“DEATH BY GOLDEN THROAT” and 5 More Terrifying or Creepy True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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Listen to ““DEATH BY GOLDEN THROAT” and 5 More Terrifying or Creepy True Stories! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.
IN THIS EPISODE: When it comes to receiving the death sentence, history has given us several ways to go about the execution. Hanging, firing squad, gas chamber, being stoned to death or burned at the stake… but you have to be some whole new level of “hated” by the people if your death blow comes by way of molten gold being poured down your throat. (Death By Golden Throat) *** Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray devised a scheme to get rid of Ruth’s husband – and they planned it so well that, okay… actually no. They were so inept they were caught immediately, and even the police publicly called them incompetent. (The Dumb-Bell Murder) *** In the 1800s, women finding themselves “with child” but unmarried, were treated like second-class citizens or worse. And during a time when birth control was limited or even unavailable outside of the rhythm method, what was a girl to do if she found herself in such dire circumstances? Fortunately, there was a woman there ready to help – to take the baby off their hands and give it a good home. Or so everyone thought. (Minnie, The Baby Farmer) *** Tom and Lena are in a loving relationship and have a young child together. It sounds like the perfect family – except for one tiny detail about their relationship. Tom and Lena are biological brother and sister. (I Fell In Love With My Sister) *** Typically, when you hear the phrase “high speed chase”, you think of law enforcement trying to catch the bad guys who are in a getaway vehicle. Perhaps after a bank robbery, or after blowing a stop sign and simply refusing to pull over. But have you heard about the time that the police were involved in a high-speed chase up to 100-miles-per hour, trying to catch up to a flying saucer? (The 100mph UFO Chase) *** When the Black Plague arrived at their doorsteps, the villagers were forced to choose between life or certain doom. It’s the tragic tale of England’s Plague Village – the village of Eyam. (The Black Death Comes to Eyam)
SOURCES AND ESSENTIAL WEB LINKS…
“Death By Golden Throat” by Genevieve Carlton for Weird History https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/3586qeqk, Rachel Nuwer for Smithsonian Magazine https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/18pu2d9b, and Laurie L. Dove for History https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/3vy6r2a9
“The Black Death Comes to Eyam” by Stephanie Almazan for The Line Up: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/1aptirxk
“Minnie, The Baby Farmer” from The Scare Chamber: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/2eqd77xa
“The 100MPH UFO Chase” from The Parajournal for The Times Online: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/ntcaqk3y
“The Dumb-Bell Murder” by Troy Taylor: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/192wwaer (includes execution photo)
“I Fell In Love With My Sister” by Jennifer Tillman for Vice: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/y2dmtp2e
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(Dark Archives episode from February 09, 2021)
STORY: DEATH BY GOLDEN THROAT==========
Death by molten gold isn’t just a grisly Game of Thrones invention. In the third century, a Roman emperor named Valerian is alleged to have died when his rival poured liquid gold down his throat. Valerian’s gruesome death was nearly as bad as the horrific executions in Henry VIII’s time, and that’s really saying something. Unfortunately for Valerian, his execution was only one part of his humiliating captivity in the hands of the Persians. That is, if we’re to believe the account of Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius, an early Christian author who was no fan of Valerian’s.
According to Lactantius, Persian King Shapur I captured Valerian in battle and tormented him relentlessly. He used Emperor Valerian as a footstool, mocked him, and stuffed his flayed skin with straw. The humiliation of Emperor Valerian was so bad that his own son didn’t even try to rescue him.
What happened to Emperor Valerian after his capture at the Battle of Edessa? King Shapur I and the Roman Emperor Valerian came from clashing superpowers, and the Persians made an example of Valerian to taunt Romans with their lost glory. The question of whether this involved a life of imprisonment and a fade into nothingness or a violent death by way of having molten gold poured down his throat is one to which we’ll likely never have a definitive answer.
When Valerian became emperor in 253, Rome was in the middle of the Crisis of the Third Century. In a period of only 50 years, the empire would boast a staggering total of nearly 50 different emperors. Many emperors only lasted a few months, assassinated by rivals or even their own troops. As historian Pat Southern put it, “To be declared emperor once marked the apogee of a man’s career. In the third century it was a death sentence.”
Valerian’s seven years of rule might seem like a success – until he was captured by Rome’s greatest enemy, the Persians.
Valerian’s rival was King Shapur I of Persia. As Rome attempted to expand in the Middle East, Shapur pushed them back, first killing Roman emperor Gordian III at the Battle of Misiche and then defeating his successor to capture the city of Antioch.
But Shapur’s greatest victory came in 260 when he captured emperor Valerian at the Battle of Edessa.
Lactantius, an early Christian writer who was 20 when Valerian died, wrote a description of the emperor’s treatment at the hands of the Persians. After his capture, Valerian “wasted the remainder of his days in the vilest condition of slavery,” Lactantius reported.
Lactantius wrote that King Shapur even humiliated Valerian by using him as a human footstool. “The king of the Persians, who had made him prisoner, whenever he chose to get into his carriage or to mount on horseback, commanded the Roman to stoop and present his back.”
Shapur did more than just step on Valerian’s back. According to Lactantius, every time the king trod on the emperor, he smiled and said, “This is true, and not what the Romans delineate on board or plaster,” mocking the emperor’s fall from power.
The Romans weren’t about to carve a statue of Valerian’s humiliation, but Valerian became a popular subject in Persian and European art for centuries after the emperor’s death. In the 16th century, over 1,000 years later, Hans Holbein was still drawing the Roman with a Persian king’s foot on his back.
During Valerian’s humiliation, his son Gallienus ruled Rome. But Gallienus was so weak that he never attempted to rescue his own father. Instead, Gallienus had his hands full trying to suppress a revolt in Rome’s western provinces, where a rival, Postumus, had declared himself Emperor of the Gallic Empire.
Lactantius didn’t buy Gallienus’s excuse, though. He paints a picture of a despondent Valerian, lamenting his “abject and servile state,” and then Lactantius turns the knife: “neither indeed was he ever demanded back.” Apparently Gallienus was too busy to write a letter to Shapur. Or he was too embarrassed about his father’s purported footstool status.
The Persians made decorative cameos to celebrate Valerian’s humiliation, showing the emperor helpless against Shapur, who is able to subdue and capture the Roman by simply grabbing his arm.
During the Roman emperor’s captivity, Shapur could have executed Valerian at any time. And, according to some historians, this is likely exactly what happened. Lactantius, however, claimed that the king wanted to ensure “that the Roman name remained long the scoff and derision of the barbarians.” As a result, Shapur subjected the humiliated emperor to a barrage of insults.
It doesn’t get much worse than having molten gold poured over your head, as season one of Game of Thrones proved. Except if the gold is poured down your throat. That might’ve been exactly what happened to Valerian when King Shapur got tired of insulting him.
Horrific as this sounds, it begs the question: just what killed the victim? Was it the hot gold itself, the steam, perhaps suffocation? The blog It’s Interesting points to a 2003 study in the Journal of Clinical Pathology in which investigators decided to find out. Instead of gold, they used lead, another historically accurate (if less expensive) agent of execution:
“We obtained a bovine larynx from a local slaughter house (no animal was harmed or killed specifically for this purpose). After fixing the larynx in a horizontal position to a piece of wood and closing the distal end using tissue paper, 750 g of pure lead (gold is expensive you know) was heated until melting (around 450°C) and then poured into the larynx. Immediately, large amounts of steam appeared at both ends of the specimen, and the clot of tissue paper was expelled with force by the steam. Within 10 seconds, the lead had congealed again, completely filling the larynx.”
After the lead and larynx cooled down, the experimenters examined the larynx by taking cross-sections and looking at them under a light microscope. The throat mucus layer had been completely burned off, and the muscle was cooked or damaged to the depth of about 1 cm, they report.
Having molten lead or gold poured down your throat, they conclude, is a pretty sure way to die: it might rupture your organs, burn your lungs and choke you. Ultimately, though, it’s probably the steam that pulls the plug.
According to an alternate cause of death postulated by Lactantius, Valerian was flayed alive, and “his skin, stripped from the flesh, was dyed with vermilion, and placed in the temple of the gods of the barbarians.” His flayed skin was stuffed with straw and Valerian was preserved in taxidermied form.
Valerian’s stuffed, red corpse stood as a symbol of Persian triumph and a reminder to the Romans to not be too confident about their strength.
King Shapur’s triumph over Valerian was carved into the rocks at Naqš-e Rustam, in Fars, Iran. The relief shows two of the Roman emperors who Shapur humiliated. In the image, the king seizes Valerian with his bare hands, while a second Roman emperor, Philip, bows to Shapur. According to Persian legend, Philip owed his throne to the Persians after paying them a ransom to let him return to Rome.
The relief made the Romans look weak and feeble compared to the mighty Persian king.
Lactantius had his own reasons for not liking Valerian. As emperor, Valerian gleefully persecuted Christians, executing bishops and priests and sending others off in chains as forced laborers. He martyred two future saints, Pope Sixtus II and St. Lawrence of Rome.
Lactantius may have exaggerated his tales of Valerian’s torture to further shame the emperor and to demonstrate that those who persecute Christians get what is coming to them. His book was titled The Manner in which the Persecutors Died, after all. And he wrote, “God punished [Valerian] in a new and extraordinary manner, that it might be a lesson to future ages that the adversaries of Heaven always receive the just recompense of their iniquities.”
Many historians posit the idea that it served Lactantius to write an account of Valerian meeting an ungodly, gruesome end. After all, Lactantius was a staunch early Christian, and Valerian was ruthless in his persecution of believers in Christ. Lactantius’s contemporaries might have adopted his story so readily because it served a different end: to paint Persia as barbarically as possible.
In the long conflict between Rome and Persia, propagandists were motivated to treat whatever side they weren’t on as the epitome of wickedness. Roman writers, hearing Lactantius’s version of what happened to Valerian, might have also added to and spread the story. And from there, a gruesome legend was born.
Even if Lactantius exaggerated, the Persians definitely didn’t treat Valerian like an honored guest – they imprisoned and executed him, after all. And the Romans were known for their own gruesome forms of torture, including crucifixion and throwing people to wild animals.
King Shapur’s reign turned Persia into a superpower on par with Rome. After Valerian’s grisly death, his son was assassinated by his own troops. In the middle of the third century, over a dozen Roman emperors were murdered or died in battle.
But this is not the only recorded case of death-by-golden-throat. It also happened
to a Spanish governor in the colonial settlement of Logroño in 1599.
It turns out that the governor of the Amazonian town had been cheating the indigenous Jivaro tribe (also known as Shuar) in their gold trade, which resulted in a violent revolt. The Jivaro attacked the Logroño settlement, and during the ensuing massacre of up to 25,000 Spaniards, executed the governor by pouring the object of his greed down his throat. The Jivaro then burned the remaining settlement to the ground.
Marcus Licinius Crassus (115-53 B.C.) was a Roman politician, mentor of Julius Caesar, and quite possibly one of the wealthiest men in Roman history. Crassus amassed a personal fortune primarily by seizing the assets — including property, slaves and riches — of those declared enemies of the state. A shrewd and well-liked leader, Crassus was successful in both the political and military arenas.
Two of his most notable victories included the defeat of the Spartacus slave rebellion and formation of the First Triumvirate, a three-way alliance between Crassus, Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, better known as Pompey the Great.
An ongoing feud with Pompey ultimately proved to be the downfall of Crassus. Driven by this grudge, Crassus embarked on his final military campaign in Parthia, a region in modern-day Iran. Crassus and his legions were defeated by the Parthian King Orodes II. Crassus was taken alive and, according to legend, executed by having molten gold poured down his throat as literal reference to his unquenchable thirst for wealth.
Referring to the famous scene in “Game of Thrones”, “This moment is so iconic because it represents the height of poetic justice in the series,” says Luke Watson, founder of pop-culture site Essential TV. “Viserys’ entire persona and every decision he makes is built upon a foundation of entitlement, in combination with a chip on his shoulder from being denied his birthright. He makes life miserable for everyone around him in pursuit of the crown, which reveals everything about how he would rule if he ever won it.”
Although Viserys’ story arc was the first to be fully realized in the show, it set the tone for the entire series, Watson says.
“[‘Game of Thrones’ creator] George R.R. Martin doesn’t just have a talent for murdering characters, but for doing so in a way that reinforces the broader themes of his story, which also speaks to faults that are inherently human,” Watson says. Martin has taken inspiration from real-life history for much of his fantasy, and though there’s no record of him specifically drawing from this gruesome execution method of the past, it’s not too much of a stretch to think he might be aware of it. “With so many characters to kill, I’m sure he (took) note of many memorable murder-methods,” Watson says.
When Weird Darkness returns…
In the 1800s, women finding themselves “with child” but unmarried, found help from a woman ready to take the baby off their hands and find it a good home. Or so everyone thought. (Minnie, The Baby Farmer)
Police end up in a 100mph high speed chase with a UFO. (The 86-Mile UFO Chase)
But first, when the Black Plague arrived at their doorsteps, the villagers were forced to choose between life or certain doom. It’s the tragic tale of England’s Plague Village – the village of Eyam. That story is up next.
(The Black Death Comes to Eyam)
STORY: THE BLACK DEATH COMES TO EYAM==========
Contracting the plague in 17th century England was a death sentence. While we now know that flea-bitten rats spread the sickness to humans, those living through the epidemic possessed no such knowledge. Many feared the Black Death was the wrath of God, leading sufferers to treat symptoms with curious methods, like fastening a toad to swollen bubo lumps in hopes of removing the poison.
London was hit especially hard in its Great Plague outbreak of 1665. Yet one quiet English village due north of the city stands out for its voluntary isolation after infection struck—even though the decision spelled certain doom for the community.
In the fall of 1665, as the plague raged through London, a package of cloth was sent from the capital to Alexander Hadfield, a tailor who lived in Eyam, Derbyshire. Hadfield wasn’t home, so his apprentice George Viccars received the parcel. Realizing the materials were damp, he hung them to dry by the fire.
Soon after, Viccars fell ill, becoming the first in Eyam to be struck by the plague.
The apprentice died within a week. Members of the household soon followed suit. As more neighbors fell ill throughout the fall, the village of Eyam realized the plague had arrived.
Wealthy townsfolk and those not tied to their land fled. Some stayed in the area, constructing makeshift homes in nearby caves. The illness receded in the winter months, but as the weather warmed in the spring of 1666, the number of infected rose—leading those who were able to flee Eyam entirely, often taking the sickness with them.
One man who vowed to stay was Rector William Mompesson and his wife Catherine (their children were sent to Yorkshire). Though the Black Death was all around him, the rector stood fast, determined to combat its spread.
Rector Mompesson sought the help of another man, Thomas Stanley, a Puritan and former rector who still had considerable religious favor. The two had different religious views—a big deal in those days. Yet together they agreed to take charge.
The pair presented a bold plan of forced quarantine to what remained of the village. They asked everyone to subscribe the following rules:
Do not bury the dead in the church graveyard. Instead, bury your deceased on your own land.
The church will be closed until further notice. Services will take place outside at Cucklett Delph and families should keep 12 feet distance from one another.
Eyam will remain isolated and no one is to leave or enter until the plague is eradicated.
Parishioners understood the deadly stakes of the self-imposed quarantine. Doubly troubling was that according to their faith, the dead had to be buried on holy ground so that they could rise on Judgment Day and enter heaven. Miraculously, despite such physical and spiritual anxieties, they came together. The quarantine of Eyam commenced.
Life was difficult, but nearby villages pitched in with goods. The Earl of Devonshire paid for medical supplies and food. These were delivered at set drop off points outside of Eyam. Plague Stones provided demarcations that outsiders knew not to cross.
Coins were left in the waters of Monday Brook, so named for the day the town of Bakewell dropped off their goods. Vinegar was also used as a disinfectant, with grooves drilled into boundary stones and filled with the substance as a kind of decontamination station.
Unsurprisingly, the Black Death decimated Eyam during the quarantine. A reported 76 families were infected, with some experiencing huge losses that nearly eradicated their entire lineage. Catherine, the rector’s wife, succumbed to the illness. Mrs. Hancock, once belonging to a family of eight, dug the graves of her husband and six children within one week.
Such heartbreaking tales stretched beyond the walls of Eyam. Rowland Torre reportedly lived in nearby Stoney Middleton and had been meeting Emmott Sydall of Eyam in secret each day to gaze at each other from afar, never touching. Then, in April, Emmott stopped coming. Rowland continued to wait for her each day, month after month, and finally entered town when the plague was over. To his dismay, the Sydall family had perished.
In total, at least 260 people died in Eyam over the course of 14 months. Alternate calculations set the death toll at 370. Those who survived saw the end of the plague and a lifting of the quarantine in Christmas 1666. Survivors burned everything but the clothes on their backs to ensure no further contamination.
Today, Eyam in Derbyshire is known as England’s Plague Village. Visitors come from far and wide, attracted by the tale of the Eyam villagers who sacrificed their lives so that others might live. On the last Sunday of August, locals commemorate those brave souls with a celebration, known as Plague Sunday.
STORY: THE 100MPH UFO CHASE==========
It’s 5 a.m. April 17, 1966, when two Portage County, Ohio, sheriff deputies stop to investigate an abandoned vehicle along a road near Ravenna.
Deputy Dale Spaur gets out of his car, while Wilbur “Barney” Neff remains in his.
“He hears this strange humming noise, so he turns around and sees this giant UFO,” said Brian Seech, co-founder of the Center for Unexplained Events. The unidentified flying object rises from behind the trees and hovers above them, the ground drenched in bright light.
What transpires next will be an 86-mile chase at speeds of more than 100 mph that will take the deputies — and a few more — on a harrowing ride from Ohio to Pennsylvania.
For law enforcement officers, the bizarre trek won’t end in Conway, Pa. It will follow them for the rest of their lives.
Initially instructed by their dispatcher to shoot the object, Spaur and Neff are told to stand down by Sgt. Henry Shoenfelt who wonders if the two have found a government weather balloon. About the same time, police Chief Gerald Buchert, who was on patrol in nearby Mantua, hears the deputies’ call about lights in the sky. He races home to get his camera and snaps three photos of what he describes as “two table saucers put together.”
When the UFO zips away toward the east, Spaur and Neff give chase.
Spaur later would say that from the ground, the object looked like the head of a flashlight, about 40 feet wide and 20 feet tall.
“The lines of the object were very distinct,” he told reporters. “Somebody had control over it. It wasn’t just floating around. It can maneuver.”
Seech said the chase slowed down near Rochester. The cars got “tangled up in a mess of bridges,” according to Spaur.
Spaur would later explain, “When I came out from under the bridge, it came down and waited for us. Just as though it knew these two cars were following it.”
Seech said as soon as Spaur and Neff — now low on gas — got close to it, the object would speed up.
“It was almost as if it was playing cat-and-mouse with them,” Seech said.
Their vehicles were running on fumes, their tires were balding, he said, so they pulled into an Atlantic service station where they were met by Conway Patrolman Frank Panzanella.
By 6:15 a.m., Spaur had alerted dispatch about the three fighter jets in pursuit of the aircraft. The officers could pick up chatter from the pilots on their police radios.
“The object hovered,” Seech said, “then shot straight out of sight.”
Spaur recounted, “We were close, closer than I ever want to be again.”
Hundreds of people also reported seeing the shiny saucer in the sky and heard the steady, faint humming sound.
It didn’t take long for Maj. Hector Quintanilla, director of Project Blue Book, a government-funded project that investigates UFO sightings, to come knocking. Headquartered out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Project Blue Book also determined whether or not UFOs were a threat to national security.
“He interviewed Spaur and Neff, and it was a rather terse interview,” Seech said, adding that Quintanilla easily explained away the sighting — and the photos.
First, it was a satellite they saw, Quintanilla said, then the planet Venus. Officers were chasing a stationary object. Radar didn’t indicate anything peculiar, and no fighter jets were dispatched.
And Buchert’s photos? Those were “severely fogged,” Quintanilla reported, had processing defects and proved nothing.
“I know nobody’s ever going to believe it, but it’s true,” Spaur said.
Over time, the officers would back down from their original reports, some refusing to talk about it. Spaur never discounted his experience, though it did cost him his marriage and livelihood.
“People generally don’t want to be different. They don’t want to stick out,” Seech noted. “As Dale even said, they’re going to remember me as that nut who saw a flying saucer. They chased something. We don’t know what it was, but they chased it.”
People still remember the incident and its lasting impression, especially on a young filmmaker named Steven Spielberg. He had used the police chase and other details in his blockbuster movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
“I think that is a pretty cool fact that maybe a lot of people don’t know,” Seech said.
As Spaur later said, “If I could change all that I have done in my life, I would change just one thing. And that would be the night we chased that damn thing. That saucer.”
STORY: MINNIE, THE BABY FARMER==========
At a time when having a child out of wedlock was frowned upon, a time when contraception was either non-existent or difficult to come by – in the late 1800’s in New Zealand, this was a problem for many women. Fortunately, there was a woman willing and able to step up, step in, and help out.
Winifred “Minnie” McCulloch was born in Greenock, in western Scotland on September 2, 1844. She was one of seven children, all girls. Her father was a railway engineer, and her mother died of cancer in 1857. While the exact date is unknown, in the 1860’s, Minnie moved to Invercargill, with two young girls. Her explanation? She was the widow of a Tasmanian doctor, which left some curious, as she maintained her maiden name, McCulloch. There was no evidence of her husband’s death, or even the marriage. Regardless, in 1872, she married an innkeeper named Charles Dean.
Minnie and Charles lived in Etal Creek, and a short 8 years later, Minnie’s two daughters had married and moved on. Missing the sound of children in the house, Minnie and Charles adopted a five year old girl named Margaret Cameron. The three moved to Winton, New Zealand, having purchased an old abandoned, two-story, seven room house, named “The Larches” on 22 acres of land. Unfortunately, the house burnt down shortly thereafter.
Charles built the family a two-room cottage with a leant-to on the site, and took on the task of raising pigs. They adopted another girl, Esther, and to bring in some extra income, Minnie began taking in unwanted babies for payment. The practice, called “baby farming,” was considered a necessary evil. While contraception was not readily available, abortion was illegal and dangerous, and unwed mothers were ostracized and had little to no provision for caring for the baby, Minnie was there to help them out.
She placed discreet ads in the newspaper: “Respectable Married Woman (comfortable home, country) Wants to Adopt an infant – Address, Childless, Times Office”
Legal agreements were drawn up and signed for most of the babies she took in, and she earned 5s. to 8s. a week. Others, she adopted for a lump sum of £10 and £30. Minnie was known to take in as many as nine children at a time.
Infant mortality was a significant problem in New Zealand at this time for children of European descent where it is estimated that between 80 and 100 of every 1,000 live births did not survive. So, it wasn’t surprising when a baby under her care would die. In October 1889, a six month old baby died of convulsions after being ill for three days. In March 1891, a six week old infant died of inflammation of the heart valves and congestion of the lungs. The medical witness at the time reported that all the children living at The Larches were well cared for and received proper nourishment. However, the report also indicated that the premises were inadequate. The coroner exonerated Minnie of any wrongdoing, but recommended she reduce the number of children in her care, as well as improve conditions.
Minnie complied, but only partially. She slightly reduced the number of children she cared for, but made no effort to improve the conditions of her home.
News of the deaths spread, and the inquest itself left the community enraged. They began to see Minnie as a baby farmer, such as those in Britain and Australia, who had been convicted of murdering infants for financial gain.
No new deaths were reported, but that didn’t stop people from gossiping, and the subsequent rumors. Police took an interest, and kept her under surveillance. Their hands were tied, however, due to insufficient child welfare laws. Under these laws, police were not allowed to enter, or inspect, the Dean property, and Minnie was not required to keep records or answer any of their questions. This made proving any wrongdoing difficult. They could not even directly identify if a child in her possession had died.
Minnie didn’t help her case either. In 1893, The proprietor of a Christchurch boarding-house contacted the police. He reported that a woman had acquired a three-week old baby during her stay. The detective quickly removed the baby from her care. In his report he stated, “I believe this woman would have killed or abandoned this child before she got to Dunedin, if it had not been taken from her.” The woman was identified as Minnie Dean.
On May 2, 1895, the suspicions were confirmed. According to a railway guard, Minnie Dean boarded a train with a baby and a hatbox, the hatbox presumably empty as it weighed very little. When she departed the train, the baby was gone, and the hatbox was mysteriously heavy. A woman by the name of Jane Hornsby, came forward claiming that she had given her granddaughter, Eva, to Minnie that very day. Searching Minnie’s residence, clothes belonging to the girl were found, but the child herself was nowhere to be seen. A search along the railway turned up no sign of a child, but that didn’t matter. Minnie Dean was arrested and charged with murder.
Minnie’s garden was searched, still looking for the baby. It was there that they discovered the recently buried bodies of two baby girls, and the skeleton of a four year old boy.
Eva was confirmed to have died of suffocation, and the other, one year old Dorothy Edit Carter, had died from an overdose of laudanum (a drug used as a painkiller, and sedative in children). They were unable to determine the cause of death for the boy, however Minnie later admitted that he had drowned under her care the year prior.
At her trial, Minnie’s lawyer, Alfred Hanlon, argued that all the deaths had been accidental, and were only covered up to prevent the outrage she had previously experienced. Outside, hatboxes containing dolls were reportedly sold as souvenirs, and she was officially the most hated woman in New Zealand.
The trial lasted only four days. Her defense fell short, and on June 21, 1895, she was found guilty of Dorothy Carter’s murder and subsequently sentenced to death by hanging.
Between June and August 1895, Minnie Dean wrote down her own account. In this she claimed to have cared for twenty-eight children, five of which were in good health when her home was raided, six had died under her care, and one had been reclaimed by her parents. Aside from her two adopted daughters, that left fourteen children unaccounted for.
On August 12, 1895, Minnie Dean was executed by Tom Long at the Invercargill gaol, at the intersection of Spey and Leven streets, in what is now the Noel Leeming carpark. According to The Otago Daily Times, “She walked straight on without a halt to the drop-door, gave a scrutinising glance, first at the gallows and its belongings, then at the half dozen people standing below, a contemptuous, loathing look at the hangman, and placed herself in a position to facilitate his work as much as possible, and took a few long breaths while he was adjusting the rope and placing the white calico cap over her head and face.”
Her final words claimed her innocence, “I have nothing to say, except that I am innocent.” It is reported that as she fell through the trap door, she cried out, “Oh God, let me not suffer!”
Minnie Dean is the only woman to have been executed in New Zealand. Her body was interred in the Winton Cemetery, now accompanied by her husband, who died in a house fire in 1908.
The crimes committed led to the passage of new child welfare legislation – the infant Life Protection Act 1893 and the Infant Protection Act 1896.
Today, Minnie Dean exists in New Zealand folklore as the baby killer of the South Island. According to the local legend, she killed babies with a hatpin while dressed in all black. “Minnie was like the bogeyman of our town when I was a kid,” said singer-songwriter Helen Henderson, who grew up in Southland. “If you were giving cheek to your mum or being naughty, it was like, ‘You better watch out or I’ll send you off to Minnie Dean’s farm and you’ll never be heard of again.’”
It is reported that even today, no grass has ever grown on her grave.
Ruth Snyder and Judd Gray devised a scheme to get rid of Ruth’s husband – and they planned it so well that, okay… actually no. They were so inept they were caught immediately, and even the police publicly called them incompetent. (The Dumb-Bell Murder)
Plus, “Tom” and “Lena” are in a loving relationship and have a young child together. It sounds like the perfect family – except for one tiny detail about their relationship. Tom and Lena are biological brother and sister. (I Fell In Love With My Sister)
These stories still to come when Weird Darkness returns!
STORY: THE DUMB-BELL MURDER==========
The Snyder murder, as one crime writer put it, was a “cheap crime involving cheap people.” Many considered it the low point in the history of the early 1900s but for those who lived in the thrill-hungry days of the “Roaring ’20s,” they devoured every sordid detail and made the otherwise mundane Ruth Snyder and her accomplice, Judd Gray, into infamous celebrities. In addition to murder, their second-greatest crime was simply being stupid.
The events in the case began quietly in 1925 when Ruth Brown Snyder, a discontented Long Island housewife, met a corset salesman named Henry Judd Gray while having lunch in New York. Ruth, 32, was a tall blonde with solid good looks and a commanding personality. Judd Gray, 34, was short and almost instantly forgettable. He had a cleft chin and thick glasses that gave him a perpetual look of surprise. Despite the fact that they seemed to be polar opposites, sexual attraction flared between the two of them at their first meeting and they soon began a torrid affair.
Ruth Snyder’s husband, Albert, was the art editor of the magazine “Motor Boating” (no laughing!) and was never home during the day. The adulterous couple only had the Snyder’s nine-year-old daughter, Lorraine, to contend with and the amorous pair would often meet at the Snyder’s home while Lorraine was at school. On other occasions, the little girl would be left in a hotel lobby while her mother and her lover met upstairs. They met as often as possible and seemed unable to get enough of one another.
But Ruth Snyder soon changed from a sex-obsessed housewife to a woman with devious plans. Bored in her loveless marriage, she tried to convince Judd that her husband mistreated her and that he must be killed. Gray objected but Ruth continued to pester him with hints, suggestions, and then, outright demands.
Finally, on Saturday, March 19, 1927, Judd gave in. It was a cold, raw day on Long Island and Gray spent most of the day drinking, trying to summon the courage to go through with the murder. He and Ruth had cooked up a plan that had him traveling by train to New York from Syracuse and then by bus to Long Island. When he arrived in Queens Village, where the Snyders lived, he walked around for an hour, stopping under street lights to take drinks from his flask. It was almost as if he hoped to be spotted and arrested for breaking the law. No one paid any attention to him, though, and finally, he had to enter the Snyder home. He came in through the back door, as he and Ruth had planned. The Snyder family was away at a party and would return late. Judd had promised to hide in a spare room, where Ruth had left a window sash weight, rubber gloves and chloroform, all the tools of murder.
Ruth returned home around 2:00 a.m. and she opened the bedroom door a crack. She whispered, “Are you in there, Bud, dear?” She soon returned wearing only a slip and the two had sex with her husband asleep just down the hallway. Finally, after about an hour, Gray grabbed the window sash weight and Ruth led him to the master bedroom, where Albert Snyder slept with the blankets up over his head. The two of them stood on opposite sides of the bed and then Gray raised the sash weight and brought it down clumsily onto Snyder’s head. The weak blow merely glanced off the man’s skull and while stunned, he let out a roar and tried to seize his attacker. Judd became terrified and let out a whining scream for help.
There was no panic in Ruth Snyder and with a snort of disgust and anger, she grabbed the weight from Judd’s hands and crashed it down on her husband’s skull, killing him. After that, the two of them went downstairs, had drinks, and chatted about the rest of their plan. They faked a robbery by knocking over some chairs and loosely tying Ruth’s hands and feet. Minutes after Gray left, Ruth began banging on Lorraine’s door. The child ran out and removed the gag from her mother’s mouth. She told her daughter to get help and Lorraine ran next door to the neighbor’s house, where the police were called.
Even though the pair believed they had planned well, their “robbery” was far from convincing to experienced police officers. All of the items that Ruth said had been taken by the mysterious burglar were found hidden in the house and detectives began to question her. Surprisingly, she gave up almost at once and confessed to the murder but, not surprisingly, she blamed everything on Judd Gray. He was found hours later, hiding in his Syracuse hotel room. He shrieked his innocence and insisted that he had not been in New York. When confronted with the train ticket stub that he had carelessly tossed in the trash can of the hotel room, he broke down and confessed. Like Ruth, he blamed everything on his accomplice.
Damon Runyon, the celebrated newsman, later wrote that Ruth and Judd were “inept idiots” and called the whole mess the Dumb-bell Murder, “because it was so dumb.”
By the time the case went to trial, the two former lovers were at one another’s throats, each blaming the other for the deadly deed. The trial became a media frenzy. Celebrities attended in droves, including mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart, director D.W. Griffith, author Will Durant, evangelists Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple McPherson and many others.
Both defendants had separate attorneys arguing for their innocence. Ruth’s lawyer stated that her husband “drove love out from the house” by longing after a departed sweetheart, leaving her no choice but to have an affair. Judd, she claimed, took her to speakeasies and drank himself senseless, but she never touched a drop of liquor. When Judd took the stand, his lawyer blamed Ruth for everything and described his client’s situation as “the most tragic story that has ever gripped the human heart.” Just as Ruth had blamed everything on him, he told the jury that she had forced him to kill her husband.
The jury didn’t care, and in just 98 minutes found them both guilty and sentenced to die in the electric chair.
Judd Gray was executed first on January 12, 1928. He sat smiling in his cell when the warden came for him. He told the warden that he was ready to go. He said, “I have nothing to fear.”
Ruth Snyder followed her former lover just minutes after she watched the prison lights flicker, signaling that the switch had been thrown for the electric chair. Reporters remembered that, as she was being led to the death chamber, that she had said days before that God had forgiven her and that she hoped the world would.
A clever reporter from the New York Daily News smuggled a camera into the death chamber by strapping it to his ankle. He managed to click off a photo just as the current entered Ruth’s body and snapped her body against the chair straps. The photograph ran in the next day’s edition of the paper but soon the lurid tale faded into history. Soon, people remembered the photo more than they remembered who had been sitting in the chair. The “Dumb Bell Murder” was another one for the history books.
STORY: I FELL IN LOVE WITH MY SISTER==========
All of the names in this next story have been changed to protect the identities of those discussed. And you’re about to find out why…
Tom’s profile picture shows him and his girlfriend, Lena. She hugs him from behind, lovingly kissing him on the neck. He is smiling, twining his fingers in her long, brown hair. Strictly speaking, nothing is wrong with this photo. It shows two people who love each other—a relationship based on mutual attraction.
But Lena is Tom’s sister, and for most people this changes everything; the photograph actually becomes criminal evidence. “I’m scared of people finding me disgusting,” says Tom. He looks away from me and claws at his fingers. He’s been in a committed relationship with his sister for 20 years, and the couple has a child together. “There’s nothing that I haven’t heard before. People have called me a desecrator, sister-f***r, or simply retarded. And all of that has come out of the mouths of people who were at one time my friends. Even if society won’t recognize us, we exist and there are more of us than you think.”
Rotraut Perner is a psychotherapist who has worked, among other things, on various incest cases since 1975. “In most cases, my patients were very shy toward strangers,” he says. “They clearly exhibited social anxiety and tended to stay at home. This of course was often linked to their backstory: Most of them weren’t allowed to meet up with other people as children because their parents were either very jealous or very stern—limiting their children’s movements.”
Tom and Lena grew up in a small Austrian village. They lived in a huge, white fairytale house with a dog on the front lawn. Their mother was a housewife and their father a civil servant. The kids were well-behaved, went to school, and did their best not to attract negative attention. In their family there were no quarrels, and smiles were obligatory. Otherwise, what would the neighbors think? At some point Tom realized that he wasn’t perfect. Lena felt the same way. “I started getting real feelings for her when we both entered puberty,” said Tom. “She was blossoming. Sometimes I would watch her getting dressed in her room and always felt ashamed of myself afterwards.”
Tom reassured himself that curiosity about the female body is normal. He wasn’t attracted to his sister but to women in general. But his feelings kept growing stronger. Then, at 17, Lena got her first real boyfriend. “That was hell for me,” Tom confesses. “I hated each one of her boyfriend’s guts. Lena used to cry because I wouldn’t get on with them. Today, I know that it was pure jealousy.”
After a three-year relationship, Lena’s boyfriend cheated on her. In the middle of the night she stumbled into Tom’s bedroom. He was already asleep and was woken by her sobbing. To console her, he fetched some wine from the cellar. After the first glass, came the second, and then the third in quick succession. Intoxicated in the moment, Lena cuddled up to his shoulder.
In Rotraut Perner’s view, this is not abnormal per se. “From my professional experience, it’s not true that people don’t find their siblings attractive,” the psychotherapist says. “Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. More importantly, relationships between siblings are defined by envy, rivalry, and admiration, along with the need to cuddle or have secrets from the rest of the world. All those things are linked to certain fantasies—some of them induced by pop culture and the media, others by their upbringing and family situation. Whether or not you make those fantasies a reality, depends on how good you are at evaluating that reality. People in incestuous relationships often lack that skill.”
In the case of Tom and Lena, their fantasy soon came to life: “I can still remember it like it happened yesterday,” says Tom. “She looked up at me and asked why other men can’t be more like me.” That’s when it happened; Tom felt sure that he and Lena were not just siblings. But before he could make a move, Lena leaned in and kissed him. Tom pushed his sister away. “What the hell are we doing?” he screamed. Lena started to cry.
The following days were torture for Tom. Of course they could have just blamed it on the alcohol, but was it really a one-off? His thoughts just wouldn’t leave him alone. He begun to remember specific situations. “It became clear to me that Lena and I were always flirting,” he said. “I always used to take it as a joke but it couldn’t have been. All these strange situations suddenly became crystal clear.”
He now knows that he used to watch Lena getting dressed because he was keen on her. He wasn’t just aroused because she’s a woman, but also because he had feelings for her. Lena and Tom have since spoken about that a lot. Lena’s told Tom that she would leave her door open on purpose so that he could observe her. She was trying to seduce him—yet that only became clear to her after their kiss. “I was relieved to find out she felt the same about me,” said Tom. “We could be happy together. But of course that was a kind of utopia. In reality, our love was a curse—it still is.”
The type of relationship that Tom and Lena have would be taboo in nearly every culture, and it’s also illegal. In many countries around the world, including most of Europe, sexual relationships between close relatives are prohibited. In Austria, where Tom and Lena are from, incest between parents and children is punishable by up to a year in prison, and incest between siblings can result in six months behind bars.
When Tom slept with Lena for the first time, it wasn’t just an act of love but also a criminal offense. “It was then I realized we’re criminals. But Paragraph 211 [of the Austrian criminal code] punishes consenting adults for entering relationships with other adults. We’re not forcing each other into anything.”
For Tom, this paragraph is a huge, black cloud hovering above him. He can’t understand why he should be sent to prison. “Since when is disgust a reason to imprison others?” he said. “Nobody would make someone serve time for having sex with a cake, just because someone else found it disgusting.”
Of course, there’s also a biological dimension to incest bans.
“Relatives share a common gene pool that becomes more and more similar the closer the blood relationship is,” Franco Laccone, a doctor from the Institute of Medical Genetics at the Medical School of Vienna. “Of course, everybody carries what we call ‘silent mutations,’ which are completely harmless. The problems start only when you carry the same mutations, in the exact same genes. The risk for this increases significantly between relatives. If the parents are first cousins, the probability for recessive genetic defects increases to 6 percent, while healthy non-related parents have a risk of only 3 percent for handing down such defects.”
For mothers, getting pregnant from incestuous intercourse is approximately as dangerous as getting pregnant as someone with trisomy, according to Laccone.
Not surprisingly, Tom has been preoccupied with the legal status of incest for years. When Patrick Stübing, who had four children with his sister, challenged Germany’s incest laws in court a decade ago, in 2008, Tom rejoiced. He really believed that the law could be repealed. But the appeal was rejected in 2008 by judges who cited several reasons the law should stand, including:
- Maintaining a diverse gene pool is in the best interest of public health
- Laws against incest can protect vulnerable people from trauma that could arise even from consensual sexual acts.
- Decriminalizing incest law could send the “wrong message” to the public
For Tom the third reason is based on arbitrary societal norms. And though his cause is a long way from the mainstream, he’s not alone. Hans Jörg Albrecht, director of the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law in Germany, has tried to disprove the most common rumors surrounding incest in a lengthy analysis. Albrect’s writings are Tom’s Bible. “The majority of people think that Paragraph 211… serves children who are yet to be born,” says Tom. “They are just so wrong. They assume that 100 percent of children who arise from incestuous relationships are handicapped.”
In general, the children of related couples are more likely to have certain kinds of genetic conditions, but according to the Genetic Alliance, a UK-based group that works to improve the lives of people with genetic conditions, “most related couples have healthy children.”
“I would understand it if you told me, ‘You are going to prison because you are endangering your child,'” Tom said. “But my child is healthy and my wife and I love each other voluntarily. Therefore all good reasons for punishment do not apply.”
Tom and Lena kept their relationship a secret for several years. “For a long time, we thought that we were sick. What kind of person is in love with his sister?” Tom said. “It’s unbelievable what a taboo can do to your feelings of self-worth.” Tom became depressed.
At one point, Tom became depressed, separating from Lena and trying to kill himself. Lena found him unconscious in the bath with sleeping tablets beside him. That was a moment of self-realization for him: “Something had to change. I felt like I lived in a bubble.”
So, Lena and Tom decided to move out of their parents’ home and far away from anyone who knew them. Today they share an apartment in Germany. Their new friends think they’re married. When Lena gave birth to their daughter, Tom said, she declared the father to be unknown.
“We didn’t want to risk anything. There’s no way I’ll let them put me in prison and take me away from my family.”