The Phantom Barber of Pascagoula

One of U.S. history’s strangest crimes was a streak of sneaky haircuts that took place in 1942 Mississippi. The Pascagoula criminal was nicknamed “The Phantom Barber” for his creepy habit of cutting locks of hair off young girls while they slept.

Unsettling illustration of the Phantom Barber

Unsettling illustration of the Phantom Barber Sun, Aug 30, 1942 – 59 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

The Phantom Barber Strikes

The first victims of the nighttime barber were Mary Evelyn Briggs and Edna Marie Hydel. The two shared a room in Our Lady of Victories convent and woke in time to see a man crawling out the window. Mary was the sole victim to give a description of the perpetrator:

Mary Evelyn Bridges [sic] describes Phantom Barber encounter

Mary Evelyn Bridges [sic] describes Phantom Barber encounter Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – Page 9 · The Greenville News (Greenville, South Carolina) · Newspapers.com

Mary Evelyn Briggs and her sister Laura (Phantom Barber)

Mary Evelyn Briggs and her sister Laura (Phantom Barber) Sun, Aug 30, 1942 – 59 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com

A few days later, six-year-old Carol Peattie awoke to find much of her hair missing. The screen on her window was cut. An adult woman, Mrs. Taylor, also fell victim to the unusual crime, and her account led to suspicions that the criminal used chloroform to keep the girls from waking.

Mrs. Taylor the final victim of the Phantom Barber

Mrs. Taylor the final victim of the Phantom Barber Wed, Jun 24, 1942 – 1 · The Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

The intruder didn’t injure these girls. His break-ins consisted of slicing open window screens, cutting off the hair, and slipping away unseen. He did occasionally leave behind footprints, but they weren’t enough to secure his identity.

The Heidelberg Incident

Quite suddenly the Phantom’s escapades went from bizarre to brutal. He broke into the home of Terrell Heidelberg and attacked him and his wife with an iron pipe. In the face of such violence the search for the Phantom Barber increased.

Heidelbergs attacked by the Phantom Barber

Heidelbergs attacked by the Phantom Barber Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – Page 19 · The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) · Newspapers.com

An Arrest is Made

At last a suspect was found. A man named William Dolan was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Human hair was found near his home, and he had some disagreement with the Heidelbergs that gave him motive for the assault.

William Dolan arrested as the

William Dolan arrested as the “Phantom Barber” Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – 1 · The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa) · Newspapers.com

Dolan, called a “Nazi saboteur,” was known for having German sympathies during a time when war hung heavily on the public mind. Most were happy to see him arrested and slept soundly knowing the Phantom Barber was behind bars. But Dolan always maintained his innocence and was released early after passing a lie detector test. Early doubts about his true guilt have only grown in the years since. It is hard to say whether the real Phantom Barber was ever caught.

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The Dreams That Uncovered a Murder

In May 1827, Maria Marten left home to elope to Ipswich with a man named William Corder. As you may have guessed from the title of this post, the elopement was not quite the scene of love and companionship that Maria expected. Her sorry fate was so famous it has since earned its own name: The Red Barn Murder. Perhaps oddest of all was that the whole thing was uncovered because of a dream.

William and Maria

Maria and William’s decision to marry seems to have come of necessity. They had an illegitimate child together, and though the child died William still seemed committed to the marriage. Their town of Polstead, England, had a building landmark known as the Red Barn where William and Maria planned to meet for their elopement. At William’s suggestion she left her house dressed in men’s clothes to evade prosecution for her illegitimate child, and was last seen on the way to the Red Barn to meet her love.

Dreams of the Barn

Her family didn’t see or hear from her for months. William offered a slew of excuses when asked about her lack of letters or visits home. Over the nearly year-long absence of Maria, concerns became suspicions, and suspicions became dreams:

Discovered Maria's death after a dreamDiscovered Maria’s death after a dream Sat, Jan 25, 1862 – 6 · The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries and South Wales Advertiser (Bristol, Bristol, England) · Newspapers.com

Against all odds, the dreams were not just the nighttime illusions of a worried mind. They’d led straight to Maria’s body and had brought a murder to light.

William’s Trial and Conviction

All signs pointed to William as the primary suspect, of course. He’d met her at the Red Barn, and there she’d stayed.

William Corder's arrest, claimed he did not know Maria MartenWilliam Corder’s arrest, claimed he did not know Maria Marten Sat, Aug 16, 1828 – 4 · Sheffield and Rotherham Independent (Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England) · Newspapers.com

Despite his insistence that he was not the murderer, and that Maria had in fact died by her own hand, he was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Many papers printed the detailed description of his execution and the confession of guilt that came with it. As a gruesome footnote to the whole terrible situation, William’s body was afterward cut open and put on public display before being transferred to a hospital for dissection.

As strange as it may seem, the dreams of Maria’s step-mother brought justice to her murderer, and resolution to her loved ones. Were they the result of logical conclusions coming together in the woman’s sleep? Or were they proof of something a bit more mystical?

Find more on the Red Barn Murder with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Unsolved Mysteries: George Hodel and the “Black Dahlia”

In January of 1947, the mutilated body of a woman, drained of blood and severed at the waist, was found in an empty lot in Los Angeles, California. Though the victim known as the “Black Dahlia” was eventually identified as 22-year-old Elizabeth Short, her killer was never brought to justice. The Black Dahlia case has since become one of the most famous unsolved mysteries in America.

Black Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 4 YearsBlack Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 4 Years Sun, Jan 14, 1951 – Page 32 · The Times (Shreveport, Caddo, Louisiana, United States of America) · Newspapers.com Black Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 13 YearsBlack Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 13 Years Fri, Jan 15, 1960 – 22 · The Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, Middlesex, New Jersey, United States of America) · Newspapers.com Black Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 22 YearsBlack Dahlia Murder Unsolved After 22 Years Sun, May 4, 1969 – Page 17 · Independent Press-Telegram (Long Beach, Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.com

George Hodel, Murder Suspect

The case was notable for the brutal details of the murder, and for the resulting decades-long investigation that yielded hundreds of suspects but no firm answers. The disturbing history of the LA doctor often linked with this case, George Hodel, makes him a grimly compelling suspect. His is a name well-associated with the case thanks mostly to his son, ex-detective Steve Hodel.

Steve Hodel, Son of George Hodel, Accuses Father of Black Dahlia MurderSteve Hodel, Son of George Hodel, Accuses Father of Black Dahlia Murder Sun, May 11, 2003 – 21 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Hodel’s Suspicious History

George Hodel may have been a successful doctor, but he was not a good man. In 1945, he came under suspicion as the potential murderer of his secretary Ruth Spaulding, though her death was listed as an accidental overdose. He became a prime suspect in the 1947 Black Dahlia case when Short’s injuries revealed the murderer probably had surgical expertise. In 1949, two years after the Dahlia murder, Hodel’s daughter, Tamar Hodel, accused her father of incest. He was tried and acquitted of those charges, but the whole situation strengthened the case against him as a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder.

There were a few other peculiarities that seem to point at Hodel’s guilt. His black 1936 Packard resembled descriptions of a black car seen near the empty lot the same day Short’s body was found. He had a delivery of cement bags sent to his house for remodeling the day Short disappeared, and similar bags were found near her body. And only three years after Short’s death, Hodel conveniently left the country to live in the Philippines, where he would remain until 1990.

Steve Hodel’s Investigation

After George died in 1999, Steve Hodel followed the trail of evidence that he felt proved his father’s guilt. Among his discoveries were photos that looked like Elizabeth Short, though it was never confirmed they were actually her. Perhaps most suspect of all, transcripts were found in old police files from surveillance conducted on George Hodel’s home in 1950:

Transcripts found of electronic surveillance of George Hodel's homeTranscripts found of electronic surveillance of George Hodel’s home Tue, May 13, 2003 – Page 1-10 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

The tapes also indicate that George had deals with the police. Steve theorizes that his father evaded arrest and prosecution through his high-status connections and bribery.

Tamar Hodel Quote on George Hodel's guiltTamar Hodel Quote on George Hodel’s guilt Sun, May 11, 2003 – 15 · The Record (Hackensack, Bergen, New Jersey, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

As with all unsolved cases, there’s so much more to this story. There are more theorized connections between Hodel and Short, other suspects who might be responsible, and of course, a whole slew of facts and links lost to time that we will simply never know. For now, George Hodel is still only a suspect, and the Black Dahlia case remains unsolved.

Find hundreds of articles on the Black Dahlia murder and connected suspects, including George Hodel, with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Clever Cons: Princess Caraboo

In early 1817, a mystery woman showed up in the town of Almondsbury in Gloucester, England. She seemed disoriented, and when she spoke her words were incomprehensible babble. The only thing anyone could discern was that she called herself “Caraboo.”

Spoiler alert:

Princess Caraboo IllustrationPrincess Caraboo Illustration Sat, Jul 10, 1926 – 25 · The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · Newspapers.com

The Hoax

The young lady was taken in by a Mr. and Mrs. Worrall, who tried to make sense of her. Several days after her arrival, a man named Manuel Eynesso (conveniently) appeared and said he could understand Princess Caraboo’s strange language. Her remarkable story, which he “translated,” was a sensational one, complete with pirates, death, and daring escape.

Caraboo's story, as translated by Manuel EynessoCaraboo’s story, as translated by Manuel Eynesso Sat, Jul 10, 1926 – 25 · The Vancouver Sun (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) · Newspapers.com

The Reveal

The story certainly caught eyes; the princess Caraboo’s story gained her national attention and she became a favorite with local dignitaries. She enjoyed her fame for several months, but the very celebrity that gave her such a comfortable life proved to be her undoing. A woman named Mrs. Neale recognized “Princess Caraboo” as none other than her old serving maid, Mary Willcocks (sometimes called Mary Baker in contemporary reports). A (likely embellished) account of the shocking reveal is recounted in this 1924 article:

Mrs. Neale reveals Caraboo's true identityMrs. Neale reveals Caraboo’s true identity Sat, May 17, 1924 – Page 4 · The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) · Newspapers.com

Caraboo's true history as reported by the Exeter Flying PostCaraboo’s true history as reported by the Exeter Flying Post Thu, Jun 19, 1817 – 4 · The Exeter Flying Post or, Trewman’s Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser (Exeter, Devon, England) · Newspapers.com

And so the jig was up. Caraboo’s inscrutable language had been an invention, cobbled together nonsense mixed with real words she’d learned on the road before her arrival in Almondsbury. Her convincingly foreign behaviors had been picked up here and there from sailors and travelers. The man who had “translated” her story had been in on the ruse all along.

The papers had a hey-day repeating the truth of the matter and having a laugh at the gullible Gloucester town. One article, with a bit more sympathy, even joked that Mary Willcocks’ beauty may have had something to do with it:

A jab at the susceptibility of Dr. Wilkinson to the pretty Princess CarabooA jab at the susceptibility of Dr. Wilkinson to the pretty Princess Caraboo Sat, Jun 21, 1817 – 4 · The Royal Cornwall Gazette, Falmouth Packet, and General Advertiser (Truro, Cornwall, England) · Newspapers.com

Life After “Caraboo”

A surprisingly soft-hearted Mrs. Worrall funded her travel to America, where Mary Willcocks seems to have used her fame to garner further attention with some small success. She also supposedly met and became a favorite of Napoleon Bonaparte, but that story has never been confirmed.

Mary eventually returned to Europe and married Richard Baker, with whom she had a daughter. She also took up a career selling leeches to a hospital—a job that some found ironic:

Princess Caraboo after the hoaxPrincess Caraboo after the hoax Thu, Jun 21, 1866 – Page 4 · The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, Kings, New York) · Newspapers.com

All in all, the one-time sensation “Princess Caraboo” seems to have settled down to live out the rest of her fairly normal life—under her real name, this time.

Find more about Princess Caraboo with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Unsolved Mysteries: The Disappearance of Suzy Lamplugh

Suzy LamplughSuzy Lamplugh Fri, Dec 5, 1986 – 6 · The Guardian (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com

Disappearance

On July 28, 1986, real estate agent Suzy Lamplugh went to show property on Shorrolds Road in Fulham, England, to a client she called “Mr. Kipper.” Witnesses report seeing a woman of her description arguing with a man and then getting into a car. Her own vehicle, a white Ford Fiesta, was found apparently abandoned the night of July 28, with the keys gone and her purse still inside. That night Suzy was declared missing.

Suzy Lamplugh DisappearanceSuzy Lamplugh Disappearance Thu, Jul 31, 1986 – 28 · The Guardian (London, Greater London, England) · Newspapers.com

In the thirty years since, her disappearance has remained a mystery. No evidence exists to link her disappearance to foul play (though it is assumed), and her remains have never been found. There are, however, a couple of theories as to who is responsible.

Suspects

The first involves a man name Steve Wright, who worked on the same cruise ship as Suzy when she was a beautician prior to her real estate job. In 2008, decades after Suzy’s disappearance, Wright was convicted of five murders. People began to suspect that Suzy might have been an earlier victim of his, but there have been no strong connections made between him and Suzy’s murder.

The second theory is a bit stronger. This one involves John Cannan, a convicted killer who was released from a prison hostel days before Suzy disappeared. He was known by fellow inmates as “Kipper,” the same name used by the client Suzy met the day she vanished. He bore some resemblance to the police sketch of the mysterious Mr. Kipper. But again, all evidence was too circumstantial to bring Cannan to court, and he denied any involvement.

The search for clues to Suzy’s fate has been ongoing, but evidence continues to elude investigators. For now, Suzy’s disappearance remains an unsolved mystery.

Find more on this highly publicized story with a search on Newspapers.com

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Top 10 Horror Movies Inspired by True Stories

Horror movie fanatics have likely seen the phrase “Based on a true story” rolling in the opening credits of a horror film on more than one occasion. But Hollywood is known for taking liberties when producing movies based on true stories. So just how accurately did they portray what really happened?

We went to Newspapers.com to uncover the real events that inspired the Hollywood adaptations. Below are the top 10 horror movies inspired by the “spookier than fiction” true stories found on Newspapers.com!

1. Poltergeist (1982, 2015)

Based on the mysterious happenings within the walls of James Hermann’s home in Seaford, New York, in 1958.

Newspapers across the state recounted lids falling off screw-top bottles, porcelain figurines crashing to the floor, and dressers tumbling over in the Hermann house. Several theories were considered, ranging from leprechauns and psychic abilities to scientists’ theories on energy and subterranean streams. The most popular theory, however, was poltergeists.

The Daily News in New York reported the Hermann home had received over 300 letters from readers, many of which detailed what the Hermanns needed to do to rid their home of the spirit. Readers and reporters were so captivated by the case that updates on the home sometimes made the front page news.

Although police and parapsychologists examined the case extensively, no conclusions were made that explained the strange phenomena. After more than five weeks of furniture crashing and bottles toppling, the occurrences finally ceased.

A picture of the Hermann home, taken from The Daily News, March 09, 1958

A picture of the Hermann home, taken from The Daily News, March 09, 1958

2. Jaws (1975)

Rumored to be inspired by the true events of a series of shark attacks that killed four people and injured one along the coast of New Jersey in 1916.

Over the course of two weeks, three fatal shark attacks were reported within 100 miles of each other. The third and final attack left two individuals dead and one injured.  Victims included 12-year-old Lester Stilwell, 25-year-old Stanley Fisher, 23-year-old Charles Etting Van Sant, 17-year-old Charles Bruder, and 14-year-old Joseph Dunn (survivor).

Swimmers along the coast were advised to stay out of deep water until the “man-eating” sharks were killed. A $100 reward was put in place by the mayor for whoever killed the shark, and the U.S. Coast Guard joined the war on sharks.

Panic spread across the coast of New Jersey and New York as hordes of sharks were slaughtered. On one occasion, a man drowned near a New Jersey shore after calling for help and receiving no assistance because onlookers feared he was being attacked by a shark. Frantic citizens were catching and cutting open sharks to check for human remains, but whether or not the man eating shark was ever caught is unknown.

Image of one of the sharks that was killed in 1916. The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 15, 1916

Image of one of the sharks that was killed in 1916. The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 15, 1916

3. The Exorcist (1973)

Based on the story of a 14-year-old boy in Maryland who was possessed by the devil and exorcised by a Catholic priest in 1949.

Skeptical religious leaders and neighbors invited the seemingly possessed boy to stay with them, only to report furniture falling over and the boy’s bed moving on its own while he slept.

After seeking medical and psychiatric treatments, the boy’s family approached the Catholic Church. A Catholic priest devoted himself to the exorcism, living in the same home as the boy for more than two months and attempting the exorcism on more than twenty occasions. The exorcisms were attempted multiple times due to the boy’s intense reaction of screaming, cursing, and speaking in Latin.

Finally, with the last exorcism performed by the priest, the devil was successfully driven out and all supernatural manifestations ceased.

4. Psycho (1960) and Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Psycho and Silence of the Lambs are just two of the many films inspired by the true story of Ed Gein, who slaughtered two women and had remnants of fourteen cadavers in his home that he stole from the local graveyard.

Gein claimed to have been in a “dazed” state when he murdered his victims and stole cadaver parts from the graveyard. Even so, his first victim to be discovered was found with her decapitated body hanging upside down by the heels, badly mutilated. A human heart was found in a pot on the stove, leading investigators to suspect cannibalism.

Among the stolen remnants of the fourteen cadavers were ten heads, which had been skinned and preserved as masks. Several other items in Gein’s home were also made from human skin, including a vest, chair upholstery, and belts. Gein’s two murders, numerous grave robberies, and creation of clothing from human skin were said to be motivated by his desire to be a woman.

When news of his crimes broke in 1957, most residents in Gein’s neighborhood did not suspect him of these gruesome crimes, although a local barber did recall Gein pinching his belly and exclaiming he was “just about right for roasting” (News Record, 21 Nov 1957).

To learn more about the disturbing story of Ed Gein, visit the Topic Page on Newspapers.com here.

Mary Hogan (one of the victims) and Ed Gein. Stevens Point Journal, Nov 20, 1957

Mary Hogan (one of the victims) and Ed Gein. Stevens Point Journal, Nov 20, 1957

5. The Amityville Horror (1979, 2005)

Based on the true story of the paranormal activity the Lutz family experienced after moving into the home on Long Island where Ronald DeFeo shot his entire family during their sleep.

On November 13, 1974, at about 3 a.m., Ronald DeFeo Jr. murdered his parents, two brothers, and two sisters while they were sleeping by shooting them with a .35 caliber rifle. Despite the defense’s pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity, DeFeo was declared guilty in November 1975 and sentenced to life in prison.

Approximately one year after the tragedy and one month after DeFeo’s conviction, George and Kathy Lutz purchased the DeFeo home and moved in with their three children and dog. Only 28 days after moving in, the DeFeo home was yet again abandoned. The Lutz family had fled the property because of paranormal experiences, leaving behind the majority of their belongings and never returning to the home.

The paranormal incidents started with a tense atmosphere that increased aggression in the home and led to a more hostile environment. But it didn’t stop there. The Lutz’s daughter spoke of an imaginary friend that was described as a red-eyed pig; rotten smells and cold temperatures filled the home; mysterious red welts appeared on Kathy that were too hot to touch; doors and windows opened on their own; Kathy levitated out of her bed and took on the appearance of an old woman; and loud sounds filled the home around 3:15 a.m., the same time the DeFeo family was murdered.

After the Lutz family fled the home, Ronald DeFeo’s lawyer investigated the history of the home, wondering if demonic possession could have been a factor in DeFeo’s case. He found the home was built on an ancient Indian burial ground, and the remains of a man who was cast out of Salem for practicing witchcraft were also on the property.

The original home the Lutz and DeFeo families resided in. Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1976

The original home the Lutz and DeFeo families resided in. Chicago Tribune, July 25, 1976

6. The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Based on the true story of the “Enfield Poltergeist” in north London, 1977.

Claimed to be one of the most publicized cases of famous ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, the Enfield Poltergeist captivated many readers in and around London. A reporter of The Observer described the poltergeist activity of Peggy Hodgson’s home as beginning with strange noises and escalating to marbles and Lego’s flying through the air and furniture moving on its own. The paper also mentioned the poltergeist’s fixation on Mrs. Hodgson’s daughter, Janet, and described the paranormal experiences Mr. Graham Morris from the Daily Mirror and Police Constable Carolyn Heeps had while in Mrs. Hodgson’s home. The paranormal experiences ceased eighteen months later, in 1979.

7. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984, 2010)

Based on the mysterious deaths of approximately 80 Laotian refugees who died in their sleep in the 1980s.

In the late 1970s to early 1980s, a number of Southeast Asian refugees came to America following the Cambodian killing fields. In 1981, the CDC recorded 38 deaths due to “Nightmare Death Syndrome” among seemingly healthy Laotian refugees. Two years later, the number increased to 79, and the cause remained unknown. The popular belief was the men were dying due to being frightened to death in their sleep. Others, however, theorized the deaths were due to delayed effects of chemicals in the killing fields or maybe even heart failure.

8. The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

Based on Anneliese Michel, who was being exorcised of six demons and ultimately died of starvation in 1976.

Although the events took place in West Germany, the story of Anneliese Michel become world news. According to claims by the two priests performing the exorcism and her parents, Anneliese was possessed by six demons, including Hitler, Nero, Judas, and Lucifer. During the numerous months of exorcism rituals, Michel refused to eat and ultimately died of dehydration and starvation at a mere 70 pounds.

Doctors noted that she had a history of epilepsy and could have been saved a week prior to her death had medical attention been sought. The two priests, along with Michel’s parents, were charged with negligent homicide.

9. When a Stranger Calls (1979, 2006)

Based on Janett Christman, who was strangled to death by an intruder while babysitting in 1950.

Mr. and Mrs. Romack returned home to a grisly scene when they found their young babysitter, Janett Christman, dead in the living room, having been raped and strangled by the cord from an iron after putting up a fight. Two-and-a-half hours previous to Mr. and Mrs. Romack’s return, the police received a call from a panicked girl saying “Come quick,” but the call was cut off before the police could get an address, and the call was untraceable. The Romack’s three-year-old son was found sleeping in his room, unharmed. Although the police found footprints and fingerprints, as well as possible blood and hair samples of the assailant, they never found the killer.

10. The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Although not broadly published in newspapers across the U.S., the Hartford Courant recounted the experiences the Snedeker family had while living in their new home, which had previously been a funeral home. The Snedekers claimed they had been touched and spoken to by a demonic spirit and had heard, smelled, and seen other unexplainable phenomena. Eventually, with the escalation of paranormal experiences, the Snedekers summoned the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who arranged for an exorcism to take place in their home.

The Snedekers fled their home prior to the exorcism and proceeded to write a book about their experiences with the help of the Warrens and horror novelist, Ray Garton. Neighbors and previous owners of the home remained skeptical and argued the Snedekers made up the story as a way to make money.

Learn more about these spooky true stories by searching Newspapers.com! All the clippings in this post can be found here. And look for our #SpookierThanFiction hashtag on social media.

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Lord Lucan’s Disappearance

This story could be considered a murder mystery, though not in the traditional “whodunit” sense. It features the wealthy John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan; a murder; and a disappearance that remains a mystery to this day.

Lord LucanLord Lucan Mon, Nov 11, 1974 – 6 · Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Pinellas, Florida, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

On November 7th,1974, the wealthy Veronica Duncan stumbled into a pub with a shocking tale. She accused her estranged husband, the Earl of Lucan, of murdering the family’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, before turning on her. She’d just managed to escape.

At once the search was on for Lord Lucan. However, the story was confused by the account of family friends, the Maxwell-Scotts. They said Lucan had come to their home after the incident and explained that he’d been trying to save his wife from a separate attacker. He fled because he knew his wife would suspect him, despite his innocence.

The most prevalent belief in the whole affair was that a murderous Lucan mistook the nanny for his wife in the dark and killed her by mistake. Whatever his intentions, it took a jury only half an hour to decide that Lord Lucan was, in fact, the murderer. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Lord Lucan declared guiltyLord Lucan declared guilty Fri, Jun 20, 1975 – Page 5 · The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) · Newspapers.com

Summary of the Lord Lucan troubleSummary of the Lord Lucan trouble Mon, Nov 11, 1974 – 27 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America) · Newspapers.com

Lord Lucan’s whereabouts were never uncovered. He was declared dead in 1999, and his fate remains a mystery to this day.

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Murder or Suicide? The Mysterious Death of Annie Dorman

The girl was found dead on the bedroom floor, lying in the blood that pooled from two bullet holes marring her body.

The Times of Philadelphia, 10.06.1897

The Times of Philadelphia, 10.06.1897

Her name was Annie Dorman, and she died September 1, 1897. Accounts of the investigation into her death filled up newspaper columns for weeks, not only in the Pennsylvania papers near where the event occurred, but also as far away as South Dakota.

Why so much coverage of the death of an obscure teenage girl in the rural outskirts of Philadelphia?

Perhaps because no one could conclusively prove whether her death was suicide or murder.

The Facts
The facts of the case (as told by nearby Philadelphia newspapers) were these:

  • Annie Dorman, about 18 years old, had been living with her half-brother (John) and his family off and on for 5 years, working for them as a nanny and all-around maid. She was described by most who knew her as having a happy disposition.
  • On the day of Annie’s death, her sister-in-law, Lizzie, went to Philadelphia, and her half-brother was working outside, leaving Annie alone in the house with the four children.
  • In the afternoon, Annie put the baby to sleep downstairs and sent the other children outside to play in the fields.
  • Around 3:30 p.m. one of the farmhands heard four gunshots, the first two almost a minute apart and the second two in quick succession.

    Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

    Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

  • Around 4:30 p.m., one of the children found John in the barn and told him that Annie was dead. John rushed to the house and found Annie in his bedroom killed by gunshot wounds—one under her jaw and one in her chest. The one to her chest was later determined to be the cause of death. There were also two bullet holes in the ceiling and one in the wall.
  • John called for the coroner, who found Annie’s clothing undisturbed, except for her bodice, which had been unbuttoned. A later examination would show that she had not been sexually assaulted.
  • An old family revolver was found by Annie’s side. The gun was old-fashioned and rusty but had been sitting loaded on a shelf in the bedroom for two years.

The Investigation
As the investigation into Annie’s death progressed, more questions seemed to arise than were answered, leaving no one sure whether it was a homicide or suicide.

Supporting the claim of suicide was the fact that although Annie was generally described as happy, there were also accounts of her being “sensitive” and having “gloomy periods.” Annie had reportedly been having problems with her boyfriend, and she apparently hated her work situation with her half-brother’s family. Her sister-in-law had even reportedly choked her and chased her with a broom in the past.

The Times of Philadelphia, 09.07.1897

The Times of Philadelphia, 09.07.1897

There were smaller details that seemed to point to suicide as well: Like the fact that the dogs hadn’t barked, implying no stranger had entered the home. Or that the room was in nearly perfect order, and that no blood had been tracked through the bedroom or house.

But those who believed it was murder also seemed to have ample evidence. The gun was old-fashioned and hard to cock, which made it seem unlikely that Annie could have used it to shoot herself multiple times. And after shooting herself in the jaw, would she have been able to shoot herself in the chest as well? Not to mention that if it were suicide, how were the other bullet holes in the ceiling and wall to be explained? And what about the fact that the Dormans had cleaned up Annie’s blood and burned her clothes before the evidence could be investigated?

Theories ran wild.

The Conclusion
Ultimately, an inquest was held on October 5, more than a month after Annie’s death, but the results were not very satisfying. The jury gave an open verdict, ruling simply that Annie had died of wounds “inflicted by some person or persons unknown.”

Though murder had not been ruled out, the investigation into Annie’s death never went any further, due to a lack of funds, manpower, and evidence. If there was a murderer, he or she was never found.

Perhaps the closest we’ll ever get to an explanation of Annie’s death is this scenario proposed in an Philadelphia Inquirer editorial:

Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

Philadelphia Inquirer, 10.10.1897

What do you think? Was it murder or suicide?

Read the newspaper accounts of Annie Dorman’s death on Newspapers.com. You can also view Annie’s memorial on Find A Grave.

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The Missing Mona Lisa

Once upon a time, in the year 1911, the sudden disappearance of a famous work of art thrust it into the international spotlight.

Famous Mona Lisa StolenFamous Mona Lisa Stolen · Wed, Aug 23, 1911 – Page 1 · The Greenville News (Greenville, South Carolina) · Newspapers.com

The painting was stolen sometime on the morning of August 21, but it appears that somehow no one noticed until the next day. This will seem strange to those who have had to push through crowds of people and their cameras to get a peek at the Mona Lisa in recent years, but makes a bit more sense in the context of 1911. While the Mona Lisa was by no means unknown at the time, it was this very thievery and the resulting flood of news headlines that made her one of the most famous paintings in the world.

For two years the whereabouts of the painting remained a mystery.

Missing in mystery for 2 yearsMissing in mystery for 2 years · Sun, Aug 10, 1913 – Page 4 · Pittsburgh Daily Post (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com

At long last, the thief was caught. His name was Vincenzo Perugia, and his connection to the theft was discovered in late 1913 after he tried to sell the painting.

Mona Lisa Thief Talks, 1913Mona Lisa Thief Talks, 1913 · Sun, Dec 14, 1913 – Page 33 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Newspapers.com

Perugia explained how he’d envisioned and planned the theft while working for the Louvre. On the morning of the 21st he’d simply walked into the museum, taken the Mona Lisa from where she hung in a room that was empty at the time, and walked out with the painting hidden under his worker’s smock.

And as for his motives?

Perugia's motivesPerugia’s motives · Sun, Dec 14, 1913 – Page 33 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) · Newspapers.com

Perugia’s understanding of history was a bit misguided (the Mona Lisa had never been stolen by Napoleon at all, but was taken to France by Da Vinci himself in the 16th century), but nonetheless he considered himself a national hero and fully expected to be showered in the praise of his fellow wronged Italians.

After a short exhibition throughout Italy the famously enigmatic lady was returned to the Louvre and can still be seen there today.

This story was extremely well circulated throughout the papers of the time, so there’s a lot more to find! Try a search on Newspapers.com for Perugia and the Mona Lisa theft to find more clippings about this piece of history.

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The Near-Perfect Robbery

This week in history, eleven Boston men commit one of the smoothest and most lucrative bank robberies in history.

FBI Hunts Brink Bandits

The Brinks Robbery

It took almost two years of meticulous planning for the approximately 30 minute robbery to go off without a hitch. No evidence was left behind, no one was hurt, and the group made off with over $2 million—the biggest robbery in U.S. history, at the time.

Named

Smooth criminals

The Crime

The group agreed to leave the money untouched for six years to wait out the statute of limitations on their crime. It probably would have worked if one of the robbers, “Specs” O’Keefe, hadn’t been jailed on another charge. He got antsy about his cut, the group sent a hitman to keep him quiet, and he escaped with both his life and a deal with the FBI.

O'Keefe Admits Part in Robbery

O'Keefe, witness during the trial of the Brinks Robbery in which he participated

Six of the men were arrested with less than a week to go on the statute of limitations. Two more were caught a few months later, and the other two died before the trial began. All were given life sentences except O’Keefe, who received 4 years. Only $58,000 of the 2 million was ever recovered, and the location of the rest has since become a thing of legend.

Find more on this historic robbery with a search on Newspapers.com.

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