The Bobbed-Hair Bandit

Her crimes and her style made her an iconic figure in 1920s New York. Stop anyone in the street to ask them their thoughts and some might say she was a figurehead of women’s liberation. Others might say she was a prime example of the corrupted “modern woman.” All would say she was called the Bobbed-Hair Bandit.
Bobbed-Hair BanditIt seems Celia Cooney’s lawless career began rather simply. She and her husband, Ed Cooney, disenchanted with their meager circumstances, first began robbing stores with a misguided “get-rich-quick” kind of philosophy. Celia only ever wanted to be a proper housewife with her own home and furnishings and to take care of the child she was pregnant with at the time (who, sadly, passed away only days after birth). The Cooneys kept their crimes small and simple—no shots fired, no injured parties. Just hold ups and extra cash.
Bobbed-Hair Bandit SummarizedThe Cooney’s final robbery, described in part above, ended up being witnessed by enough people that the “Bobbed-Hair Bandit” was discovered. Her true name was revealed, along with that of her “tall companion,” and their three-month adventure in crime came to an end with long sentences in separate prisons. 
(Sensationalized) Account of their CaptureEd Cooney tried to help Celia by confessing that he was the reason for it all, but Celia denied this, saying, “if it had not been for me Edward would have gone straight. I was the cause of all the trouble.”
Not Much Romance to the Girl BanditAlienist (noun): former term for a psychiatrist.

Find more on Celia and Edward Cooney with a search on Newspapers.com, or check out this great article on the topic by Atlas Obscura.

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The Murder Castle

Herman Mudgett is the worst man you have probably never heard of, unless you happen to be familiar with his alias, H. H. Holmes.

Holmes made an appearance on Timeless this week as the show gave us a peek into the history of the World’s Fair Hotel—or as it would later be known, the Murder Castle. No spoilers about the show here, but you can probably guess from the morbidly straightforward nickname that this story isn’t going to be pretty.
Murder CastleThe Murder Castle was originally just your usual impressive, 3-story hotel. It was built by Holmes in Chicago as lodging for visitors to the Chicago World’s Fair, scheduled to take place a handful of years after construction. But—and this is where things get weird—Holmes filled his hotel with stairs that went nowhere, soundproof and airtight bedrooms, and doors that opened onto walls, among other oddities. He was constantly firing the construction workers and hiring new ones so that no one would know the full scope of his bizarre plans. Once the hotel was built he did the same with his employees, making sure they were in constant rotation to prevent anyone learning about the alarms that tracked guests’ movements, the gas lines in the bedrooms, the sealed up brick room that was only accessible through a trapdoor in the ceiling, or what he called the “secret hanging chamber,” which needs no further explanation.

H. H. HolmesAs you might expect, Holmes used his nightmarish fun house to murder people through hanging, asphyxiation, or sometimes starvation or thirst. Unbelievably, the basement of the hotel was his own personal post-murder medical chamber complete with large furnaces, lime pits and acid baths. He sold his victim’s organs to medical professionals and disposed of the remains, and somehow managed to not get caught doing any of this, for years. The World’s Fair came and went, and still he was not discovered.

He was finally arrested in Boston for another murder that was unrelated to the hotel, and authorities followed his trail back to Chicago. They discovered the Murder Castle, with its horrific rooms and secret chutes, and found human and animal bones and bloody women’s clothes inside.
Holmes's Secrets Coming to LightHolmes was connected to nine murders and confessed to several others. He was hanged for these crimes in May 1896, but it’s possible that during his time as a con man and murderer he may have killed up to 200 people in total. We will never know for sure. Holmes was one of the first documented serial killers, before the term serial killer even existed. And he was entirely unapologetic about it, even until the end.

Holmes' words

Holmes's QuoteIf you’re interested in this bit of history, give it a closer look. The details only get more and more unbelievable. Search for Holmes or his murder hotel on Newspapers.com for contemporary or modern accounts.

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The Mystery Mansion of Los Feliz

Los Feliz Murder-SuicideOn the night of December 7th, 1959, Dr. Harold Perelson murdered his wife. He moved to the next room to do the same to his 18-year-old daughter, Judye, when another of his children walked onto the scene to see what was going on. Judy used the distraction to escape to a neighbor, and by the time police arrived on the scene Perelson was also dead, apparently having poisoned himself. Judye was injured but alive. The two younger siblings were shocked but otherwise unscathed. Harold Perelson and his wife Lillian were gone.
Dr. Harold Perelson murders wife, beats daughterIt’s a strange and grim story, and to this day no one is fully certain of why the doctor did it. A note found in Judye’s car suggests family financial troubles may have been the cause. What we do know is that the rest of the family left the house, a mansion in Los Feliz, and it was sold the following year to a couple from Lincoln Heights, Emily and Julian Enriquez.

To add to the strangeness of the whole scenario, the house then laid in near abandonment—for over 50 years. The Enriquez family may have rented the house for a few months but on the whole it lay empty except for a few cats (cared for by the Enriquez’s son) and the belongings of the Perelson family, still sitting where they’d been left on that horrible night.

Los Feliz MansionAccounts from visitors and trespassers have said that a Christmas tree and still-wrapped presents could still be seen through the grimy windows (though that may have been from renters, as the Perelsons were reportedly Jewish). An 50s-era TV set still sat against one wall, and other original belongings huddled beneath layers of dust throughout the home. More than one person who knows the tale is convinced the place is haunted.

If that’s true, though, it’s for the new owner to figure out. Just this year the house was finally cleared out of its dusty contents and sold again, though whether it’s in good enough condition to be salvaged remains to be seen. The residents of the neighborhood will have to watch out for what happens with the mysterious Los Feliz mansion.

Find more on this story from contemporary and modern articles with a search on Newspapers.com.

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Murder in Miniature

Frances Glessner Lee was not your typical millionaire heiress. She lived the early part of her life doing what a young woman from a wealthy family ought to do: she played with dolls, was educated in the lonely privacy of her own home, and eventually married a respectable lawyer instead of attending college (although it ended in divorce). Her rather unique interests in forensic pathology and crime scene investigation were discouraged by her family, and so she put them aside. But when her brother died in 1930, followed shortly by both of her parents in the years thereafter, 52-year-old Glessner Lee found herself with a lot of money and a newfound freedom that she’d never had before.

With the help of her brother’s old classmate, Dr. George Burgess Magrath, Glessner Lee established a department of legal science at Harvard University in order to train for better forensic investigation. Together they urged that coroners be replaced with medical professionals. Their efforts influenced states across the country to change the way they approached forensic science.

She Models Murder Scenes

But the most unusual and morbidly delightful contribution that Glessner Lee provided were her “Nutshell Studies,” a series of miniature model crime scenes depicting incredibly detailed versions of real-life incidents. The lights turned on and off, doors opened and closed and locked with tiny keys, and tiny dolls represented the bodies of the deceased. Glessner Lee made every detail to the exact specifications of the life-sized crime scenes with mind-blowing accuracy, down to the last gruesome detail.

Grances Glessner Lee

The Nutshells were used to train investigators to see the little things that can catch a killer. Was the death a murder, a suicide, or an accident? The scenes represented all of these options, and those observing the model rooms examined the evidence until they could figure it out, often with the aid of other information that would be provided at a real crime scene.

Mrs. Lee's Nutshells

For all her work in furthering the field of forensic investigation, Glessner Lee was made an honorary Captain of New Hampshire’s police force, a rank no woman in the United States had been given before.

Glessner Lee’s Nutshell Studies are still used in training even today. Her contributions were directly responsible for many of the changes that have led to forensic investigation as we know it. And if she seems vaguely familiar, here’s a fun bit of trivia: she was also reportedly the inspiration for the character of Jessica Fletcher in the show Murder, She Wrote.

For more about Frances Glessner Lee, articles on her work can be found using this search. 

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The Mysterious Demise of Ludwig II

If there’s one thing people generally agree on, it’s that mysteries hold a strange sort of magnetic power over our minds. They make us pause, they make us wonder. They add an element of the unsolvable to a world that often seems all too ordinary. And when a mystery also coincides with a death, that interest is doubled.

Add that with royalty, and you’ve got a front page news story.

The Mad King of Bavaria

Ludwig Otto Friedrich Wilhelm, also known as Ludwig II, was the king of Bavaria in the mid to late 1800s. He enjoyed arts and architecture and was responsible for the creation of the now-famous Neuschwanstein Castle, among several others. And in 1886 he was found dead in the shallows of Lake Starnburg, along with his psychiatrist, Dr. von Gudden.

Ludwig’s reign was fraught with difficulties, particularly in the years preceding his death. He had a tendency to overspend on his opulent castle projects, borrowing excessive amounts of money against the advice of his harried cabinet until they finally decided the king must be deposed before he dismissed them all. They conspired together with four psychiatrists—one of whom was Dr. von Gudden—to declare Ludwig clinically insane. They bribed the servants for details on Ludwig’s eccentricities, of which there were admittedly quite a few, and used these and their own reports of Ludwig’s uncontrollable spending habits to solidify their assertion. Conveniently, Ludwig’s younger brother Otto was also considered insane, which allowed the claim of hereditary insanity to hold more weight.

It runs in the family

Ludwig II was declared insane and deposed on June 12, 1886. The next day he was found dead in waist-deep water. Near him was the psychiatrist, with head trauma and marks of strangulation around his neck. Most concluded that the “mad king” had killed the conspiring von Gudden and then drowned himself:

Mad King Ludwig a Suicide

But this is where the mysterious part comes into play. During the autopsy it was found that Ludwig had no water in his lungs—he had not been killed by drowning. He reportedly had no other marks on his body, and he had not seemed suicidal in the time before his death. There was also no evidence to prove that Ludwig killed the psychiatrist, although that seemed to be the only explanation. Since then, there have been revelations that perhaps Ludwig had been attempting an escape from his confinement in Berg Castle and was shot by his enemies, a story supposedly supported by a bullet hole-ridden coat that was said to have been worn by Ludwig that day. But as the autopsy said there were no wounds on Ludwig’s body, this can’t be proven. Another unproven theory suggest that heart attack or stroke may have killed Ludwig, a result of the lake’s cool temperatures during his escape attempt.

Though at the time it was generally accepted that he was truly insane and had killed himself for this reason, the accusation of insanity has since been refuted and it is no longer considered certain that his death was by suicide. And so the cause of Ludwig’s death remains unsolved even today.

Ludwig's mysterious death

Read more on Ludwig II with the articles found in this search. Try Newspapers.com today to find more articles about historical events, family history, or other topics of your choice.

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The Ghost of Zona Heaster Shue

Ghost Solved Crime

Once upon a time, a manly, talented blacksmith—Mr. Edward Shue—met a beautiful country girl—Ms. Zona Heaster. The two fell in love, and before long they found themselves at the altar of matrimony. A few weeks passed, and as far as anyone could tell the couple lived happy together. And were it not for the ominous image above and the rather tell-tale title of this post, you might think that’s where the story ends. But here’s where events take a morbid turn.

One day Shue sent a boy to his home to help his wife with chores. The poor boy arrived at the house only to find Mrs. Shue lying at the bottom of the stairs, laid out perfectly still as though sleeping.

Boy finds the woman dead

Of course, the woman wasn’t sleeping at all. A physician came to examine the body, but Shue became frantic with grief every time the doctor tried to examine the woman’s head and neck. The doctor gave up and declared that Mrs. Shue had died of heart failure. All through the funeral, Shue fussed with his late wife’s collar and how her head was placed, but everyone who noticed chalked up this odd behavior to the depths of his grief. Only Mrs. Shue’s mother, Mary Heaster, suspected her son-in-law of being false.

Mrs. Heaster, a very religious woman, spent many nights praying about her daughter’s fate. According to her testimony, it was during one of these nights of prayer that Zona Heaster Shue first appeared to her.

Zona Heaster Shue appears to her mother to reveal she was murdered

As the article above mentions, the dead woman’s ghost told her mother that she had been murdered by her husband. After this experience Mrs. Heaster demanded that her daughter’s body be exhumed and reexamined. Mr. Shue could do nothing to prevent a thorough examination this time, and it was found the the woman’s neck had been purposefully broken. Shue’s history didn’t help his case here, either: he had been married twice before and both of those wives had also died under suspicious circumstances. Shue was arrested for the murder of his wife, and after an hour’s deliberation the jury found him guilty. Shue died in prison eight years later.

 

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The Axeman of New Orleans

Morbid accounts of the work of an ax-wielding serial killer had shaken up New Orleans for months when a mysterious and worrisome letter was printed in the local newspaper. Supposedly from the killer himself, the author claimed to be a spirit, a demon, uncatchable, and threatened to return again the following Tuesday night for more murderous mayhem. The warning came with a helpful hint, however: any house or establishment enjoying the music of a jazz band on the evening mentioned would be spared the killer’s ax.

The Axeman's Letter

Was the letter from the killer himself, or was it a hoax? Many people joked about the letter; one man even offered to leave his window open for the Axeman if he would promise to leave the door undamaged. But despite any doubts, the night of March 18-19, 1919, was flooded with music. Jazz blared in the dance halls and amateur bands played at house parties, the music drifting through open windows. True to his word, the Axeman killed no one that night.

Night-Long Jazz Music Stops Murders

A few months later he struck and killed again, the last crime ever attributed to the Axeman. Just as the letter predicted, the jazz-loving murderer was never caught.

Try your own searches for mysteries like these using the search page on Newspapers.com. 

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