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

vill

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.

vill2

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.

sodder2

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.

sodder.jpg

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.

louis

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-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-Laureen Ann Rahn

Laureen resided with her mother, Judith Rahn, in an apartment on Merrimack Street in Manchester, New Hampshire. She was a student at Parkside Junior High School and made good grades. She was last seen at her home during the evening hours of April 26, 1980. Two of Laureen’s friends saw her approximately one hour before her disappearance and reported that nothing was amiss at the time. She has never been heard from again. Judith’s then boyfriend was a professional tennis player and both he and Judith had been out of town at a tournament the night the incident occurred. Normally Laureen accompanied them but being on spring break from school she asked to stay home on this occasion to which her mother agreed.

That evening Laureen and two friends-one male and one female, spent the evening drinking beer and wine in the Rahn’s apartment. Only fourteen at the time, the trio were afraid of getting caught by Laureen’s mother. This caused the boy to leave through the back door when he heard voices in the hall that he assumed were Laureen’s mother returning. He stated that he heard the door being locked behind him. When Judith arrived home at midnight, she discovered that the lightbulbs on each of the three floors of the apartment building’s corridors had been unscrewed, leaving the floor her apartment was on in an eerie darkness. Her front door was unlocked, but Judith checked in Laureen’s bedroom and thought she saw her daughter asleep there. In the morning however, she discovered this was in fact Laureen’s friend, and Laureen was missing. Her friend said she’d last seen her asleep on the couch. Judith’s mother found the back door unlocked, but her daughter’s brand new trainers were still in the living room. Initially the police suspected the daughter had run off, but her own mother dismissed this theory, as Laureen had left her purse and clothes behind her. The authorities then changed their story to one that assumed the girl had left willingly, but aimed to return.

Judith discovered that she had been charged for three California phone calls on October 1, 1980, three months after Laureen disappeared. Judith did not have any friends or relatives in California at the time. Two of the calls had been placed from a motel in Santa Monica to another motel in Santa Ana. The third call was placed to a teen sexual assistance hotline. Authorities attempted to question the physician who maintained the hotline, but they were unable to ascertain if he knew any details about Laureen’s case. An investigator followed up on the hotline tip in 1985. A man identifying himself as a plastic surgeon answered the call. He said that numerous runaway girls occasionally visited his wife at their home. He also told the investigator that one of the young women may have been from New Hampshire. The individual claimed that Annie Sprinkle, a woman who allegedly worked with his wife in the fashion industry, may have had information concerning several runaways. Authorities learned that Sprinkle was involved in the pornography industry and scanned several of her films in an attempt to locate Laureen. No evidence linking Sprinkle to Laureen’s disappearance was discovered and she has never been implicated in her case.

An investigator visited California on Judith’s behalf in 1986 and located the two motels involved in the October 1980 phone calls. Authorities said that one of the establishments may have been used by a child pornographer named “Dr. Z.” Investigators were unable to link “Dr. Z” to the teen hotline and it is not known if pornography was involved in Laureen’s disappearance.

Roger Maurais, Laureen’s childhood friend in Manchester, received a call from a woman identifying herself as “Laurie” or “Laureen” in 1986. Maurais’s mother answered the call and said that the person claimed to be her son’s former girlfriend. The caller’s identity remains unknown.

One of Laureen’s family members reported seeing a girl matching her description in a Boston, Massachusetts bus terminal in 1981. Judith received phone calls around the Christmas holidays for several years from an unknown individual. She said that the person listened silently when Laureen’s sister answered the phone, then terminated the call shortly afterwards. The calls stopped after Judith changed her phone number several years after Laureen vanished.

A witness reported that a prostitute in Anchorage, Alaska matched Laureen’s description. The unconfirmed sighting occurred in 1988 and authorities said that the witness based his recollections on her 1980 photo. The woman was not believed to have been Laureen as a result of the time lapse.

In April 2005, a Nevada investigator contacted Judith and said Laureen bore a resemblance to a murdered young woman whose body was found off a dirt road in Henderson, Nevada in October 1980. Judith goes not believe the Nevada woman is her daughter, but officials are investigating that possibility.

Judith moved to Fort Myers, Florida during the years after Laureen’s disappearance. She believes that her daughter placed the three California phone calls in October 1980. Laureen enjoyed singing and dancing at the time of her disappearance and dreamed of becoming an actress. Investigators continue to suspect that foul play was involved in her case, which remains unsolved.

While there is no evidence that the two cases are connected, it is worth noting that Rachael Garden, another petite brunette about the same age as Laureen, disappeared from a nearby town just a month before Laureen did. Garden’s case remains unsolved as well and is also classified as a non-family abduction.

Is this a case of serial abduction, or were the police correct at first in suggesting Laureen had simply walked off? Who did the raised voices in the hallway belong to, and did Laureen indeed lock the door after her friend had left? Why was her friend not taken? Perhaps the perpetrator did not know Laureen had guests. Most mysteriously, why were the corridor lights unscrewed in a building without CCTV, and why has no trace of Laureen ever been found?

Monday Mystery-Disappearance on the Flannan Islands

The Flannan Isles or Seven Hunters are a small island group near Scotland, approximately 32 kilometres (20 mi) west of the Isle of Lewis. They may take their name from St Flannan, the 7th-century Irish preacher. The islands have been devoid of permanent residents since the automation in 1971.They are the location of an enduring mystery which occurred in December 1900, when all three lighthouse keepers vanished without a trace.

The first hint of anything untoward on the Flannan Isles came on 15 December 1900. The steamer Archtor on passage from Philadelphia passed the islands in poor weather and noted that the light was not operational, something highly unusual for a operating lighthouse.This was reported on arrival although no immediate action seems to have been taken. The island lighthouse was manned by a three-man team (Thomas Marshall, James Ducat and Donald Macarthur), with a rotating fourth man spending time on shore. The relief vessel, the lighthouse tender Hesperus, did not arrive on the rock until December 26th. On arrival, the crew and relief keeper found that the flagstaff was bare of its flag, none of the usual provision boxes had been left on the landing stage for re-stocking and, more ominously, none of the lighthouse keepers were there to welcome them ashore. Jim Harvie, captain of the Hesperus, gave a strident blast on his whistle and set off a distress flare, but no reply came.

A boat was launched and Joseph Moore, the relief keeper, was put ashore alone. He found the entrance gate to the compound and main door both closed. When he crept inside, he saw the beds unmade and the clock stopped. Returning to the landing stage with this grim news, he then went back up to the lighthouse with the Hesperus’s second-mate and a seaman. A further search revealed that the lamps were cleaned and refilled. A set of oilskins was found, suggesting that one of the keepers had left the lighthouse without them, which was surprising considering the severity of the weather. The only sign of anything amiss in the lighthouse was an overturned chair by the kitchen table. Of the keepers there was no sign, either inside the lighthouse or anywhere on the island.

Moore and three volunteer seamen were left to attend the light and the Hesperus returned to the shore. Captain Harvie sent a telegram to the Northern Lighthouse board dated 26 December 1900, stating:

A dreadful accident has happened at the Flannans. The three keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the Occasional have disappeared from the Island… The clocks were stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago. Poor fellows they must have been blown over the cliffs or drowned trying to secure a crane or something like that.

The men remaining on the island scoured every corner for clues as to the fate of the keepers. At the east landing everything was intact, but the west landing provided considerable evidence of damage caused by recent storms. A box at 33 metres (108 ft) above sea level had been broken and its contents strewn about; iron railings were bent over, the iron railway by the path was wrenched out of its concrete, and a rock weighing over a ton had been displaced above that. On top of the cliff at over 60 metres (200 ft) above sea level, turf had been ripped away over 10 metres (33 ft) from the cliff edge. However, the keepers had kept their log until 9 a.m. on 15 December and this made it clear that the damage had occurred before the writers’ disappearance.

Did one of the keepers kill the others and then drown in the storm? Who wrote the last entries in the diary, and were they alone? Even with no evidence of foul play, were the lighthouse keepers taken unawares. Did they simply succumb to a freak wave, as is generally accepted. Indeed it seems one of the keepers must have ran to the aid of the others, leaving the chair on the floor and the his gear unused. Yet why then was the door securely closed, and the gate also?

Some light has been shed on the contents of the log that the lighthouse kept, though whether this was a real account is unknown;

“December 12. Gale north by northwest. Sea lashed to fury. Never seen such a storm. Waves very high. Tearing at lighthouse. Everything shipshape. James Ducat irritable”.

Later that day: “Storm still raging, wind steady. Stormbound. Cannot go out. Ship passing sounding foghorn. Could see lights of cabins. Ducat quiet. Donald McArthur crying”.

“December 13. Storm continued through night. Wind shifted west by north. Ducat quiet. McArthur praying”. Later: “Noon, grey daylight. Me, Ducat and McArthur prayed”.

On 14 December there was no entry in the log.

The final entry was made on a slate, which (under normal circumstances) would have been transferred to the logbook proper later on:

“December 15. 1pm. Storm ended, sea calm. God is over all”.

 

Who knows if this account is real,as the emotional nature of it seems to suggest it is a forgery. Even so, it appears one of the keepers did rush out of the lighthouse to the aid of his companions. Did he meet the same fate?

indexnn

 

 

Monday Mystery-Dyatlov Pass Incident

Introduction

The Dyatlov pass incident refers to the mysterious deaths of nine ski hikers in the northern Ural mountains on the night of February 2, 1959. A group was formed for a ski trek across the northern Urals in Sverdlovsk Oblast. The group, led by Igor Dyatlov, consisted of eight men and two women. Most were students or graduates of Ural Polytechnical Institute.

At the point of their disappearance, the goal of the ill-fated expedition was to reach Otorten, a mountain that was approximately 6 miles away. The unfortunate hikers never reached their destination, and chillingly enough, the word “Otorten” translated from Mansi (indigenous peoples in the area) language, means “Mountain of the dead men.”

The two women on the expedition were Zinaida Kolmogorova and Lyudmila Dubinina, and the other men were Alexander Kolevatov, Rusterm Slobodin, Yuri Krivonischenko, Yuri Doroshenko, Nicolai Thibeaux-Brignolle, Alexander Zolotarev, and Yuri Yudin.

On the morning of January 27, 1959, the group left Vizhai to begin their trek.Vizhai is the northernmost inhabited settlement in the region. On January 28th, one of the hikers, Yuri Yudin, fell ill and had to turn back.This turned out to be a life-saving turn of events for Mr. Yudin, as he is the sole survivor of the doomed expedition. On January 31, the group began to climb.

On February 1st, the hikers reached Kholat Syakhl, the mountain pass that has since been renamed “Dyatlov Pass” since the incident occurred.When they reached the pass, their plan was to cross over and set-up camp on the other side.Weather conditions worsened, a snowstorm ensued, and the hikers lost their direction due to decreasing visibility.In the confusion of being lost, the group discovered that they had hiked to nearly the top of the mountain pass, so they decided to pitch camp where they were, and head out the next day.They never made it past this point.

It was decided beforehand that Igor Dylatov was to send a telegraph on February 12th to the group’s sports club as soon as they reached Vizhai upon their return. February 12th came and went, with no communication from the hikers. Most people were not alarmed because delays are not uncommon for expeditions – besides, they were nine experienced and capable hiker. The families of the hikers became increasingly concerned in the days that followed. On February 20th, the Ural Polytechnic Institute formed a rescue party consisting of students, and faculty – to no avail so that eventually, police and army forces mounted a full-scale official search and rescue party for the nine missing hikers.

The bodies found

On February 26, the searchers found the abandoned and badly damaged tent on Kholat Syakhl. Mikhail Sharavin, the student who found the tent, said “the tent was half torn down and covered with snow. It was empty, and all the group’s belongings and shoes had been left behind.” Investigators said the tent had been cut open from inside. A chain of eight or nine sets of footprints, left by several people who were wearing only socks, a single shoe or were barefoot, could be followed and led down toward the edge of nearby woods. At the forest edge, under a large cedar, the searchers found the remains of a fire, along with the first two bodies, those of Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko, shoeless and dressed only in their underwear. The branches on the tree were broken up to five meters high, suggesting that a skier had climbed up to look for something, perhaps the camp. Between the cedar and the camp the searchers found three more corpses, Dyatlov, Zina Kolmogorova and Rustem Slobodin, who seemed to have died in poses suggesting that they were attempting to return to the tent. These four were better dressed than the others, and there were signs that those who had died first had apparently relinquished their clothes to the others. Zolotaryov was wearing Dubinina’s faux fur coat and hat, while Dubinina’s foot was wrapped in a piece of Krivonishenko’s wool pants.

A legal inquest started immediately after finding the first five bodies. A medical examination found no injuries which might have led to their deaths, and it was concluded that they had all died of hypothermia. Slobodin had a small crack in his skull, but it was not thought to be a fatal wound.

An examination of the four bodies which were found in May changed the picture. Three of them had fatal injuries: the body of Thibeaux-Brignolles had major skull damage, and both Dubinina and Zolotarev had major chest fractures. According to Dr. Boris Vozrozhdenny, the force required to cause such damage would have been extremely high. He compared it to the force of a car crash. Notably, the bodies had no external wounds related to the bone fractures, as if they were crippled by a high level of pressure. Major external injuries were, however found on Dubinina, who was missing her tongue, eyes, and part of the lips, facial tissue and a fragment of skullbone;she also had extensive skin macerations on the hands.

What happened on the expedition that drove nine experienced hikers to start off into the woods, some barely clothed? What force killed four of the company, whose injuries are inconsistent with violence?

 

Monday Mystery-Hinterkaifeck

Hinterkaifeck, a small farmstead situated between the Bavarian towns of Ingolstadt and Schrobenhausen (approximately 70 km north of Munich), was the scene of one of the most puzzling crimes in German history. On the evening of March 31, 1922, the six inhabitants of the farm were killed with a mattock (similar to a pickaxe). The murder is still unsolved.

The victims were Andreas and Cäzilia Gruber, their widowed daughter Viktoria, her children Cäzilia and Joseph and the maid, Maria Baumgartner. It was rumored that Andreas and Viktoria had an incestuous relationship, and that Joseph was their two year old son. Hinterkaifeck was never an official place name. The name was used for the remote farmstead of the hamlet of Kaifeck, located nearly 1 kilometer north of the main part. It was hidden in the woods, and isolated from its neighbours.

A few days prior to the crime, farmer Andreas Gruber told neighbours about discovering footprints in the snow leading from the edge of the forest to the farm, but none leading back. He also spoke about hearing footsteps in the attic in the dead of night, and finding an unfamiliar newspaper on the farm. Furthermore, the house keys went missing several days before the murders, but none of this was reported to the police.

Six months earlier, the previous maid had left the farm, claiming that it was haunted. The new maid, Maria Baumgartner, arrived on the farm on 31 March, only a few hours before her death.Exactly what happened on that Friday evening cannot be said for certain. It is believed that the older couple, as well as their daughter Viktoria and her daughter Cäzilia, were somehow all lured into the barn one by one, where they were killed. The murderer(s) then went into the house where they found and killed two-year-old Josef who was sleeping in the cot in his mother’s bedroom, as well as the maid, Maria Baumgartner, in her bed-chamber.

On the following Tuesday, the 4th of April, some neighbours went to the farmstead because none of the inhabitants had been seen for several days, which was rather unusual. The postman had noticed that the post from the previous Saturday was still where he had left it. Furthermore, young Cäzilia had not turned up for school on Monday, nor had she been there on Saturday.

Inspector Georg Reingruber and his colleagues from the Munich Police Department made immense efforts investigating the killings. More than 100 suspects have been questioned through the years, but to no avail. The death of Karl Gabriel, Viktoria’s husband who had been reported killed in the French trenches in 1914, was called into question. His body had never been found. The police first suspected the motive to be robbery, and interrogated several inhabitants from the surrounding villages, as well as travelling craftsmen and vagrants. The robbery theory was, however, abandoned when a large amount of money was found in the house. It is believed that the perpetrator(s) remained at the farm for several days – someone had fed the cattle, and eaten food in the kitchen: the neighbours had also seen smoke from the chimney during the weekend – and anyone looking for money would have found it. The case laid active even in the 1980s, where people were still fruitlessly questioned. Today the motive remains unclear, and the killer will never be known.

Image

Monday Mystery-The Phantom Whistler of Louisiana

Who doesn’t love a good mystery on a Monday? This week, our mystery is from state-side.

Back in 1950, newspapers were full of the story of the Phantom Whistler of Louisiana. The Whistler was terrorizing a young woman, 18-year-old Jacqueline Cadow. In February, Jacquelyn Cadow of Paradis, Louisiana began hearing wolf whistles outside her bedroom window at night. The home she shared with her mother was also broken into by an intruder. The authorities were notified on several occasions, but nothing became of it, even when the media became involved. Night after night, she heard the same whistles of the phantom until she announced her engagement to State Trooper Herbert Belsom. Then, the harassment grew worse, and the whistles changed to a funeral dirge. The authorities suspected a man at this time and sometimes he would follow this dirge with a “blood-curdling moan.”

Around this time, Jacquelyn also received telephone threats, the voice on the other end of the call promising to come to her home and stick a knife in her if she went ahead with her marriage. Jacquelyn suffered a collapse when she, her mother, her aunt, and a New Orleans States-Item reporter heard the whistler at work. The reporter and Belsom searched the yard, but found no one. The harassed woman tried staying with relatives. The whistler soon followed. And when she went to the home of Belsom’s parents (her then fiancé), the whistler called her mother with a message: “Tell Jackie I know she’s at Herbert’s house”.

On October 1, she and Belsom married. No incident occurred at the ceremony, and the whole thing came to a close. At first, the local sheriff claimed the whole thing was a hoax, even inciting on one occasion that it was an “inside job” and no real danger was ever present. However soon after the sheriff changed his story to say the whistler had been caught, though no charges were ever recorded or names released to the media. Jacquelyn never reported again to the police on the subject. Was the phantom a hoax, or was someone really at the window? Did he give up after the marriage happened, spurned by Jacquelyn’s choice or perhaps afraid he would eventually get caught? It is hard to know. Who was the phantom whistler and why did he choose to terrify Jacquelyn Cadow? We’ll never know.

whistler01