“WAS ‘BELLA IN THE WYCH ELM’ A NAZI SPY?” and 12 More Paranormal and Macabre Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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Listen to ““WAS ‘BELLA IN THE WYCH ELM’ A NAZI SPY?” and 12 More Paranormal and Macabre Stories! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.
IN THIS EPISODE: (Dark Archives episode with stories from November 26-27, 2018) *** Jonathan Reed couldn’t bear to be separated from his wife … so he moved into her tomb. (Til Death Do Us Part) *** Dr. Milton Rokeach forced three men who all believed themselves to be the Messiah to live together for two years in an effort to bring them out of their irrationality. But what Rokeach learned had little to do with the men themselves. (The Three Christs of Ypsilanti) *** A bodiless voice torments a lone beachgoer camping out. (Spirit Voice on the Beach) *** Only months after the infamous ax murders in Villisca, Iowa – the quiet farm community of Payson, Illinois was shattered by its own terrifying murder case. (The Pfanschmidt Murders) *** Was a woman found dead in a wych elm tree in wartime England a Nazi spy? (Bella in the Wych Elm) *** In an effort to test one of his theories on social behavior, psychologist Muzafer Sherif released twenty-two 12-year-old boys into a sparsely supervised wilderness camp — and then covertly provoked them to fight each other. (The Robbers Cave Experiment) *** Witch hunts and trials. They didn’t end in Salem – they live on even today in Papua New Guinea. (Papua New Guinea Witchcraft) *** A man in Japan sees small, childlike ashen white aliens. (Childlike Aliens) *** How can a holy book such as the Christian bible bring bad luck? One paranormal museum in West Virginia has the answer with an infamous display of the 666 Bible. (The 666 Bible) *** The people of Hannibal, Missouri in the late 1800s would remain appalled that one of their most prominent residents could be murdered without retribution. Even a $10,000 reward couldn’t bring justice. (The Stillwell Murder) *** A father takes his son to the ruins of an old, burned down building – and the boy sees something his father doesn’t. (The Old Factory Visit) *** “The Devil’s Advocate” – it’s a phrase that can be traced to the Roman Catholic Church that long had an actual official office for a person who was employed to be exactly that – an advocate for the devil. And he still works for the church even today. (The Devil’s Advocate)
STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Note: Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“Til Death Do Us Part” by Jessica Ferri: http://ow.ly/Pmkb30mLah9
“Bella in the Wych Elm”: https://tinyurl.com/wtxqr7l
“The Pfanschmidt Murders” by Troy Taylor: https://tinyurl.com/uolq6b8
“Spirit Voice on the Beach” by Berggraf38: https://tinyurl.com/qngcm6l
“The Three Christs of Ypsilanti” by Taig Spearman: https://tinyurl.com/w9delgl
“The Robbers Cave Experiment” by Taig Spearman: https://tinyurl.com/yx66lpob
“Papua New Guinea Witchcraft” by Caleb Strom: https://tinyurl.com/rvpyyva
“The Devil’s Advocate” by Ellen Lloyd: https://tinyurl.com/vluuhdg
“Childlike Aliens”: https://tinyurl.com/snrkrbm
“The 666 Bible” by Theresa HPIR: https://tinyurl.com/t8dlnez
“The Stillwell Murder” by Robert Wilhelm: https://tinyurl.com/yd4uupot
“The Old Factory Visit” by Mike: https://tinyurl.com/yx2tmzqs
Weird Darkness opening and closing theme by Alibi Music Library. Weird@Work music bed by Audioblocks. Background music, varying by episode, provided by Alibi Music, EpidemicSound and/or AudioBlocks with paid license; Shadows Symphony (http://bit.ly/2W6N1xJ), Midnight Syndicate (http://amzn.to/2BYCoXZ), Tony Longworth (http://TonyLongworth.com) and/or Nicolas Gasparini/Myuu (https://www.youtube.com/user/myuuji) used with permission.
MY RECORDING TOOLS…
* MICROPHONE (Neumann TLM103): http://amzn.to/2if01CL
* POP FILTER (AW-BM700): http://amzn.to/2zRIIyK
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I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use. If I somehow overlooked doing that for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I’ll rectify it the show notes as quickly as possible.
***WeirdDarkness™ – is a trademark and creation of of Marlar House Productions. Copyright © Marlar House Productions, 2020.
“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” — John 12:46 *** How to escape eternal darkness: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2IYmodFKDaM
BELLA IN THE WITCH ELM
Looking down into the hollow trunk of the wych elm, the boys saw a human skull. A clump of hair hung off the remaining flesh on the forehead, and two crooked teeth gaped out of the mouth. After the boys had a good look at their horrific find, they put it back in the tree and left the woods.
They agreed amongst themselves not to tell anyone about their discovery. They were trespassing in the woods, poaching no less. If they told the police they could be in big trouble.
But one of the boys was so upset by what he saw he told his father and the police were soon called to the area. What they found inside the old tree trunk was bizarre.
The skeleton of a young woman, minus one of her hands. A piece of taffeta was stuffed in the skull’s mouth. Some scraps of clothes with the labels cut out, battered shoes and a gold ring were also found in the tree.
Nearby were the bones of the woman’s hand, scattered next to the tree. The police were troubled by the unusual circumstances of the woman’s death, were sinister forces at work in Hagley wood?
Pathologist James Webster was able to determine the victim had died around 18 months ago, was around 35 years of age with mousy coloured hair, was 5ft tall, had given birth in the past and had irregular teeth.
Webster could find no obvious injuries and concluded she had probably died as a result of the cloth stuffed down her throat. He also believed she had been placed in the tree shortly after death because the space was so tight inside she would not have fitted once rigor mortis had set in.
From Webster’s work, the police managed to create a detailed description of the woman. But nobody came forward and a search of 3000 missing persons cases around the country proved fruitless.
A nationwide search of dental practices also drew a blank. The woman had had dental work done within a year of her death, but there was not a trace of her presence at any surgery.
The flurry of press interest soon faded. The travails of the war were at the centre of most people’s thoughts. The area had suffered 3 years of Luftwaffe bombing and life was hard.
As Christmas 1943 approached, people had forgotten about the strange case of the woman in the tree. Until the graffiti started.
“Who put Luebella down the wych–elm?” the first one said. Then “Hagley Wood Bella”. Soon it settled on “Who put Bella in the wych–elm?”. The graffiti appeared on walls throughout the West Midlands, seemingly by the same hand. Someone, it seemed, knew more than they were letting on.
From then on, the woman found in the old elm at Hagley would be known as Bella, even by the police. But they were never able to find who was responsible for the graffiti and were no closer to answering its question.
Was the writer of the graffiti taunting the police? Had they killed Bella or knew who had?
Folklorist Margaret Murray suggested Bella may have been killed in an occult ceremony, the removal of the hand typical of a black magic execution.
The theory that Bella had fallen victim to a coven of witches was popular for a while, but with the absence of any genuine leads from the police the case eventually went cold.
It wasn’t until 1953, when journalist Wilfred Byford-Jones started to write about the old case in the Wolverhampton Express and Star, that interest was revived. Byford-Jones would soon receive the first solid lead in nearly a decade.
A letter, signed only Anna, offered new details of what had happened to Bella. According to the letter, Bella had been murdered because of her involvement with a Nazi spy ring operating in the Midlands in the early 1940s.
The spy theory seemed more rooted in reality than talk of witchcraft. Hundreds of German spies were captured in Britain during the war, and the Midlands would have been a valuable source of intelligence because of its prevalence of munitions factories.
Was Bella in the wych elm part of a Nazi spy ring?
Journalist Wilfred Byford-Jones received a letter in 1953 from an ‘Anna of Claverly’, claiming Bella had died after getting involved with a WW2 Nazi spy ring.
“Finish your articles re the Wych Elm crime by all means. They are interesting to your readers, but you will never solve the mystery.
“The one person who could give the answer is now beyond the jurisdiction of the earthly courts. The affair is closed and involves no witches, black magic or moonlight rites…”
Byford-Jones was naturally intrigued. Whoever wrote those words clearly had first-hand knowledge of what had happened. After subsequent correspondence, Anna revealed herself to be Una Mossop and told the full story.
Her husband Jack had worked at a local munitions factory in the early 1940s and had come into some money after meeting a mysterious Dutchman.
Jack later admitted to Una that the Dutchman was a Nazi agent. Jack had been passing him information about local industrial sites, which in turn was passed to another agent posing as a cabaret performer at local theatres.
The Midlands had been bombarded by the Luftwaffe in the early 40s and such information would have been invaluable for the Nazis to target their raids where they would do the most damage to Britain’s war effort.
One day Jack met his contact at a pub close to Hagley Wood. He was arguing with a Dutch Woman. He ordered Jack drive them both out to the Clent Hills, but the argument had grown extremely violent and the Dutch agent strangled the woman in the car.
Fearing for his own life, Jack helped carry the body into nearby Hagley Wood, where the pair buried it in the hollow of the old elm tree.
Una’s husband was apparently so traumatized by the brutal murder of Bella that he had a nervous breakdown, tormented by horrific visions of a woman’s skull in a tree. Jack was institutionalized in 1941 and apparently died later that year.
The timescales fitted quite well with Bella’s death. The pathologist had estimated it was about 18 months prior to the bodies discovery, which would have placed it in the middle of 1941.
The information Una gave Byford-Jones was convincing enough that the police and MI5 got involved. According to the journalist, they verified some details of Una’s account but were unable to find any of the remaining perpetrators.
With the involvement of the intelligence services, some have speculated there may have been a cover-up over the investigation of the information. Just 8 years after the war, details of spy rings may have still been classified.
The cover-up theory was also bolstered by the curious fact that Bella’s remains had gone missing, precluding any further forensic examinations.
The story faded back into semi-obscurity. An occasional piece of graffiti would briefly revive interest, but there were no new leads for another 15 years and a book by historian Donald McCormick.
McCormick’s ‘Murder by Witchcraft’, despite its name, built upon the spy ring theory. McCormick had obtained Abwehr files, the records of German Military intelligence.
According to McCormick’s information, A Nazi agent by the name of Lehrer was operating in the Midlands in 1941 and he had a Dutch girlfriend living in Birmingham called Clarabella Dronkers.
Was Clarabella the Bella found in the wych elm? Like Bella, she was about 30 years old and like Bella, she apparently had crooked teeth.
What’s especially suggestive about the identification is that a real Nazi spy was captured in mid-1942 and executed at Wandsworth prison on New Year’s Eve that year. His name was Johannes Marinus Dronkers.
Was Bella this Dutch spy’s wife? The wedding ring found with her body lends credence to the idea. And if Bella was a foreigner, it would explain why no trace of her could be found in England.
It’s possible that some kind of love triangle had developed amongst the agents, or that Bella had grown loose lipped and risked revealing their existence to the British authorities.
Whilst the exact nature of the operation and how this tangle of names and relationships fit together remains unclear, the notion that Bella was involved in some way with a spy ring seems quite convincing.
Further tidbits support the idea. There were several reports in 1940/41 of the Home Guard been alerted to possible agents parachuting into the area around Clent Hill and Hagley Wood.
Furthermore, a former British soldier told author Ian Topham that he saw Nazi files detailing agents that were operating in the Midlands. One operative matching Bella’s description was codenamed Clara, and had parachuted into the area in 1941.
In recent years, newly declassified MI5 files from the war have shed some fresh light on the spy-ring theory.
One file details the arrest and interrogation of a Czech-born Gestapo agent named Josef Jakobs. Jakobs, who had the dubious distinction of been the last man to be executed at the tower of London, was captured after parachuting into Cambridgeshire in 1941.
Found on Jakobs person was a photograph of a young woman. She was a cabaret singer and German movie star called Clara Bauerle. According to Jakobs, she had also been recruited by the Gestapo as a secret agent.
Jakobs information checked out, Bauerle was a German cabaret singer and tellingly, had worked in Birmingham for several years before the war and had even developed a convincing local accent. She would have been an ideal candidate for a spy.
According to Jakobs, she was due to follow him into England, although after his capture he thought it unlikely this had happened. But the timings made sense.
Nothing was heard of Bauerle again after 1941, the year Bella was thought to have died. If she was not Bella in the wych elm, what had happened to her?
It’s not too much of a stretch to see how Clara Bauerle may have been remembered as Clara Bella to English audiences. Perhaps someone had even recognised her from her pre-war days in Birmingham.
The risk of Clara been exposed as a German in England during the middle of the war may have threatened the spy ring she had been involved in. Could it have led to her been permanently silenced and left to haunt those dark woods at Hagley?
One reason that might tend against the spy theory is the method of death. Bella was found deep in private woodland in an overgrown wych elm tree.
It’s hard to understand why anyone, least of all a foreign spy unfamiliar with the locale, would choose this as a burial site. How would they even know such a tree existed?
There are also loose ends with the spy theory. None of the remaining members of the ring were ever found, despite extensive searches. Even today, with wartime records declassified, very little light has been shed on the putative spy ring.
Recently discovered MI5 documents have prompted the theory that Bella may have been Josef Jakobs’ girlfriend Clara Bauerle, but this idea has some significant flaws.
Pathologist James Webster listed Bella’s height as 5ft, whereas Bauerle was known to be quite a tall woman. And online databases of German musical performers list Bauerle death as 1942, which if accurate would rule her out as Bella.
Other less exotic theories have been suggested over the years. Bella was a prostitute murdered by an angry john or a local barmaid killed by an American GI. More far-fetched was that she was a gypsy killed in an occult ritual.
It’s doubtful we’ll ever know what really happened at Hagley Wood. But perhaps there is still someone out there, by now very old, carrying a dark secret?
A few years ago some graffiti appeared on the 200-year-old Wychbury obelisk at Hagley Hall. In large block capital letters, it read — “WHO PUT BELLA IN THE WYCH ELM”.
TIL DEATH DO US PART
It’s common practice to reserve a plot next to your loved one’s grave in anticipation of your own death—but Jonathan Reed took it one step further.
The retired merchant was devastated when his beloved wife Mary E. Gould Reed died in 1893. After Mary’s interment in her father’s family vault on March 19 of that year, Jonathan visited regularly—a little too often, in the opinion of his father-in-law. When Mary’s father died in 1895, Reed was free to visit her tomb to his heart’s content.
So he had her casket transferred to another vault in the Whispering Grove section of the cemetery. There he put an empty casket next to hers, a placeholder for his inevitable end.
And it is here that Jonathan Reed’s tale takes a surprising twist. Unable to bear being away from his wife’s corpse, Jonathan moved into Mary’s mausoleum. He brought furniture and a wood stove and cheered up the place with mementos from Mary’s life—her paintings, her unfinished knitting, and the family’s pet parrot (which, upon the death of the bird, was stuffed). Jonathan even took his meals inside the crypt. As news of the devoted widower spread, visitors came by to catch a glimpse of the man who now made his home living amongst the dead.
Nearly 7,000 people reportedly wandered through Evergreens Cemetery, for the sole purpose of encountering Jonathan Reed. The New York Times even covered the story, explaining helpfully: “Mr. Reed could never be made to believe that his wife was really dead, his explanation of her condition being that the warmth had simply left her body and that if he kept the mausoleum warm she would continue to sleep peacefully in the costly metallic casket in which her remains were put.” According to witnesses, he carried on long conversations with his wife. The Times reported that “he really believed that his wife could understand what he was saying to her.”
For nearly 10 years Jonathan made his happy home in Mary’s tomb. Then in May 1905, caretakers discovered his still body on the crypt’s floor, his arms outstretched to the casket of his dearly departed wife.
Jonathan Reed was interred next to Mary in his prepared casket. The doors to the vault were sealed – and they remain so to this day.
In 1959 three schizophrenic patients who all identified as Christ were brought together at a psychiatric hospital in Ypsilanti, Mich. The three Christs were engineered to live together for two years by Psychologist Milton Rokeach in an effort to break their delusions.
Rokeach figured that if he could introduce three men who all shared the same delusion then perhaps they could be reasoned out of their insanity. The experiment was dramatized in the 2017 dark comedy starring Peter Dinklage, Three Christs, but before you check out the film, read up on what happened to the real-life three Christs of Ypsilanti.
Milton Rokeach heard about a random grouping of two women who both believed themselves to be the Virgin Mary at a different psychiatric hospital. One of the Marys realized that if another person claimed to be the only Virgin Mary, then surely she must be mistaken about her own identity. She subsequently snapped out of her delusion.
Rokeach, who was already a respected psychologist when he came across this study, was inspired and thought to try it for himself. His reasoning was based on the simple biblical notion that there is only one Jesus Christ. Perhaps, then, if he deliberately introduced multiple people who all believed themselves to be Jesus Christ, this would challenge their delusions and in turn break through their irrationality — just as the one Mary had.
The three Christs were Joseph Cassel, Clyde Benson, and Leon Gabor. They ranged in age from their late thirties to early seventies, and the severity of their delusions varied as well.
Mild-mannered, 58-year-old Joseph had been institutionalized for two decades. Prior to falling to his delusions, Joseph was a writer and though he had never been to England, claimed to be English and needed to return. 70-year-old Clyde suffered from dementia and often recalled simpler times working on a railroad and fishing. Leon, 38-years-old, was committed as a boy when he commanded his mother to forsake false idols and worship him as Jesus. He was intelligent and coherent but had been raised by an ill woman. He of all the self-proclaimed Messiahs most resembled Jesus.
Rokeach first introduced the men on July 1, 1959. Although they used their given names, each made sure to also reveal himself as Jesus.
“It so happens that my birth certificate says that I am Dr. Domino Dominorum et Rex Rexarum Simplis Christianus Peuris Mentalis Doktor,” Leon said at this introduction. This meant “Lord of Lords, and King of Kings, Simple Christian Boy Psychiatrist.” He then said that his birth certificate also declared him Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Joseph protested this and Clyde joined in resulting in a chaotic first meeting. Clyde and Joseph screamed at each other: “Don’t try to pull that on me because I will prove it to you… I’m telling you I’m God!”
“I’m God, Jesus Christ, and The Holy Ghost!”
Leon would describe the session as mental torture. He claimed that Rokeach was trying to brainwash them.
Rokeach assigned the men rooms next to one another and seats in the cafeteria together as well as jobs in the laundry at the same time. He made sure that the three Christs couldn’t get clear of each other and consequently were constantly forced to confront the core belief of their identity.
Weeks went by and they argued continuously. None of the men gained any ground with each other but instead, each became more and more frustrated and frazzled. So Rokeach decided to mess with them.
Rokeach sent the three Christs letters. Leon’s were from his newly invented wife “Madame Yeti Woman.” Joseph’s were from the head of the hospital.
The letters started as an innocuous conversation and included such mundane things as tips to better improve their care. But when Rokeach began to question the three Christ’s identity’s in the letters, the patients broke off contact.
The three Christs of Ypsilanti remained exactly that, three Christs. They argued every day and sometimes came to blows. When cornered, they blamed the others are crazy, or controlled by machines.
Rokeach then printed a fake article about himself in which he gave a lecture concerning his study of the three men in Ypsilanti Hospital, all believing themselves to be Jesus. Then Rokeach read the letter to them.
The three Christs broke down momentarily but regained their delusions.
Rokeach was reported by his students involved in the study as being not only absent but also relatively cruel. His students often came to question their own sanity when spending so much time amongst patients. Rokeach also questioned his three patients severely and was hailed as “confrontational” by his students.
He had at one point hired a beautiful research assistant to flirt with Leon in an effort to use desire as a means of pulling him out of his delusion. Leon did, of course, fall in love with the assistant. But he did not give up his delusion and became all the more confused because it was just a tease. Leon figured this out and withdrew into himself.
“Truth is my friend, I have no other friends,” Leon said.
Rokeach’s use of manipulation and illusion against the patient’s delusions proved only more detrimental.
As time went on the men started to humor one another’s delusions. They even became friends, defending each other against other patients. They stopped arguing and talked about mundane things and avoided the subject of Jesus entirely.
With nothing much doing, Rokeach prepared to end the study. Even after two years, he had accomplished next to nothing. The only difference was that Leon had changed his name to Dr. Righteous Idealized Dung.
The 2017 film is based on Rokeach’s experiment, with the doctor played by Richard Gere (of a different name, Dr. Alan Stone) and one of the three Christ’s — Joseph — by Peter Dinklage. Clyde is played by Bradley Whitford and Leon by a Walton Goggins. The assistant Rokeach had Joseph fall in love with was also featured in the movie, albeit with some dramatization.
But from what we’ve read, the true story and the memoir that followed may prove better entertainment than the screen version.
Rokeach wrote a book, aptly titled The Three Christs Of Ypsilanti in which he claimed to have helped the three Christ’s and made substantial discoveries. He hadn’t, of course, and many years later, in 1984, he wrote a personal expose in which he admitted:
“…while I had failed to cure the three Christs of their delusions, they had succeeded in curing mine-of my God-like delusion that I could change them by omnipotently and omnisciently arranging and rearranging their daily lives within the framework of a ‘total institution’.”
What Rokeach failed to accomplish within his patients — overcoming their delusion — he was able to realize was a condition he suffered from himself, as he himself had been under the false belief of omnipotence while at Ypsilanti. He explained that in the intervening years he had grown “uncomfortable about the ethics” of his experiment, and admitted that he “really had no right, even in the name of science, to play God and interfere round the clock with their daily lives.”
SPIRIT VOICE ON THE BEACH
This happened 20 years ago when I was was 22. It possibly involves a known ghost- The Santa Barbara Community College “Lady in white”. This happened a few miles north of where she is usually sighted though.
I was a normal working class guy, taking a break from college, being a beach bum at the time, staying in a small park just off Arroyo Burro beach at the north end of Santa Barbara, California. I would work and surf during the day, then hide my board in the bushes on a hillside before dark. I was having a great time and loved sleeping in my 1-person tent in the grassy park just behind the bluff. I felt super relaxed and at peace with everything. Well, until the night I decided that it would be fun to sleep on the beach instead.
After dark, I took my sleeping bag and headed a quarter of a mile or so north away from the beach parking lot and the Rusty Pelican Restaurant at the south side of the park, which was the only building in the area. I laid down and watched the ocean for a good while. It was late and the moon was fairly bright. There was no one on the beach in any direction as far as my eyes could see and I could see at least 100 yards in every direction. I was laying 20 or so yards from the edge of the ocean and the cliffs were about 50 yards away.
It was a very quiet night and I was alone with my thoughts when suddenly I heard a woman humming directly in my ear, even though no one was there! It was a pretty and young voice softly humming a slow, random tune. I froze and listened kind of in a daze for a few seconds, not knowing what to think or feel. So I reflexively looked in all directions (still laying down) – no one in sight. I would have seen a person 100 yards away if someone had been there. I call out a loud friendly “Hello?”- no answer.
As the humming continued for another half minute or so, feeling exactly like a woman had her mouth a couple inches or less from my ear, my brain feverishly searched for a rational, scientific explanation. It must be some odd acoustic effect, a woman is on the cliffs above humming and its being funneled directly into my ear by some freak air temperature inversion lens right?!?
At the time, I was deeply into Tibetan Buddhist meditation and prided myself on my “deep understanding of the nature of reality and perception” or something like that.
Well, as the humming continued and my mind couldn’t explain it or just be at peace with it, I began to feel a quickly increasing fear. It was just too real, too close and too weird. Before gibbering mindless panic had a chance to set in, I told myself I would count to 3, then jump up and run as fast as I could. I got out of my bag PDQ and tore down the beach back to my old campsite.
A few days later, my brother came and we hung out there a couple days more. Then we left to another beach far down south. When I told him about what happened that night, he told me that he had felt an inexplicable, creepy discomfort on the beach at nighttime, and that’s why he had talked me into leaving.
No drugs or alcohol were involved, I know that’s one of the standard jokes or criticisms of skeptics. I didn’t use alcohol or drugs at all during that time of my life.
After this happened to me, when I hear people mocking paranormal experiences, I just think they haven’t been through it yet.
THE PFANSCHMIDT MURDERS OF 1912
In the early morning hours of Sunday, September 29, 1912, brutal murders were committed in a lonely house near Payson, Illinois – a quiet farm community east of Quincy. The murders would stun the people of western Illinois, ruin the lives of the accused killer and his fiancée, and shock the Midwest. The murders in Payson occurred just months after the brutal slaying of the Moore family in Villisca, Iowa, a case that was still making headlines in the region. Those murders – along with several others that I believe were committed by the same killer – had not been solved and had many wondering if the Illinois slaughter was linked to the events in Iowa.
On the morning of September 30, news reporters in Quincy were already at work fanning the flames of panic. “Murdered in Home!” screamed the headlines, spreading the news of the previous day’s events. The newspaper columns told the story of the quadruple murder of Charles Pfanschmidt, 46; his wife, Mathilda; 15-year-old daughter, Blanche; and a young schoolteacher named Emma Kaempen who boarded with the family. The bodies were discovered in the Pfanschmidt home — just outside of Payson and west of Quincy — after a fire swept through the residence on Sunday morning. The police surmised that they might have been killed as early as Friday night and the fire set the next day to destroy the evidence. Telephone lines to the house had been cut, making it impossible for friends to reach them on Saturday.
Neighbors spotted smoke coming from the house very early on Sunday morning and alerted the authorities. By the time they arrived, it was burning nearly out of control. The fire nearly destroyed the house, and when the metal roof was removed, the bodies of three women were found lying on blood-soaked mattresses in what would have been the upstairs bedrooms of the house. The roof had preserved the corpses well enough to reveal that the women had been bludgeoned with an ax while they were sleeping. The bodies were those of Matilda and Blanche Pfanschmidt and Emma Kaempen, 21. The young woman was a local schoolteacher who boarded with the family.
Another body – charred almost beyond recognition – was discovered in the ruins of the cellar. The flesh and bones of the head, arms, shoulders, upper trunk, legs and half of the lower trunk were gone. Only one thigh remained. A doctor later testified that the body had been dismembered with knives and a saw before it was burned. It was eventually determined that the body belonged to Charles Pfanschmidt.
Near the body in the cellar was an ax head with what was later determined was human blood baked on it from the intense heat of the flames. The handle of the ax had been completely burned away.
Police officers and sheriff’s deputies immediately descended on the scene, gathering law enforcement personnel and armed citizens to search the countryside for the killer. Bloodhounds were brought to the scene in an effort to trace the murderer who, it was believed, had driven to the home in a buggy on Saturday night, a few hours before the fire was discovered.
The Iowa murders were still fresh in everyone’s minds. Newspaper reports stated that the police were seeing the “degenerate who had perpetrated similar ax murders in Iowa and Colorado recently.” They also noted that the crime was “similar to the horror in Villisca.” This new murder got the attention of the Iowa Attorney General and he asked the Burns Detective Agency to send a man to look into it. C. W. Tobie, who had worked the Villisca case for a few weeks in July and August before going on to manage the agency’s Chicago office, assigned himself to the investigation.
Before he made it to Illinois, though, authorities in Adams County had already arrested Ray Pfanschmidt, 20, the only surviving offspring of the murdered couple. The young man had moved out of the family’s home in August to start work on an excavation project for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad. He was living in a tent near the worksite. The main evidence against him was a set of buggy tracks that led away from the Pfanschmidt house – and which may, or may not, have matched his buggy – and suspicious bloodstained clothing that may have belonged to him.
The clothes had been discovered by accident. J.L. Freese, who lived near the work camp, was making improvements on his property and moved an outhouse to a new location. When the structure was moved, he found a bundle of bloody clothing hidden beneath it and called the police. The khaki shirt and pants were splattered with blood – which could have been either human or animal, because the Adams County Sheriff had no way to test it – with the largest stains measuring about two inches in diameter. When the police showed the clothing to Ray’s fiancée, Esther Reeder, she said that they might belong to him.
This was not exact hard evidence, but in those days, the police could arrest just about anyone, whether the evidence against them was solid or not. Soon, other information emerged, however. On the surface, none of it looked good for Ray.
Charles Pfanschmidt had owned a considerable amount of real estate and his wife had owned large tracts of land that she had inherited from her father. Upon the deaths of the older couple, their land and money was to go to their children, meaning that Ray stood to gain a large inheritance after the murders. It was known that he had money problems. In the weeks prior to the murders, Charles received two notes from his bank informing him that his son’s accounts were overdrawn. Charles had allegedly complained to a friend about Ray’s spending habits. That was all the motive that prosecutors needed to pin the crime on Ray.
Detective Tobie soon arrived from Chicago. He was supposed to see if he thought that the murders in Villisca and Payson were connected and he talked to a few people and visited Ray Pfanschmidt in jail. After meeting with the Burns detective, Pfanschmidt hired Tobie as an “expert witness” to testify that the murders could have been committed by the roving ax maniac who had slaughtered people in Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, and Iowa. Tobie, considered an expert in the other cases, was supposed to provide an element of reasonable doubt for the defense. In the end, it worked – but it started off badly for Ray.
At the initial trial in March 1913, Ray was tried and convicted for the murder of his sister. It was common practice in multiple murder cases to charge the defendant with only one death. That way, if he was exonerated, he could be tried again for another, allowing the prosecutor to skirt past the double jeopardy rule. Ray was found guilty and was headed for the gallows in October. The evidence against him was circumstantial, but Ray was perceived as being greedy and spoiled. It didn’t help his prospects when his grandfather testified in court about his constant demands for money.
His lawyers appealed the case, stating that a change of venue request should have been granted due to extreme prejudice against the defendant expressed by people living in the area. They argued that some of the evidence (including letters from the bank regarding overdrafts) should not have been admitted. In February 1914, Pfanschmidt was granted a new trial by the Illinois Supreme Court. He was retried for the murder of his sister and found not guilty. He was then put on trial for the murder of his father and reasonable doubt won out again. The case for the murder of his mother was dismissed and the authorities didn’t try and convict him again. Pfanschmidt collected his inheritance and left Adams County for good.
Many people strongly believed that Ray had gotten away with murder. If so, C.W. Tobie helped him. For a time, the Burns detective was on the payroll of not only the state of Iowa, but was also being paid by the man he had been hired to investigate. It may have seemed like an ethical dilemma, but it Tobie could have connected the case in Illinois to the case in Iowa, he would have done so. The reward fund connected to the Villisca murders alone was substantial and Tobie – along with the Burns Agency – would have profited from a solution to the crime.
But that was not to be. The people of Iowa had been hoping for a solution to their own murders in Illinois, but that turned out not to be the case. There was no connection between the two crimes – other than that the murders were committed with an ax. The Pfanschmidt crime, while baffling, had almost none of the similarities between the earlier murders in Colorado, Kansas, Iowa, and elsewhere in Illinois. Except for one thing… it too was never solved.
Today we often say, “he’s playing the devil’s advocate” or “he’s the devil’s advocate”. The expression describes someone who argues against a point for the purpose of testing the argument for flaws or weaknesses. Basically, a Devil’s advocate presents facts that are unfavorable to the candidate. A person who acts like Devil’s advocate doesn’t necessarily have to be of a different opinion. He or she simply presents the concept of arguing against something without being committed to the contrary view.
The Devil’s advocate, Latin Advocatus Diaboli, was actually the official name of the Promoter Fidei (Promoter of Faith) established in 1587 during the reign of Pope Sixtus V. The first mention of anyone fulfilling the role of an Advocatus Diaboli was during the preliminary work in preparing for the beatification of St. Lawrence Justinian (1381-1456).
During the canonization process, the Devil’s advocate employed by the Roman Catholic Church, was appointed to argue against the canonization of a candidate. His task was to oversee that no person received the honors of sainthood recklessly and top fast. Every potential weakness or objection to the saints’ canonization was raised and evaluated in order to ensure that only those who were truly worthy would be raised to the dignity of the altars.
In reality, the Devil’s advocate, who had veto right, was expected to seek out and find objections to why an individual should be declared a saint.
According to the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, his role was to “prevent any rash decisions concerning miracles or virtues of the candidates for the honors of the altar. All documents of beatification and canonization processes must be submitted to his examination, and the difficulties and doubts he raises over the virtues and miracles are laid before the congregation and must be satisfactorily answered before any further steps can be taken in the processes.
It is his duty to suggest natural explanations for alleged miracles, and even to bring forward human and selfish motives for deeds that have been accounted heroic virtues…His duty requires him to prepare in writing all possible arguments, even at times seemingly slight, against the raising of any one to the honors of the altar. The interest and honor of the Church are concerned in preventing any one from receiving those honors whose death is not juridically proved to have been ‘precious in the sight of the Lord.’”
In 1983, Pope John Paul II reduced the power and changed the role of the office. Many people think this means the Devil’s advocate’s position was removed and there is no longer a need for someone to determine the requirement for sainthood.
What really happened is that Pope John Paul II did make great changes, but the Devil’s advocate is still present within the church. Only now, his name is Promoter of the Faith.
It is simple a new title and wording of what had become known as the “Devil’s Advocate.” The Promoter of the Faith doesn’t have veto right and unlike the Devil’s advocate he doesn’t provide a list of objections and complaints against candidates for sainthood. Instead he provides a report of his findings for evaluation.
By removing the rights of the Devil’s advocate, the canonization process transformed from a trial to a meeting during which church’s representatives discuss whether a person should become saint or not.
In the summer of 1954, world-renowned social psychologist Muzafer Sherif toted 22 boys to the foothills of the San Bois Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma. There, in Robbers Cave State Park, he intended to conduct an unprecedented social experiment that involved pitting sparsely supervised 12-year-old boys against each other in the Oklahoma wilderness.
This was the Robbers Cave experiment, and its startling outcome would inspire the harrowing book Lord of the Flies just a year later. Nearly six decades since, experts dub the experiment unethical as it appears to have left lasting mental damage on its subjects.
Sherif was born in the Ottoman Empire and won a slot to study psychology at Harvard. He quickly realized that lab research on rats was too confining and he wanted a more complex subject: humans.
Fascination with social psychology had, with reason, reached a peak following WWII, and so Sherif was able to secure a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
His initial experiment required that 11-year-old boys be sent under the guise of a summer camp to Middle Grove park in upstate New York. There Sherif would split the boys into teams, pit them against each other for prizes, and then try to reunite them using a series of frustrating and life-threatening events — like a forest fire. Neither the parents nor the boys, obviously, knew this was a study.
The Robbers Cave experiment, then, was the second of Sherif’s, as his study at Middle Grove in the summer of 1953 had in his mind not accomplished the outcome he had hoped for. He was looking for confirmation of his “Realistic Conflict Theory“, which stated that groups would compete for limited resources even against their friends and allies, but come together in the face of a common disaster regardless of those alliances.
The boys at Middle Grove had not cooperated with this theory. They stayed friends despite all hardships, even when Sherif had his staffers steal their clothes, raze their tents, and smash their toys all the while framing other campers.
The experiment ended in a drunken brawl between one of the leading social psychologists in the world, Muzafer Sherif, and his research assistants as his experiment had not cooperated with him.
Sherif resolved to try again with the Robbers Cave experiment.
Sherif still had money from the grant for the first study but after his failure, felt that his reputation was at risk. This time he would keep the boys separated from the beginning so that they couldn’t form the pesky friendships which had thwarted the study at Middle Grove. The groups were the Rattlers and the Eagles.
The two groups were unaware of each other for the first two days. They bonded with their own group through standard camp activities like hiking and swimming.
Once the groups seemed to be solidly formed, Sherif and his team instituted the ‘competition phase’ of the Robbers Cave experiment. The groups were introduced to each other and a series of rivalrous activities were scheduled. There would be a tug-of-war, baseball and so forth. Prizes would also be awarded, trophies at stake, and there would be no consolation prizes for the losers. The Rattlers declared they would be the winners and monopolized the baseball field in order to practice.
They put their flag up on the field and told the Eagles they had better not touch it.
The staffers began to interfere more aggressively in the Robbers Cave experiment. They deliberately caused conflict and once arranged for one group to be late for lunch so that the other group would eat all the food.
At first, the conflict between the boys was verbal with just taunts and name-calling. But under the careful guidance of Sherif and his staff, it soon became physical. The Eagles were supplied with matches and they burned their rival’s flag. The Rattlers retaliated, invaded the Eagles’ cabin, and wrecked it and stole their belongings.
The conflict escalated to violence so that the groups had to be separated for two days.
Now that the kids hated each other, Sherif decided it was time to vindicate his theory and bring them back together. So he shut off the drinking water.
The Rattlers and Eagles set off to find the water tank which was on a mountain. The only water they had was what was in their canteens. When they arrived at the tank, hot and thirsty, the groups had already begun to merge.
The campers found the valve to the tank but it was covered with rocks, so they joined together and removed the rocks as quickly as possible. This pleased Sherif immensely as it was in direct agreement with his theory: the groups would fight over limited resources but band together when faced with a common threat.
Nevermind that the experiment was ethically and procedurally dubious, as Sherif had gotten the results that he wanted and his theory, along with the study itself, garnered great publicity. But even professionals who used the study in their textbooks doubted its value.
Six decades of development in the field have led modern psychologists to criticize the study. Sherif conducted his experiment under the belief that it was meant to showcase his theory, not either prove or disprove it. In this way, he could very easily and in many ways did, finagle the outcome he desired.
Further, the boys were all middle-class and white, and all shared a Protestant, two-parent background. The study in this way was not reflective of real-life and was considered limited. There was also the ethical issue surrounding the participants’ deception: neither the children nor their parents knew what they had consented to, and the boys were in many cases left unattended or in danger of harm.
Regardless of these qualms, the Robbers Cave experiment has left a legacy — particularly on the participants.
Now-grown camper Doug Griset recalls ironically: “I’m not traumatized by the experiment, but I don’t like lakes, camps, cabins or tents.”
PAPUA NEW GUINEA WITCHCRAFT
Papua New Guinea is one of the few places in the world where literal witch hunts still take place on a regular basis. Witch hunts continue to be practiced, even though engaging in a witch hunt was declared a capital offense by the government in 2013. This leads to the question of why these witch hunts still occur. The answer is probably related to the fact that in Papua New Guinea, witchcraft, sorcery, and malevolent spiritual beings are still relevant and the effects of industrialization have created more problems that can be blamed on witches.
The highlands of Papua New Guinea are very rugged and treacherous. As a result, they are among the most isolated places in the world. Some parts of the region were not explored by Westerners until as late as the 1930s. In contrast, societies of the lowlands of Papua New Guinea have been in contact with the outside world for centuries.
One result of this is that the cultural development of the highlands people has been largely independent of the surrounding region. Agriculture, for example, was locally developed in the highlands around 7,000 years ago, rather than being introduced from Southeast Asia. With more time, the highlands may have become another cradle of civilization.
Many cultures of the highlands of Papua New Guinea have only recently been exposed to modern scientific explanations for diseases. And it is worth remembering that we live in a mechanistic universe where things, good or bad, sometimes happen just by chance, or by nature, rather than by the intentional actions of an intelligent agent, such as a witch. The fact that most witch hunts tend to occur in the highlands demonstrates that belief in witches is still strong in that region.
Most of the people of Papua New Guinea traditionally believed that the world was full of natural and ancestral spirits. This belief persists today in many parts of the island nation. An example from one particular culture is belief in a race of sky beings which can be seen in the night as faint lights in the forest. These creatures are said to be man-eaters and accomplices to witches.
In most of ancient Papua New Guinea, if someone got sick, died, or even lost livestock to illness or predation, it was commonly suspected to be due to witchcraft or sorcery. The underlying spiritualist worldview behind this has not gone away; it still influences the beliefs and practices of many Papua New Guinean natives both in the highlands and in the lowlands. Because of this, it does not seem too farfetched to many Papua New Guinean natives to blame a person getting sick on an evil spirit or a witch. This is true regardless of education level and has nothing to do with intelligence.
Witch hunts are not only still common in Papua New Guinea, but they appear to be increasing in frequency compared to previous generations. For example, witch hunts are no longer restricted to the rural highlands, but have spread to towns and cities. The response to accused witches is also predictably severe. People suspected of being witches are under threat of being tortured and killed . In an infamous case in 2013, a 20-year-old mother was burned alive. Her daughter was later accused of witchcraft and tortured as well, though she survived and was rescued.
The government of Papua New Guinea has officially recognized this as a serious problem and has taken steps to address violence committed against accused witches. For example, the government has recently made it law that killings connected to a witch hunt will be counted as murder.
Witches are one explanation for why things go wrong in the world and why there is loss, illness, and death. One possible reason for the increasing frequency of witch hunts in Papua New Guinea is that more health and societal problems have emerged in recent years that can be blamed on witches.
Papua New Guinea is currently going through rapid industrialization, which is leading to problems that previous generations of Papua New Guineans did not face to the same degree. Industrialization and capitalism, for example, bring problems such as unemployment and financial insecurity due to a fluctuating economy. Furthermore, global travel and trade have brought more diseases than previous generations faced, such as the spread of HIV.
Modern problems such as rising real estate prices are also often blamed on witchcraft alongside illnesses or death. When things go wrong, humans will first look for explanations that make sense, and that are most familiar, in their cultural context.
Beliefs about sorcery and witchcraft are deeply ingrained in the cultures of Papua New Guinea. Many societies in Papua New Guinea, especially the highland societies, have only been recently exposed, historically speaking, to alternative explanations for why things go wrong in the world.
It is also true that the problems many of the Papua New Guinean people face have increased in recent years because of industrialization. These two factors are probably part of why witch hunts persist in the region. Humans are slow to give up tradition and they tend to hold on to their customs and beliefs more strongly when life gets difficult. This includes traditions pertaining to witchcraft.
Not long ago in Japan, a man was on his way back to his Airbnb. It was around 11:40 PM according to what he remembered. The incident was reported to and documented by the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON).
He said, “I was walking through courtyard right before neighborhood entrance, when I noticed two 4-foot-tall human-looking creatures jumping the wall of shrine and running away.”
These small sized creatures, seemed to resemble that of a human child but they were not human at all. According to what the man had to say, they were too small to be children of any age. However, the shape of their bodies…were proportional to that of a human child (comparing height). He went on to say, that their bodies were white color by appearance. They were far whiter than any Caucasian person would be.
Other notable details included these creatures having very skinny legs and arms. Their heads had pointy ears and their eyes were big black triangles. These short humanoid aliens, very much seem to be like black-eyed children. However, they may well have been something else entirely.
One other thing that separates them from other encounters, is they way they moved. According to what this man said, they were able to run with their arms behind them. After a while, they wandered over behind the corner of a wall. When the man approached, he said he made eye contact with one of them. Whatever it was, seemed to glance back at him curiously.
While at the shrine in Kyoto, the alarm went off but no actual sound was heard. Perhaps whatever these things were, somehow could control all the sounds around them. Is this one way they have avoided being detected so easily?
Being terrified, he explained that he didn’t want to get too close to them. Not long after, he lost sight of them, as they turned past a corner.
If these were aliens, then they are from another time and place. They were here for a reason. Perhaps to simply observe us or they were collecting something as another possibility. Based upon the description, they seem to not be tall whites known as Pleiadians.
These blonde Nordic extraterrestrials, are thought to roam the Earth already. Pleiadians are believed to be concerned about Earth and its very future. One theory is, these could be helpers of the Pleiadians or another alien race.
This entire encounter, is based upon one man’s testimony. It is interesting and perhaps someone else out there has experienced something similar. Another man reported seeing a humanoid creature in a forest outside Kyoto previously as well. Alien visitation seems to be increasing in recent times, perhaps something big is ready to happen soon in our world.
Not everyone realizes that in Moundsville, WV there is a paranormal museum that rivals even the most well known of its kind. Alongside of the Warrens’ Occult Museum and Zak Bagan’s Haunted Museum is the Mountain state’s very own Archive of the Afterlife!
Haunted objects, funerary history, military history, and a host of memorabilia from haunted locations are just a sampling of what you’ll find here. There are several exhibits that bring fascination for visitors, but one of the most infamous is the 666 Bible.
According to the museum’s website, this mysterious artifact was donated by an anonymous urban explorer from Glen Dale, WV. This person and his friend were visiting the abandoned Morris Memorial Hospital for Crippled Children in Milton, WV. The current Morris Memorial building was originally built between 1935 and 1936 and treated over 10,000 children, most of who were suffering from polio, up until the hospital closed in 1960. With advances in medicine, including a polio vaccine, the great need for a hospital of this type was no longer needed, and the next year, Morris Memorial became a nursing home under the direction of John and Rose Greene. It operated as a nursing home until it was completely turned over to the city and used as storage about ten years ago.
At first, security wasn’t exactly tight at this location, and many amateur ghost hunters, urban explorers, and just plain curious folks ventured onto the property. Even the grounds gave off a spooky feel and peering into windows, one could easily see a mixture of old nursing home furniture and the city’s Christmas decorations. Unfortunately, vandalism was a big issue, with some people going as far as to breaking windows and doors and tearing apart the inside of the old hospital. At any given time, access to the hospital was easily obtained through one of these busted windows or doors.
With a change in local government came a change in how the property was maintained. No Trespassing signs flooded the property, and security cameras were installed. Those caught breaking in were punished, and the vandalism began to curb. Today, there are plans being implemented to turn the former hospital into a high-end hotel and resort facility. All that’s quite fascinating…but what about this Bible?
The person who donated the Bible to the museum noted that it was found in an otherwise empty room. The rather large book was opened up to pages 666-667, and the pages were being held in place by a small angel figurine. Even creepier, the top of page 667 appeared to have been scorched! As a souvenir, our donor took the Bible home, and his friend took the angel.
In my investigation group, we didn’t have too many rules, but one thing that was highly encouraged was leaving things alone. Ghost lore is filled with many tales illustrating the idea that taking an object from a haunted location is never a good idea. Unfortunately for this urban explorer, he would find that out the hard way.
Upon returning home, he put the Bible on his fireplace mantle. Within three days, the family cat died. His mother and pet dog became gravely ill. He heard his name being whispered, only to find no living person anywhere in ear shot. Things reached a spooky crescendo when three full-bodied shadow people were observed in the back yard.
Presumably, the streak of bad luck and paranormal activity ended when the Bible was donated to the museum. And if you’re brave enough, YOU can visit this seemingly cursed holy book for yourself! The museum, which has recently expanded, can be found in Moundsville’s Sanford Community Center, just a short drive from the WV State Penitentiary at Moundsville! The museum is a great deal at $3 per person, or $5 per couple and you could spend hours browsing just the collection itself. But, if you’re a little more eager, there are investigation opportunities and paranormal conventions/events held throughout the year. Now…I wonder if anything similar ever happened with that angel figurine!
Amos and Fannie Stillwell returned home from a party at a neighbor’s house on December 29, 1889. It was a small gathering of Hannibal, Missouri’s high society and the Stillwells were among the wealthiest and most prominent guests. Mr. Stillwell grew tired at around 11:30; the couple left the party and took the short walk back to their house. They had left their three young children in the care of two servant girls. Mrs. Stillwell dismissed the servants and took the children upstairs with her. The Stillwells slept in separate beds, and that night Mrs. Stillwell shared her bed with the children. Another daughter, 14-year-old Mollie normally slept in the room next to her parents, but that night she was away visiting friends.
Around 2:00 am, Mrs. Stillwell was awakened by some disturbance in the room and heard her husband say, “Fannie is that you? Fannie is that you?”
She could see a man standing with his back to her, and a moment later she heard a “whirring” sound as if something was thrown violently through the air. Then she heard someone running down the stairs. She rushed to her husband’s bed and found that he had been murdered, he had a terrible gash in his head and he was lying in a pool of blood.
From this point on Mrs. Stillwell’s memory of events became confused. She had taken the screaming children back to the servants and run outside in her nightgown to the home of her neighbors, the Leagues. Mr. League heard her story and hurriedly summoned Drs. Hearne, Allen, and Gleason who lived nearby.
Back in the bedroom, Mrs. Stillwell had fainted and remained unconscious as the doctors examined her husband’s body. He had been struck with an axe, leaving a wound so deep that it severed both his jugular vein and his carotid artery. Realizing that nothing could be done for Mr. Stillwell, Dr. Hearne turned his attention to Mrs. Stillwell. He was her advising physician and was able to bring her back to consciousness.
The police investigated the crime scene and determined that the killer ran through the back door of the house through the yard and into an alley. As he ran, he had dropped a $5 bill which was found in the alley. About twenty feet further, they found four more $5 bills and a little further on, the empty pocketbook. The murder weapon, an old double-edged axe, was also found in the alley. The police believed that the intruder’s original intent was burglary, but he had awakened Mr. Stillwell and killed him to escape unidentified.
The murder of a prominent citizen caused great excitement in Hannibal and everyone was anxious to get the killer behind bars. The Pinkerton Detective Agency was called in to assist the police and Richard Stillwell, Amos’s son from his first marriage, offered a $1,000 reward for the capture of the killer, which added amateur detectives to the case. The family, including Richard Stillwell, firmly believed that the killer was a burglar interrupted while robbing the house, but many in Hannibal thought Amos was killed by someone closer to home.
65-year-old Amos Stillwell had been the owner of a pork packing business and was one of the wealthiest men in Hannibal. After the death of his first wife more than twenty years earlier, he met Fannie Anderson on a visit to relatives in Indiana. Though she was still in her teens, Amos fell madly in love with Fannie and proposed marriage. Fanny did not get along with her stepmother and had been contemplating entering a convent. She decided that being the wife of a rich widower was preferable to a life in the church and she accepted his offer.
The Stillwells appeared to have a happy marriage, but Amos was growing old and Fanny, 30 years younger, was still in her prime. Amos could be a hard man to live with, he managed the household as he did his business and abhorred waste and needless expense. He was a vegetarian and a health enthusiast and forced Fannie to sleep in a heavy cotton nightgown, believing the modern lacy styles to be unhealthy. Though Amos did not believe in physicians, Fannie often consulted Dr. Joseph C. Hearne, who lived just around the block from the Stillwells—so often, in fact, that many believed they were having an affair. After the murder, the predominant belief outside of official circles was that Dr. Hearne was involved in the killing.
In spite of public opinion, Richard Stillwell, with his money and influence, was driving the investigation and he held to the burglary theory. Detectives focused on the African American community and the first arrests in the case, two weeks after the murder, were a black man named George Gibson and his mistress, Alice Ward. Police would not say what evidence they had but the couple was rigidly examined by two Pinkerton men. On January 28, a black man named George Dixon and his white mistress were arrested by Pinkertons for unlawful cohabitation. He was questioned about the murder because he was seen in the city that night with an unusually large amount of money. There was no evidence to hold any of these suspects and they were soon released.
With a lack of useful clues to follow the Pinkertons retired from the investigation and the case turned cold. Then, the following December, almost a year to the day from the murder, Fannie Stillwell and Dr. Joseph C. Hearne were married. Interest in the case was renewed and rumors of Dr. Hearne’s involvement resurfaced. John E. Stillwell, a nephew of the murdered man, tried to force a thorough investigation by the grand jury which included Dr. Hearne, but the prosecuting attorney refused to pursue any theory but robbery. The grand jury did not return any indictments and the widow, now called Fanny Hearne, forced the retirement of John Stillwell from the pork packing company.
Richard Stillwell raised the reward to $10,000, and over the next four years a few arrests briefly seemed promising, but there was no significant progress in the case. The grand jury met at least five more times and after considering the evidence handed down no indictments. The Hearnes left Hannibal and moved to San Diego, California where Dr. Hearne opened a medical practice.
Then in August 1894, Fannie Hearne filed for divorce charging cruelty and failure to provide. The decision had been mutual, and Dr. Hearne did not contest the charge, though privately said the cause was incompatibility of temperament. After the divorce, Fannie returned to her previous married name of Stillwell.
News of the divorce, even as far away as California raised memories of the Stillwell murder. An article in the San Francisco Chronicle connecting Dr. Hearne to the murder angered the doctor so much that he sued the paper for libel asking for $200,000 damages. In July 1895, Dr. Hearne traveled back to Hannibal along with his attorneys and attorneys for the Chronicle, to take depositions.
It was not a good time for Dr. Hearne to return to Hannibal. Richard Stillwell had finally abandoned the burglar theory and had come to accept what the rest of the town had been saying since the beginning—his father was murdered by Dr. Hearne and Fannie. He had gathered evidence on his own and canceled the reward so as not to influence the trial when he took the case to court. Then he volunteered to be deposed in support of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Richard Stillwell testified as to why he had changed his mind. He said that he had recently learned from several sources that Dr. Hearne and Fannie had been in love before the murder and had engaged in criminal intimacy. He learned that Dr. Hearne did not think Amos Stillwell was a fit companion for Fannie and he planned to use his influence over her to bring about a divorce. Hearne was heard to say he could hire a man to “slug” Amos for $2.50. One of Richard’s sources, Mrs. C.P. Heywood, said Hearne had told her he was at the Stillwell house when Amos was away in St. Louis. Amos returned unexpectedly and when he entered the house Hearne had been naked and did not have time to dress. Hearne hid in the shadows and Amos passed him in the hall without seeing him. Hearne told Mrs. Heywood that if he had been caught, he would have shot Amos. Everyone would think it was a burglar; no one ever suspects doctors or ministers.
A few days later the grand jury reconvened and this time they heard testimony from all of the witnesses who had testified for the San Francisco Chronicle, including Richard Sitwell, who had obtained a deposition from his source Mrs. C.P. Heywood. There were other bits of incarnating evidence the jury had not heard before: Mollie Stillwell had never slept away from home before the night of the murder, witnesses who saw the body that night believed it had been moved before they arrived, several witnesses saw Fanny in a fancy modern nightgown after the murder, Jim Abbey, former detective for Missouri Pacific Railroad found a plain cotton nightgown with bloodstains on the sleeves in an outhouse vault on the Stillwell property. The grand jury indicted both Dr. Hearne and Fannie Stillwell for first-degree murder. They were arrested and held for trial.
The defendants were to be tried separately; Dr. Hearne’s trial began in Bowling Green, Missouri on December 9, 1895. The people of Hannibal would finally have the justice they had craved for seven long years. But after hearing two weeks of evidence, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. There was not enough hard evidence to tie Dr. Hearne to the murder. Dr. Hearne was immediately released from custody. Fannie Stillwell was released on $5,000 bail but Hearne’s verdict had effectively cleared her as well and she would never be tried for the murder.
The trial had resolved little. Dr. Hearne and Fannie Stillwell would remain the prime suspects in popular opinion. The people of Hannibal would remain appalled that one of their most prominent residents could be murdered without retribution.
Dr. Hearne continued his suit against the San Francisco Chronicle. Seven months and two trials later he won his case and was awarded $10,000 damages.
THE OLD FACTORY VISIT
I am not a guy that is quick to blame every weird experience on the paranormal, and I like to think I could debunk many “paranormal experiences”.
My personal story goes back 20+ years, to a time when I had a young family. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we did own a small house in a small city in Massachusetts. It wasn’t big, but it was ours, and we tried to fix it up what we could.
I had been wanting to build a little brick walk that would lead to my back yard. I didn’t really have the money to go buy bricks, so I had decided to go to the site where the remnants of an old factory that had burned down to the ground 40-years earlier. There were old bricks strewn all around from the walls that had collapsed during the fire. The word around town was the grounds of the old factory had become so contaminated with chemicals that they had worked with during its heyday, it would have been very costly to remediate the ground, so it was left undisturbed for years.
My son, who was around 4-years old at the time, asked to go with me to get the bricks. I said, “You can come, but stay in the car because there is a lot of glass and nails all around, and I don’t want you to get hurt, so I want you to stay in the car while I get the bricks”.
We drove to the factory and into and old gravel driveway. I must admit, even in the light of day on a Saturday morning it had a creepy feel to the place. It was the first time I’ve been there, other than driving past this place every day.
I pulled over to an area where I thought I’d have the least chance of getting a flat tire. I told my son to sit tight, and I’ll be back in a few minutes. I wasn’t going far and was only 75’ from the car, so I was always within ear shot if he needed me. It seemed as soon as I got out of the car, I had this uncomfortable feeling, like “I’m not supposed to be here”. So, I walk my way over to some bricks on the ground and start collecting. Many were broken and there weren’t as many full bricks as I had hoped, but picked what I could. As I’m collecting bricks, I am becoming more and more uncomfortable being there. There are no houses in the area, but I kept looking around to see if anyone is there, but I see no one. It had finally gotten to the point where I had become so uncomfortable I decided to load the trunk with the bricks I had collected, and would make another trip some other time.
After loading the bricks in the car, I shut the trunk and the heavy load made the car squat in the back and I hoped I wouldn’t bottom out on the dirt drive on the way out. As I got into the car, my son turns to me and asks,
“What did that man want?”
I looked at him and said, “what man?” being, we were completely alone.
“The man that was talking to you, the man with the big-big belly” he replied.
I looked at him completely bewildered. “the man that was just talking to you!” he said in a determined way.
I asked if he could see him now. He said he wasn’t there anymore. As I’m driving out, I kept looking in my rear-view mirror, and trying to scan the area for this man with the “big-big belly” I was completely creeped out at this point, and just wanted to leave that place. The thirty-foot driveway, felt like it was a mile long. I told my son I didn’t see the man, and maybe he told me that I was trespassing on private property (which I was).
When I got home, I told my wife the very creepy story our son just told me. She just looked at me, and the story creeped her out as well. I later researched the factory, and the fire that brought it down. But there were no deaths involved. The site was left undisturbed for 10 more years, before the city came in and cleaned up the site and built a brand-new Department of Public Works facility.
During those last 10 years before the city clearing all the debris, I never returned. I had no desire to go back and try to see the man with the “big-big belly” To this day, I am absolutely certain we were alone out there that morning, at least in the physical form. My son’s persistence, and reaction about the man talking to me, left me unable explain the experience, but remember it like it was yesterday. I’ve heard, and believe, that a child’s eyes are more open to spiritual things, and tend to grow out of this stage as they get older.