Stop Thief! The History of the General Service Metropolitan Police Whistle

What’s the most important piece of equipment an officer might carry? Truncheon? Handcuffs? Sidearm? Pepper-spray? Taser? Notepad and pencil?

In older times, the answer might surprise you. From the 1880s until the 1970s, almost all over the world, policemen, and later, policewomen, had one piece of equipment which was arguably just as important as all of those things, and yet which was tiny, and seemingly, insignificant – the police whistle!

Why Are You Looking At This?

Why not?

Oh okay seriously…why?

The Police whistle was one of the first pieces of equipment specifically made for the police to try and make communications easier between officers. Despite the fact that they haven’t been used operationally in at least 40 years, the police whistle has remained one of the most powerful symbols of law and order to this day. Even now, we still have the term ‘Whistleblower‘, meaning to expose some sort of injustice or corruption which was previously hidden from the public.

Before the Police Whistle

The earliest forms of policing were local watchmen, constables and nightmen who patrolled the streets of cities and towns at night. (think “Ten o’clock and All’s Well!“) Their only form of protection or defense was a wooden staff, or truncheon, or a dagger or sword of some description. To raise the alarm, they had to rely on their lungs, or on heavy wooden rattles. These heavy, bulky rattles were swung around on a central handle. Centrifugal force caused the whole thing to swing around, and the rattle blades struck against the ribbed surface in the middle of the rattle, producing a loud clattering sound.

From as far back as the 1600s, right up to the 19th century, this was all they had to raise the alarm.

And it was hardly ideal, for reasons I’ll explain later.

The Rise of the Police

In the 1800s, the Industrial Revolution in Britain was forcing towns and cities to grow. Major population-centers like Birmingham, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Glasgow and London were bursting at the seams. Impoverished rural workers flooded into cities to find work. And when there wasn’t any work, they turned to crime.

In the 1700s, this was already a major issue, and by the early 1800s, it had become so ultra-extreme that even old standbys like transportation and execution were ineffective as deterrents.

In the early 1800s, the first police-forces as we’d recognise them today, were established in Glasgow, in Scotland, and London, in England. These forces were unlike anything seen before. They were designed to be civilian forces keeping the peace, preventing or deterring crimes, and arresting criminals when crime took place. But the equipment issued to policemen had hardly changed since Stuart times.

A typical officer, in his dark blue uniform (dark blue instead of red, which was used by the Army – the famous British Redcoats), strengthened top hat, and boots, was equipped with handcuffs or manacles, a cutlass, a baton or truncheon, and a rattle for raising the alarm. And for nearly 100 years…that was all they had.

The Introduction of the Police Whistle

Truncheons were used by early police officers because they were easily held in one hand, unlike rifles or muskets, which required both hands to operate. And rattles were used to sound the alarm if backup was required. But the problems with rattles were significant.

As early as the 1860s and 70s, police in Britain were looking for replacements for rattles. And in some smaller police-forces, whistles had been suggested, and were being trialed. It was not until the 1880s, however, that whistles actually became standard-issue.

The General Service Whistle, as it was called, had a number of benefits over the old-fashioned rattle. In its hundreds of years of use, the rattle had shown that it had a number of shortcomings:

1). The rattle was bulky and heavy. It took up space in the uniform. It slowed the officer down. Its odd shape caught on clothing and snagged.

2). The rattle was made of wood. This could crack, warp, chip or break if the rattle was used too rigorously, or if it was dropped and broken.

3). The rattle’s size and weight meant that if it was taken from an officer, it could be used as a bludgeon! A desperate criminal could smash it into an officer’s face or head and knock him out. It was therefore, a safety-hazard.

4). The rattle was not loud enough to be an effective means of communication. And on top of that, the rattling sound it produced would be drowned out or mistaken for something else in the din of traffic – the rumbling of barrels. The clatter of horse-hooves. The grinding of carriage-wheels…Useless!

The whistle on the other hand, was far superior in a number of ways:

1). It’s extremely small. The General Service Whistle is about three inches long. You can put into a pocket and forget it’s there. Less space taken up on a uniform.

2). It’s tough. They’re made of brass. If you drop it, it won’t break.

3). It cannot be used as a weapon against the officer.

4). It’s distinct sound meant that it was impossible for it to be mistaken for anything else.

5). Its loud noise and long range meant that it could be heard better, and further, than rattles, making it effective when calling for backup.

A General Service “Metropolitan”-style police whistle. This one was stamped for the Birmingham City Police

Although some forces did use different whistles in the 1870s, if the police whistle was going to be used throughout Britain and the world, it had to be ONE type of whistle, with ONE distinct sound which EVERYONE would recognise. For this to work, they had to find, or design and make ONE whistle which would be better, louder, and more distinct than any other!

The classic, tubular “General Service Whistle” came about in 1883. The London Metropolitan Police (Scotland Yard) put out advertisements in newspapers around Britain, to find a suitable whistle, and a suitable replacement for the heavy wooden rattles which officers were STILL using in the early 1880s!

Up came Mr. Joseph Hudson, toolmaker and whistle-manufacturer, from Birmingham.

Popular folklore will tell you that Mr. Hudson was an amateur violinist. One evening while fiddling with his fiddle, he walked around, musing over the problem which the police had put to the public. Perhaps distracted by this, he put down his violin and accidentally knocked it off the table. It fell to the floor and shattered at his feet! As the strings snapped in front of him, he heard the twanging, humming sound echoing around the room. He realised if he could recreate that trill, discordant sound, it would be unique, loud and far-carrying! He hurried to his workshop to try and make this a reality.

The result was the “The Metropolitan” police whistle.

The Classic Police Whistle

My two police whistles. The one on the right is a modern ceremonial Metropolitan police whistle; this style has been produced since 1972, and continues to be made to this day. It’s barrel-stamping is: “THE Metropolitan” – “Made in England”. The whistle on the left is an early 20th-century antique (with almost all the nickel-plating gone). Its barrel-stamping is: “THE CITY WHISTLE – PATENT”

Tubular, easy to hold, small, loud and unique, it was ideal for the Metropolitan Police, and could be heard over a MILE away on a good day. More then sufficient for the needs of the police!

The tubular ‘General Service Whistle‘ was not just manufactured for the police. It was used by everyone. Hence the name ‘General Service’. Although originally manufactured for the police, its loud, authoritative shriek became the classic sound of alarm. It was therefore ideal for services where such a whistle might be required. More about that later…

The whistle was used all over the world. From New York City to London, to Toronto, to Melbourne and Bombay. If you had a police-force in the early 20th century, it almost certainly carried this whistle, or at least, had it as an option from a selection of whistles.

The whistle officially replaced the heavy, bulky wooden rattles in February of 1884, when the Metropolitan Police Service’s initial order of 21,000 whistles was finally completed! Police regulations stated that all London police constables on duty had to carry one, and have it easily accessible in case trouble should arise.

The General Service ‘Metropolitan’ police whistle was worn with a pocket-chain and hook-clasp. Uniform guidelines for British police stated that the whistle-chain should be affixed to the second button from the top of the tunic-jacket, and that the chain be draped down the front and the whistle tucked inside the jacket, between buttons. As this was not always comfortable, an alternative method of carrying the whistle was to attach the chain to the second button of your uniform tunic-jacket, and place the whistle in the left-hand breast-pocket, with a couple of inches of excess chain hanging free. In an emergency, an officer could easily grasp the chain, pull out the whistle and blow it!

But what were the guidelines for using the whistle? How did it fit into the policeman’s duties? And what happened when it was sounded?

The Whistle in Action

The heyday of the classic police whistle was from the 1880s-1970s. A period of almost 100 years. The whistles were originally introduced in 1883, and from then until about 1970, remained part of police-uniforms around the world.

To patrol streets, keep the peace, deter or detect crime and uphold the law, police-officers used to patrol in ‘beats’, some forces still do, although these days it’s not as common as it once was.

A ‘beat’ was the area of an officer’s patrol. Typically he circled a set location (typically one or two blocks) for a set period of time (say, one hour). At the end of his beat, and during his beat, a police constable or patrolman would meet with his sergeant, who would note down that he had seen the officer, and therefore, that he was ‘pounding his beat’ and patrolling his area of their jurisdiction properly.

General Service Metropolitan whistles were used to call for backup in emergencies, to alert the public of danger and get their attention, or to direct and control people and traffic.

If a policeman on the beat spotted a crime in progress, he would intervene, as was his duty. If the situation went outside of his control, such as a thief fleeing the scene of a robbery, the officer would give chase. To sound the alarm and give the robber fewer places to run to, the constable blew on his whistle. The far-carrying sound would alert all officers on similar beats within hearing-distance. The policeman in-pursuit would continue blowing his whistle so that other officers could get a fix on his location, and so that they could tell which direction the pursuit was headed.

The whistle was used in any situation where an ordinary shout was insufficient. Directing traffic, gaining attention, raising the alarm, calling for help, or simply telling someone without words, that the game was up!

The whistle lasted a surprisingly long time. It wasn’t until the advent of handheld radios in the 1970s that it was finally replaced. Today, the Metropolitan whistle is still issued to ‘Bobbies’, but its role today is largely ceremonial. It’s worn with dress-uniforms, it’s purchased from shops as a souvenir, or it’s used to direct traffic. Some whistles are presented to senior officers upon retirement. Officers are still issued with these whistles today, although it’s mostly for the sake of tradition.

The whistles manufactured today by the Joseph Hudson ACME Whistle Co. are a lot less ornate than the whistles they used to make. Actual police-whistles which saw service were elaborately marked and stamped. The whistle-barrels were marked with words like “J. Hudson & Co”, the company’s address in Birmingham, “The Metropolitan”, “The City”, and the name of the police-force for whom the whistles had been commissioned. Each city and town had its own whistles with their own city marked on them.

Mr. Joseph Hudson and His Whimsical Whistles

Prior to the 1880s, Mr. Hudson was a struggling Birmingham tool-manufacturer and tinkerer, who liked creating all kinds of things. Whistles were one of his passions, but he built and fiddled with all kinds of things to do anything to get a few extra shillings in his pockets.

After his Eureka Moment in 1883, Mr. Hudson’s life changed forever. As by far the largest provider of whistles to the various British police-forces, Hudson stood to make a fortune! Every officer in every police-force in the British Isles, as well as colonial forces overseas, needed HIS whistle. He would have to produce millions of them to meet demand! The whistles became cheap, and he became rich! By the time he died in 1930, Joseph Hudson’s whistle company was producing whistles for all kinds of things!

Need to train your dog? Hudson made dog-whistles. Need to referee a sporting-match? He made sporting whistles, too! How about calling a taxi-cab in a crowded London street? No need to shout! Just buy the Joseph Hudson taxi-call. A couple of sharp toots and the nearest cab would come chugging up to take you away. What if you’re a ship’s officer at sea? Joseph Hudson’s company also produced the whistles carried by sailors and naval-officers – he even produced the whistles used on the R.M.S. Titanic!


How It’s Made: General Service Metropolitan Police Whistles

The company became so successful that it remained in the Hudson family until after WWII, that’s three generations! The company’s main factory in Birmingham was flattened during the War thanks to German air-raids, but it continues to produce whistles in Birmingham today. Its most popular models are the Thunderer, the Mate’s Whistle, and of course, the General Service Metropolitan.

The Whistle in General Service

Although it’s called a Bobby’s Whistle, Metropolitan Police Whistle and dozens of other variations along those lines, this classic whistle is actually called the ‘General Service Whistle’. The key word being ‘general’.

The whistle was used everywhere. The United States, Canada, Britain, India, Europe, Australia, Africa and all corners of the British Empire. Almost every country in the world would’ve heard its familiar shrill shriek at one point or another. And it was used by a lot more than just the police. Firemen carried them to pass orders or get attention in an emergency, because the shrill blast of the whistle could be heard over the crackling of flames or the crashing of collapsing masonry.

In the two world wars, British officers carried these whistles to pass commands and orders. Specially-marked ‘Trench Whistles’ were manufactured by the ACME Co. and distributed to field officers. They would blow their whistles before going ‘over the top’ during the First World War, to indicate that it was time to attack!

The whistles were also used on the home front. General Service Whistles were also manufactured for Air Raid Precautions, and you can find whistles marked “ARP”. These would’ve been used to direct and control crowds of panicked Londoners during the Blitz in the Second World War. They were more effective than shouting over the explosions of thousands of bombs and the constant wail of the air-raid sirens.

Apart from these more expected roles, the General Service Whistle was also used in hospitals, psychiatric wards and mental asylums, where they were carried by orderlies and hospital attendants. Just imagining the kind of events for which these whistles would’ve been used for in such places is unnerving!

The Whistle in Film and Television

The Metropolitan Whistle was used a lot in film and television, its sound was distinctive and unique. In “Casablanca” (1942), it’s heard in the opening scenes, and later on when Captain Renault closes down Rick’s Cafe. In “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939), Basil Rathbone blows the whistle at the end of the film, to alert the village constabulary of Stapleton’s escape. In crime TV series taking place during Victorian times or the early 20th century, the whistle is heard everywhere. “Ripper Street“, “Murdoch Mysteries“, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” and “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” have all used it at least once.

The General Service Metropolitan Whistle Today

The whistle as a practical piece of police-kit ended in the 1970s. In the postwar era, the rise in motorcar ownership meant that louder traffic reduced the audible range of the whistle. It was no-longer effective as a means of communication, and the Victorian answer to a centuries old problem died with the birth of handheld radios.

These whistles are still manufactured, and still by the same original company – Joseph Hudson’s ACME Company, but their use today is almost entirely limited to souvenirs, ceremony, tradition, or novelty. Some are still used for their original purpose, but this is rare. Most people who own them today do so for the historical connection, whistle-collecting, or because they require a whistle on a regular basis and have selected it because of its unique sound and long range.

Want to Hear More About Whistles?

The Whistle Shop – Lots of information about old police whistles and general service whistles here.

The Whistle Gallery – HUGE collection of whistles and information!

There’s also a website called the Whistle Museum, but I think it’s currently offline (or it was at the time of this posting).

 

Crimes of the Century – Theft of the Crown Jewels

Crime of the Century? Stealing the English Crown Jewels

Century of Crime?  17th Century. May, 1671.

Criminal of the Century? Col. Thomas Blood.

Criminal Facts: 

In late April, or early May of 1671, Colonel Thomas Blood, an Irishman, planned to steal the Crown Jewels of England, stored in the Tower of London, easily one of the most audacious robberies in the history of the world.

In preparation for his robbery, Blood and a female companion who pretended to be his wife, entered the Tower of London to check out the proposed target of their robbery – The Jewels! In the 1670s, the jewels were on display in the tower and, with a small fee paid to the official custodian, they could be viewed by the public.

While scoping the place out, Blood’s lady-friend feigned a stomach-ache and collapsed on the floor. This distraction served to keep Talbot Edwards, custodian of the jewels, and his wife, occupied, while Blood checked out the jewels.

Did he steal them?

No. He wasn’t that stupid! He waited for days! He visited the Tower several times, slowly winning over the confidence and trust of Mr. and Mrs. Edwards.

Eventually, on the 9th of May, 1671. Blood figured that the jewels were ripe for the picking. Along with some accomplices whom he passed off as his nephew, and some friends, he revisited the Tower of London and convinced Mr. Edwards to let him actually hold the Crown Jewels!

The Jewels were stored in the Jewel-Keeper’s Apartment in one of the towers, in a special basement strongroom. While anyone could go into the strongroom to check out the jewels and drool over them, to actually TOUCH them, you had to unlock a security-cage to gain access to them. Feeling trustworthy of Blood and his companions, Mr. Edwards, already an old man at nearly eighty years of age (77 to be precise), led the men downstairs and opened the jewel-cage.

Immediately after unlocking the gate, Edwards had a cloak thrown over his head! He was struck on the skull with a mallet, knocking him out. He was then bound and gagged, and Blood and his partners in crime removed the Crown Jewels from their protective cage.

The thing was…they didn’t have a bag with them. And they couldn’t be seen CARRYING the jewels out of the Tower, so they had to get creative.

Using a saw, they cut the royal sceptre in half to fit it into their clothing. They smashed the crown flat using the mallet, and stuffed it into their coats. Blood even took the Royal Orb and shoved it down the front of his pants to hide it! Then, they made their escape!

Depending on which accounts you read next, one, two, or a combination of the following events occurred:

The first version is that old Mr. Edwards managed to fight out of his bonds and managed to raise a cry of treason. Tower guards were alerted and arrested the men.

The more colourful version goes like this…

On his way home to his parents house at the Tower of London, young Wythe Edwards, a soldier recently back from a foreign posting in Belgium, happened upon the one member of Blood’s gang, who was standing outside the apartment, keeping watch.

In the confusion that followed, Wythe’s father fought out of his bonds and raised the cry of treason and theft! Wythe, realising what had happened, tried to stop the robbers from escaping!

Whether or not young Wythe was present at the theft of the Jewels, what happened next was that the men in Blood’s company escaped with the jewels. They ran across the courtyard to their horses, firing on the tower’s warders (the famous Beefeaters), with pocket flintlock pistols, when they tried to arrest them!

Blood and his companions were home and free!…almost! If not for yet another member of the Edwards family!

Nearly to the gate, and the main exit of the Tower, Wythe Edwards’ brother-in-law, Capt. Beckham, tackled Blood to the ground! Blood tried to shoot him with his musket, but missed! He tripped on his cloak and fell over and before he could get up, Beckham had jumped on top of him to hold him down!

Surrounded, outnumbered and out of ammunition, Blood and his companions, in total, a party of four men, were arrested by the tower guards for attempting to steal the Crown Jewels.

What Happened Next?

Despite the fact that he was clearly guilty, Blood refused to be sentenced by just anybody! He demanded an audience with the king!

Amazingly, his request was granted! And he was dragged in chains to Whitehall Palace, London residence of Charles II. Here, he was questioned and interrogated, not only by the king, but by almost the entire royal family!

After much consideration, the king asked Blood:

“What if I should give you your life?” 

Or in other words, grant a royal pardon.

“I would endeavour to deserve it, sire!”, was Blood’s reply, and the colonel was duly pardoned of his crime.

Along with a pardon, the king gave Blood land…and money! His own noble estate in Ireland, from which he could earn up to five hundred pounds (a tidy sum in those days) every year!

Exactly WHY Charles let Col. Blood off the hook is anybody’s guess! The reason that is often cited is that Charles kinda liked the fact that Blood was a cheeky blighter who had the balls to try and steal the Crown Jewels, and own up to it! In fact, when he was being interrogated, Blood was told that he had stolen jewels worth up to a hundred thousand pounds sterling!

Blood promptly replied that he would happily sell them back to the king for the sum of six thousand pounds, for that was, he believed, all they were worth. This so amused King Charles that he let him go.

After his pardon, Blood turned over a new leaf. He became a favourite of the king, and regularly visited the royal court at Whitehall, where he managed to secure a job in the court staff.

Later on in life, Blood insulted George Villers, Duke of Buckingham, one of Blood’s patrons. Villers demanded a hefty fine be paid (up to 10,000 pounds, a monumental sum of money in those days) as settlement for the insult. The matter ended up in court as a defamation case, and Blood was sent to prison!…The duke never did get the ten thousand pounds…

Blood’s stay at His Majesty’s Pleasure did not last very long. And within a year, he had been released from jail. However, he fell ill shortly afterwards, and died on the 24th of August, 1680, at the age of 62.

Although Blood’s life was one of a scallywag and thief, his descendants enjoyed a rather more respectable reputation in the eyes of history. One of them was Gen. Bindon Blood, a respected British Army officer during the Victorian Era and the First World War, who died at the ripe old age of 97, in 1940!

 

Heads Will Roll: The Hangman & Headsman’s Trades

You read about it in crime-novels. You see it in movies or in historical dramas. You maybe even play-acted it in school or on the stage somewhere in a theatrical production of some kind. For centuries, hanging and decapitation have been the two main methods of capital punishment.

But have you ever wondered how it was done? Despite the old saying that “everybody dies easy”, it’s not something that might be said by the men who have the unique and rather unenviable task of actually doing it for a living. The headsman and the hangman, the two men who traditionally carried out these two most common methods of civil execution, actually had to approach each execution from a highly scientific point of view.

Execution by Beheading

Beheading someone as a form of execution is not easy to do. In ancient times, it was done with swords or axes. These weapons, though sharp, did not always do the job very well. The human neck is surprisingly strong and considerable force is required to break it. In medieval times, specially-crafted execution-axes were used, that look similar to the one pictured here:

Axes such as this did not so much ‘cut’ the head off as they simply bashed their way through the neck-bone. They were crude at the best of times and useless at the worst of times. Most medieval executioners also carried a dagger with them called a ‘slitting knife’, with which they would have to literally slice the head off, using the slitting-knife to cut away the remaining muscles and flesh so that the head would fall off the corpse and land in the basket below…all the while, the severed neck would be pumping out blood onto the scaffolding.

During the 1700s, reformers were looking for a more effective way to decapitate people. Axes and swords were inefficient. They did not always work and death was neither swift nor painless. In the early 1790s, the French came up with the answer. The Guillotine.

Named for Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a French physician, the guillotine was first put to use in 1792. It remained the only legal method of execution in France for the next 189 years (capital punishment in France was abolished in 1981). It was designed to take the human error out of the equation of death by beheading. The angled blade of the guillotine was developed so that the head would be severed cleanly from the body in one swift, sweeping stroke, instead of being hacked off like with an axe.

So much for the guillotine. That was the easy part.

Execution by Hanging

Ah. Execution by Hanging. The favoured method in Asia and in most of the Western countries where capital punishment was (or still is) legal. Anyone can chop a man’s head off. Raise the guillotine, slot him in the hole and let go of the rope…done! But how many people can hang a man? Believe me, it’s not that easy.

The job of hangman is very unique. Not because he’s an executioner. Not because he might be depised by society (I’m sure lawyers are also despised by society), but because there’s a lot more to this job than meets the eye. Not just anybody can hang anybody, not just because of the emotional toll, but simply because not just anybody can hang any body. You see, the thing that makes the job of hangman difficult is that there is a high level of mathematical skill required in this job. You may not see it, or even believe it, but it is true and it is there.

In older times, you hanged a man thus:

You threw the rope over a tree or a hanging-post, got the condemmed man to stand on a chair, then you slipped the noose around his neck, hopped down, kicked the chair away and let him dangle around for five…ten…fifteen…twenty…thirty minutes…however long it took, until he eventually strangled to death. Yes. It could take that long.

This was unacceptable. It was unsightly and it took far too long; another way of hanging the condemned was required. The old method of hanging was called the ‘short-drop’ method. String him up, kick the bucket away and then let him choke to death after a short drop. This by the way, is where we get the phrase ‘kick the bucket’ (meaning to commit suicide). It comes from when the suicider, after looping the noose around his neck, kicks away the upturned bucket that he was standing on.


Almost synonymous with the ‘Short Drop’ hanging method is the Tyburn Tree in Tyburn, London, a famous, triangle-shaped gallows on which up to two dozen people could be executed at one time. The Tree was erected in 1571 and wasn’t taken down until 1783! A plaque stands where the Tree was once located

The new method of hanging was very different from the old, even though on the surface they look the same. And it was this new method, called the ‘long-drop’ method, that was so scientific. And this is why not anybody can hang anybody, or any body, if you get my drift.

Hanging a body using the ‘Long Drop’ method is a tricky process. In the short-drop method, the aim is to strangle the condemned until they die from suffocation. The long-drop method aims to break the victim’s neck, providing swift and painless death, specifically, to break the neck at the C2 vertebra; the second vertebrae down from the head. Achieving this is difficult because no two persons are exactly alike. Some weigh more than others. Some weigh less. Some are taller than others, some are shorter. Some might have thin, scrawny necks. Some have thick, bulldog ones. How on earth are you going to figure out how much rope to use and how long a drop you need to break a given person’s neck? Because if you don’t have the right amount of rope, things can go horribly wrong.

See? It’s not so easy now, is it?

The long-drop method was developed by an English hangman named William Marwood in 1872. In time, a table was drawn up that took all the complexity out of how to carry out a good hanging. It was called Marwood’s Table of Drops. Published in 1888, the Official Table of Drops may be found about three-quarters the way down the page provided in this link. So, how did a long-drop hanging take place?

As I’ve explained, hanging changed over time. By the late 19th century, it was a pretty scientific undertaking that required care and deliberation. A typical long-drop hanging is done in the following manner:

1. The day before the hanging, the condemned prisoner is taken out of his (or her) cell. He or she is then weighed (while clothed) and the weight is recorded.

2. The hangman consults the Table of Drops, which specifies length of drop (and therefore, length of hangman’s rope) required for that weight, such that the drop will produce a clean, quick break of the neck.

3. The rope is measured and marked at the correct length, either with a painted lne or a length of metal wire wrapped around the rope at the correct point. A noose is tied at the end and then the rope is affixed to the gallows.

4. Sandbags equal in weight to the prisoner to be hung, are tied to the noose and the trapdoor is opened. The sandbags drop, stretching out the rope. This is done a full 24 hours before hanging, to take the elasticity out of the rope to prevent recoil later on.

5. On the day, the prisoner is marched out to the gallows. The noose is put around his neck and slightly off-center so that when the rope pulls tight, it breaks the neck. A prayer is said and the prisoner is allowed last words. He may or may not choose to have a black hood placed over his head.

6. The lever is pulled. The trapdoor falls open and the prisoner falls through. If the hanging is successful, the momentum of the body draws the noose tight and the sudden deceleration causes a quick and painless break of the neck.

7. The body is then cut down and prepared for postmortem examinations. In older times, a body was left hanging on the rope for up to an hour after death. This was eventually deemed unnecessary when a physician could just check the body and announce whether death had or had not occurred.

8. The rope is removed from the gallows and stored. This is in case it might be required later by law-enforcement or prison officials.

The hanging is done.

The Hangman’s Calculation

If you do a bit of research, you’ll find out that Tables of Drops changed markedly over the years. Starting in about 1888, they changed at least twice in the next 30 years, once in the 1890s and once again in 1913, with differing weights and drops for each new table. How do you figure out how much rope is needed for any given drop?

Remember that the tables are a guide. They only give the suggested drop-length, the length calculated to be most effective. But as I explained, not everyone is the same, so there are variables that might make the Table of Drops ineffective for any number of reasons, from a person being over the maximum weight in the Table of Drops, to their neck being particularly thick or the rope being thinner or thicker than usual. So how do you figure out the drop?

You use a piece of mathematics called the Hangman’s Calculation. It’s set up in the following manner:

(1260 / W ) + 1.5 = D.

1260 foot-pounds of force (the amount considered sufficient to cause neck-breakage), divided by the prisoner’s WEIGHT (W), with an added 1.5ft (18 inches or 1’6″) of rope for the noose itself, equals the optimum drop-length for a given person.

Despite all the maths and calculations, hanging remains a bit of a trial-and-error way of execution. Even when the Tables of Drops were well-established in society, it wasn’t unknown for bungled hangings to occur, and the condemned could still strangle to death or have their heads ripped off during botched hangings. Although no longer widely practiced in the Western world, hanging is still a very common method of execution in Asia in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Bali, where there are significant drug-trafficking problems.

 

X Marks the Spot: Being a Brief & Concise Examination of the Popular Views of the Golden Age of Piracy

Ah, pirates. We love pirates! I love pirates! Don’t you love pirates? We all love pirates!

But like me…you probably don’t know a damn thing about them. So that’s what this article is for. It’s a look into what pirates were and when they existed. It’s an examination of the times in which they lived, how they lived, what they did and how they did it…during the Golden Age of Piracy.

What do we ‘know’ about pirates?

Pirates have existed for centuries, even the 21st century, what with Somalian pirates being in the news of late, attacking ships and holding their captains and crews hostage and with the navys of the world’s superpowers trying to put a stop to their felonious, maritime activities. But when most people think of pirates, we think of the classic pirate – Peg-leg, eyepatch, hook-hand, bandana, boots, buckles, belts, striped shirt, waistcoat, neckerchief, pistol and cutlass. We think that pirates sailed around attacking ships, killing their crews or stealing them of their cargoes, which they would later bury on tropical island paradises, going back there later with maps to dig up their hordes of booty and then sail off into retirement.

But how much of this is true? What were classic pirates really like? A lot of what we think of pirates comes from popular fiction, like Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and “The Pirates of the Carribean” or “Hook” and the stories of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie. We think that pirates drank rum and that they spoke a strange language full of phrases that nobody else would understand, like “Pieces of Eight” and “Avast” and “walking the plank”. They say that all myth has a basis in fact. But which facts and how many of these ‘facts’ are actually real?

Pirating Times

The ‘Golden Age of Piracy’ ran, with stops and starts, from about 1620 until about 1780, a period of roughly a hundred and sixty years. Pirates came from all countries, including Great Britain, Colonial America, France and Spain. During this era, which was occasionally interrupted by wars, outbreaks of disease or fantastic natural disasters, pirates sailed around attacking ships, stealing their cargo and either killing the crews and sinking their ships or marooning them on an island and sailing off their newer, much better ship (the one with central heating and surround-sound home-theater).

What kind of people were Pirates?

In many cases, pirates were actually privateers. A privateer was a bit like a ‘government pirate’. You were given a letter of authority (officially, a “Letter of Marque”) that said you could hunt down, attack, capture or sink any ships bearing an enemy flag. Privateers were often spawn during warfare as an easy way to deprive the enemy of its weapons, foodstuffs, ammunition and other essential wartime supplies. But what happened when the war ended? Privateers were out of a job! So the natural thing to do was to put your seafaring skills to good use and turn into the oceangoing version of a highway robber, sticking up ships on the open seas and stealing their treasures. In the days before government social security, this was pretty much the only way a sailor out of work could ensure his own ‘social security’. Like most desperate criminals, pirates had a lot to gain and nothing to lose and plenty of time to do one and not the other.

As I mentioned earlier, pirates came from all over what was then the known world, although the majority of pirates (about one third, according to my research) were English, probably not surprising when you consider that the Royal Navy was the most powerful in the world at the time. Indeed, one of the main reasons why people became pirates was to escape the harsh realities of naval life. You didn’t have to be flogged, you could get better food and you could sail to where-ever it was you wished to go.

Common Pirate Stereotypes

Pirates have been so swamped in literary and filmic fantasy that it’s sometimes hard to determine fact from fiction with piracy. So how many of the famous aspects of piracy are actually true?

The Jolly Roger is the classic pirate flag. A black rectangle with a skull and a pair of bones in a diagonal ‘St. Andrews’-style cross. It’s believed that this flag was probably created in the late 17th century, but it was by no means the only pirate flag that existed. Variations of black flags with skulls, skeletons or swords existed throughout the Golden Age of Piracy and each pirate ship and captain had his own particular design. In general, a black pirate flag (with or without its morbid artwork) was used as a sign to the enemy that the crew onboard would fight to the death and were beholden to no laws other than their own.

Peglegs and hook-hands really were part of pirate folklore. Sea-battles were fierce and dangerous affairs and it wasn’t uncommon for pirates to lose limbs or to have them so badly injured that they’d require them to be amputated later. Most pirate ships had absolutely no professional medical help onboard at all, except for the ship’s cook (the only person around with any experience with knives). The ship’s cook would perform the amputation, after which the bloody stump would be bandaged and cauterised using blackpowder. Pouring gunpowder on a bleeding stump and lighting it was a quick and dirty way to stop bleeding. The intense heat from the burning powder would sear the wound shut and prevent continued bleeding and eventual infection. Afterwards, a prosthetic limb such as a hook-hand or a peg-leg would be fashioned out of whatever spare wood, metal and leather (to act as a securing strap) that the pirates could lay their hands on.

Eyepatches were used, both for covering an eye-socket when someone lost an eye in a fight, or, as was actually more common, to preserve sight when moving around the ship. It was often dark inside ships and very bright outside. Due to the extreme contrast between the different light-levels, wearing an eyepatch was a way of ensuring that a pirate’s eyes could adapt quickly between extreme brightness and extremely low light.

“Pieces of Eight” refers to money. Traditionally, prize-money at sea was divided up into eighths and shared out among the crew accordingly. ‘Pieces of Eight’ were also Spanish dollars, Spanish gold being a popular target of English pirates during the 17th century.

Parrots are as commonly associated with pirates as dogs are with the blind. Pirates travelled all over the world so it is possible that they picked up parrots and kept them as pets during their travels.

Tropical Locations are always associated with pirates. And you can hardly blame them. After all that pirating, you would want to relax in a tropical island paradise for a few years. And the Johnny Depp film franchise would have us believe that pirates loved hanging out under the Carribbean sun when they weren’t doing anything else. But is this true? Probably yes. Pirates preyed on ships sailing around the equatorial Atlantic Ocean, sailing along the “Triangle of Trade”. Ships sailed from England to Africa to pick up slaves (stop one), then across to the southern reaches of North America (stop two) to drop off slaves, before provisioning their ships, picking up spices and cloth and other goodies, like the latest bootleg DVDs, and then sailing back to England (stop three). Hanging around in waters like these, it’s not hard to see why pirates are associated with tropical locales such as the Carribbean.

Pirates love Drinking Rum! It’s well-known that pirates (and maritime types in general) loved drinking rum and grog! Is this true? The answer is probably yes. Rum, an alcoholic beverage created from molasses, has been distilled since the mid 1600s, right around when pirates were rocking the waves. It was produced in sugar-growing areas of the world such as the southern areas of North America and the Carribbean, where pirates were known to hang out.

Rum started being given to British seamen in 1655, replacing their previous tipple, brandy, so successfully that by the 1740s, rum had to be watered down, creating the slightly less alcoholic beverage…grog. The introduction of rum was directly linked to the British colonisation of Jamaica. Sailors took such a liking to rum that when they turned into pirates, they kept rum around them at all times. Attacking ships is thirsty work, after all.

Buried Treasure! Everyone knows that pirates buried their treasure! They parked off of a tropical island, dug a hole, chucked in their gold, buried it, drew a map to its location and then sailed off, coming back years later when it became a necessity to access their little nest-egg. But is this true?


“Treasure Island” as drawn by Robert Louis Stevenson

Sorry folks. No it isn’t. History (and reliable records) says that only ONE pirate…Captain Kidd (Capt. William Kidd; 1645-1701) ever buried any treasure at all (the location is believed to be Long Island, New York). But this was hardly a widespread practice, so for all intents and purposes, no, pirates did not bury their treasure, and as Indiana Jones said: “X never, ever marks the spot”.

Pirates were all ruthless cutthroats and indeed they were. At least, to other seafarers. In actuality though, pirates were a pretty disciplined bunch. Surprising, huh? Below, you will see a partial list of rules and regulations from various Pirating Codes that existed throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.

Walking the Plank was a pirate’s favourite way of getting rid of troublesome people. Again, not nearly as common as we’d like to think. Although instances of walking the plank have been recorded throughout history, it appears that it wasn’t a widespread practice and was rarely used by pirates. It was most likely glamorised by writers and Hollywood.

There was such thing as a Pirates’ Code In “Pirates of the Carribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”, we are told that there is a ‘Brethren Code’. Did such a code ever exist? Research suggests that a code (or more likely, several codes) did exist, and that these codes were the rules that pirates were obliged to follow. Sadly, no original written documents of such codes from the 1600s survive, but copies stated that among other things…

    – Fighting was forbidden onboard ship. Any such arguments or disagreements that might arise were to be settled onshore in the prescribed gentlemanly manner (ehm…duelling).
    – Fighting onboard ship was punishable by flogging.
    – Smoking tobacco or using a naked flame without also using a protective cover was punishable by flogging (fire was a big hazard on wooden sailing-ships).
    – Thievery was punishable by marooning or death.
    – In instances of marooning, a pirate would be given a bottle of water, a charge of blackpowder, a single shot and a flintlock pistol.
    – Rape was not to be tolerated. Any pirate caught raping (or even having consensual sex) with a female faced death by shooting.
    – It was against the rules to stay up past a certain hour. All lights to be doused at 8:00pm SHARP.
    – Gambling was strictly forbidden.
    – All members of the crew were expected to have their pistols and swords (and any other appropriate weaponry) in good repair and in working order for battle at all times.
    – Any members of the crew who provided entertainment through the playing of musical instruments were allowed every Sunday off, as was their right.
    – The right of an enemy or rival captain to demand Parley (‘negotiations’) with the master of the ship and his expectation not to be harmed, was to be upheld at all times.
    – A pirate injured in the course of his duties was entitled to compensation! Loss of an eye or a finger was 100 pieces of eight. Loss of the right hand was 600 pieces of eight. Loss of right leg was 500 pieces of eight. Loss of left arm was 500 pieces of eight. Loss of left leg was 400 pieces of eight. Most pirates who fulfilled the job of ‘Ship’s Cook’ was usually a pirate who had been injured and was unfit to do any other kind of meaningful (and more phsyical) labour.

Pirates of the Carribbean

What is Port Royal?

Port Royal was a city located in British Jamaica. It was built and colonised during the second half of the 1600s. It was a safe haven for pirates during this time and pirates were even called upon by the Port’s governor to help defend the city in the case of Spanish or French naval attacks. In its time, Port Royal was famous for whoring, boozing, drunken brawls and alcoholism…charming place. There was said to be a public house, tavern, bar or other less-than-reputable drinking-establishment for every ten people that lived in Port Royal. When you consider that Port Royal was once home to about 6,500 people, that’s a hell of a lot of drinking. In 1687, Port Royal tried to clean up its act and passsed Anti-Piracy laws. Dozens of pirates were arrested and hanged for their crimes. The Port was destroyed in 1692 by a powerful earthquake, which many believed was God’s punishment for all the prostitution, drinking, gambling and vice that existed in the city. Port Royal barely exists as a city today. It was destroyed again by earthquake in January of 1907 and the city has struggled ever since.

Where is Tortuga?

Ilsa Tortuga, the Island of Turtles, is located off of the coast of Haiti, northeast of the Jamaican city of Port Royal. Colonised in 1625, it was a notorious pirate hangout during the 17th century. French and English pirates existed in an uneasy harmony here for several years. It was attacked in 1654 by the Spanish and by 1670, pirating connections with Tortuga were in serious decline. Pirates who used Tortuga as a home-base began to turn to legitimate work in the years that followed since piracy wasn’t exactly bringing in the gold anymore.

Were Pirates Really Marooned on Desert Islands?

Yes indeed they were. As mentioned above (although not in great detail), marooning a pirate on a desert island was a genuine pirate punishment of the 17th century. The offending party was lowered on a ship’s boat, rowed ashore and then the rest of the pirates rowed back to the ship and sailed off. The marooned party was given a bottle of water (or rum; whichever was more readily available), a flintlock pistol, a round of pistol-shot and a charge of blackpowder. The decision was simple, really. You could drink the water and ration it out and see how long you survived until you starved to death…Or you could load the pistol and commit suicide and have it all over in a heartbeat.

What is the ‘Black Spot’?

Jack Sparrow is given the Black Spot in one of the PotC movies. In the film, Jack Sparrow has the mark on the palm of his hand, but in real life, the Black Spot was either a black, filled-in circle on a sheet of paper, or the Ace of Spades out of a deck of cards. The Black Spot was given to someone suspected of being a government informer or a traitor to his pirate brethren.

Some Famous Pirates

So, who are some famous pirates that we know of? Captain Jack Sparrow? Long John Silver? Captain Hook? Captain Feathersword!? Pffft. Here’s some real pirates for yah…

Blackbeard!

Real Name: Edward Teach.
Born: Ca. 1680, England.
Died: 22nd Nov., 1718, of twenty sword-wounds and five bullet-wounds sustained in battle.

Notes:

– Blackbeard is believed to have had over a dozen wives!
– Blackbeard blockaded the city of Charles Town (Charleston) South Carolina and threatened to open fire on it with his ships and kill hostages (prominent city officials) unless his ransom (a chest of medical supplies) was met. The supplies were produced and Blackbeard set sail without firing a single shot.
– Always ready for action, Blackbeard carried no less than three braces of pistols on him during battles (‘brace’ is an old term for a pair. So in all…six pistols).

Captain Kidd

Real Name: William Kidd.
Born: 1645.
Died: 23rd May, 1701.

Notes:

– One of the few pirates who actually buried treasure.
– Was once a privateer for the English government.
– Tried to bribe his way out of the charge of piracy.
– Eventually arrested, brought back to England from Colonial America.
– He was found guilty of five counts of piracy and one count of murder. He was hanged in London.

Black Sam

Real Name: Samuel Bellamy.
Born: 23rd February, 1689.
Died: 27th April, 1717.

Notes:

– Called ‘The Prince of Pirates’ for showing mercy to prisoners.
– Ammassed one of the greatest pirate fortunes ever.
– His flagship, the Whydah Gally sank off of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was rediscovered in 1984.

The End of Piracy

To be fair…piracy never really ended. The classic, romantic, Hollywood swashbuckling pirate is still alive…in classic, romantic Hollywood films. And piracy is still a big threat today in the waters around the African continent. But classic piracy of the kind we associate with ‘Treasure Island’ did eventually peter out as the 18th century progressed. In 1717, King George I of England issued an amnesty to all pirates, basically saying that all their crimes would be absolved, on the condition that they stopped being pirates. Some pirates were glad to give up the life and took advantage of His Majesty’s mercy. Others stuck their tongues out at the king and went right on pirating.

 

“A Boy’s Best Friend is His Mother…” – Ed Gein, the Butcher of Plainfield

Running water. Shadows. Screams. Dark, dark, red, red, rich, strong, running, dribbling, gushing blood. Screeching violin music. Clasping fingers. Shower-curtains. Broken rings. Curtains falling. Crumpled in a heap…

In 1960, famous British film-director Alfred Hitchcock created one of the most amazing horror films in history about a woman and a man and an isolated, family-run motel in the middle of nowhere. The ‘Shower Scene’ from the film ‘Psycho’ and its infamous high-pitched, screeching violin music is known the world over and has been parodied in countless TV shows, cartoons and movies. Norman Bates, a deluded, psychotic young man slashes a young woman in the bathroom of her motel cabin and leaves her to bleed to death.

While “Psycho” has gone down in history as one of the most famous horror films of all time, few people today would guess that the character of Norman Bates was actually based on a real person. Robert Bloch, the author who wrote the original novel “Psycho” which Hitchcock adapted to film, based the character of Norman Bates on a man which the press called the Butcher of Plainfield.

Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield

Plainfield, Wisconsin is a small, quiet little village. So small that in 2000, just under 900 people lived there. It was the Plainfield of the early 1950s that caught the world’s attention with a series of crimes that shocked the world and which made the murderer, a man named Edward Gein, a household name throughout America and the world, inspiring countless horror films, TV series and books to be written about him, based on him or which alluded to him over the next sixty years.

So who was Ed Gein and why was he called the Butcher of Plainfield? What was it that he’d done? Those with weak stomachs should not continue. Those with hardier constitutions…read on…

The Gein Family

Edward Theodore Gein was born on the 27th of August, 1906. His parents were George Gein and Augusta Gein. Ed had one older brother, Henry Gein. As is typical of stories of this kind, Mr. Gein was a violent father. He frequently abused his two sons Henry and Edward and was constantly drunk and often unemployed. George’s wife and Henry and Ed’s mother, Augusta, was a strong Christian. The only reason their marriage survived as long as it did was because they didn’t believe in divorce.

Augusta supported her family through the grocery store that she ran. Before long, the family decided to move from LaCrosse County to Waushara County in Wisconsin and a small village called…Plainfield.

In Plainfield, the Gein family lived in a primative farmhouse where Augusta sought to control her two sons’ every movement. Apart from school, the Gein brothers were not allowed to leave the farm. They spent their time doing chores and working the land. Augusta kept her boys in line by reading them passages from the Old Testament of the Bible, usually passages dealing with murder, immorality, forgiveness, retribution and the fact that all women (sweet, loving Mother Gein, of course, tactfully excluded from this mire of immorality and filth) were sluts, prostitutes and whores.


The Gein family farmhouse, on the outskirts of Plainfield, Wisconsin

Augusta’s domination over her sons had highly damaging affects. Constantly abused by their parents, the two Gein brothers became silent, introverted and mentally unbalanced. Edward was often picked on in school because of his strange behaviour which included bouts of random and totally unexplained laughter.

In 1940, George Gein died from a heart-attack. Because of the necessity for money, Augusta gave her sons a limited degree of extra freedom, which they used to become handymen, helping out around the village. Ed occasionally did some babysitting for the local villagers while Henry helped in various labourer-type jobs around Plainfield. Edward, probably due to the constant abuse he received at home, wasn’t able to relate to adults and appeared to bond better with children. It was at this time that Henry started getting detatched from his mother, wanting to leave the farm and make his own way in life. He feared the connection that Edward and mother had with each other and considered it unnatural. He began to speak out about this relationship to Edward, who refused to hear a single bad word against their mother, despite the fact that she once poured boiling water over Edward’s genitalia after she caught him masturbating…

In mid-1944, Henry and Edward were busy putting out a grass-fire near their farm. The story goes that Edward and Henry got separated as night fell. Apparently worried for his brother’s safety, Edward contacted the police who sent out a search-party. Edward led the police-officers through the shrubs and trees right to Henry’s body, despite claiming not knowing where he was. Although it was strongly suspected that Edward had murdered his brother, due to the head-injuries found on Henry’s skull, probably inflicted by Edward after another argument about their mother, the police wrote the death off as an accident. Cause of decease: Asphyxiation.

By now, alone and fully under the influence of his dominating mother, Ed’s mind began to become increasingly warped. As the months passed, he became more and more unstable until on the 29th of December, 1945, Ed’s mother Augusta finally died from a stroke.

Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield

The death of his beloved, abusive and highly-controlling mother was the last straw for Ed. Traumatised, brainwashed and abused since birth, isolated from people his own age and living on a mental diet of lies and deciet, Ed Gein’s mind finally snapped. Once Augusta had died, Gein lost the last tiny and weak grip that he had on any sense of the term ‘normality’ and he descended into a twisted and obsessive world of his own making and entrapment.

Such was Gein’s attachment to his mother, as well as the state of his incredibly warped, damaged and degenerated mind, that shortly after 1945, Gein, by now 39 years old began to unravel, taking on the persona which we would now readily identify with Norman Bates.

Augusta’s death shattered Gein in ways that many people can only imagine. The perverted relationship that they shared together meant that, despite everything she had done, Gein missed his mother. He started expressing a desire for a sex-change operation…which never happened…and he also tried to remember his mother in other, more macabre ways. Still living in the house which he had barely left since he was a boy, Gein closed off the upstairs living quarters as well as the downstairs parlour…rooms which his mother frequently used…and retreated into the kitchen and a small room adjacent to it. The Gein farmhouse was so primative that even by now in the late 1940s, it was probably one of the very few dwellings in or near Plainview that did not have electricity in it. The only lighting was provided by candles, oil lamps or sunlight in the daytime.

As the years progressed, Gein developed an interest in darker subjects such as taxidermy and death-cults. He shot and killed two Plainfield women, Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan, because they resembled and reminded him of his mother, whom he missed so dearly, and whom he wanted back with him again. Wanting to make himself a “woman suit”, Gein went on nightly graverobbing excursions, exhuming the corpses of recently-dead women who resembled his mother’s physical appearance. These bodies were variously butchered, skinned and dismembered for various purposes over the next few years.

Arrest and Trial

In a small town like Plainfield Wisconsin, news spreads fast. The deaths of Mary Hogan, a local tavern-owner, and Bernice Worden, owner of the Plainfield hardware store prompted swift police-action. Investigators questioned, requestioned, examined and cross-examined every single person in town. They even questioned Gein himself, but they deemed Gein…who was seen by the villagers as being something of a weirdo and oddball…to be too mentally deranged and timid to actually do anything as horrible as kill two big, strapping women such as Hogan and Worden. If they’d known the kinds of things that a mentally dranged oddball like Gein could do, they probably would have arrested him on sight.

As it turned out, policemen raided the Gein farm in 1957, searching for clues. In a shed near the house, officers discovered the body of Mrs. Worden, tied by her ankles to the ceiling and gutted and dressed out like a butchered game-animal.

Forcing entry into the Gein house and using flashlights to light the way, police officers were in for the shock of their lives.


A photograph of the kitchen in the Gein house, showing the squalor and disarray in which Ed Gein lived his life

Apart from the upper floor and a couple of rooms downstairs which Ed had sealed off as a memorial to his mother, the rest of the house was filthy. Body-parts, bits of body-parts and bits of bits of body-parts lay all over the house. The fridge was full of human organs, skulls were cut open and used as bowls, Gein’s bed had a bedframe with skulls on it for decoration. Furniture was upholstered with human skin, face-masks were made from actual faces, the skins of which had been tanned to prevent rotting.

The police were appalled by what they saw, and arrested Gein soon after. Gein confessed that he had killed Worden and Hogan and that he regularly went to cemetaries nearby to exhume recently-deceased women so as to skin their bodies and live out his transvestite dreams.

Gein was tried and found guilty of First Degree Murder. He entered a plea of Insanity and was thereafter and for all the days of his life, until he died in 1984, confined to a series of mental hospitals. In 1958, the Gein farmhouse “mysteriously” burnt to the ground. Police were pretty sure it was arson and that furious Plainfield townsfolk had torched the Gein house out of disgust and anger at what Ed had done, not only to their residents, but also to their deceased…but they conveniently turned a blind eye and pretended that they didn’t know who had started the fire.

Edward Theodore Gein died on the 26th of July, 1984, from respiratory and heart-failure due to complications from cancer. He was 77 years old. He was buried in Plainfield Cemetary.

Impact on Popular Culture and Society

Gein’s impact on popular culture is undeniable. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the various ‘Pyscho’ books and films and movies of perverted killers who skin their victims and wear their flesh all have their roots in the demented mind of Ed Gein.

Unlike Albert Fish or Jack the Ripper, Ed Gein did not kill a vast number of people. He murdered a grand total of two women. What makes him so infamous is what he did with human bodies, how he butchered them, how he used their body-parts and skins to craft all kinds of gruesome objects and decorations and how he tried constantly to find things or do things or wear things or create things…that would remind him of his mother, the one woman he ever knew and ever loved and who had so traumatised his life ever since he was a boy.

After all, as Norman Bates famously says…

“A boy’s best friend is his mother”.

B

 

Albert Fish: The Original Bogeyman

Albert Fish,
Albert Fish,
Children were,
His favourite dish!

Not many people would remember that rhyme today. And probably even fewer people would remember the fellow named Albert Fish…which is probably just as well, considering who he was.

Growing up, all children are invariably taught never to talk to strangers, never to wander off, never to take candy from people they don’t know and never to follow someone they don’t know to somewhere they don’t know, or to get into a car with a driver they’ve never met.

Well. Albert Fish was living proof (if ever any was needed), that such rules aren’t just around to scare kids out of their wits at night, and if you’ve any naughty kids who aren’t listening to their parents about keeping away from strangers…the story of Mr. Fish might bear repeating.

The Man Behind the Monster

Hamilton Howard Fish was born in 1870, the son of Randall Fish, who was old enough to be his grandfather (at age 75!). Considering that Hamilton Howard Fish’s first and second names were the same as a pair of famous watch-companies (The Hamilton Watch. Co. and the Howard Watch. Co), it’s probably not surprising that soon after his birth, he changed his name to Albert. Okay seriously, he wasn’t named after a pair of watch-manufacturies (The Hamilton Watch. Co. didn’t exist when Fish was born). He was actually named after Hamilton Fish, a distant relation who was the 16th governor of the State of New York.

Albert Fish’s life was miserable at the best of times. His family had a history of mental illness; a branch of medical science generally misunderstood in the 19th century. How severe was his family’s mental instability? Well…one of his uncles was a maniac, one of his brothers was locked in a lunatic asylum, another brother of his died from the condition commonly known as “Water on the Brain”, his mother was prone to hallucinations and a sister of his was also diagnosed with an undisclosed “mental affliction”.

All in all…not a happy family.

Young Albert was a homosexual masochist (a person who derives pleasure from pain); something that he discovered about himself from a very young age. When in school, he discovered that he enjoyed being caned. He had affairs with other boys and even got a job at a local bathhouse, just so that he could see other boys undress!…and he wasn’t even twenty yet!

Fish’s sexual experimentations grew more and more extreme as the years continued. By his early twenties, he became a prostitute, a homosexual rapist and had developed a highly disturbing fascination with castration. Amazingly, despite all this, he did actually get married and produced six children of his own!

Not surprisingly, Fish’s marriage did not last, and his wife soon left him. His mental state went spiralling out of control as he continued raping and molesting boys from as young as five years old and upwards. He developed a fascination with self-harm (the less said about that, the better) and began to suffer from hallucinations, claiming that God told him to do things to children. Doctors diagnosed Fish with religious mania.

The Attacks Begin

By the 1920s, by which time Fish had already served two jail-terms for molestation, he had well and truly started the actions for which he became infamous: Abucting, torturing and killing children. He often selected younger children, African-American children or those with mental retardation. His most famous kidnap-and-murder victim was Grace Budd.

Grace Budd lived with her parents, her sister and older brothers. She was just ten years old.

It all started one day in 1928. Edward Budd, one of Grace’s brothers, put an advertisement in the local newspaper (the now defunct ‘New York World’). He said that he was an 18-year-old lad looking for a job on a farm somewhere in the country. Interested employers should come to the Budd home to see if Edward was suitable for work on their properties.

If young Edward knew who was about to show up on his father’s front doorstep, he probably would’ve burnt down the building where the New York World was printed! On the 28th of May, 1928, Albert Fish came calling. Only, he wasn’t Albert Fish, the infamous rapist and sexual deviant…he was Frank Howard, a farmer living in New York state. Edward Budd wasn’t home, but Fish met young Grace and became very interested in her.

The next time Fish called, he met Edward and agreed to hire him. He also met Mr. Albert Budd I, Edward and Grace’s father. Fish asked if he could take Grace to his sister’s house. There was a birthday party there that the girl might like to attend. Once the party was over, Fish could return Grace back home. Mr. and Mrs. Budd thought this was a wonderful idea, and agreed to let Fish take their baby girl to his sister’s ‘birthday party’.

It was a trap, of course. There was no birthday party. And Mr. and Mrs. Budd would never see Grace again.

Once the Budds realised that Grace had been abducted, they contacted the police, but despite frantic efforts, the child was not found. Nothing more was heard until one day in 1934, a full six years later. On that day, Mrs. Budd received a letter which was unsigned. Not being able to read due to her illiteracy, she left the letter alone, until one of her sons returned home to read it for her. The text of the letter is written below (with original spelling retained). It is not for faint of heart…

    Dear Mrs. Budd.

    In 1894 a friend of mine shipped as a deck hand on the Steamer Tacoma, Capt. John Davis. They sailed from San Francisco for Hong Kong, China. On arriving there he and two others went ashore and got drunk. When they returned the boat was gone. At that time there was famine in China. Meat of any kind was from $1–3 per pound. So great was the suffering among the very poor that all children under 12 were sold for food in order to keep others from starving. A boy or girl under 14 was not safe in the street. You could go in any shop and ask for steak—chops—or stew meat. Part of the naked body of a boy or girl would be brought out and just what you wanted cut from it. A boy or girl’s behind which is the sweetest part of the body and sold as veal cutlet brought the highest price. John staid [sic] there so long he acquired a taste for human flesh. On his return to N.Y. he stole two boys, one 7 and one 11. Took them to his home stripped them naked tied them in a closet. Then burned everything they had on. Several times every day and night he spanked them – tortured them – to make their meat good and tender. First he killed the 11 year old boy, because he had the fattest ass and of course the most meat on it. Every part of his body was cooked and eaten except the head—bones and guts. He was roasted in the oven (all of his ass), boiled, broiled, fried and stewed. The little boy was next, went the same way. At that time, I was living at 409 E 100 St. near—right side. He told me so often how good human flesh was I made up my mind to taste it. On Sunday June the 3, 1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese—strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her. On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them. When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma. First I stripped her naked. How she did kick – bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not fuck her tho [sic] I could of had I wished. She died a virgin.

The Budd Family was horrified and disgusted at the letter and demanded police-action. By examining the envelope which carried the letter, and its postmarks, the police were eventually able to track down Albert Fish to an address at 200, East 52nd Street, Manhattan. Officers and detectives waited for Fish in his bedroom until he arrived home. William F. King, the arresting officer, confronted Fish with the evidence and the accusation of murder. Fish agreed to be taken in for questioning, however at the last minute, he tried to slash King with a straight-razor! King successfully disarmed Fish and arrested him, taking him off to be questioned.

Under questioning, the police soon discovered the true barbarity that bubbled away inside Fish’s head. He had not actually intended to kidnap Grace, but had actually wanted to kidnap Edward (and a friend of his), take them to the woods, strip them naked, tie them up, castrate them and leave them to bleed to death.


Albert Fish, shortly before his death

After the initial questioning was over, Edward Budd and his father Albert, were driven to the police-station by investigators, to positively identify Fish as the man who had kidnapped their sister and daughter. When Edward spotted Mr. Fish, he threw himself on the old man, screaming out: “You old bastard! Dirty son of a bitch!” and had to be physically restrained by police!

Trial and Execution

For the kidnapping, murder and cannibalisation of Grace Budd (amongst others), Albert Fish was sentenced to death. The court-case was one of the most amazing ever seen, and it took some pretty extraordinary pieces of evidence from the prosecution (such as an x-ray photograph of Fish’s pelvis, with nearly thirty nails permanently embedded in it!) to show the court that Fish really was the sick and twisted manical lunatic who would, and did, kidnap, rape, butcher and eat children and teenagers.

The trial of Albert Fish lasted all of ten days. On the last day, the jury, who had seen such morbid pieces of evidence such as x-rays, photographs and even Grace Budd’s skull and who had heard testimonies from both the Fish and Budd families took less than an hour to find Fish guilty of murder. The judge promptly sentenced Fish to death. Obviously, Fish was not pleased about this…but he livened up a bit when he discovered he was going to be electrocuted in the electric-chair, and thanked the judge for the sentence and opportunity.

In 1935, Fish was sent up the river to the state penitentiary, Sing Sing Prison, New York where, on the 16th of January, 1936, Albert Fish was executed by electric-chair. He was sixty-five years old.

 

“She Gave Her Mother Forty Whacks”: The Guilt or Innocence of Lizzie Borden

All countries have their famous criminals: Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, Joseph Fritzl, Ned Kelly and Dr. Joseph Mengele are just a few of these. But what about those people who might have committed a crime, but got off because of a lack of evidence and were declared innocent, and who were hounded by the judgemental public, who had already slapped down the sticker that said ‘Guilty’? These are people we don’t always hear about, or if we hear about them, we don’t always remember them.

Probably the most famous of these people, who got off scott-free in a famous crime where people thought she should have hung, was the chief suspect in one of the United States’ most famous murder-investigations of all time. The crime? Killing her father and stepmother. Her weapon? An axe. Her name? Elizabeth Borden.

One Big Happy Family


Lizzie Borden, 1889

Known to all as “Lizzie” Borden, Elizabeth Andrew Borden (no, that’s not a mistake, ANDREW is her middle name, presumably named for her father, also named Andrew) was born on the 19th of July, 1860. Her father was Andrew Jackson Borden and her mother was Sarah Anthony Borden (maiden name ‘Morse’). Lizzie had one older sister, Emma Lenora Borden, born 1851 and who died in 1927. Lizzie would’ve had two older sisters, but her mother’s second child, Alice, died in 1858, two years after her birth.

Apparently, the Borden family didn’t have much luck in keeping a family together. Mirs. Sarah Borden had three daughters but lost one. Three years after Lizzie was born, Mrs. Borden herself would also die. As a result of this, Lizzie, her sister Emma and her father, Andrew, grew up alone. Alone apart from a lady named Abby Gray, who was Andrew Borden’s second wife, and therefore Emma and Lizzie’s stepmother.

Andrew Jackson Borden was a wealthy man. One of the wealthiest in the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, where the Borden family lived on 92, 2nd Street. 70-year-old Andrew was a successful landlord and bank-director. He was able to buy a nice house for his two daughters, his wife, his second wife when the first one died, and his family’s maid. He might have been a bit tight-fisted, but he was fairly generous to his family, giving them enough money to lead comfortable lives with. To him, life was wonderful…but not to everyone else.


Andrew Jackson Borden, Lizzie’s father

The truth was that the Borden Family was probably the kind of family you’d find on Jerry Springer, Maury Povich or on Dr. Phil these days. It was about as harmonious as the Battle of the Somme. While Emma and Lizzie probably loved their father dearly, they were not pleased at all with several of their father’s decisions in life. Andrew’s new wife, Abby, caused all kinds of problems in the house and she and her new stepdaughters just never managed to get along with each other. The family argued frequently and the two Borden sisters often took long vacations to get away from their stress-inducing stepmother.


Abby Borden, Andrew’s second wife, and Lizzie and Emma’s stepmother

Apart from their stepmother, however, the two daughters were also not happy with other things that their father had done. In the years after their mother’s death, Mr. Borden had been dividing up the family fortune, giving away various properties under the Borden name to Abby and her family. This was something which the two Borden sisters did not agree on. They wanted the fortune kept together for them, not given out to strange women who had nosed their ways into their family’s private lives! In the weeks leading up to the murders, things finally exploded. Lizzie and her sister Emma had a terrific quarrel with their father, either about his new wife, or about his handling of the family’s funds and properties. Whatever it was, it caused both sisters to pack their bags and leave home for another one of their ‘holidays’ to get away from their stressful home-lives.

Lizzie Returns Home

The year was 1892, it was July when Lizzie and her sister Emma packed up their bags and left home to get away from their infuriating father in the latest of their escapades. While both sisters had decided to stay away for several weeks, Lizzie decided to cut her trip short. She returned home at the end of the month, returning to the family’s home at #92, 2nd Street, Fall River, Mass, to this house, which still stands today, as the Lizzie Borden House, a bed-and-breakfast which occasionally gives tours:


The Lizzie Borden House, Fall River, Massachusetts

The house was just as it was when she had left it, except there was an addition to the family, John Morse, or “Uncle John” to Lizzie and Emma, their dead mother’s brother, had come to visit his brother-in-law, nieces, and relatives from his side of the family, who also resided in Fall River.

The Murders

August 4th, 1892. Lizzie has been home a few days now. Her sister Emma is still in a neighbouring town, visiting friends. Her Uncle John, though staying at the Borden house at the time, was not actually at home. The Borden family’s maid, Bridget Sullivan, a young Irish immigrant, was upstairs in the attic when she heard Lizzie scream and call out her name. Bridget (called “Maggie” by the family), ran downstairs to find Lizzie standing in the doorway to the living room, staring at the dead body of her father, lying on the couch.

On the 4th of August, Andrew Borden had gone to work as usual. He had returned home at about 10:45 and had been lying on the couch, presumably having a nap. Shortly after, Lizzie found her father’s dead and mutilated body in the living-room.


Andrew Borden, photographed as he was found, lying dead on the couch in his living-room

Lizzie would not allow Bridget to enter the living-room, presumably because she thought the maid would not be able to take the shock of the sight of her dead employer. Lizzie ordered Bridget to run for the family physician, Dr. Bowen. Dr. Bowen lived across the street from the Borden family, but was not at home at the time. Mrs. Bowen agreed to notify her husband at once, when he got home, to visit the Borden house.

By now, word of the murder of Mr. Borden began to spread. Another neighbour, Mrs. Adelaide Churchill heard about the news. She called from her house to Lizzie’s to ask what was wrong. Lizzie responded by saying: “Oh, Mrs. Churchill, please come over! Someone has killed Father!”

Mrs. Churchill hurried over and asked Lizzie where her stepmother, Abby Borden was. Lizzie replied that she did not know. She also told Mrs. Churchill of Bridget’s inability to find a doctor. Mrs. Churchill suggested sending her handyman to try and find a physician and to call for help. At 11:15am, the police-station about 400 meters from the Borden House, recieved a telephone-call to the effect that officers were dispatched to respond to the murder of Mr. Borden.

While the police were on their way, Dr. Bowen had returned home. He went straight to the Borden household to examine the body of the dead Mr. Borden whereafter Lizzie asked Bridget to find a white sheet to cover the corpse. The whereabouts of Mrs. Abby Borden were still a mystery. Bridget the maid suggested that Abby had gone to visit her sister, but Lizzie was sure that her stepmother was home, and asked Bridget to search the house. Nervous to go upstairs by herself, Bridget enlisted the help of Mrs. Churchill and together, they headed upwards.

To understand what happened next, you need to understand how the Borden house was constructed. Upon entering the front door of the house, you are confronted by the front staircase. Beyond the staircase was the living-room where Mr. Borden’s body was discovered, lying on the couch. On the second storey, the bedrooms are situated on the left side of the house, opening onto a central landing, with the staircase, leading down to the entrance-hall, on the right. After heading up the stairs only halfway, Mrs. Churchill and Bridget were able to look through the ballustrades around the stairs and through the open door of the guest bedroom, the door of which opened so that the two women could see directly into the room beyond, without even reaching the landing.

From their position on the stairs, both women were able to see the bedroom with the bed in it, but more importantly, they were able to see under the bed and beyond, to the far wall of the guestroom. Between the far wall and the bed, lay the dead body of Mrs. Abby Borden.


The photograph of Mrs. Borden as she was found in the guestroom. To the right, you can see the bed. Beyond the bed was the door, which opened onto the landing. From the bed, you would have a direct view of the head of the staircase


Another photograph of Abby’s body. You can see the tripod and camera reflected in the mirror of the dressing-table. Between the camera and the table is the bed and behind the camera is the door leading into the landing and the head of the staircase, beyond

Mrs. Churchill ran back downstairs, crying out “There’s another one!”

A few minutes later, Dr. Bowen, who had left the house momentarily to send a telegram to Lizzie’s sister, Emma, returned to the Borden house to resume his examination of the dead Mr. Andrew Borden. His initial examination led him to conclude that Mr. Borden had been struck in the head and face at least a dozen times by a heavy weapon, possibly an axe. Mr. Borden’s wounds were horrific: His nose had been hacked off in the attack, his left eyeball had been cut in half and stuck out a bit from the rest of his body. The corpse was still bleeding slightly when Dr. Bowen examined it. Blood-spatter was everywhere; on the floor, the couch, the walls and the painting that hung above the couch. Dr. Bowen believed that if Mr. Borden had been napping, his attacker had snuck into the room and had attacked Mr. Borden from behind, swinging the weapon downwards onto his face, in order to kill him and inflict the injuries that were present.

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Bowen headed upstairs to examine the corpse of Mrs. Borden. He concluded that she too, had been struck by a weapon similar to an axe or a hatchet and was attacked from behind, with at least a dozen blows to the back of the head.

By this time, policeman George W. Allen of the Fall River Police Department had arrived at the house, it was now approaching 11:30am. After ordering a passer-by, Charles Sawyer, to stand guard over the crime-scene, Allen ran back to the police-station and resturned to the house shortly after 11:35, with seven more police-officers. At 11:45, medical examiner Dr. William Dolan, passing by the house, had his curiosity aroused by the number of policemen milling around, and entered the crime-scene to assist Dr. Bowen in his examinations.

The Investigation

After the flurry of excitement regarding the murders had settled down, police and detectives started their official murder-investigation. They interviewed townsfolk, members of the Borden family, shopkeepers who had interacted with the Borden family and Dr. Bowen, the Borden family’s neighbour and family physician. The following facts were established:

August 3rd

1. Abby Borden had gone to visit Dr. Bowen on the 3rd of August, one day before the murder. She alleged that she and her husband, who was not a particularly popular man in town, were being poisoned. They had both been violently sick during the night. Dr. Bowen listed her symptoms and examined them, but did not believe that it was a murder-attempt. Bowen attempted to speak to Mr. Borden, who sent him away, insisting that he was perfectly fine. It’s surmised that the Bordren’s illnesses were not due to poisoning, but rather to bad or poorly-prepared food.

2. Lizzie had visited Smith’s Drugstore, a druggist’s shop in Fall River, and had spoken to Eli Bence, a clerk there, asking to buy 10c worth of prussic acid, which she claimed was for killing insects. Mr. Bence refused to sell the acid without a prior prescription. Witnesses at the store identified Lizzie as the woman who tried to buy the acid.

3. Uncle John Morse had come to visit the Borden family. John Morse was the brother of Sarah Morse Borden, Andrew’s first wife and Lizzie and Emma’s deceased mother. Both John and Lizzie testified that neither had seen each other until the afternoon of the murders, but Lizzie said she was aware that her uncle had intended to pay the family a visit that day.

4. Miss Alice Russell was a friend of the Borden family. According to Russell, Lizzie had come to visit her on the 3rd. She seemed agitated and worried about something. When Miss Russell pressed the point, Lizzie confessed that she was worried for her father’s safety and feared that someone had really tried to poison him.

August 4th

6:15am. Bridget Sullivan, the Borden maid, wakes up. Uncle John Morse also wakes up for the day.
7:05am. Abby and Andrew come downstairs for breakfast.
8:45am. John leaves the house for the day. Shortly after his departure, Lizzie comes downstairs.
8:55am (approx). Abby asks Bridget to wash the downstairs windows. Abby goes upstairs to straighten out the bed in the guestroom, which John occupied.
9:00am. Andrew leaves the house for work. Mrs. Adelaide Churchill, the Borden family’s neighbour, observes Mr. Borden leaving the house at this time.

Sometime after 9:00am. Abby is killed, struck on the head repeatedly from behind.

10:40am. Andrew Borden leaves a shop which he owns, and heads home. Carpenters working at the shop see him leave. He arrives home a few minutes later. The front door is locked and Bridget unlocks it to let him in. Lizzie says that she was in the kitchen at the back of the house, at this time. Mr. Borden goes through the house, passes his daughter Lizzie in the kitchen, who is ironing handkerchieves. He heads upstairs via the back staircase and heads into his bedroom. He returns a few minutes later by the same way and heads into the living-room.
10:55am. Mr. Borden lies down for a nap. It is shortly after this time that he too, is struck repeatedly on the head from behind, killing him and mutilating his face. Bridget is upstairs in her room at this time. Lizzie goes to the barn (more of a shed in the back yard) to search for fishing equipment. She had intended to visit her sister and go fishing with her.
11:10am. Lizzie returns to the house and finds her father beaten to death on the couch. She calls for Bridget, still upstairs in her room, to come down and to go for Dr. Bowen across the street.
11:15am. The local police-station recieves a telephone-call asking officers to respond to an incident at 92, 2nd Street. Within minutes, eight policemen, a passer-by, Dr. Bowen and medical examiner, Dr. William Dolan, are at the crime-scene, taking down witness-statements and examining the bodies.

Over the next few hours, all persons in the house are questioned. Lizzie is asked if there are any tools such as axes or hatchets in the house. Lizzie tells the officer that there are plenty and instructs Bridget to show the officer. A total of four hatchets are found. One had blood and hair on it, which was later determined to be animal blood and hair, and therefore not the murder-weapon. One hatchet had a blade which didn’t look like it could have inflicted the injuries seen. Two other hatchets were covered in dust and probably hadn’t been touched for several months. One of these had its handle broken off at the end. The break looked recent and policemen surmised that this was the murder-weapon and that the handle had been broken during the murders. This hatchet was collected for evidence and was photographed.

Uncle John was accosted by police-officers after arriving home shortly after the discovery of the hatchets. He told policemen that he wasn’t sure if the doors to the cellar (where the hatchets were stored) was opened or closed when he left the house that morning.

Policeman Sergeant Harrington and another officer examined the barn where Lizzie claimed to have been, searching for fishing-sinkers. They saw no evidence (disturbed dust, for example) to suggest that someone had been in the barn recently.

3:00pm. The bodies of Abby and Andrew Borden were laid out on the table in the dining-room where Dr. Dolan carried out autopsies on the two corpses.

Upstairs, Deputy Marshal John Fleet interviews Lizzie about everyone’s actions and movements that day. Lizzie, like her sister, held little love for her stepmother, and she reminded Fleet throughout the interview that Abby Borden was no mother of hers.

Over the next few months, police and detectives continue chasing down leads. Eli Bence, the clerk at the drugstore, is interviewed by Sergeant Harrington regarding Lizzie’s attempted purchase of prussic acid.

On the 6th of August, the funerals of Abby and Andrew Borden were carried out. On the 7th of August, Lizzie’s friend, Alice Russell, noticed Lizzie burning a dress in the stove in the Borden house.

The next several months was filled in by the police investigation. Witnesses were interviewed, statements were taken, the bodies of Abby and Andrew Borden (which had not actually been buried on the 6th of August), were retained for further medical examinations. Preliminary hearings before the big trial resulted in Lizzie being arrested and charged with the murder of her father and stepmother.

The Big Trial

These days, big criminal trials have news-reporters out the front of the courthouse, there are journalists, cameramen, photographers, curious townsfolk and police-officials all over the place, either milling in the streets outside, or jammed into the courtroom to witness the “Crime of the Century”.

Remove the camera-men and the suited, microphone-wielding TV-reporters, and this was pretty-much the scene during the Borden trial. The trial was big news all throughout the town of Fall River, and people hurried to grab seats in the courthouse to witness this historic event. The Borden family was one of the wealthier families in town and therefore, one of the most well-known. The deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Borden, and the suspicion that fell on their daughter caused everyone to be hanging on tenterhooks to find out what a judge and jury would think.

Of course, the crime’s impact spread a lot further than just Fall River. The New York Times, in an issue dated August 7, 1892, stated on its front page:

    “The Fall River Mystery”.
    ——————–
    Looking for the assassin
    of Mr. & Mrs. Borden

    ——————–

In interior pages, the paper continued to report…

    “Lizzie Borden’s Triumphs”
    The Evidence Chiefly Relied on for Con-
    victing the Prisoner Ruled Out by the
    Court – The Case of the Commonwealth
    Weakened by Blow after Blow – Lizzie’s
    Friends Very Hopeful of an Acquittal
    And sure that the Jury will
    Not Convict Her.

    The New York Times, August 7th, 1892; original spelling, typesetting & grammar retained

The Borden trial was phenomenal. It went on for fourteen days, and over those fourteen days, the case put forward by the prosecution was hacked to pieces by the defence. The prosecution put it to the jury (made up of farmers and tradesmen) that Lizzie had killed her father and stepmother because Andrew Borden had thought of, or had written up a new will. No such recent document was found, the defence said. The hatchet found by police could not be proven definitively by the prosecution, that it was indeed the murder-weapon. Furthermore, the defence alleged, the prosecution could not definitively say that Lizzie had used the hatchet to bludgeon her parents to death, even if it was the murder-weapon. The Fall River Police Department was skeptical of the then, brand-new forensic technology of taking fingerprints, and thus had no definitive proof that Lizzie had even touched a hatchet.

Another pillar of the prosecution’s case against Lizzie Borden was her attempt at purchasing prussic acid from Smith’s Drugstore. Clerk Mr. Eli Bence was called forward to give evidence to the effect that Lizzie had tried to buy the acid without a prescription, but the defence objected on this point, and the judge ruled Mr. Bence’s testimony as inadmissable evidence.

The trial ended on Monday, the 19th of June, 1893. The jury took just an hour and a half to find Lizzie Borden Not Guilty of the crime of Murder. The New York Times reports it thus:

    Lizzie Borden Acquitted
    ——————–
    Jury declares her guiltless
    of the crime of murder

    ——————–
    The New York Times, Wednesday, June 21, 1893; original spelling, typesetting and grammar retained

The Aftermath

With the trial over, Lizzie and her sister Emma moved out of their house on 2nd Street and moved into 306 French Street, a large, Victorian house which Lizzie named “Maplecroft”. While the two sisters were close before the trial, their relationship gradually broke down over the next few years. In 1897, Lizzie was charged with the theft of two paintings, in an incident that was settled without scandal. Lizzie became friends with an actress, Nance O’Neil, in 1904. This, it seemed, broke the Borden sisters’ relationship forever. They separated and didn’t see each other again. Elizabeth Andrew Borden died on the 1st of June, 1927, age the age of 67…her sister Emma did not attend her funeral. Emma herself died on the 10th of June, that same year. Their former maid, Bridget Sullivan died in Montana in 1948.

The Borden Legend

Your mother or your grandmother or your GREAT-grandmother might know this old-time jump-rope rhyme. It goes like this:

    Lizzie Borden took an axe,
    She gave her mother forty whacks,
    When she saw what she had done,
    She gave her father forty-one!

While certainly not the kind of thing you wanna hear your daughters jumping-rope to, this little rhyme is proof of the “legend of Lizzie Borden”. The Lizzie Borden murder-trials was one of the biggest trials and crimes in the USA, indeed, in the world. It ranks up there, in the annals of great crimes, along with the Lindburgh Baby Kidnapping, Jack the Ripper and Madame Daphne LaLaurie. The Borden killings happened at a time of change, when newspapers were beginning to spread the news and when investigative techniques were beginning to fit into the mould we recognise today. A stereotype of criminal history is the judge or jury convicting an innocent person of a crime that he or she didn’t commit, based on mostly circumstantial evidence. The Borden trial was a complete reversal of this, of a person being acquitted based on the evidence gathered by several months’ investigating by Fall River law-enforcement authorities. Did Lizzie Borden really take an axe to her father and stepmother? Some people believe the answer is ‘Yes’ and that she really did murder her parents by bashing their heads in, while others say ‘no’, and that she was innocent all along. I would like to think that she was genuinely innocent, but that’s not the point of this article, which is in fact, merely to bring to light, one of the most famous crimes in American history.

 

“We Will Never Forget September 16th…”…or Will We? The 1920 Wall Street Bombing

Those of us who remember the 2001 September 11 terrorist attacks, when two planes crashed into the Twin Towers in Manhattan and into the Pentagon, in the USA, will all remember where we were on that day. I was a young, 14-year-old schoolboy at the time, and I remember watching it on television.

But how many of us have heard of what happened on September 16th? Not September 16th 2001…no, this happened a long time ago.

In fact, it happened in 1920. The 16th of September, 1920. But what happened on that day? The Wall Street Bombing, of course. One of those famous criminal acts which has since drifted off into the fog of history.

What Was the Wall Street Bombing?

The Wall Street Bombing was just one of several terrorist attacks which took place in the USA in the early 20th century. This particular attack was the most devastating event until the Bath School disaster (where a school was blown up with explosives). The Wall Street Bombing took place at noon, on the 16th of September, 1920.

In the early 1920s, the United States was enjoying the coming boom years of the Roaring Twenties, brought on by post-WWI prosperity. Nowhere was this prosperity more evident than on Wall Street, in Lower Manhattan, the center of the financial world. It was in this bustling nook of trade and commerce, that the attack happened, killing and injuring dozens of people during the midday rush, all in a matter of seconds.

What Happened during the Bombing?

These days, we’d probably call it an “IED”, an “improvised explosive device”, or to use the common parlance, a ‘car-bomb’. Or more specifically, a ‘cart’ bomb. Just before noon on the morning of the 16th of September, 1920, a horse and cart, loaded with dynamite and sash-weights (small, metal weights used in the construction of double-hung windows), pulled up outside 23 Wall Street, the J.P. Morgan Bank. It’s estimated the cart contained 100lbs of dynamite and up to 500lbs of metal shrapnel. Shortly after noon, the dynamite was detonated, destroying the cart, killing the horse, and sending hundreds of pounds of metal shrapnel flying through the crowded, luncthime rush on Wall Street!


The J.P Morgan building (on the left) directly after the explosion


The J.P. Morgan Bank building, at 23 Wall Street, as it appears today

The bomb-blast could be felt right across the narrow thoroughfare. Its victims were mostly messengers, couriers, stenographers and stockbrokers, moving between their various places of work. The blast killed thirty-eight people and wounded four hundred bystanders! The interior of the J.P. Morgan bank, which the cart was parked outside, was severely damaged by broken glass, masonary and flying shrapnel.


This car was destroyed in the Wall Street blast

Several other buildings on Wall Street were significantly damaged. Cars, trucks and other vehicles nearby were flipped over and smashed from the force of the exploding dynamite, as you can see in the photograph above. Within minutes, emergency services were on the scene to clear up the wreckage and treat the injured. Here, New York City policemen can be seen assisting the wounded:

The injuries sustained in the blast were horrific. A stockbroker was decapitated by the flying debris, his headless body found in the street, a packet of work-papers and stocks still clutched in his hands. One man was blinded in the explosion and lost the use of his eyes. Dead bodies lay everywhere. Initially, the death-count was low, but the appalling injuries soon caused it to rise to the number of 38, which was the official number of deaths caused by the blast.


This photograph, taken directly after the explosion, shows the sheer destruction it caused. Note the blown out automobiles and the rubble in the street

The aftermath of the Explosion

Terrified and furious New Yorkers were quick to condemn after the blast that killed over three dozen people and horribly maimed and injured up to four hundred more of their fellow friends, colleagues, family-members and just plain fellow New York citizens. The BOI (that’s the Bureau of Investigation, the forerunner to the current FBI) immediately launched an investigation into the attack. Business-owners and the Board of Governors for the New York Stock Exchange were anxious to start trading and business as soon as possible. The street was cleaned up overnight (literally) and trading resumed the next morning.

Investigators theorised that the bombers might have been communists or anarchists. Why else would they wish to attack America’s centre of wealth, business and finance? The noted newspaper, the Washington Post, declared the bombing an “act of war”. While the BOI theorised about possible foreign terrorist groups, the police started investigating the source of the horse and cart. Despite checking dozens of stables and mewses (a ‘mews’ is similar to a garage, where horses and carriages were kept in cities and towns), they were unable to find out who had purchased, or perhaps stolen, the horse and cart which was used to transport the dynamite to Wall Street.

Eventually, a note was found inside a mailbox, a block from 23 Wall Street. It read:

    “Remember. We will not tolerate any longer. Free the political prisoners or it will be death for all of you.
    American Anarchist Fighters!”

Why the note was not discovered sooner, is uncertain. It read more like a warning rather than a threat of action, since no time was given to act on it. In the end, despite assurances to the public that they were doing their best, both the NYPD and the BOI were unable to arrest anyone in relation to the bombing and nobody was ever charged. Popular investigative and public theories suggested that communist groups or anarchist forces were to blame for the terrorist attacks, although this was never firmly proven.


Have you ever been to Manhattan? Have you ever gone down Wall St. and seen these chips in the outer wall of the J.P. Morgan building, and wondered what they were? These pock-marks were smashed and chipped into the structure by the flying shrapnel from the 1920 bomb-blast

 

Welcome to Starvation Heights: The Home of Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard

At the dawn of the 21st century, there’s all kinds of medical mumbo jumbo floating around. ‘Radical’, ‘revolutionary’, ‘amazing’ and ‘miracle’ cures and treatments, which claim to do everything from help you to lose weight, grow hair, tone the skin, increase the size of your…mental storage-capacity…among other things! But radical, ‘cure-all’ medical claims date back a lot further than the year 2000, with fitness fads and diet-pills and stuff like Tae Bo and Slimfast and free, 12-month membership to your nearest Jenny Craig or Lite’n’Easy diet-center.

Indeed, at the turn of the last century, a new kind of medical treatment was emerging; a controversial and dangerous treatment which many people in the medical profession at the time, saw as complete quackery, but which some people were willing to give the benefit of the doubt, anyway. It was called ‘fasting’, and Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard became the world’s first ‘fasting specialist’…in fact she had a medical degree in it, when she graduated from university and started active medical practice back in the early 1900s.

‘Fasting’ is the systematic and deliberate starvation of oneself for supposed ‘medical benefit’. By limiting food and drink to insanely small portions, the body was supposed to purge itself of all its ‘evils’ and ‘toxins’ and the patient would soon feel full of life and vitality again. That was the theory behind it, anyway. Unfortunately, there is next-to-no practical proof to back up this claim…something that people obviously forgot to tell Dr. Hazzard. In fact, by the turn of the last century, fasting had already been debunked as medical flipflop and not worth serious scientific study, but some people persisted, regardless. Dr. Linda Hazzard was amongst them.

The Hazzardous Doctor

Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard was a special woman. And she saw herself as a special woman. She saw herself as a pioneer in the area of medicine which she saw as her speciality: ‘fasting’. She was special because, in an era when most women entered the medical profession as nurses, she was a qualified physician who was doing groundbreaking research! She even wrote a book on the subject, it’s called Fasting For The Cure Of Disease, and it was published over 100 years ago, in 1908. In it, she claimed that fasting could cure everything from common aches and pains to something as serious as cancer. Did it? No.


“Fasting for the Cure of Disease” by Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard

Dr. Hazzard believed so strongly in the supposed virtues of fasting as a restorative or cure, that she even created her own sanitarium for her to carry out her treatments in. It was called ‘Wilderness Heights’ and it was located in the small, Washington town of Olalla. It was a place where her patients could come to, to be treated and cured, amongst the birds and bees, breezes and trees. In the countryside. Relaxing, huh? Or it might have been…for a while.

Starvation Heights

Dr. Hazzard’s HQ was her sanitarium called ‘Wilderness Heights’. It was advertised as a place for patients who were seeking natural therapies to cure their ills, to go to, to place themselves under the doctor’s care. Here, they would fast for a period of time, after which, according to Hazzard, their bodies would experience bursts of energy which would leave them feeling energised and full of life, ready to combat everything, with all her patients making claims like they do on TV these days, that this new treatment had left them ‘with more energy than I had ever imagined! I’m not drowsy or sleepy anymore, I don’t have cramps! Dr. Hazzard…wow! She’s a miracle worker!’.

Or at least, that was the theory and fancy. The reality of it was very different.

A common horror-movie or horror-story plot is the mad doctor who lives in a secluded spot in the woods, carrying out all kinds of weird experients and killing patients. If you thought this was all Hollywood mumbo-jumbo or the makings of a pen-pushing, doped up writer hunched over his desk…think again.


One of the few photographs of Wilderness Heights Sanitarium

Wilderness Heights was the archtypal ‘spooky hideout of a mad doctor’. It’s as if Hazzard went through a checklist of spookjoint prerequisites for her sanitarium. Let’s go through them together, shall we?

No telephones to call for help? Check.
No Way to contact the Outside World? Check.
Isolated and lonely and quiet? Check.
Near the forest, convenient for burying dead bodies? Check.
In the countryside where nobody can hear your screams? Check.
Near a quiet, sleepy, country town where everyone keeps to themselves? Check.

Everything was there, including the mad doctor herself!


Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard

The locals in the nearby town of Olalla called Hazzard’s home ‘Starvation Heights’, because of all the patients who starved to death there. All kinds of stories emenated from the house, including the one that Dr. Hazzard performed autopsies in her bathtub! (Which she did). But what was it like in Starvat…ahem…in Wilderness Heights?

Once a patient arrived in Wilderness Heights, they would be housed on Hazzard’s estate. They would then live there for anywhere from a few days to a few months, living entirely on vegetable broth, made of tomatoes and asparagus, occasionally supplemented by orange juice. And the patients didn’t get the broth whenever they wanted it, either. It was served in strict portions, only once or twice a day, and this was ALL that they ate, for up to a month.

it’s probably not surprising to hear that Hazzard’s patients didn’t last very long. Many starved to death. Hazzard was prosecuted a few times, but the charges were always dropped for various reaons, ranging from her not yet being a licensed doctor, to patients going to her of her own free will, and that she wasn’t held accountable if her treatments didn’t work. Almost invariably, death certificates listed the cause of death of Hazzard’s patients as ‘starvation’, unless Hazzard herself carried out the autopsies in her bathtub, whereafter, the cause of death was almost always written down as ‘cirrhosis of the liver’ or ‘cirrhosis of the kidneys’.

One exception to this was when police, while searching Hazzard’s Wilderness Heights estate, found the body of Eugene Stanley Wakelin. Wakelin’s body was found, badly decomposed and with a gunshot wound to the head. Originally, the police suspected suicide, but others believed that the Hazzards, both Linda and her scheming, no-good, bigamous husband, Samuel, had actually killed Wakelin after Linda somehow managed to get Power-of-Atttorney over him and his money. Despite that several people think, even though Wakelin was of artistocratic and noble birth (his father was a British lord), Eugene himself actually had very little money…so the Hazzards’ murderous actions against the young (26-years-old) Wakelin were for nothing.

As the years went by, more and more weird things started happening. People started going missing. If they were found, the police were unable to account for any valuables missing from the dead patients. Personal effects such as jewellery, pocket watches and chains, necklaces, money and other personal items were found either missing, or having been signed over to Dr. Hazzard. If Hazzard ever became really rich from her treatments, you can bet it wasn’t by her patients paying her their medical bills!

The Williamson Sisters

Dr. Hazzard’s shady doings of starving her patients, stealing their money, property and valuables and then saying that things went ‘horribly, horribly wrong’ during treatment, couldn’t last for much longer, though. People were getting suspicious and people were getting angry. The big problem was that the authorities couldn’t really do anything. As the people who died under Hazzard’s care had gone to see her of their own free will, the law was powerless to tell people that they COULDN’T go to see Dr. Hazzard, and the killings continued.

But it couldn’t last. And it didn’t, because in 1911, things came to a shuddering halt.

Two English sisters, Dorothea and Claire Williamson were in Canada on holiday from England. While in Canada, the two wealthy sisters who were diehards for all kinds of alternative medicines and treatments, heard about Dr. Hazzard and her amazing fasting cures. Without even telling their family where they were going (the Williamson family were already weary of their childrens’ constant seeking-out of weird and wonderful medical treatments), the two, thirty-something sisters headed off to Washington, USA, into the trusting and twisted arms of Dr. Linda Hazzard.

Only one of them would leave those arms alive.

Originally, the sisters stayed in one of the cabins away from the main estate, where they were placed under the care of a nurse, who fed them Dr. Hazzard’s prescription vegetable broth. Hazzard herself showed up regularly to give the girls massages and enemas and she made smalltalk with the Williamson sisters, digging into their financial backgrounds. Unlike the Wakelin boy, the Williamsons were rich, and this made Hazzard very happy. She probably told them a cock-and-bull story about how it might be dangerous when they moved to Wilderness Heights, with all the other patients around, and she got the Williamsons to entrust their jewellery (mostly their diamond rings) and their valuable paperwork, such as real-estate deeds and wills, to the doctor’s safekeeping, which she had locked up in her office safe.

On the way to the Wilderness Heights sanitarium, Hazzard further exploited the sisters gullible natures. By now, the sisters, weak and delirious from weeks of starvation, were convinced by Hazzard’s lawyer, to sign neat little pieces of paper. What did the pieces of paper say? Only that the sisters (or specifically, Claire), would leave Dr. Hazzard the sum of 25 pounds sterling, to be paid to Dr. Hazzard every year after her death, and that Claire’s body be cremated upon her death. This was supposedly Claire’s ‘dying wish’…in fact it was Hazzard’s. By having Claire sign the paper, she could burn Claire’s body to a crisp when she died, and therefore, hide all evidence of her crimes, saying that it was Claire’s wish to be cremated, and present the ‘proof’. In fact, when Claire signed the document, she was so weak, she could barely hold the pen, let alone write out a recognisable signature.

Help on the Way

So far, everything was going swell for Dr. Hazzard. She had two, rich, crazy ladies willing to give her all their money! But the big problem with rich people is that they’re invariably well-connected and tend to have even richer, and more powerful friends and relations, or even worse, for Dr. Hazzard, devoted and loving servants who have known their masters and mistresses since birth. It was this latter group of people who were to spell Hazzard’s doom.

The lady who came to the Williamson sisters’ rescue was a lady named Margaret Conway. Margie Conway was more than just the Williamson sisters’ friend, she had been their nanny since childhood! She had watched the sisters grow and develop from toddlers to teenagers, and she knew the girls like the backs of her own hands…which would probably come in useful in a few months’ time.

On the 30th of April, 1911, Conway, then living in Sydney, Australia, recieved a telegram from America, inviting her to come and see the sisters, saying that they were at the Wilderness Heights sanitarium. Today, this would be no problem for Conway. She could hop on a plane and be in Washington in a week. But this was 1911. It took Conway two months to reach Washington by ocean-liner and steam-train! By the time she got there on the 1st of June, it was almost too late.

By the time Margie Conway arrived at Wilderness Heights, Claire Williamson had already died from starvation. Dorothea Williamson was still alive, but just barely. Conway was shocked when she was asked to identify Claire’s body at the local mortuary, and she was even more horrified when she met her one-time ward, who was living in a ‘cabin’, a little more than a shack, on the Hazzard estate. Dorothea’s mental state had deteriorated rapidly and she wavered wildly between begging Conway to take her away, to telling Conway she wanted to stay.

Conway was shocked by everything that she saw. It soon became clear to the nanny that her darling Dorothea, along with other patients at Wilderness Heights, were bieng kept at the sanitarium against their will. She was furious! When she saw, to her horror, that Dr. Hazzard was even wearing some of Claire’s old dresses, the nanny became even more enraged. She threatened to take Dorothea away with her as soon as she could, whether or not Dr. Hazzard said that Dorothea was fit to leave!

Of course, the doctor said ‘no’, but Conway wasn’t about to go down without a fight. Even though she’d learned that Hazzard had attained legal guardianship of Dorothea and had stolen all her money, Conway still considered herself Dorothea’s nanny, and as such, she still had a responsibility to her charge, not to abandon her to a monster like Hazzard. Hazzard said that Dorothea had intended to live all the rest of her days at Wilderness Heights and that she wouldn’t leave without paying Hazzard at least $2,000, which was an astronomical sum of money in 1911!

Conway knew for a fact that she hadn’t the money. But she’d been working for the incredibly wealthy Williamson family for long enough to know who did. One evening, she snuck out of Wilderness Heights (which had no electricity, and thus, no telephone), and sent a telegram to Dorothea’s wealthy uncle. Appropriately so, Dorothea’s uncle wasn’t very happy about the news that his neice was being held to ransom! He bullied Hazzard into letting Dorothea go, which she finally did, for a substantially smaller price.

Free from the clutches of the evil Dr. Hazzard, Conway and the Williamsons started plotting the doctor’s downfall.


Dorothea Williamson, shortly after her departure from Wilderness Heights. Despite the poor quality of the photograph, the effects of Dr. Hazzard’s ‘fasting treatment’ are clearly evident

Arrest and Trial

Away from Dr. Hazzard and her starvation regime, Dorothea slowly began to heal and mend, under proper medical supervision and a proper diet. The Williamson family was enraged by what Dr. Hazzard had done, fasting specialist or not. The British Vice-Consul put pressure on the Washington state government to prosecute Hazzard for murder, but the government insisted that it didn’t have the money! Dorothea Williamson, now thoroughly recovered from her ordeal, said that she would gladly pay for the prosecution from her own funds, if the government would get off its backside and arrest Hazzard.

In August of 1911, Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard was arrested. Newspaper headlines screamed:

    ““Officials Expect to Expose Starvation Atrocities: Dr. Hazzard Depicted as Fiend.”
    – Tacoma Daily News, 1911

In court, Hazzard painted herself as a persecuted medical pioneer. People were attacking her because she was a *gasp*…WOMAN!! And nothing else! She claimed that she had perfectly sound reasons for everything she did. She even had her own defenders, ranging from former patients and even staff at her own sanitarium.

Despite everything, however, the prosecution won in the end. Or they sort of did. The jury returned with a verdict of ‘Manslaughter’. The newspaper media of the day widely theorised that Hazzard had escaped a verdict of ‘Murder’ purely because she was a woman and the jury refused to believe that a woman could do something like this.

The Aftermath

Despite the best efforts of Conway, The Williamson Family and the prosecution, Hazzard might as well never have gone to court at all, for all the good it did. Hazzard was sentenced to a mere two years in prison, after which she fled to New Zealand and started practicing again, killing even more patients. In 1920, she returned to Olalla. The Washington state government had pulled her medical license, so she couldn’t say she was a practicing doctor anymore, but that didn’t stop her from building another Wilderness Heights sanitarium where even more of her patients starved to death.

It all came crashing down in the end, though, in a way that almost nobody could imagine. In 1935, Wilderness Heights caught fire and burnt to the ground and Hazzard was forced to move out. Three years later in 1938, Hazzard was caught up in her own web of lies. She fell ill herself and attempted to use her own fasting-treatment to cure her illness, living mostly on her own prescription broth of tomatoes and asparagus. She died a few weeks later, presumably of starvation. In her roughly forty years of medical ‘care’, Hazzard is believed to have killed at least one dozen to as many as two dozen, or more, of her patients.

 

Elizabeth Bathory: The Blood Countess

Despite his small number of victims, Jack the Ripper is generally seen as the greatest killer in history, so great that other famous murderers pale in celebrity to this unknown, knife-wielding maniac. For example, have you ever heard of a lady called Elizabeth Bathory? Probably not. She was a noblewoman!…Still not doin’ anything for yah? Hmmm. Elizabeth Bathory is one of those obscure figures of history, you either know about her, or you don’t know about her. And if you know about her, you’d wish you didn’t.

The Blood Countess, as she was called, is proof that just killing bundles and bundles of people doesn’t get you on the ‘Top Ten’ list of famous killers. And believe me, she had a lot of fun doing what she did. And her score on the Super-Killers of History list would be right up there along with Mengele and Stalin and that kid who pours kerosene down anthills and lights them on fire. But enough about them, this article is about old Lizzie the Blood Countess…

Who was the Blood Countess?

In her native Hungarian, she was Báthory Erzsébet, or in English, “Elizabeth Bathory”. For the sake of convenience, I’ll use her English name in this article.

Elizabeth Bathory was born on the 7th of August, 1560, the daughter Gyorgy Bathory. In her childhood, she was taught German, Greek and Latin, and had an interest in science. The Bathory family was incredibly rich and very powerful. They had connections, through blood or marriage, to almost every other family worth knowing in 16th century eastern Europe. Her family had powerful and wealthy members who controlled entire countries, such as the lands controlled by Stephen Bathory. To Elizabeth, he was just ‘Uncle Stephen’. To everyone else, he was the King of Poland. Elizabeth’s own father, Gyorgy, was a prominent nobleman. Elizabeth’s husband, a warrior count, was a national hero in Hungary, after successfully fighting against the Turks. When they married, the count gave his wife a grand castle to call her home. And she did call it home. For her husband rarely did; he was often off on wars and battles, trying to stop the Turks from barging into Hungary again…and again…and again…

It got to the stage that Elizabeth got used to living without her husband. Incredibly rich and free to do as she wished as the wife of the local nobleman, she exerted her power and authority over the helpless peasants of her domain, who lived in the various villages around her husband’s several estates.

Elizabeth’s Victims

Women with husbands who do a lot of work and head out on business-trips all the time can sometimes find themselves lonely and doing weird things. Elizabeth was no exception. Only, her husband’s business-trips were liable to get him killed. With the absence of the local lord, the lady of the castle was able to do whatever she damn well pleased. And she did, too.

Starting in about 1590 at the age of 30, Elizabeth started capturing and arresting and imprisoning girls and young women. Teenagers and women in their twenties were swept off the streets of the villages around her castles and Elizabeth had them locked down in the dungeons. These girls became the countess’s servant-girls and slaves. But above all things, they became her beauty-lotion.

It is widely believed that Bathory killed hundreds of young, female virgins for their blood. Literally. She drained their bodies of their blood and bathed in it, believing that it would help her reclaim her youth. Some accounts say that she even drank blood. But Elizabeth didn’t get blood in any way that we would recognise today. She didn’t set up a neat little blood-bank and needles and hoses and syringes. No, she preferred to do it a bit more earthy-like. To get the blood that she wanted, she mercilessly tortured and killed hundreds of girls and young women, cutting them open, locking them in cages, flogging them to death or mutilating their bodies. There are stories of her forcing women to strip naked in the snow during the freezing Hungarian winters. Bathory would then have dozens of buckets of freezing water thrown over her kneeling victims until they quite literally froze to death.

Bathory got away with her crimes because of her position. When your uncle rules an entire country and your husband is a national hero, it’s unlikely that people are going to jump up making wild, murderous accusations about you, is it? Peasants were terrified of their demonic mistress and when another girl in the village went missing, people kept their mouths shut.


Elizabeth Bathory. The Blood Countess

Capture and Trial

Position or no position, however, social standards dictates that it’s bad manners to go around butchering your neighbours. Especially when your neighbours are sweet little girls. Word had travelled around Hungary that Elizabeth was doing all kinds of weird and questionable things. Some people suspected her of witchcraft, a crime which was punishable only by death in Medieval Europe.

Eventually, though, the other nobles decided that Elizabeth could not be tolerated. Her bloodlust was giving them all a bad name, and something had to be done. Oh, and think of those poor, poor peasant-girls…yeah…the girls. It could be said that Elizabeth was sought out by the nobles, not for justice and legal reasons, but more because she was blackening the Hungarian aristocracy. And the other nobles weren’t going to take it much longer.

Rumors had been spreading for a while, but one man, István Magyari (Stephen Magyari), was determined to make things known. Magyari was a Christian minister, and between 1602-1604, he complained to anyone and everyone who would listen, that something had to be done about Elizabeth’s butchery. By now, rumors had been spreading for at least the last decade, and Mr. Magyari was getting worried.

Eventually, his persistence paid off, and King Matthias of Hungary decided that enough was enough. Acting on Magyari’s information, the king appointed Juraj Thurzo to investigate these wild and ludicrous claims against the Blood Countess. Thurzo was the Palatine of Hungary, a position roughly akin to the Supreme Judge or the Prime Minister. Thurzo was effectively the second-in-command in Hungary, and his office was directly beneath the king’s.

Thurzo, in company with Magyari the priest and a bunch of soldiers, headed to Elizabeth’s castle. They had to tread very carefully here. Elizabeth might have been a monster, but she was a monster with very powerful connections. They couldn’t just barge in and arrest her…this had to be done carefully.

While Thurzo, Magyari and the soldiers were busy trying to figure out how to get at Elizabeth Bathory, King Matthias sent notaries to do some more investigating. The notaries’ reports were worrying…Elizabeth wasn’t just killing peasant women, she was also going after the young women and the daughters and young sisters and neices of people who were in fact…other noblemen! Attacking peasants was one thing, but butchering women of the noble classes was something that the king had not expected. A consultation was held with Elizabeth’s family, specifically her son Paul and her two sons-in-law. Execution of Elizabeth would cause a huge scandal. But she couldn’t go unpunished, either. Eventually, they reached a compromise, that Elizabeth would be placed under permanent house-arrest.

With these decisions made, Thurzo, Magyari and the soldiers moved in the for the kill. Or at least, the trap. This was a difficult thing to do. Castles, by their very nature and design, are hard to enter discreetly. Thurzo and his men didn’t want to raise any alarms and they wanted to capture Elizabeth alive and in the act. If Thurzo and his men were spotted, it could become awkward in a hurry. Not least because Thurzo, second-in-command to the King of Hungary, was Elizabeth’s…cousin! See? I told you she was well-connected!

Well you can bet that made things awkward. A family feud and a national crisis all rolled in one.

Eventually, Thurzo and the soldiers did get into the castle. Thurzo successfully trapped his bloodthirsty cousin in a room and locked the door on her, while the soldiers secured the castle. A message was sent to the king and King Matthias started organising a trial.

Of course, to have a trial, you need to have evidence. So King Matthias told his good man Thurzo, to start looking for some. Thurzo and his men didn’t have to look very far.

Buried all over the castle grounds, and even hidden inside the castle itself, were dozens, hundreds of corpses and skeletons, all bearing horrific injuries. Soldiers recalled corpses with no eyes, no arms or legs. Clothing and personal effects of the kidnapped girls were also found, and several graves were found, dug hastily around the castle grounds.

Even more damning evidence was given by the victims of Elizabeth who had survived, and who were found imprisoned in the castle. Elizabeth’s band of assistants: men and women who helped her in her grisly work, were all fighting with each other, all trying to be the first to spill the beans. Telling everything they knew was the only way to escape a sentence of death for being an accomplice to murder, or escaping painful interrogation under torture. By assisting the royal authorities in their investigation, they hoped against hope to gain clemency from the king, even if King Matthias was in no mood for being merciful at the moment.

The trial started on the 2nd of January, 1611. You can bet it wasn’t a happy start to the new year. Elizabeth’s family begged that she not be brought forth to give evidence and the king obliged, keeping her locked in her room in the castle, under house-arrest.

Amongst the people who testified and gave evidence in court were Elizabeth’s unfortunate servants, and her assistants in her torturous doings. The judges (21 in all) who sat in on these hearings were ruthless in their examination and cross-examination. They fired questions at everyone. Who were they? What did they do? Who did they kill? How? Who were they? Where were they from? What did the Countess do? How many did she kill? The questions went on and on for days.

One of Elizabeth’s servants, a dwarf named Ficzko, was asked to describe how the women were killed. He stated that:

    “They tied the hands and arms very tightly with Viennese cord, they were beaten to death until the whole body was black as charcoal and their skin was rent and torn. One girl suffered more than two hundred blows before dying”

Elizabeth’s nurse from childhood was brought forth to testify against her mistress. She stated that Elizabeth or her fellow torturers, used red hot pincers or pokers on her victims, breaking their victims jaws, burning their flesh, ripping skin off with burning pincers, slicing off their fingers, slicing away the webbing between their fingers, biting off their flesh or ripping their flesh off with their bare hands. And this was just the start.

As the trial continued and the judges continued listening to testimonies, they were soon appalled by what they heard. Letters between Palatine Thurzo and King Matthias indicated that Elizabeth’s bodycount was grusomely impressive. While officially, she was only tried for the murder of a mere eighty (that’s 80) victims, Thurzo and his companions believed, based on the evidence they’d found at the castle, that Elizabeth could have killed anywhere from three hundred to six hundred to even seven hundred young women.

Ultimately, the fate of the Blood Countess came down to that of King Matthias of Hungary, and you can bet that old Matty didn’t have an easy job to do. As king, he could, of course, do whatever he wanted. But he had to tread carefully. Do the wrong thing, and he could have a national disaster on his hands. Personally, he wanted to have Elizabeth executed and done with. He would not let such a butcher live in his country and destroy his terrified subjects like this. But as was pointed out by his advisors, having the Blood Countess executed would mean a whole heap of paperwork. Her royal immunity would have to be removed from her and they would need a special law enacted just to have her executed. Elizabeth’s cousin Thurzo begged with his liege that Elizabeth was not in full possession of her faculties and would his Majesty consider acquittal on the grounds of insanity? The king refused, citing the evidence that Elizabeth had deliberately kept several implements of torture near at hand and that she clearly enjoyed her sadistic little games. She had to be punished…somehow.

Crime and Punishment

If Elizabeth was executed, if she was stripped of her noble title and her rights, it meant that her fortune, her estate, her titles and everything else that went with them, became the property of the king. Ordinarily, this would have suited King Matthias just fine. However, it was brought to the king’s attention that Elizabeth had children. If she was executed, her children would inherit nothing. Her husband died in 1604, so he wouldn’t get anything. It either all went to Elizabeth’s children, or it all went to the king.

Matthias decided that Elizabeth’s children had nothing to do with this and were therefore innocent. Plus, they surely had families of their own to provide for. It was decreed that Elizabeth therefore be placed under house-arrest for an indefinite length of time. She was bricked up in a small suite of rooms in her castle, with all the windows bricked up and the doors locked. One small hole was permitted, for the passage of food and drink, but that was it.

Paul Bathory, Elizabeth’s son, wrote to the king begging for mercy, but Matthias refused. On the other hand, Paul’s older sister and Elizabeth’s daughter, Anna, was appalled at her mother’s crimes. She vowed never to see or speak to her mother ever again. And she forbad her children from ever visiting or speaking about their grandmother.

As for Elizabeth herself, she remained confined in her small suite of rooms in her castle, never to be released. She eventually died on the 21st of August, 1614, at the age of fifty-four. Throughout her life, from her arrest to her death, she insisted that she was innocent of her crimes and that her victims died of various ailments and accidents and certainly NOT by her own hands. These protestations fell on deaf ears. King Matthias was in no mood to listen and her family had all but deserted her. King Matthias eventually died in 1619, at the age of 62.


King Matthias of Hungary, the man who finally ordered for Elizabeth Bathory to be held accountable for her crimes against his people