“HOW TO GET RICH BY STEALING AND SELLING CHILDREN” and More Horrifying True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: We’ll look at some historic serial murderers and the strange and unusual ways they killed their victims. (Strange Predilections in Murder Methods) *** When it comes to planning the burial of someone, it’s always best to to keep in mind that whomever is watching how you treat the deceased might be in charge of deciding what happens to you when you die. Sadly, one undertaker, Millard F. Rodgers, apparently forgot about the golden rule – and committed gruesome acts against families. (Six Children, One Grave) *** Residents in the town of Blakeney are reporting something horrifying prowling around the neighborhood and backyards… something they describe as a devil dog… a hell hound… a black shuck. (The Black Shuck of Blakeney) *** We have all been guilty of wishing we had more money coming in. Some people go out and get a second job. Others look at what they have to sell online, or look at what skills they have to offer to the public that they could charge money for. Or you can go the route of Georgia Tann – her entrepreneurial spirit brought her millions of dollars. And it was a simple idea. Steal other people’s children, and then sell them! (How To Get Rich By Stealing and Selling Children)
SOURCES AND ESSENTIAL WEB LINKS…
“Strange Predilections in Murder Methods” by Carissa Chesanek for Ranker’s Unspeakable Times: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/zy3t5c5j
“Six Children, One Grave” by Chris Woodyard for The Victorian Book of the Dead website:https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/w62bu858
“How To Get Rich By Stealing and Selling Children” by Noelle Talmon for Weird History:https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/jcenv8y5
“The Black Shuck of Blakeney” by Stacia Briggs and Siofra Connor for Eastern Daily Press:https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/24wtnfwe
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(Over time links seen above may become invalid, disappear, or have different content. I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use whenever possible. If I somehow overlooked doing so for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I will rectify it in these show notes immediately. Some links included above may benefit me financially through qualifying purchases.)
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“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46
Trademark, Weird Darkness®, 2022. Copyright Weird Darkness©, 2022.
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STORY: STRANGE PREDILECTIONS IN MURDER METHODS==========
Murder is always horrendous, but when it’s committed in a unique, deviant way, there’s something even more sinister to the crime. While some serial killers stick to guns or knives, others prefer a strange, distinctive act that satisfies their demented curiosity or perverse sexual needs.
Charles Albright is known as the Texas Eyeball Killer and the Dallas Ripper for good reason. In 1990 and 1991, Albright terrorized the Dallas community by going after what he felt were easy targets: female sex workers. His technique was to pick up women, shoot them, and then dump their half-naked bodies – but not before he removed the eyes from his victims and kept them as souvenirs. Some could say it began at age 11, when Albright started a taxidermy class at the behest of his overprotective adoptive mother, Delle Albright. Young Albright took to it immediately, going so far as to remove the eyes from birds, leaving two buttons sewn on where the eyes used to be. Throughout his life he was obsessed with women’s eyes, including painting them and cutting them out of photographs. In December 1991, Albright was charged with the murder of Shirley Williams, only one of three suspected victims, due to her hairs turning up inside his vacuum. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Before anyone knew who he was, Albert DeSalvo was dubbed the Boston Strangler back in the 1960s, when he went on a killing spree from 1962 to 1964. He preyed on the weak and lonely, sneaking into women’s homes – many of them older women – savagely raping and then strangling them to death. His typical method was to strangle the victims with their own underwear or stockings. Once he was finished choking them, he’d then tie the underwear into a bow around the woman’s neck. He then ransacked her home and took some of the victim’s belongings for a keepsake. DeSalvo ended up in jail, but not for murder. While he was a convicted rapist, he was never found guilty of killing, even after he confessed to strangling 13 women. In 1973, DeSalvo was stabbed to death in prison. In 2001 his remains were exhumed in an attempt to match his DNA with a DNA samplef rom the home of his last and final victim, Mary Sullivan. Results were inconclusive. However, in 2013, police took a DNA sample from a water bottle DeSalvo’s nephew drank from and determined with 99.9% certainty that Albert DeSalvo raped and murdered Ms. Sullivan. Police then concluded that he was likely responsible for all of the murders attributed to the Boston Strangler.
Jeffrey Dahmer, dubbed the Milwaukee Cannibal, kept the community on high alert from 1978 to 1991 with his serial killings. He preyed on teenage boys and men, subjecting them to the extremes of torture. Dahmer’s pattern was to rape and kill his victims, followed by dismembering them and later consuming parts of their bodies. Dahmer was also reported to have sex with the corpses he left behind. His motivation was to create a submissive zombie sex slave to attend to his needs. He’d capture his victims and then drill a hole in their heads or inject hydrochloric acid or boiling water as a crude form of “brain surgery,” thinking he’d be able to take over their minds. Dahmer was arrested in July 1991, at which time authorities discovered severed heads and male organs inside his apartment. He was convicted and given life in prison, but he was killed by another inmate, Charles Sarver, in 1994.
Between 1974 and 1978, Ted Bundy committed unspeakable acts of violence within several different states. He was charming and attractive, making it relatively easy to lure in women and girls, some as young as 15. Bundy dismembered some of his victims after he brutally killed them and removed the heads to keep as trophies, as he once told a detective he did with victim Georgeann Hawkins. He was also known to have sex with the corpses, and was thought to be sexually attracted only to unconscious women. Bundy reportedly killed 30 people during his crime spree in the ’70s. Convicted in 1980 and sentenced to death in Florida, he died by the electric chair in 1989.
In Wisconsin during the ’50s, Ed Gein killed women and kept parts of them to create things in his home. But, he began his intrigue with the dead in cemeteries. After Ed’s oppressive mother died, he began roaming cemeteries and digging up corpses that looked like her. He used the decomposing skin to make rotten-flesh upholstery for his furniture. He practiced necrophilia and did taxidermy on human bodies. When his crimes escalated to murder, he kept human organs in his home and made clothing and accessories from body parts. When he was arrested, police found a female victim strung up in his barn with her torso gutted like a hunted animal. Gein was only convicted of two murders – though authorities suspect there were more – and sent to a mental health facility because he wasn’t mentally fit to stand trial. In 1984, he died from cancer.
Richard Trenton Chase was granted the title the Vampire of Sacramento. In the ’70s, he went on a murder spree, killing six people in one month and an entire family a couple of years later. What made his crimes so disturbing was that he not only cut up his victims, but he drank their blood. Chase also supposedly ate part of the brain from one of his victims, who was pregnant at the time. Growing up, Chase always displayed abnormal personality traits that eventually led him to frequent mental hospitals. His love of blood became evident in his early 20s, when he killed animals and ate them raw or blended up. In 1979, Chase was convicted and sentenced to death row. However, he killed himself by overdosing the following year in his cell.
Andrei Chikatilo was known as the Butcher of Rostov for his love of dismembering his victims. The Ukrainian-born criminal terrorized the Soviet Union between 1978 and 1990, especially at the bus and train stations where Chikatilo met most of his 52 victims. Women and children (both boys and girls) were his targets of choice. When he first started out, he was mainly attracted to his victims’ eyes, lacerating the sockets and sometimes removing the eyes completely. As time went on and Chikatilo’s desire to torture grew, he began to remove other organs, including tongues, and reportedly ate the genitals of some of his victims. Chikatilo eventually confessed to his crimes, stating that he killed 56 victims, not just 52. He was convicted in 1992 and executed by gunshot two years later.
Alexander Pichushkin alarmed Moscow, Russia, when he began killing in 1992. He became known as the Chessboard Killer because he aimed to kill 64 people to fill all the squares on a chess board. It was also said that Pichushkin was actively competing with serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo (whom I just mentioned), and trying to beat his 53-victim count. Pichushkin usually went after older homeless men, drinking vodka with them before striking them with a hammer. It was believed he preferred to strike from behind, not only to catch his victims off guard but to keep himself from getting sprayed with blood. In the end, Pichushkin was caught before he was able to reach his goal of 64 victims. It’s known that he killed 48. He was convicted in 2007 and received a life sentence, serving his first 15 years locked in solitary confinement.
From 1986 to 1997, Indonesia dealt with a serial killer named Ahmad Suradji, or the Black Magic Killer. Throughout those 11 years, he killed 42 women and girls, as young as 11-years-old. He lured them in with his supposed magic healing powers, offering to help them with their troubles. He buried his victims waist-deep in the ground, supposedly as part of his healing practice, but then used a cable to strangle them to death. Afterward, it was said that he drank their saliva to enhance his magical powers. Suradji said his dead father told him in a dream to commit the crimes in order to become a true healer. Suradji was arrested in 1997 and executed by firing squad in 2008. One of Suradji’s three wives was also held accountable. She was originally given the death penalty, but later it was changed to a life sentence.
From around 1971 until 1983, Robert Hansen terrified Alaska as the Butcher Baker and killed anywhere from 17 to 30 women, many of them sex workers. In addition to kidnapping and raping his victims, he took them to remote places, like the Knik River, to torture them, and then let them go. He would then hunt the fleeing women like wild animals, striking at them with a knife or gunning them down with a rifle. Hansen was convicted for only four murders in 1983 and received a sentence of 461 years in prison, without parole. In 2014, he died in a nearby hospital.
A once successful pig farmer, Robert Pickton became known as more than a multimillion dollar rancher in Vancouver, Canada. His rampage began in 2002, as he began going after young, vulnerable women, viciously killing and disfiguring them. Targeting local sex workers, he kidnapped and then murdered them at his farm. After he killed them, he fed their corpses to his pigs to hide any evidence. There were also claims that Pickton sold human remains mixed with his pork to customers without them knowing. While Pickton was charged for 20 murders, he was only convicted of six in the second degree in 2007. He was given life in prison without any possibility of parole for 25 years.
Dana Sue Gray was a California nurse and pro skydiver with an obsession for shopping, which ultimately drove her to murder three and to attempt to murder another. In 1994, she started financing her need for luxury items by robbing and murdering elderly women. Gray strangled her elderly victims with a telephone cord, and she beat and stabbed them to death. After killing them, she ransacked their wallets, taking credit cards and cash to help support her shopping addiction. Her fourth and final victim survived the attack and was able to identify Gray, leading to her arrest and conviction. In 1998, Gray received a life sentence without possibility of parole.
We have all been guilty of wishing we had more money coming in. Some people go out and get a second job. Others look at what they have to sell online, or look at what skills they have to offer to the public that they could charge money for. Or you can go the route of Georgia Tann – entrepreneurial spirit brought her millions of dollars. And it was a simple idea. Steal other people’s children, and then sell them! That story is up next on Weird Darkness.
STORY: HOW TO GET RICH BY STEALING AND SELLING CHILDREN==========
Between 1924 and 1950, a woman named Georgia Tann abducted and separated more than 5,000 children from their parents, many of whom were poor and unwed mothers. Tann looked like a grandmother, and few families had any idea that she was actually a Tennessee baby farmer.
During her time working at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, she and her network of social worker “spotters” would search for children to pull into their operation. With the help of politician friends, Tann was able to legally separate parents from their children by citing neglect. The most attractive children were sold to wealthy families, including celebrities.
Hundreds of unwanted and unadoptable children died under Tann’s care, often due to neglect and starvation. It’s believed that some of the children’s bodies may still be buried on the grounds of the children’s home where Tann operated.
Tann spent more than 25 years kidnapping children and profiting off of the poor. Although she isn’t the first woman in history to separate children from their families, her story is one of the most bizarre and disturbing out there.
Some of the children in Tann’s care suffered greatly both before and after they were placed with their adoptive parents. According to Barbara Bisantz Raymond in her book The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption, Tann allegedly molested some of the girls she abducted, and sold teenagers to single men who were possible pedophiles.
She ordered older kids to sit on men’s laps and say “daddy.” Some children were bought by adults to serve as farm hands or domestic servants, and others were neglected by their new families, enduring beatings, starvation, and sometimes rape.
One of the children Tann sold off, Jim Lambert, recalled Tann removing him and his three siblings from their mother in 1932. He was later abused by his adoptive mother, and when he finally found information about his biological mother, he found out she had already died.
In the late 1940s, the Tennessee governor tasked attorney Rober L. Taylor with investigating Georgia Tann and judge Camille Kelley, who helped Tann push through suspicious adoptions. What Taylor found was hard to believe. When he visited Tann’s orphanage, Taylor noted, “Her babies died like flies.”
Taylor speculated that Tann made more than $1 million selling children. It was common for the kids to be transported out of state at night to meet their adoptive parents, with many of the children going to California and New York.
Under Georgia Tann’s directive, children were abducted from the streets, daycare centers, and even churches. She and her operatives took kids born to mothers serving time in prison or placed in mental hospitals. Others were stolen from the hospital shortly after they were born.
Doctors, nurses, and “social workers” were in on Tann’s operation together, whisking the infants off before anyone noticed. Some doctors would even take bribes to tell new parents that their babies had died at birth. A number of the abducted children died, and others were adopted out. But their real identities were kept secret, and records were falsified. Few would ever reunite with their birth parents.
While Georgia Tann was executive director of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, numerous children died under her care. At the time, the infant mortality rate in Memphis was considerably larger than anywhere else in the United States. It’s believed that as many as 500 children died due to disease, inadequate care, and possibly abuse.
Despite this alarming statistic, Tann was praised for the work she performed. The media at the time praised her as “the foremost leading light in adoption laws.” Eleanor Roosevelt consulted with Tann over child welfare, and President Truman asked her to attend his inauguration.
Actress Joan Crawford adopted five children during her life, and in 1947, she found her twin daughters Cathy and Cynthia through the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. Contradictory to Georgia Tann’s supposed mission to place children in better homes, Crawford allegedly abused her kids. Cindy and Cathy, however, vehemently denied that their mother hurt them.
Actors June Allyson and Dick Powell also adopted a child from the society. So did actresses Lana Turner and Mary Pickford, writer Pearl S. Buck, and New York governor Herbert Lehman.
Professional wrestler Ric Flair, who was born in Memphis in 1949, was reportedly one of the many children Tann had snatched from unsuspecting birthparents.
Georgia Tann started working for the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in 1924. It wasn’t long before she realized that babies could mean big business. She developed a marketing strategy and paid for ads in newspapers to entice prospective parents. In one advertisement that she placed around the holidays, cherubic blonde babies looked up beamingly as the words “Want a Real, Live Christmas Present?” lured in potential buyers.
In another ad from 1935, an adorable little boy holds a ball. The caption reads: “Yours for the asking! George wants to play catch, but he needs a daddy to complete team.”
A woman named Alma Sipple gave birth to a daughter named Irma in Memphis, TN, on August 27, 1945. Her boyfriend, Julius John Tallos, worked in the Air Force and had recently shipped out to Panama. Six weeks after Sipple settled into a one-bedroom apartment, she was visited by Georgia Tann, who claimed she was checking in on a neighbor who was purportedly abusing a child. Tann returned the next day and noticed Irma had a cold. She offered to take the baby to the hospital because Sipple couldn’t afford a doctor.
Sipple agreed and tried to visit her baby the next day. But when she tried to see her child, she was told Irma belonged to the Children’s Home Society. Then a few days later, Tann told her Irma died of pneumonia. Sipple attempted to arrange a funeral, but Tann claimed she already took care of it. Sipple had no idea that Irma was alive and adopted by a couple in Cincinnati. They renamed her Sandra.
In December 1989, Sipple was watching “Unsolved Mysteries” when she saw a segment about Tann. The show recommended that viewers who had run-ins with Tann reach out to the group Tennessee’s Right to Know, who would help families reunite with their children who were kidnapped and adopted out. Sipple and Irma/Sandra were reunited seven months later, 44 years after the baby was stolen from her true mother.
Tann placed an estimated 5,000 children into new families over the course of her career. She outright stole some of them, kidnapped others, and persuaded some parents to relinquish their kids. During adoption proceedings, Tann worked with judge Camille Kelley, whom she paid off, so parents had a difficult time getting their children back.
Even though mothers and fathers went to the police, they were often poorly educated and didn’t have a lot of money. They struggled to go up against Tann, who was wealthy and had a lot of powerful and intimidating connections in the legal and political systems.
Denny Glad, who was president of Right to Know in Tennessee during the ’90s, didn’t think the majority of adoptive parents had any idea the children they were taking in were obtained illegally. She told the Los Angeles Times: “For whatever reason, most of them had not been able to qualify to adopt in the state in which they lived. Primarily, age was the reason. Most were in their 40s and 50s.”
These parents, who were desperate to expand their families, learned about the availability of Tennessee children through the grapevine. The cost to adopt one of Tann’s children in California was approximately $750.
Denny Gladd, the president of Right to Know in Tennessee in the ’90s, suspected that Georgia Tann could have been motivated by more than just financial gain. Most of the victims her operation kidnapped were children of poor parents or single mothers. They had fewer advantages in their lives than kids who lived with more affluent families. Gladd explained to the Los Angeles Times in 1990: “Miss Tann thought that affluency meant good and I believe that’s how she justified what she was doing. She was taking children who never would have had a chance and placing them in homes where they were going to get good educations and all the material things. She just thought that she knew better than God.”
In 1950, the governor of Tennessee held a press conference informing the public of Tann’s crimes. Yet, most of the children she placed in adoptive homes were never reunited with their biological families. No effort was made to reconnect parents with their children.
In 1995, following years of red tape, the victims were finally allowed to get access to their birth certificates and adoption records. Even then, only a small percentage reconnected with their birth mothers.
Tann died from uterine cancer at the age of 59 in September of 1950. Just days earlier, the state of Tennessee announced the case against her. The charges did not include kidnapping; rather they focused on her stealing money from a state-funded organization.
Tann didn’t leave any of her fortune to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society or charitable organizations. The judge she worked with, Camille Kelly, resigned after the investigation and passed away in 1954. The Children’s Home Society shut down permanently.
In 1913, Georgia Tann graduated from Martha Washington College in Virginia with a degree in music. She was a teacher for a brief time before committing to a career in social work. In 1920, she took advantage of her father’s role as judge of the Mississippi Second Chancery District Court and the absence of laws regarding adoption.
She kidnapped children from poor women while employed by the Kate McWillie Powers Receiving Home for Children in Jackson, MS. However, her acts were discovered, and she was fired for her actions. Tann then moved to Texas before settling in Memphis, TN, where she earned the title of executive director at the city’s Tennessee Children’s Home Society.
Even though Tann made adoption more socially acceptable, she also used some legal processes that later became controversial. Under her directive, all of the Children’s Home Society’s adoptions were closed, meaning all information about an adoptee’s birth parents was kept private.
The records were shrouded in secrecy, and children were not permitted to find out who their biological parents were. Many states still follow these rules. Interestingly, in 1999 Tennessee became the first state to change its rules regarding closed adoptions.
Despite her criminal methods, Georgia Tann also brought more attention to the potential of adoption for many Americans, making it more popular. Before 1920, little was done for orphans. They were often put in institutions and orphanages, and no one cared if they lived or died.
According to Barbara Bisantz Raymond, author of The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption, Tann did give some children better homes than the ones they were born into. However, it is unclear to this day how many found better futures and prospects due to her meddling.
But first… when it comes to planning the burial of someone, it’s always best to to keep in mind that whomever is watching how you treat the deceased might be in charge of deciding what happens to you when you die. Sadly, one undertaker, Millard F. Rodgers, apparently forgot about the golden rule – and committed gruesome acts against families. That story is up next on Weird Darkness. (Six Children, One Grave)
STORY: SIX CHILDREN, ONE GRAVE==========
It’s November 12th, 1891 – and you sit down in your favorite chair after a day’s work and open up the Alton, Illinois Evening Telegraph. Right there on the front page is a story that makes you immediately lose your appetite for dinner.
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Revolting Charges Against an Undertaker.
SENSATION IN A CHICAGO SUBURB.
The Bodies of Pauper Infants Disposed of by Being Placed in Coffins Containing Corpses Which the Undertaker Had Been Called Upon to Attend to—Six Pauper Children Said to Have Been Buried in One Grave.
Chicago, Nov. 11. Englewood, recently a suburb of Chicago, but now embraced in the city, is greatly wrought up over the revolting charges that are being made against Undertaker Millard F. Rodgers. Citizens whose deceased relatives were buried by the undertaker are apprehensive that the graves of their loved ones have been desecrated, and a number of people have announced their intention of exhuming their friends’’ remains and satisfying themselves that they are not the victims of the repulsive practice of burying pauper infants in the coffins of deceased adults. Three weeks ago the remains of an Englewood man were exhumed shortly after being buried by Undertaker Rodgers and the body of a pauper infant was found between the feet of the corpse. Rogers claimed at the time that he was the victim of a conspiracy inspired by his assistant, C.F. Norman.
Tuesday, however, another case came to light. Disturbed by rumors the friends of the late James P. Tansy, who died eighteen months ago, had him exhumed and the remains of an infant were found under the satin trimmings at the foot of the coffin. The remains of Mr. Tansy were interred Mount Olivet long before Norman went to work for Rodgers, and this fact has convinced most of the friends who believed the undertaker’s tale that there is more in the charges than they supposed. Among the staunchest friends were the Masons and Odd Fellows, of which organizations Rodgers is a member. He proclaimed that they would stand by him, but Tuesday evening it was decided in the Englewood lodges of both orders to make a full investigation and a member of the Masonic fraternity admitted that if the charges were substantiated Rodgers would be expelled.
The citizens have thoroughly organised for an investigation of the charges and the attorney for the prosecution stated Tuesday evening that he had satisfied himself that Rogers had buried In one grave at Oakwoods cemetery the bodies of six pauper children. As none of the children had relatives able to stand the expense of exhuming the remains and as there Is nothing In the statutes pronouncing such action criminal the matter will not be pushed further in this direction. But other cases will be pushed. Some time ago the father of Mr. Sylvester, an Eaglewood expressman, died and the remains, after being prepared by Rodgers, were shipped to Wisconsin for burial. Soon after some alarming rumors were spread, but were not credited, and until the recent charges were made Mr. Sylvester did not trouble himself about them.
Lately he commenced an investigation, and the other day induced the man who assisted Rodgers at the time of the burial to make a confession. This man, whose name is Foskett, pretended to know but little, but admitted that on the day the remains were prepared for burial a woman connected with Rodgers’ establishment left the undertaker’s shop with the body of a child in a shawl which she carried. She went to the Sylvester residence and when she left, it is alleged, she failed to bring the infant’s body with her. Mr. Sylvester will at once have his father’s remains exhumed by the Wisconsin relatives. Foskett further admitted that while he was with Rodgers the body of an Infant was placed In the coffin of a woman who lived near the corner of Sixty-first street and Stewart avenue. He declares he cannot remember the name.
Still another suspicions case now being investigated is that of the infant child of Officer W. H. Harris of the Englewood Police station. It was remarked that the casket furnished by Rodgers was very large for an Infant’s remains. The coffin will probably be exhumed.
“The practice of burying Infants in adults’ coffins could be made very remunerative to one who did Rodgers’ large business,” said an Englewood physician Wednesday. “The interment fee of $6 is charged in each case, and if the undertaker has but one grave dug Instead of two he can make a pretty penny in the course of a year, especially when he does business for a couple of foundlings’ homes and orphan asylums.”
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While sad, it was a common practice to bury still-born children into the gap at the foot of an adult grave. Usually it was not the wishes of the family, only coming down to the bottom line… the cost of a burial. According to the January 31, 1892 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
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IN CIGAR BOXES
Many Little Bodies Find Nameless Graves.
“We have many people bring us little babes in boxes, ranging in size from a cigar box to a coffin a foot or so long,” said a sexton. “They hardly ever leave instructions, so we just put the boxes at the bottom of some grave we dig for a grown person.”
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Not surprisingly, the practice of “filling in” a gap at the foot of an adult grave with a child’s coffin, was a source of much pain to bereaved pauper parents who could not afford to have their babies buried in a plot with other children, as would have been their desire for their departed child.
STORY: THE BLACK SHUCK OF BLAKENEY==========
“She heard the ‘light dragging and tinkling of a chain’ but could see nothing – whatever made the noise, however, followed her as she walked…”
It comes as no surprise to Weird Norfolk that Black Shuck has been regularly seen in Blakeney whose name means ‘Black Island’. That the much-feared devil dog has been spotted quite so often, however, is quite another matter – and then there’s the not inconsiderable consideration that in some tales, Shuck has not one, but two heads. A plethora of Blakeney sightings are included on the superb Hidden East Anglia website which recounts a host of unsettling encounters in, or close, to the beautiful North Norfolk village.
Black Shuck haunts Norfolk folklore, a dark figure “as big as a calf and as noiseless as death” stalking through the county since the 16th century. Seen across the county, and in Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, Black Shuck takes many forms and has many purposes, a true manifestation of everyone’s fear, a creature you definitely do not want to see on a dark and stormy night. Whether he has eyes like saucers or hot breath like a lick of fire, whether he foretells your impending death or is some kind of guardian spirit, whether he roams the coast or woodland, heath or roadside, one thing is for certain: he is not of this realm.
Back to Blakeney, where there is the recurring tale of ‘Old Shuck’ who haunts Long Lane which runs south over Ruberry Hill – which is mentioned in WA Dutt’s The Norfolk and Suffolk Coast, published in 1909. The otherworldly creature has also been spotted in Little Lane in Blakeney as he runs between Wells and Sheringham: Iris Portal, writing to the Eastern Daily Press in 1953 suggested that Shuck regularly ran past her garden wall in Long Lane. A few days after Mrs Portal’s letter, another appeared from Geoffrey Booty, of West Runton. It read: “I read with interest your article on ‘Old Shuck’ and would like the following on record.
“He travels between Blakeney, Sheringham and Overstrand and is supposed to be searching for his master who was shipwrecked on the coast. ‘Shuck’ is a large black retriever with a chain attached to his neck. (This apparently a good) description because one night very late to cycling from Sheringham when, to my surprise, ‘Shuck’ was running beside me with his chain clinking ground. He followed me to my gate at West Runton and passed on down the lane to the beach. This is a true incident and I would like to know the description of ‘Shuck’ given by other people who have seen him.”
Shuck has been seen on the B1388 at Blakeney where, in a letter to Hidden East Anglia’s Mike Burgess from J Wallace in 1983, he was described as having two heads – when he catches a rat, it escapes through his other mouth. And in another letter to Ivan Bunn, editor of the Borderline Science Investigation Group’s Lantern, a Mrs AP Marcucci recalled hearing something strange on the A149 between Cley and Blakeney at around midnight in the summer of 1968. She heard the “light dragging and tinkling of a chain” but could see nothing – whatever made the noise, however, followed her as she walked. At the crossroads, where there was a street light, she paused to see if whatever was behind her would pass by, but saw nothing. Then, suddenly, she was aware that her invisible walking partner had passed and made its way down Back Lane. Knowing the legend of Black Shuck and realising he would be making his way to the marsh banks, she fled home down the High Street and away from the beast that was so frequently believed to foretell disaster.
These tales have been told in Blakeney for well over a century: in a feature about the village in the EDP in September 1896, “Old Shuck” was mentioned.
“It is perhaps not generally known that ‘Old Shuck’ has one of his walks in Blakeney Little Lane, where also an even more wonderful spectral appearance has been seen, according to local legend, nothing less that a ghostly wagon with two ghostly horses wandering through the air,” the piece reads. “There are men now in Blakeney who could not be induced to walk down that haunted lane after dark.”
Some believe the tales of Black Shuck were spread joyfully by smugglers who realised that the fear of a devil dog who could condemn you to death with a stare would keep people off coastal lanes at night while they got up to no good. On the website which accompanies Richard Platt’s book Smuggling in the British Isles: A History, there is the following passage: “If convoys of wagons and horses rolling along these roads attracted too much attention, old superstitions provided plenty of ways of discouraging further interest: Old Shuck the ghost dog is a persistent Norfolk legend that, like the cannibals of Clovelly, the smugglers exploited. Shuck is an enormous black dog with one glowing eye, and fiery breath. Anyone who sees Old Shuck is sure to die within a twelve month. Norfolk smugglers took advantage of the gullibility of the villagers and tied a lantern round the neck of a black ram, sending it running off to frighten nosey locals when a run was due…”
Weird Norfolk suggests that if anyone is gullible in this matter, it would be the smugglers to believe that county folk would be fooled by a sheep in a necklace.