table knife that he brought from home.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
4:50am
Richardson left.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
4:51am
Dawn broke.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
5:00am
Davis fell back asleep.(A case of mistaken identity had incorrectly placed Annie at the Ten Bells pub.) Mrs Elizabeth Long left her house at 32 Church Row for the Spitalfields Market.Spitalfields Market opened.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.5:15am
Albert Cadoche of 27 Hanbury St woke up.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
5:20am
Cadoche went into the backyard of #27. Upon his return to the house, he heard voices quite close to him. Of which, he could only make out the word “No.”

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
5:25am
Sun rose.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.5:25am
Cadoche re-entered his backyard and heard a fall against the fence. Cadoche returned to the house and prepared to leave for work.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
5:30am
Davis woke back up. Walking South down Brick Ln, Long neared Hanbury St, noting the time from the clock of the Black Eagle Brewery, Brick Ln. She then turned westerly onto Hanbury St.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.5:32am
Cadoche passed by the Spitalfields Church. Long saw a man and woman standing near 29 Hanbury St, talking. The man had a shabby, genteel, and foreign appearance. He had a dark complexion; wore a brown deerstalker and a dark coat; He seemed 40-ish; and, was slightly taller than the woman “Will you?” the man asked. “Yes,” said the woman.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
A Few Minutes After 5:30am
Long reached the Spitalfields Market.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
5:45am
Davis and wife got out of bed as the Spitalfields Church clock struck the quarter hour. They had some tea.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.5:55am
Davis went downstairs, noticing that the passageway door to the street stood wide open, which was not unusual. Davis then opened the other door to enter the backyard and saw the body.

      Annie was lying on her back, parallel with the fence, which was to her left; Her head was about 2′ from the back wall and 6″-9″ left of the bottom step; Her legs were bent at the knees; Her feet were flat on the ground pointing toward the shed; Her dress was pushed above her knees; Her left arm lay across her left breast; Her right arm at her side; The small intestines, still attached by a cord, and part of the abdomen lay above her right shoulder; 2 flaps of skin from the lower abdomen lay in a large quantity of blood above the left shoulder; Her throat was deeply cut in a jagged manner; A neckerchief was around her neck.

Davis immediately left the yard and ran out into the street.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
6:00am
(Tyler, who was frequently late for work, was not yet at the house).

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
(6:10am)
James Kent and James Green were standing outside their workshop at 23A Hanbury St, waiting for their fellow workers to arrive when Davis entered the street. “Men! Come here! Here’s a sight. A woman must have been murdered!” shouted Davis to Green and Kent.Henry John Holland was passing by and followed the others to the yard. Only Holland ventured into the yard.All of them then left: Green, apparently, returned to work; Kent did not notice a constable in the area, so he went to his workshop for a brandy while looking for a canvas to put over the body; Holland went to the Spitalfields Market, where he found a constable who was on a fixed point; and, Davis went to the Commercial Street Police Station, to report the finding.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
(exact time unknown)
Mrs Hardyman woke up to the sound of Davis and the others in the passageway and sent her son to see what was going on. Upon his return, he said, “Don’t upset yourself, mother. It’s a woman been killed in the yard.”

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.6:10am
Mrs Richardson went into the passageway after receiving news from her grandson. (Only Annie’s body was in the yard.) Inspector Joseph Luniss Chandler was at the corner of Hanbury St and Commercial St when he saw several men running from Hanbury St. “Another woman has been murdered,” he was told.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
(6:13am)
Insp Chandler arrived at the scene. (A crowd had already begun to gather in the passageway, but no one was in the yard.) He sent for the Divisional Surgeon, Doctor George Bagster Phillips, 2 Spital Square; He sent for an ambulance and reinforcements from the Commercial Street Police Station; He notified Scotland Yard and covered the body with sacking he borrowed from a neighboring resident.Kent returned to #29 and found that Insp Chandler had taken possession of the backyard and that a crowd had gathered in the passageway near the door.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
6:20am
Dr Phillips learned of the body.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.6:30am
Dr Phillips arrived upon the scene and began his initial examination.

      Estimated time of death was viewed as c.4:30am; The face was swollen and turned to her right side; The tongue was very swollen, protruding between the front teeth but not the lips; The limbs were not very stiff but rigor mortis was commencing; The throat was deeply severed by a jagged incisions which reached right around the neck; The body was cold, but heat remained in the body under the intestines.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.6:40am
The ambulance had arrived and Dr Phillips ordered the body to be taken to the Whitechapel Workhouse Infirmary Mortuary in Eagle St off of Old Montague St. As the body was being removed, the contents of Annie’s pocket, which had been cut, were discovered at her feet: A folded piece of coarse muslin, a comb, and a pocket hair comb in a case. (Dr Phillips felt the items were arranged/placed.) Dr Phillips and Insp Chandler then searched the area, finding an envelope piece with the Royal Sussex Regiment crest, the letter “M” in a man’s handwriting, letters “SP,” the number “2,” and the postmark “London, 23 August, 1888″ containing the 2 pills laying by her head; A wet leather apron drying on the water tap 2′ from the body; A basin of clean water resting beneath the water tap; 6 spots of blood on the back wall, near where Annie’s head had lain, were located about 18″ off the ground and ranged in size from that of six pence to that of a pin point; About 14” off the ground, near the position of Annie’s head, were clotted patches and smears of blood on the pailings of the still-intact fence; No blood stains were found in the passageway, in the rest of the house, in the street, or in the adjoining yards; An empty nail box and a piece of flat steel were found in the yard.News of the murder had spread, and Sergeant Edward Badham was met by several hundred people as he conveyed the body to the mortuary.

SAT, SEP 8, 1888
c.6:45am
In the passageway of #29, Insp Chandler spoke with Richardson, who told Insp Chandler that he had been at the house earlier that morning, but that he did not go into the yard. Though, he was certain that Annie’s body was not there at that time.

Witnesses

Below we examine stories already highlighted above with others as well. Overall it gives a better picture of those present.

Albert Cadosch: Cadosch testified that on the morning of 8th September 1888, he got up at 5.15am and went into the yard, presumably to relieve himself. On going back to the house, he heard a voice say “No!” from behind the fence which divided the backyards of Nos.27 and 29 Hanbury Street. A few minutes later, he needed to use the yard again, whereupon he heard something touch the fence from the other side. His suspicions were not aroused as he had occasionally heard people in the yard of No.29 at that time of the morning. He did not hear the rustling of clothes and he did not look to see what was causing the noises When he left the house, he noted that the clock of Christ Church read 5.32am. He did not see any man and woman together outside, nor did he see Mrs Elizabeth Long.

Mary Chappell: A friend of Mrs. Fiddymont who saw a suspicious looking man with blood on his hand in the Prince Albert on the morning of 8th September 1888. After the man left the pub, Chappell followed him and on Brushfield Street she pointed him out to passer-by Joseph Taylor.

John Davis: On Friday, September 7th 1888, he had gone to bed at approximately 8.00pm; his sons came in at different times thereafter, the last one at about 10.45pm. Davis was awake between 3.00am and 5.00am on the morning of the 8th, before falling back to sleep for half an hour. He got up at 5.45am. He was certain of the time as he heard the clock of Christchurch chime.When he went downstairs to the backyard, he noticed that the front door of the housewas wide open (not unusual) and that the back door leading to the yard was shut. When he entered the yard, Davis saw the body of Annie Chapman.He did not go any further into the yard, but ran out into the street where he saw two men whose names he did not know (actually James Green and James Kent) and after telling them of his discovery, they went to see the body for themselves. Davis did not know the deceased and heard nothing suspicious during the night.

Mrs. Fiddymont: the wife of the proprietor of the Prince Albert pub which stood at the corner of Brushfield Street and Steward Street. She stated that at 7am on 8th September 1888, soon after the death of Annie Chapman, she was standing in the ‘first compartment’ of the bar talking with her friend Mary Chappell. A man entered the pub (in the ‘middle compartment’) whose appearance frightened her. He was wearing a brown stiff hat, a dark coat, and no waistcoat; his hat was pulled down over his eyes and with his face partly concealed he asked for half a pint of ‘four ale’. She served the drink whilst looking at him through the mirror at the back of the bar. As soon as he saw Mary Chappell watching him from the other compartment, he turned his back and got the partition between himself and her. Mrs. Fiddymont was struck by the fact that there were blood spots on the back of his right hand. She also noticed that his shirt was torn. The man drank the beer in one gulp and immediately left.

Alfred Gunthorpe: Passed down Hanbury Street on his cart a few minutes after 5.40am, 8th September 1888 and reported seeing nothing out of the ordinary before he turned into Brick Lane. This was a few minutes after his colleague James Wiltshire had passed that way.

Elizabeth Long: On Saturday morning 8th September 1888, Mrs Long was passing down Hanbury-street from home and going to Spitalfields Market. It was about 5:30; she was certain of the time, as the clock at the Black Eagle Brewery had just struck the half-hour when she passed 29 Hanbury Street(see below). She was on the same side of the street as No.29 and outside the house she saw a man and woman on the pavement talking. The man’s back was turned towards Brick Lane, while the woman’s was towards the Spitalfields Market. They were talking together, and were close against the shutters of No.29. Mrs Long saw the woman’s face, but she did not see the man’s, except to notice that he was dark. She described him as wearing a brown deer-stalker hat, and she thought he had on a dark coat, but was not quite certain of that. She could not say what the age of the man was, but he looked to be over 40, and appeared to be a little taller than deceased. He appeared to be a foreigner, and had a ‘shabby genteel’ appearance. Witness could hear them talking loudly, and she overheard him say to the woman, “Will you?” to which she replied, “Yes.” They remained there there as Mrs Long passed, and she continued on her way without looking back. Mrs Long saw nothing to indicate that they were not sober and apparently, it was not an unusual thing to see men and women talking together at that hour, in that locality. On 12th September, she went to the mortuary and identified the body of Chapman as being the woman she had seen on the morning of the 8th. Apart from this sighting contradicting the evidence of Dr George Bagster Phillips, who gave the estimated time of Chapman’s death as around 4.30am, it also proves problematical when compared with the evidence of Albert Cadosch. His timings would have it that he heard the noises in the backyard of No.29 before Mrs Long’s sighting. One possible solution is that Mrs Long heard the brewery clock strike the quarter-hour (ie 5.15am) rather than the half-hour. This, however, remains conjecture.

John Richardson: At about 4.45am on 8th September 1888, he called at 29 Hanbury Street on his way to work in order to check that the cellar doors in the backyard were secure(a few months previously, the cellar had been broken into and a saw and a hammer were stolen). He also occasionally checked the house itself to make sure that the stairs and landings were not being used by prostitutes and their clients. Looking out of the door to the backyard, he satisfied himself that the cellar was secure. He then sat on the second step leading down into the yard in order to cut a piece of leather from his boot which had been hurting him. He would have been a mere yard from where Chapman’s body was discovered but did not see anything. He was no more than three minutes at the house and although it was only just getting light, he could see all round the yard, believing that had the deceased been lying where she was later found, he most certainly would have seen her.

James Wiltshire: Informed the press that he had been driving through Hanbury Street at 5.40am on 8th September 1888. He stated that “there was no bother then, and no sign that a murder had been committed. There were people about, but I did not notice anyone in particular.

The press

Similar to the murder of Polly Nichols, newspapers here in Ireland picked up the story of Annie Chapman

The Munster News and Limerick and Clare Advocate
Limerick, Ireland
Saturday, 8th September 1888
ANOTHER WHITECHAPEL MURDER

The Central News says:- All London has been horrified this morning by another atrocious murder in Whitechapel. A woman about thirty, an unfortunate, was found at four o’clock this morning in a backyard of a common lodging-house at Hanbury street, her throat having been cut from ear to ear. Her body was ripped open, the heart and bowels being torn out and lying on the ground. Some of the entrails were found tied around the woman’s neck. The police have a clue

LATER – Excited crowds surround the house in Spitalfield where the woman was found murdered this morning. As the lodginghouse is always open it is quite possible the woman was murdered in the street and dragged into the yard afterwards. Rings appear to have been wrenched off the deceased’s fingers. The police believe only a maniac could have committed such a fiendish crime.

LATER STILL – The woman murdered in Spitalfield last night, has been identified as a prostitute named Anne Siffey. She was under the influence of drink last night, and was seen at an early hour this morning. She was unable to pay her lodging money last night at the common lodging house where she lived.

As a final note, with a murder mystery spanning a hundred years and more, stories have always grown up from Jack the Ripper. One of the more interesting ones comes from a book of supposedly true occurring ghost stories. Back in the 1970s a Mr. Chapman (no relation to victim) was living in Hanbury street. On no less than four occasions, he pulled back the curtains and saw a man and a woman disappearing down the alley into the yard. These sightings always happened in Autumn.

Next time, the mystery gets truly bizarre as the Ripper strikes twice in one night….

Monday Mystery-Mary Ann (Polly Nichols)-Jack the Ripper Part I

Background

In the mid-19th century, Britain experienced an influx of Irish immigrants, who swelled the populations of the major cities, including the East End of London. From 1882, Jewish refugees from pogroms in Russia and other areas of Eastern Europe emigrated into the same area. The parish of Whitechapel in London’s East End became increasingly overcrowded. Work and housing conditions worsened. Robbery, violence and alcohol dependency were commonplace, and the endemic poverty drove many women to prostitution. In October 1888, London’s police estimated that there were 62 brothels and 1,200 women working as prostitutes in Whitechapel. The economic problems were accompanied by a steady rise in social tensions.  In 1888, such perceptions were strengthened when a series of vicious and grotesque murders attributed to “Jack the Ripper” received unprecedented coverage in the media.

Mary Ann Nichols (commonly called Polly) was born to locksmith Edward Walker and his wife Caroline on 26 August 1845 in London. On 16 January 1864 she married William Nichols, a printer’s machinist, and between 1866 and 1879, the couple had five children: Edward John, Percy George, Alice Esther, Eliza Sarah, and Henry Alfred. Their marriage broke up in 1880 or 1881 from disputed causes. Her father accused William of leaving her after he had an affair with the nurse who had attended the birth of their final child, though Nichols claimed to have proof that their marriage had continued for at least three years after the date alleged for the affair. He maintained that his wife had deserted him and was practising prostitution. Police reports say they separated because of her drunken habits.

Legally required to support his estranged wife, William Nichols paid her an allowance of five shillings a week until 1882, when he heard that she was working as a prostitute. Nichols spent most of her remaining years in workhouses and boarding houses, living off charitable handouts and her meagre earnings. She lived with her father for a year or more but left after a quarrel. He later heard she was living with a blacksmith. At the time of her death she was living in a Whitechapel common lodging house in Spitalfields, where she shared a room with Emily “Nelly” Holland.

The murder

Heavy rains had ushered out one of the coldest and wettest summers on record. On the night of August 30, the rain was sharp and frequent and was accompanied by peals of thunder and flashes of lightning. The sky on that night was turned red by the occasion of two dock fires.

At about 23:00 on 30 August, Nichols was seen walking the Whitechapel Road. An hour and a half later, she was seen leaving a pub in Spitalfields called the Frying Pan Public House. She made her way to a public house where money was paid nightly for residence. At around half one, she was told by the deputy to leave the kitchen of the lodging house because she could not produce her doss money. Polly, on leaving, asked him to save a bed for her. ” Never Mind!” She said, “I’ll soon get my doss money. See what a jolly bonnet I’ve got now.” She indicated a little black bonnet which no one had seen before.

She met Emily Holland, who was returning from watching the Shadwell Dry Dock fire, outside of a grocer’s shop on the corner of Whitechapel Road and Osborn Street. Polly had come down Osborn Street. Holland described her as “very drunk and staggered against the wall.” Holland called attention to the church clock striking 2:30. Polly told Emily that she had had her doss money three times that day and had drunk it away. She said she would return to Flower and Dean Street where she could share a bed with a man after one more attempt to find trade. “I’ve had my doss money three times today and spent it.” She said, “It won’t be long before I’m back.” The two women talked for seven or eight minutes. Polly left walking east down Whitechapel Road, an hour before her death. She was never seen alive again.

At about 3:40, she was found lying on the ground in front of a gated stable entrance in Buck’s Row (since renamed Durward Street), Whitechapel, about 150 yards from the London Hospital and 100 yards from Blackwall buildings, by cart driver Charles Cross. Her skirt was raised. Another passing cart driver on his way to work, Robert Paul, approached and Cross pointed out the body. Cross believed her to be dead, but Paul was uncertain and thought she might be unconscious. It was dark, and even though she had had her throat cut, there wasn’t a large amount of blood. They pulled her skirt down to cover her lower body, and went in search of a policeman. They informed PC Jonas Mizen and continued on their way to work. As Mizen was approaching the body, PC John Neil came from the opposite direction on his beat and by flashing his lantern, called a third policeman, PC John Thain, to the scene. PC Thain fetched surgeon Dr Henry Llewellyn when it was clear it was murder, who arrived at 04:00 and decided she had been dead for about 30 minutes. 

The initial inspection

Her throat had been slit twice from left to right and her abdomen mutilated with one deep jagged wound, several incisions across the abdomen, and three or four similar cuts on the right side caused by the same knife at least 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) long used violently and downwards. Llewellyn expressed surprise at the small amount of blood at the crime scene, “about enough to fill two large wine glasses, or half a pint at the most”. His comment led to the supposition that Nichols was not killed where her body was found. Death would have been instantaneous, and the abdominal injuries, which would have taken less than five minutes to perform, were made by the murderer after she was dead. When the body was lifted a “mass of congealed blood”, in PC Thain’s words, lay beneath.

The inquest

As the murder had occurred in the territory of the Bethnal Green Division of the Metropolitan Police, it was initially investigated by the local detectives, inspectors John Spratling and Joseph Helson, who had little success. Elements of the press linked the attack on Nichols to two previous murders, those of Emma Smith and Martha Tabram, and suggested the killing might have been perpetrated by a gang, as in the case of Smith. The star newspaper instead suggested a single killer was the culprit and other newspapers took up their storyline. These suspicions caused Scotland Yard to get involved, including detective Frank Abberline.

Although Nichols carried no identification, a Lambeth workhouse laundry mark on her petticoats was sufficient to give police enough information to eventually identify her. Later, Nelly Holland and William Nichols confirmed an identification provided by a former workhouse resident.

The murderer caught?

Rumours that a local character called “Leather Apron” could have been responsible for the murder were investigated by the police, even though they noted “there is no evidence against him”. Imaginative descriptions of “Leather Apron”, using crude Jewish stereotypes, appeared in the press, but rival journalists dismissed these as “a mythical outgrowth of the reporter’s fancy”. John Pizer, a Polish Jew who made footwear from leather, was known by the name “Leather Apron” and was arrested despite a lack of evidence. A Scotland yard detective named William Thicke had received a tip in relation to this, and rather than investigate further, ordered his immediate arrest. He was soon released after the confirmation of his alibis. Pizer successfully obtained monetary compensation from at least one newspaper that had named him as the murderer sometime after.

After several adjournments, to allow the police to gather further evidence, the inquest concluded on 24 September. On the available evidence, Coroner Baxter found that Nichols was murdered at just after 3 a.m. where she was found. In his summing up, he dismissed the possibility that her murder was connected with those of Smith and Tabram since the lethal weapons were different in those cases, and neither of the earlier cases involved a slash to the throat. However, by the time the inquest into Nichols’ death had concluded, another woman had been murdered, and Baxter noted “The similarity of the injuries in the two cases is considerable.” The police investigations into the two murders were merged, and so began the infamous legend…..

Studying the mystery-a timeline of events

It is strange enough that a woman was murdered in the dead of night and nobody heard. What makes the first killing of Jack the Ripper so sinister, is that based on a timeline that is shown below, he had silently killed Polly Nichols at the right time, in the right place, and then faded into the shadows unseen.

First, we’ll re-examine the timeline of Nichol’s movement and then superimpose the following “witnesses” or “associated parties”:

1. Patrick Mulshaw, a night porter at the sewage works 220 yards from the scene

2. Slaughter house workers Henry Tomkins, Charles Brittain, and James Mumford, working from Barber’s Knacker’s yard 150 yards from the scene

3. Widow Ms Green, her daughter and two sons, who lived upstairs directly next to the scene of the murder (2 Buck’s Row)

4. Walter Purkiss and his wife, who live directly opposite the scene of the murder

5. PC Thain, PC Neil and PC Mizen, all working the night of the murder.

THUR, AUG 30, 1888
4:45pm Patrick Mulshaw came on duty as the Night Porter at the Sewage Works, Winthrop St (220 yards from Brown’s Stable Yard.

THUR, AUG 30, 1888
8:00-9:00pm Slaughterers, Henry Tomkins, Charles Brittain, and James Mumford, started work at Barber’s Knacker’s Yard, Winthrop St (150 yards from Brown’s Stable Yard).

THUR, AUG 30, 1888
9:00pm Son of Mrs Emma Green went to bed at the family’s residence, 2 Buck’s Row (East of and next to Brown’s Stable Yard).

THUR, AUG 30, 1888
9:45pm Mrs Green’s second son went to bed.

THUR, AUG 30, 1888
11:00pm Mrs Green and her daughter, sharing the same bedroom, went to sleep. (Their bedroom over looked the gateway of Brown’s Stable Yard). Polly was seen walking by herself down Whitechapel Rd near this time.

THUR, AUG 30, 1888
11:00-11:15pm Resident and manager of Essex Wharf, Buck’s Row, Walter Purkiss and his wife went to sleep in their second floor, front bedroom (opposite Brown’s Stable Yard).

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
Midnight Tomkins and Brittain left the slaughter house and walked to the end of the street.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
12:30am Polly was seen leaving, by herself, the Frying Pan pub (corner of Brick Ln and Thrawl St).

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
1:00am Tomkins and Brittain returned to work. Purkiss was awake. His wife was pacing their room.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
1:20am Polly showed up at the kitchen of 18 Thrawl St.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
(exact time unknown) The house deputy put Polly out. “I’ll soon get my doss money”, she laughed as she departed. “See what a jolly bonnet I’ve got now.” The house deputy said she was tipsy.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
2:00am Purkiss fell back asleep, but his wife was still pacing.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
c.2:30am Holland, returning from watching the second fire on the docks at Shadwell Dry Docks, saw Polly at the corner of Osborne St and Whitechapel Rd. Holland mentioned the time as the clock struck 2:30am and tried to persuade Polly to go to 18 Thrawl St. Polly mentioned her new bonnet, that she had her doss money several times that night but drank it away, and that she would rather be where men and women can sleep together.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
(2:35am) Polly then walked down Whitechapel Rd, toward Buck’s Row.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
3:00am Mulshaw woke up, having dozed off earlier.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
3:15am Police Constable John Thain (96J) went up Brady St.
Police Constable John Neil (97J) passed through Buck’s Row.

      Buck’s Row ran East-West from Brady St to Baker’s Row. Parallel to it and meeting it about half-way along its length was Winthrop St. Going East down Buck’s Row from the corner of Buck’s Row and Winthrop St was a board school, Brown’s Stable Yard, and tenements. Across the road from the stable yard were wharves. East of the wharves was Browne & Eagle’s Wool Warehouse, Schnieder’s Cap Factory, and then a low brick wall continued on down to Brady St. At the North-West corner of Buck’s Row and Brady St was a street lamp. The area was frequented by prostitutes. From Osborne St and Whitechapel Rd, the stable yard was about one-half mile.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
(exact time unknown)  PC Neil passed through Winthrop St and saw Tomkins, Brittain, and Mumford at work. Sergeant Kerby passed down Buck’s Row.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
(exact time unknown) Charles Andrew Cross left home at Doveton St for work at Broad St.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
3:40am Cross walked through Buck’s Row and saw a bundle in front of the stable yard gateway. He thought the bundle was an abandoned tarpaulin, only to discover that it was a woman’s body. Robert Paul travelled through Buck’s Row on his way to work at Corbett’s Crt. Cross pointed out the body to him. “Come and look over here. There’s a woman lying on the pavement.”
Polly was lying on her back with her skirts lifted almost to her stomach. Cross felt her hands – cold. “I believe she’s dead.”
Paul felt her hands and face – cold. As he pulled her clothes down, he touched her breast and thought he felt movement. “I think she’s breathing, but very little if she is.” Cross then asked Paul to help him adjust the body, but Paul refused.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
c.3:43am Cross and Paul left, intending to notify the first constable they came upon.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
3:45am PC Neil was travelling easterly through Buck’s Row when he independently discovered the body. He noticed Polly’s true condition only after shining his lantern on the body.

      Polly was lying lengthwise with her head turned towards the East; her left hand touched the gate; her bonnet was off her head, lying near her right hand; her skirts were rumpled just above her knees; her throat was severely cut; her eyes were wide open and glassy; blood had oozed from her throat wounds; her arms felt warm from the elbows up; her hands were open. The gateway was 9′-10′ in height and led to some stables; they were closed.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
c.3:47am PC Neil noticed PC Thain passing North through Brady St and quietly signaled him with his lamp. PC Thain responded likewise and approached the scene. “Here’s a woman has her throat cut,” said PC Neil. “Run at once for Dr Llewellyn.” PC Thain immediately left to fetch Doctor Rees Ralph Llewellyn at his surgery at 152 Whitechapel Rd (300 yards from Buck’s Row). Neil then examined the ground.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
(exact time unknown) At the corner of Hanbury St and Baker’s Row, Cross and Paul informed Police Constable Jonas Mizen (55H) of the body. “You are wanted in Baker’s Row by a policeman,” said Cross in passing. “A woman is lying there. She looks to me to be either dead or drunk, but for my part I think she is dead.” After further clarification, PC Mizen replied, “All right,” and then left for Buck’s Row.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
(exact time unknown) PC Mizen arrived at Brown’s Stable Yard, and PC Neil sent him immediately for an ambulance and reinforcements from the Bethnal Green Police Station and then searched the area for clues.

FRI, AUG 31, 1888
c.4:00am Dr Llewellyn was notified at his surgery. Mulshaw had not seen or heard anything in the past hour. Sgt Kerby arrived back in Buck’s Row and interviewed Mrs Green while PC Neil interviewed Purkiss. Neither them, the keeper of the Board School, nor the watchman at Browne & Eagle’s Wool Ware house and Schnieder’s Cap Factory heard anything unusual.

What becomes clear from our timeline is that the murderer must have had at most about a fifteen minute window to conduct his attack. New evidence is revealing the Ripper may have strangled his victims first (lowering the chance of screams) and then cut the throat when the victim was on the ground. This may explain the small pool of blood at the neck. Even with only fifteen minutes, what is more surprising is that nobody heard or saw the Ripper with his victim. It is widely accepted the Ripper did not strike from the dark, and may have lured his victim’s to their doom with the promise of alcohol, accommodation or money. It is likely he played the part of a client before the murders. Below is a picture of the stables outside which Nichols was found. I have been to Buck’s Row myself, which now looks markedly different. Still get an eerie sense of something though…

The Witnesses

Henry Birch was the proprietor of a milk-stand in the yard of Number 2, Little Turner street, Commercial Road. He claimed to have sold a glass of milk to a “frightened”, suspicious-looking man on the night after the Polly Nichols murder. His story appeared in The Star:

Not later than a quarter-past eleven a man stepped hurriedly into a yard entrance at No. 2, Little Turner-street, Commercial-road. On one side of the yard is a milk stand. The man asked for a glass of milk, and, when served, drank it hurriedly, then, looking about in a frightened manner, asked if he might step back into the yard. The proprietor, Henry Birch, did not object, but presently, his suspicions being aroused, he stepped towards the man and found him drawing on a suit of new overalls over his ordinary clothes. The pants were already on, and he was stooping to take a jacket from a black shiny bag that lay at his feet when Birch stepped up to him. He seemed to be very much upset by the interruption, and for a moment could not speak. Presently he said, “That was a terrible murder last night, was’nt it?” and before Birch could answer he had added, “I think I’ve got a clue,” and, snatching up his bag, he disappeared down the street.

Sarah Colwell was a resident of Honey’s Mews, Brady Street, which lies about 120 yards from Buck’s Row. She told the press that at the time the murder of Mary Ann Nichols was allegedly committed, she heard a woman running along Brady Street shouting “murder, police!”. Mrs. Colwell stated that she could only hear the one set of footsteps, despite being sure that the woman was running away from someone.

Another press account has it that Mrs. Colwell was woken by her children who said that somebody was trying to gain entry to the house. This time, the scream of “Murder! Police!” was heard five or six times, gradually fading away. The shouts seemed to be going in the direction of Buck’s Row.The generally accepted time of this incident is 12.00am, making it unlikely that it was the screams of Mary Ann Nichols

Harriet Lilly was married to brewer’s carman William and lived at 7 Buck’s Row, Whitechapel. She said to the press on the afternoon of 6th September 1888 that:

I slept in front of the house, and could hear everything that occured in the street. On that Thursday night I was somehow very restless. Well, I heard something I mentioned to my husband in the morning. It was a painful moan – two or three faint gasps – and then it passed away. It was quite dark at the time, but a luggage went by as I heard the sounds. There was, too, a sound as of whispers underneath the window. I distincly heard voices, but cannot say what was said – it was too faint. I then woke my husband, and said to him, “I don’t know what possesses me, but I cannot sleep to-night.”

The press

I’ve managed to dig up a few press releases at the times of the murder. The following appeared in The Irish Times on Sept. 1st 1888

You will have from other sources an account of the horrible murder committed last night in Whitechapel, where a woman of 40 was found with her throat cut and the lower part of her body almost hacked to pieces. The aspect of this tragedy noted here is its suggestive resemblance to the atrocity reported about three weeks ago where a woman of like age was found in the open hall of a common lodging house, also with her throat cut and thirty nine slashes and stabs in different parts of her person. The similarity in many points of these two crimes has stirred again suspicion that both poor women were victims of the same miscreant. We hark back to the time a century ago when “the monster” prowled about London attacking women with a knife, and the theory is that some still more sanguinary scoundrel may now be gratifying a like mania. If so, it can only be hoped that he will speedily experience the punishment of his predecessor.

Experience punishment he did not. The Ripper attacks only intensified. Next week we look at the second murder, and a wealth of more mysterious evidence.

Mary Nichols grave

 

 

 

 

Monday Mystery-Staten Island Disappearances

Last week on RTE I caught a documentary around twelve O’clock that provided the inspiration for this week’s mystery. The documentary itself was called Cropsey, and it comes highly acclaimed after receiving good reviews over at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. Cropsey, the narrator explains, was a sort of boogeyman of Staten Island. For the kids in the neighborhood, Cropsey was the escaped mental patient who lived in the old abandoned Willowbrook Mental Institution, who would come out late at night and snatch children off the streets. Sometimes Cropsey had a hook for a hand, other times he wielded a bloody axe, but it didn’t matter, Cropsey was always out there, lurking in the shadows, waiting to get them.

In a period of around twenty years spanning from the early 1970s to the late ’80s, five children went missing on Staten Island. It was only then that the world, the police, and the children themselves sat up and realised that Cropsey was real, and he was taking kids just liked the urban legend had said. The Willowbrook State School was a “school” for mentally retarded children back in the ’60s through the early ’80s.  In 1972, Geraldo Rivera got his big break by doing an exposé on the school, showing its deplorable conditions. Overcrowding, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and illegal experiments were just some of the things that went on at Willowbrook.  It was finally closed in 1987.

But the disappearances had been happening for nearly two decades at that point. In 1972, 5-year-old Alice Perreira vanished after her brother had left her alone for a moment. They had been playing in the lobby of their apartment on Tysen’s lane. Reports also suggest she may have been spotted in one of the local parks sometime later. Whatever the truth is, she has never been seen again.

Holly Ann Hughes was last seen in the vicinity of Richmond Terrace and Park Avenue in Staten Island, New York at approximately 9:30 PM on July 15, 1981. Her mother sent her to purchase soap at a nearby deli at the time. She has never been seen again.Some statements say she was seen walking home from her babysitter’s house last. A month after her disappearance, Holly’s mother received an eerie phonecall from her apparent kidnapper. The man who called himself “Sal” said Holly would be returned safely if the mother came and performed sex acts on film with him. The mother, accompanied by detectives, went to Penn Station in New York City, but Holly’s captor never showed. She said she never really believed “Sal” had Holly, and thought at this point that her daughter was dead. Holly’s parents would later criticise the police for their handling of the investigation, where they supposedly discarded many key witnesses based on prior criminal records. The police have stated no misconduct occurred at the time. Holly’s mother stated her child was a streetwise girl who knew how to take care of herself.

In 1983, 11-year-old Tiahease Jackson was reported missing after her mother had sent her to purchase food and she did not return. She was last seen exiting the Mariner’s Harbor Motel in Staten Island on August 14. She lived in the hotel with her mother and three siblings. The family had moved there after being burned out of their apartment. Tiahese’s mother also described her daughter as streetwise and safe. She had frequently run errands in the city and was sometimes on her own. She had been warned about predators. Both Tiahese’s mother and uncle have been cleared by lie detectors and are not considered suspects.

In 1984, Staten Island resident Hank Gafforio was reported missing after he did not return home one night. Gafforio was described as being “slow” and had an I.Q. in the 70s. At the time of his disappearance he was 22. He went out drinking that night, but was denied service at Mugs Away. Instead, he spent the night at The Spa Lounge. Hank lived at 99 Heberton Ave with his parents and three brothers, and coincidentally lived just around the corner from Holly Ann Hughes’ house. In fact, in one chilling news report surrounding the disappearance of the girl, Hank can be seen in the background staring blankly into the camera.

Jennifer Schweiger, born with Down syndrome, was reported missing on July 9, 1987. She said that she was going on a short walk, only to never return. Residents banded together to form a search group and found her body after a 35-day search. While combing the area around Willowbrook State School, George Kramer, a retired NYC firefighter, had his attention caught by a particular spot. He returned with the police and a small foot was unearthed. With continuous digging, the entire body was unearthed from the shallow grave and the remains were positively identified as those of Jennifer. In the next few days, police would search the grounds for evidence, which is when the case took a chilling turn.

 

 

Andre Rand was born on March 11, 1944 as Frank Rushan. The origins of the name “Andre Rand” are unknown. In the mid 1960s, Rand worked as a custodian Willowbrook. The hospital is located on Staten Island, New York and is surrounded by a forest called the Greenbelt. On May 25, 1969, Rand was arrested for the attempted sexual assault of a 9-year-old girl. He was caught during that attempt and was charged with kidnapping and attempted sexual assault, and served 16 months in prison.After his time was served, he was accused of raping a young woman as well as a 15-year-old girl.On a separate occasion, Rand picked up a group of 11 children from the YMCA located in Staten Island NY in a school bus, purchased a meal for them without the consent from any of their parents, and took them a New Jersey airport. None of the children were harmed in this encounter, but Rand was apprehended and served 10 months in jail for unlawful imprisonment.

Andre Rand was first suspected in the case of Jennifer Schweiger when one of his makeshift camps was found near the site of her body. In 1988, Rand was charged with the kidnapping and first-degree murder of Jennifer Schweiger. The Staten Island jury could not reach a verdict on the murder charge, but convicted Rand of the first-degree kidnapping charge. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. He would have been eligible for parole in 2008 if not convicted of a 2nd kidnapping. In 2004 Rand was again brought to trial, this time charged with the kidnapping of Holly Ann Hughes 23 years earlier. A jury convicted Rand of the kidnapping in October 2004, and he was sentenced to another consecutive 25 years to life in prison. He will become eligible for parole in 2037, when he is 93 years old.

In 1981, Rand’s aunt had lived in the same building as Holly Ann Hughes. Holly’s mother also identified him as the voice she heard on the other end of the phone one month after her child’s disappearance. Witnesses claim to have seen Rand’s green car circling the block at the time of the girl’s kidnapping, and a few have even gone so far to say they saw Holly in the car itself. Rand also has some circumstantial evidence to the case of Alice Perreira. At the time she went missing, he was working as a painter in her apartment. In the case of Tiahese, Rand was known to have had a campsite in the vicinity of her hotel, and was even seen loitering in the car park on occasion. Gafforio also lived on the same block as Rand.

To this day, Rand maintains his innocence in relation to the disappearances. He has remained the prime suspect in each case due to his claims of being excited by children, and his self proclamation as a new Ted Bundy. Whether Rand actually murdered the five children above, the majority of which could be linked by having mental disabilities, we do not know. The real kidnapper, or Cropsey, could still be out there. The Willowbrook area remains a centre for supposed hauntings and mysteries to this day……

NEXT WEEK on Monday Mysteries, we take a look at part one in a series of posts surrounding one of the most famous mysteries in human history. The post will go up on August 31st, exactly matching the date the most chilling serial killer ever started his grisly murders.

Fog falls down over London’s East End. The year is 1888, and on a cold autumn night the last of the tavern lights are snuffed out, plunging Whitechapel into darkness. The streets are empty, only here or there littered with prostitutes who can’t afford to avoid the cold. Sitting alone in a black world, the ladies of the night are seldom stirred. Something stalks out of a street alley, and sees young Polly Ann Nichols stumbling along the pavement; drunk and humming to herself. That night Polly, and the world, come face to face with something horrid. On August 31st we meet Jack the Ripper…..

jack1

Monday Mystery-Disappearance of Judy Smith

In 1997, Judy Smith was a 50-year-old mother of two from Newton, Massachusetts. She had recently gotten married to her attorney husband, Jeffrey, and decided to fly to Philadelphia to join him on a business trip.

When she forgot her ID at Boston’s Logan International Airport on April 9, 1997, the couple then decided to travel separately and meet later that night. When they met up, they went to their hotel room and made plans for the next day. On April 10, Judy went sightseeing while Jeff went to the conference, and that morning was the last time that he saw his wife alive.

At 5:30pm, Jeff came back to their hotel when he discovered that Judy was nowhere to be found. When she didn’t come back that night, he began searching the route that Judy had taken that day while sightseeing. He soon notified the Philadelphia police and Judy’s children and they all began searching for her, but to no avail. Then, on September 7, 1997, a man and his son hiking in the woods near Asheville, North Carolina discovered the skeletal remains of a woman who had been stabbed to death. The remains were soon identified as Judy’s, but a pair of Bolle’s sunglasses and a blue backpack found with her body was not hers. At first, nobody could not understand how Judy ended up in North Carolina, but some began to suggest that Judy may have left Philadelphia voluntarily and went to North Carolina. What makes this story truly baffling is that Judy’s remains were found 600 miles away from her hotel.

Authorities found that the clothing Judy was wearing suggested that she was hiking in the area at the time, not that she had been dumped there. Several shop owners reported talking to a “Judy from Boston” in Asheville after she vanished and a hotel clerk even remembered her staying at the hotel from April 10-12. Since she still had her wedding ring and $167 in her possession, robbery did not seem to be a motive. Even though she normally carried her belongings in a red backpack, a blue backpack was found at the scene. Police do not suspect Jeff Smith in the disappearance and death of his wife, but despite his insistence that he and his wife were in good terms with their marriage and that his wife met with foul play in Philadelphia, police believe that Judy may have planned her disappearance, and met with foul play while hiking neat Asheville. Investigators believe that the killer is not native to North Carolina, but may have ties to the area. Judy’s killer has never been identified and the case remains unsolved.

Authorities believe that the owner of the Bolle’s sunglasses and blue backpack found with Judy’s backpack is her killer, and that he has ties to the area where she was found.

mountain-range

Among the theories Philadelphia police pursued were that Judith Smith ran off to establish a new life – or that she was murdered. It now looks possible that both may have happened. Smith, a nurse, was a hiker and lover of the outdoors, so the area where she was found – national forest land in Buncombe County, about 18 miles from Asheville – would seem like just the sort of place she might go if she had run away. Smith’s decomposed body was found Sept. 7, but only positively identified Monday through dental records. Authorities in North Carolina requested the records after a doctor spotted a story in a local newspaper about an unidentified body being found – and remembered that he had seen a flier about Judith Smith.

Buncombe County Sheriff Bob Medford said Smith had been dead since the spring, probably not long after she was reported missing. She was dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, but had warmer clothes with her. The clothes were in a blue backpack – not the red backpack that was her signature – indicating that at some point after April 10 she bought a new backpack. She had $80 in a pocket of her jeans and $87 in the pocket of a winter jacket. About 20 feet from her body was a paperback she apparently had been reading, a medical murder mystery, Flashback by Michael Palmer.

“It didn’t appear she was dragged out there,” Medford said. “The indications are she wanted to be there.”

North Carolina authorities have classified the case a murder mainly because because the body was buried. There are also indications Smith’s body may have been dragged a short distance to the grave. Medford said animals may have dug Smith’s body up, but could not have buried it.

All indications pointed to Judy being in a good mood, and a witness who spoke with her said she mentioned her husband was an attorney. If the woman that witness spoke to was indeed Judy Smith, no one knows why she felt compelled to run off without telling her family. And if Judy chose to disappear on her own, how did she wind up dead on a remote mountain?

Monday Mystery….I’ll leave it to you Robin

Honestly don’t have the heart to write about murders or disappearances tonight. Every couple of months, somebody famous passes away. The circumstances are always different, but the results are always the same-people queue up on Twitter and Facebook to offer their condolences, like some drunk guy at a bar telling you he’s sorry you lost somebody that mattered. Somewhere deep down, it always seems like an injustice. Whether it’s Palestine or Mandela, it always seems the same people take to the news feed. Every time, I look on in disdain. Not because the person didn’t matter to them. No. Anyone is free to choose who matters in their life. Anybody is free to say what they feel inside of them, and maybe, in fact hopefully; it’s the truth.

I look on in disappointment because in two hours of tweets the person’s memory is cheapened. People write how they are up crying or nearly fainted when they read the news. These people can faint for any cause, it seems. Somewhere out there, the family of that deceased celebrity is suffering. They are going through hell, and most of us don’t know what it feels like to be in that position given it is all in the public eye. Their grief is splashed across the front of newspapers, with the entire content of their hearts chopped down into a punchy headline so you the reader can learn all about their private lives. And for a week you act like you give a damn and maybe buy their book or watch all their films. After that, it’s over. Then you go back to your life and maybe search for a new tragedy. For the families, there is no life to go back to.

When the newspapers stop printing their dead husband’s/mother’s/son’s name, they still have to go on. Their grief isn’t temporary. The hole is permanent. It can’t be fixed by a movie marathon or a Maeve Binchy book collection. They have to endure without that person in their life forever. They will never hear their voice again behind them or listen to them busying about the room next door. We don’t get new movies. Who’s the real loser?

That is why Twitter cheapens our grief. If in the morning you lost someone, can you imagine a hundred million strangers telling you that they meant the world to them? No. You cannot. But try to, even if just for a while. Somewhere in amongst the tweets, the human gets lost. With favourites and retweets in abundance, we lose track of just how monumental an event we are commenting on is. Somebody literally died. They are gone from us, and cannot return. All their hopes, dreams, troubles and prayers are wiped in one second. Everyone they knew on a personal level is torn from the inside out. Some people will never be the same again when they lose somebody.

Tonight, I received news that Robin Williams had passed away. Robin Williams is not my favourite actor. That honour goes to Leonardo DiCaprio. I also love Denzel Washington. Robin would probably be in my top five. I have never met Robin Williams. I did not know Robin Williams. Robin Williams might have liked omelets like I do. He might not have. He may have loved to listen to music. I’d prefer to read or write. Myself and Robin might have been hugely different people. We might have been roughly the same. In another life, we might even have been friends or something.

When I arrived home, I opened my Twitter account to see a storm of tweets were already gathered in front of me, each a slightly different version of the others. For a split-second I stopped to think. I wasn’t angry. Sure I wasn’t happy, but there wasn’t any feeling of disapproval or contempt. I wasn’t cynical about tweets about Robin William’s death. That made me a hypocrite, and I didn’t want to be that, but I was.

It’s impossible to watch a Robin Williams movie and not get caught up in the man that’s there. It doesn’t matter what age you catch him at; he always seems to be wise, funny, helpful, etc. I’d like to think that’s the man Robin Williams was. I’d like to think he was a good man, with a great attitude to life and a message that could inspire us all. Like I said, I didn’t know the man, but I’d wager a bet or two.

For the first time ever the public out-pour of grief doesn’t seem disrespectful. Williams hasn’t been cheapened tonight. He has been elevated. A part of me thinks he would have been cool with our sentiments. He would have smiled and said “thank you”. Tonight feels different to every other celebrity death. It seems to be more important to the world. Robin Williams may be one of the last great actors of our time, and I’m glad he will be remembered so fondly.

I hope my verse is as good as his was….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aS1esgRV4Rc

 

Monday Mystery (myth version)-Angikuni lake disappearance

Angikuni lake is a lake in Nunavut, Canada. In the 1930s, it was the site of a supposed mass disappearance of Inuit (or Eskimo) people. Though full evidence of the story does not exist, police reports from Mounted Canadian Police (or mounties) suggest at least some truth in the tale.

Joe Labelle, who was a fur trapper by trade, had often visited the Inuit village that sprang up around Angikuni lake. No official numbers exist, but stories have claimed up to two thousand people lived there, though the real figure is likely at most two hundred. The village had always welcomed those of Labelle’s profession who passed through on occasion. But in 1930 Joe Labelle found that all the villagers had gone.

Coming into the village, he called out to the Eskimos, who would normally be busying themselves about their huts. He got no answer. Slowly walking through the village, he saw no signs of anybody at work, and the silence was heavy around him. Near the end of the village he came across a fire that was smouldering to its embers/gone out depending on the source. Over it hung a pot of stew that had blackened from overcooking. One by one he inspected the huts, expecting to find something terrible inside. Instead, he found nothing. There was no laughter of children, or barks of sled dogs. Nobody was left in the village.

In one hut, he found a piece of cloth that was being worked over. The needle and thread were still in place, as though somebody had abruptly quit the task and left. Labelle found no signs of evacuation. All of the guns were still in place, whereas in reality the Eskimos almost always kept them by their sides. Boats were still stacked by the lake-unused.

Labelle immediately made contact with the mounted police, who came for further investigation. If what they found is to be believed, the story gets far weirder.

At once end of the camp, tied to a tree, they found the snowed over corpses of several sled dogs. The dogs had died of starvation. Anyone leaving the village would have needed them far too much to leave them to die. Next they found a dug up grave (or an empty graveyard by some accounts). It was far too neatly arranged for it to have been an animal, but in Inuit culture it was hugely forbidden to interfere with burial sites. None of the findings added up.

No sign of the Eskimos or their footprints were ever found. They had just disappeared.

 

Monday Mystery-Disappearance aboard the MV Joyita

Luxury yacht, war patrol and changing hands

MV Joyita was a merchant vessel from which 25 passengers and crew mysteriously disappeared in the South Pacific in 1955. It was found adrift in the ocean without its crew on board. The ship was in very poor condition, including corroded pipes and a radio which, while functional, only had a range of about 2 miles due to faulty wiring. Despite this, the extreme buoyancy of the ship made sinking nearly impossible. Why then was nobody on board? Enter the Mary Celeste of the Pacific.

The ship was originally constructed in 1931 as a luxury yacht for the wife or a Los Angeles based film director. “Joyita” translates to “little jewel”. Just prior to the attack at Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US navy acquired the ship for use in patrols. In 1943 the ship ran aground and needed new pipework to fulfill the demand for ships by the navy. Fatefully, the pipes laid were galvanised iron, and not the more tried and tested copper or brass. By 1948, the boat had changed hands again and was now carrying freight for the Louis Brothers firm.

The voyage

About 5:00 AM on October 3, 1955, the Joyita left Samoa’s Apia harbor bound for the Tokelau Islands, about 270 miles (430 km) away. The boat had been scheduled to leave on the noon tide the previous day but her departure was delayed because her port engine had issues. The Joyita eventually left Samoa on one engine. She was carrying 16 crew members and nine passengers, including a government official, a doctor and two children. The Joyita was scheduled to arrive in the Tokelau Islands on October 5.

The search

On October 6 a message from port reported that the ship was overdue. No distress signal had been picked up on land or by other ships at sea. Eventually a search and rescue mission was launched starting on October 6th. By October 12th, the Royal New Zealand air force had covered an area of nearly 100,000 square miles, but still no sign of the ship or its crew was found.

Five weeks later, on November 10, Gerald Douglas, captain of the merchant ship Tuvalu sighted the Joyita more than 600 miles (1,000 km) west from her scheduled route, drifting north. The ship was partially submerged and listing heavily (her port deck rail was awash) and there was no trace of any of the passengers or crew; four tons of cargo were also missing. The recovery party noted that the radio was discovered tuned to the international marine distress channel.

The mystery

A subsequent investigation of the ship turned up more questions than it did answers, and almost all of them were chilling. Some of the boat had been damaged, though by what it is not known. Many of the windows were broken, the flying bridge was smashed and the deck lights were not fully functional. A canvas awning had been erected on top of the deck house, though no signs of it being used as a shelter were found.

There were not enough life jackets for everybody on board, but the dinghy and life rafts the boat did carry were all missing. Eerily, the starboard engine was found completely covered by mattresses, while the remains of the still broken port engine lay still disassembled. A pump was mounted on a plank between the two engines, though nobody had ever connected it, and so investigators don’t know why it was there.

The radio on board was tuned to the international distress channel, but when the equipment was inspected, a break was found in the cable between the set and the aerial. The cable had been painted over, obscuring the break. This would have severely limited the range of the radio to about 2 miles (3.2 km). Whether the captain knew about this or not is unknown, and it is unclear whether the radio had been tampered with.

All the clocks on board were stopped at 10.25pm. Investigators found that downstairs switches for the cabin lights were on, implying that whatever had occurred happened at night. The ships’ logbook and other navigational equipment, as well as the firearms Miller kept in the boat, were missing.

The doctor’s bag was found on the deck, with most of the equipment missing. Four lengths of blood-stained bandages were found inside. Looking at the amount of fuel left in the tanks, it looked as though the boat had made it within fifty miles of port before disaster had struck. When the investigators studied the vessel, they found out exactly what that disaster was.

When she was moored back in harbour at Suva, they heard the sound of water entering the vessel. It was found that a pipe in the raw-water circuit of the engine’s had failed, allowing water into the bilges. The first the crew would have known about the leak was when the water rose above the engine room floorboards, by which time it would have been nearly impossible to locate the leak. Also, the bilge pumps were not fitted with strainers, and had become clogged with debris, meaning that even when the crew knew about the leak it was too late to pump out the water.

Even so, investigators were puzzled. Fitted out for carrying refrigerated cargo, the Joyita had 640 cubic feet cork lining her holds, making her virtually unsinkable. In addition, further buoyancy was provided by a cargo of empty fuel drums. Why had the captain and crew left? It would have been far safer to wait for rescue aboard the sturdy wreck than to risk their lives out in the open water. To the investigators, things didn’t add up.

The theories

One of the first theories put forward was that of the injured captain.

Captain Miller was well aware of the vessel’s ability to stay afloat, leading some to speculate that Miller had died or become incapacitated for some reason. Without him to reassure the other people on board, they had panicked when the Joyita began to flood and had taken to the liferafts. However, this in itself would not account for the missing cargo and equipment, unless the vessel had been found abandoned and had her cargo removed.

A friend of Miller’s, Captain S. B. Brown, was convinced that Miller would never have left the Joyita alive, given his knowledge of her construction. He was aware of tension between Miller and his American first mate, Chuck Simpson. Brown felt that Miller and Simpson’s dislike of each other came to blows and both men fell overboard or were severely injured in a struggle. This left the vessel without an experienced seaman and would explain why those remaining on board would panic when the ship began to flood.

A second theory put forward was far more infamous. Many newspapers at the time clamied that the Joyita had passed through a fleet of Japanese fishing boats during its trip and “had observed something the Japanese did not want them to see.”One paper theorized that some active Japanese forces from World War II were to blame for the disappearances, operating from an isolated island base. There was still strong anti-Japanese feeling in parts of the Pacific, and in Fiji there was specific resentment of Japan being allowed to operate fishing fleets in local waters. Such theories suddenly gained credence when men clearing the Joyita found knives stamped ‘Made in Japan’. However, tests on the knives proved negative and it turned out the knives were old and broken- quite possibly left on board from when the Joyita was used for fishing in the late 1940s. Others theorize that modern pirates attacked the vessel, killed the 25 passengers and crew (and cast their bodies into the ocean), and stole the missing four tons of cargo.

The final theory claimed the head strong captain had tried to reach his destination despite the heavy damage, and the crew had simply mutinied to ensure their own safety. Taking the life rafts and the injured captain with them, they succumbed to heavy winds and were lost.

No signs of the crew or passengers of the MV Joyita were ever found.