“THE STRANGE MYSTERY OF THE EDDY BROTHERS” and More True, Dark Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: One of my favorite authors for true crime and paranormal stories is Troy Taylor. He does his research, and when he takes pen to paper he is unparalleled in creating a picture in your mind of the scene and the players. If you close your eyes, it’s almost as if you are there when the events took place. Some of the work of Troy Taylor in this episode of Weird Darkness.
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Welcome, Weirdos – I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode of Weird Darkness…
I’ve decided to be a bit selfish. One of my favorite authors for true crime and paranormal stories is Troy Taylor. He does his research, and when he takes pen to paper he is unparalleled in creating a picture in your mind of the scene and the players. If you close your eyes, it’s almost as if you are there when the events took place. Some of the work of Troy Taylor in this episode of Weird Darkness.
While you’re listening, you might want to check out the Weird Darkness website. At WeirdDarkness.com you can find transcripts of the episodes, paranormal and horror audiobooks I’ve narrated, 24/7 streaming video of Horror Hosts and classic horror movies, shop the Weird Darkness store for Weirdo merchandise, plus you can visit the “Hope In The Darkness” page if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
According to newspaper and Spiritualist accounts of 1874, some very strange things were happening on a small Vermont farm near the town of Chittenden. Allegedly, all manner of bizarre phenomena was said to be taking place in the home of William and Horatio Eddy, two middle-aged, illiterate brothers, and their sister, Mary. The Eddys lived in an unkempt, two-story building that was reported to be infested with troops of supernatural beings in such numbers that had never been reported before, or since. The events at the farm were said to be so powerful and so strange that people came from all over the world to witness them. Spiritualists began calling Chittenden the “Spirit Capital of the Universe.”
Needless to say, not everyone was convinced of the legitimacy of the reported events on the Eddy farm. One such man was a successful attorney named Henry Steel Olcott. Prior to hearing of the Eddy brothers, Olcott had no interest whatever in the burgeoning Spiritualist movement. However, one day as he returned to his office from lunch, he picked up a copy of the Spiritualist newspaper, Banner of Light. In the paper, he read a graphic account of the strange happenings that were being reported in Chittenden, Vermont. It’s unlikely at that time that Olcott had any idea how a simple newspaper article was going to change his life.
It is important that we establish the fact that Henry Olcott was not connected in any way to the Spiritualist movement, nor was he a proponent of the paranormal. What might have prompted him to pick up a copy of Banner of Light that day is unknown. Olcott was born in New Jersey in 1832 and attended college in New York City, studying agricultural science. While still in his early ’20s, he received international recognition for his work on a model farm and for founding a school for agriculture students. During this same time, he published three scientific works. He went on to become the farm editor for Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune.
When the Civil War broke out, Olcott enlisted in the Union Army. He was appointed as a special investigator to root out corruption and fraud in military arsenals and shipyards. He was soon promoted to the rank of Colonel and after the war, was part of a three-person panel that investigated the assassination of President Lincoln. Olcott went on to study law and became a wealthy and successful attorney.
So how would an agriculturist and military investigator go on to become one of the first American psychic researchers?
After buying a copy of the Spiritualist newspaper, Olcott read with interest the reports from the Eddy farm. Although skeptical, he knew that if the stories were true, “this was the most important fact in modern physical science,” he later wrote. A short time after reading the story, Colonel Olcott traveled to Vermont, accompanied by a newspaper artist named Alfred Kappes. Together, they planned to investigate the strange events at the Eddy farm and if the stories were a hoax, they would expose the Eddy brothers in the Daily Graphic newspaper as nothing but charlatans. If the Eddys were true mediums, Olcott would announce the validity of Spiritualism to the world. In either event, Olcott was determined to be fair and open-minded in his judgments.
Olcott and Kappes traveled to the secluded town of Chittenden in the Green Mountains. The trip out to the farm was uneventful, but the first meeting with the Eddy brothers was anything but ordinary. The two distant and unfriendly farmers were rough-hewn characters with dark hair and eyes, and New England accents so thick that the New York attorney and writer could scarcely understand them.
Olcott would later learn that the brothers were descended from a long line of psychics. Mary Bradley, a distant relative, had been convicted of witchcraft at Salem in 1692. She had escaped the village with the help of friends. Their own grandmother had been blessed with the gift of “second sight” and often went into trances, speaking to entities that no one else could see. Their mother, Julia, had been known for frightening her neighbors with predictions and visions although her husband, Zepaniah, condemned her powers as the work of the Devil. Julia quickly learned to hide her gifts from the cruel and abusive man.
However, the supernatural could not be hidden once the couple began having children. Strange poundings began shaking the house, disembodied voices were heard in empty rooms, and occasionally, the children even vanished from their cribs. They were likely to be discovered elsewhere in the house and even outside. As William and Horatio got older, their strange powers strengthened. On many occasions, Zepaniah would see the boys playing with unfamiliar children who would disappear into thin air whenever he approached. When these “visitors” vanished, he would take his boys to the barn and beat them with a rawhide whip as punishment. The strange children returned again and again, though, earning the young Eddy boys countless beatings. Eventually, they would grow to both fear and hate their father.
The boys soon learned they were unable to attend school. The initial attempts were marked by inexplicable happenings and disturbances as invisible hands threw books, levitated desks and caused objects like rulers, inkwells and slates to fly about the room.
Zepaniah tried everything he could to stop the disturbances, although this mostly consisted of him beating and abusing the youngsters. The strange events continued, though. When he realized that he couldn’t stop the weird antics, he grew furious. Each time the boys fell into a trance, he would berate and verbally abuse them. He would try to rouse them by pinching and slapping them until they were black and blue. Once, on the advice of a sympathetic church-going friend, he doused the boys with boiling water. When this didn’t work, he allowed this friend to drop a red-hot coal into William’s hand, hoping to “exorcize his devils.” The boy never awakened from his trance, but he bore a scar on his palm for the rest of his life.
On occasion, the spirits would attempt to defend the boys, appearing in front of Zepaniah and driving him from the house. Needless to say, these eerie and frustrating happenings were more than the man could stand. So, tiring of the boys but realizing their moneymaking potential, he sold the Eddy brothers to a traveling showman, who, for the next fourteen years, took them all over America, Canada and Europe. The long series of performances can only be described as sadism run rampant.
As part of the performance, their manager would bind and gag the boys and then would challenge audience members to try and awaken them from their trances. The cruelty inflicted by these audiences made their father’s abuse look tame. The Eddys were locked into small wooden boxes to see if they could escape and hot wax was poured into their mouths to see if they could produce “spirit voices” when they were unable to talk. The skeptics poked, prodded, pinched and punched the sleeping brothers, leaving them scarred and damaged for the rest of their lives. On several occasions, they were even stoned and shot at by angry mobs. William Eddy bore a number of bullet scars on his body.
Infuriated mobs attacked them and their promoters for every reason except for the justifiable one of stopping further child abuse. Some of the protestors were religious fanatics, convinced the Eddys were in league with the Devil, while others were skeptics who felt they had been cheated out of their money and had watched a performance of trickery. They barely escaped from Danvers, Massachusetts, with their lives. In Cleveland, an angry mob seized William Eddy, and only a last minute rescue saved him from the pain of hot tar and feathers. In some of the larger cities, like New York and Philadelphia, they were safer from mobs but were still subjected to threats and indignities.
In spite of all this, the Eddys gave performances so sensational and so profitable that only the death of their father ended their tours and their suffering. They were finally allowed to return home. They moved onto the family farm with their sister, Mary, and opened the house as a modest inn called the Green Tavern. Unfortunately, by then, the brothers were warped men, hostile and suspicious, trusting no one but each other. Colonel Olcott later described them as two men who could easily make “newcomers feel ill at ease and unwelcome.”
As unsociable as they were, the Eddys rarely had a vacancy in their inn. They took in Spiritualist boarders who flocked from all over America and Europe to take part in the séances that were held on every night but Sunday. The Eddys charged $10 per week for a room and board at the inn, which was high for the time but not exorbitant. Overflow visitors found other lodging in Chittenden and neighboring homes for though the Eddy house was large, it was unable to serve the huge number of visitors who gathered for the nightly séances.
Colonel Olcott obtained a second-floor room and, like all of the visitors, was given the run of the house. Apparently, all but the most gullible guests used this freedom to search the premises, hoping or fearing to find theatrical props and assorted items that might aid in hoaxing those who came to see the séances. Where did the Eddys hide the mirrors, wires and sheets? Where were the costumes they used in the hoax? Olcott prowled the house from cellar to attic but was unsuccessful in finding anything to show the events were a fraud.
On Olcott’s first day at the farm, he was witness to an outdoor séance. In the bright moonlight of a warm summer evening, a group of ten participants traveled down a path and into a deep ravine. They assembled in front of a natural cave, formed by two large stones that had collapsed atop one another, forming a large arch. Olcott later learned that it was called “Honto’s Cave,” in honor of the Native American spirit who often appeared there. Olcott suspiciously investigated the cave and but no exit could be found at the back of the rocks. He determined there was no way that anyone could slip in or out of the cave without being seen.
Horatio Eddy acted as the medium for the séance. He sat on a camp stool under the arch and then was draped in a makeshift “spirit cabinet” formed by shawls and branches that had been cut from small saplings. As Horatio rested there, a gigantic man, dressed as a Native American, emerged from the darkness of the cave. While the medium addressed this spirit, someone cried out and pointed up toward the top of the cave. Standing there, silhouetted against the moon, was another gigantic Indian. To the right, a spectral female had materialized on a ledge. In all, ten such figures appeared during the séance. The last, the spirit of William White, the late editor of a Spiritualist newspaper, emerged from within Horatio’s cabinet. He was dressed in a black suit and white shirt and was supposedly recognizable to some who had read the newspaper and recognized him from his picture. He vanished at the same time the others did. Moments later, Horatio appeared from the cabinet and signaled that the séance was at an end.
After the bizarre display was over, Olcott and Kappes carefully searched the cave and the surrounding area for footprints in the soft earth. They found no trace that anyone had been there.
Olcott found the séance to be convincing but was sure that he would be able to more easily detect fraud within the controlled setting of the Eddy house. He and Kappes thoroughly examined the large “circle room”, which was located on the second floor of the farmhouse. He drew maps, charts and diagrams and took numerous measurements, sure that he would find false panels, secret doors or hidden passages. However, he found nothing out of the ordinary. He was determined not to give up, though, and he convinced the newspaper to hire men to come to Chittenden and examine the place. Using carpenters and engineers as consultants, another thorough search was conducted. The experts also found nothing out of the ordinary. After this, Olcott and Kappes were finally convinced that the walls and floors were as solid as they seemed. Because of this, what Olcott witnessed during the nights that followed became even stranger.
Each séance was basically the same. Six nights a week, visitors would assemble on rough wooden benches in the séance room. A platform was lit only by a kerosene lamp, recessed in a barrel. William Eddy, who acted as the primary medium, mounted the platform and entered a small cabinet. A few moments later, soft voices began to whisper in the distance. Often, there would be singing, accompanied by spectral music. Musical instruments came to life and soared above the heads of the audience members, disembodied hands appeared, waving and touching the spectators, and odd lights and unexplained noises appeared and filled the air.
Then, the first spirit form emerged from the cabinet. They came one at a time, or in groups, numbering as many as twenty or thirty in an evening. Some were completely visible and seemed solid. Others were transparent and ethereal. Regardless, they awed the frightened spectators. The spirits ranged in size from over six feet to very small (it’s worth noting here that William Eddy was only five feet, nine inches tall). Most of the ghostly apparitions were elderly Yankees or Native Americans but many other races and nationalities also appeared in costume like Africans, Russians, Asians, and more.
Where had they come from? Olcott wondered. He had examined the spirit cabinet and platform and had found no trap doors, nor hidden passages. In fact, there was no room in the cabinet for anyone other than the medium himself. Olcott had studied the workings of stage magicians and fraudulent mediums, but could find none of their tricks present at the Eddy house.
The apparitions not only appeared but they also performed, sang and chatted with the sitters. They produced spirit articles like musical instruments, clothing and scarves. In all, nearly every type of supernatural phenomena was reported at the Eddy farmhouse. These included rappings, moving physical objects, spirit paintings, automatic writing, prophecy, speaking in tongues, healings, unseen voices, levitation, remote visions, teleportation and more. And of course, the full-bodied manifestations of which Olcott observed more than four hundred during the weeks he visited the house. He concluded that a show like that which he had seen would have required an entire company of actors and several trunks of costumes.
Yet, Olcott’s inspection of the premises revealed no place to hide either actors or props. The idea of stage actors was further dispelled by the convincing manner of the spirits. One woman spoke, in Russian, to the alleged spirit of her deceased husband. A number of other dialects were also heard. How was this possible when the Eddys could barely read and write, and were scarcely capable of speaking coherent English?
In addition, such an elaborate show would have cost a fortune to produce each night. They would have had to pay actors, invest in costumes and hire someone to create the “marvels” of the spirits. This would have been impossible given that the brothers were almost penniless. Most of the visitors who came to the farm did not pay and the rooms only gained them $10 per week for room and board. No admission was ever charged for the séances. In Olcott’s mind, fraud would have been physically and financially impossible.
The investigator’s ten-week stay on the Eddy farm was surely a test of endurance. He left disliking the house, the food, the weather and the Eddy brothers themselves. However, he was convinced of the fact that the two men could make contact with the dead.
The farm attracted many international visitors but none of them was as flamboyant as Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, who arrived during the time of Colonel Olcott’s investigation. Madame Blavatsky had not yet reached the height of her fame at this point but she already commanded great respect in occult circles. She was a theatrical woman with a powerful personality and a flair for the dramatic and she made an impression at the rural farm by smoking cigars and appearing in a variety of veils and flowing dresses.
Many of the visitors in 1874 were already aware of Madame Blavatsky. She had been born in Russia in 1831 to German parents with excellent social credentials. She married young but later abandoned her husband to explore both the physical and spiritual worlds. She visited an odd assortment of places such as Canada, Mexico, Texas and India and made a first attempt to enter the forbidden country of Tibet. A short time later, she vanished. For a decade between 1848 and 1858, Madame Blavatsky was not heard from and she would often refer to this time as her “veiled years.” Her cloudy allusions to this time period were always vague and always intriguing. She may not have spent seven years at a mountain retreat in Tibet but she truly did learn much of Indian mysticism and acquired more than a dabbler’s knowledge of the Jewish Kabbalah. From this learning, she would later piece together the novel religion of Theosophy, a curious mixture of many faiths and philosophies.
Madame Blavatsky returned home to Russia in 1858, and began offering performances of Spiritualism, mixed with overtones of the mystical East. She came to America and soon established herself as one of the best-known practicing mediums and occult teachers in the country. This is the reason why she made such a dramatic appearance when she came to Chittenden in 1874. She not only attended séances at the farm but also volunteered to play appropriate music on the pedal organ that the brothers had recently acquired for the séance room. The Eddys were quick to latch onto her services. Everyone expected something marvelous to happen — and they were not disappointed.
The group gathered that night in the séance room as Madame Blavatsky played the organ. William sat entranced in his cabinet as suddenly, the curtains swept aside and a curious figure walked out. He was a tall, swarthy man who was costumed in velvet, decorated with gold braid, bedecked with tassels and wearing high, leather boots. The man bowed, made gracious gestures of welcome and then walked toward the observers with his hand pressed to his heart in greeting. Then, apparently from nowhere, a lance appeared in his empty hand. It was nearly ten feet long and decorated with what were said to be ostrich plumes. The man stomped across the platform, returned to its center, gave a military salute and then began to melt into some sort of mist. The mist or smoke apparently emanated from the man’s body and he gradually blended into the cloud and then disappeared.
The crowd roared with both bewilderment and approval but Madame Blavatsky regarded it all with equanimity. She was, after all, accustomed to oddities and was somewhat of a puzzle herself.
Madame Blavatsky did not remain in Chittenden for long. In three years, she was to publish her acclaimed Isis Unveiled, the classic textbook of Theosophy that would attract more than 100,000 followers around the world. Always drawn to India, she went to Madras in 1879, where she established the world headquarters of the Theosophical Society. She performed so many alleged miracles in India that an investigation was warranted by the Society for Psychical Research in 1884. The miracles collapsed under scrutiny but her disciples rationalized that a few outward, even though questionable, wonders are necessary to draw the masses to the true inner faith. The anniversary of her death in 1891 is still remembered today and referred to as “White Lotus Day.”
The Eddys most famous guest left and Colonel Olcott departed, as well. Not only did he chronicle his visit in the newspaper, but he also wrote a massive book called People from Other Worlds. The book, more than five hundred pages long, is full of precise drawings of the apparitions, the grounds, the house and even detailed plans of its construction, proving that no hidden passages existed. He also recorded over four hundred different supernatural beings and collected hundreds of affidavits and scores of eyewitness testimony to the amazing events. He reproduced dozens of statements from respected tradesmen and carpenters who had examined the house for trickery. A modern reader would have to look very hard to discover anything that Olcott did not investigate.
In spite of his careful attention to detail and impeccable credentials, many read this story today and are first inclined to dismiss the events as fanciful tales from another time. But the reputation of Colonel Olcott prohibits us from dismissing the story out of hand. His extensive documentation, along with his investigative skills, suggests that the events were not part of a hoax. Olcott remained skeptical and analytical throughout his ten-week stay at the farm, and yet he came away convinced that the Eddys had the power to contact, and communicate with, the dead.
In short, Colonel Olcott came away from Chittenden a believer.
He was so convinced that not only did he write his book but he also helped Madame Blavatsky found the Theosophical Society. The once skeptical military investigator was convinced that the dead could — and did — communicate with the living.
Eventually, the Eddy brothers and their sister Mary, went their separate ways. Bickering and feuding had driven them apart. They began turning away the Spiritualist boarders and, except for a rare séance, lived off the farm and their savings. The glen at “Honto’s Cave” became overgrown and the unhappy Eddys were more or less ignored by their neighbors. Horatio moved out and took a house across the road, where he took up light gardening, occasional séances and doing magic tricks for local children. Mary moved to the nearby village of East Pittsford, where she became a full-time professional medium. William dropped out of public life altogether and became a bitter recluse at the family farm.
The first of the Eddys to die was Horatio on September 8, 1922. William lived for another ten years. He never married and refused to ever participate in Spiritualism again. He died on October 25, 1932 at the age of 99. If either of the men had any secrets about the weird events at their home, they took them to the grave.
So, what really happened on the Eddy farm?
In 1969, writer John Mason reported that almost no one living in the area of Chittenden was familiar with the Eddy brothers’ strange story. A few local residents recalled stories told by their parents that led them to believe the whole thing had been a hoax, a fraud. And perhaps they were right — for just about everything about the story of the Eddy brothers seems to be worthy of serious questions. Too many of the events and details are reminiscent of well-known deceptions and the work of tricksters, who, unlike the Eddy brothers, were unmasked as frauds.
But if the Eddy brothers were fakes, how did they do what they did? It would have taken trunk after trunk of costumes to stage the long running “spirit carnival” in the second floor séance room. Hundreds of colorfully garbed characters appeared at different times, with elaborate headdresses, fancy props, uniforms and plumed spears. Where were such things manufactured? How were they paid for? Where were they stored? There was no rapid transportation in those days, no nearby theatrical warehouses and no place to hide the things once they were delivered.
The dimensions of the spirit cabinet were limited and it was impossible that anyone other than William Eddy and perhaps one other small person could have been concealed inside it. So, where did all of the mysterious figures come from? There were no uses of clever light projection or mirrors, smoke machines or easily detectable wires. No matter which way we turn, we are confronted with the choice between the impossible and the preposterous.
Whatever the reader chooses to believe, it cannot be denied that something amazing and mysterious occurred on the farm of the Eddy brothers, although what this may have been, we may never know for sure.
Keep listening, there’s more Weird Darkness to come.
Many of you have been asking for an earlier Weirdo Watch Party so you could participate too – so this one is for you! Put it on the calendar – Friday night, July 24th – 7:30pm Central (that’s 5:30pm Pacific, 6:30pm Mountain, 8:30pm Eastern). Arachna from Beware Theater is hosting the Bela Lugosi classic “The Human Monster” from 1939! You don’t need to buy a ticket, it’s always free to join the Weirdo Watch Party – just set a reminder on your mobile device, online calendar, smart home device, write it in blood on your refrigerator, whatever you have to do so you don’t miss it – and this one is early enough that you can get to bed at a decent hour! Join us as Arachna brings us Bela Lugosi in “The Human Monster” – again, it’s July 24th at 7:30pm Central – that’s 5:30pm Pacific, 6:30pm Mountain, 8:30pm Eastern – on the Weirdo Watch Party Page at WeirdDarkness.com!
On June 8, 1908, an unmarried immigrant nurse named Sarah Koten finally had enough. After she lured the doctor that she worked for to an abandoned house, she shot and killed him. Never once did she believe that her actions were wrong. In the investigation that followed, it was discovered that her boss, Dr. Martin Auspitz, had raped her at work and she had become pregnant. When the police and courts refused to help her, she took matters into her own hands and carried out a sentence of death. Sarah’s story became a national sensation. The press portrayed her as a powerless woman who had no other choice than to shoot her attacker, but Sarah saw things differently – she was an avenger who killed her attacker before he could hurt other women.
“When I thought of my broken life and the lives he might break, well, I felt it was my duty to kill him,” she told a reporter. But Sarah was soon on trial for her life – what would the courts decide?
In 1907, Sarah Koten was working at a sanitarium in New York City. Like many staff members of the day, she also lived at the hospital. She was training to be a nurse under Dr. Martin Auspitz. He was bullying, aggressive, and threatening to her but Sarah was determined to stick it out. Dr. Auspitz promised her that she would become a trained nurse if she stayed in his employ. “I was frightened and did not want to stay,” she later explained, “but the doctor wanted me to stay.”
One morning, Auspitz broke into Sarah’s room. He chloroformed her and while she was unconscious, he raped her. The rape resulted in a pregnancy. When he found out that Sarah was pregnant, the doctor pressured her to have an abortion. Sarah refused and quit her job but struggled to find new work. She had immigrated from Russia in 1902, and now she was an unmarried, pregnant woman with no means to support herself.
In 1908, she took Auspitz to court. She brought a suit charging him with rape and demanding financial support for the unborn child. Auspitz denied the accusation and used his brother and brother-in-law to attack Sarah’s reputation. They claimed she had a poor character, implying that she had seduced Auspitz and initiated a sexual relationship with him.
The judge ruled in favor of the doctor and dismissed the case. Sarah then went to the police for help, but they turned her away. She then visited the district attorney, who told her that there was no legal recourse that could be taken against Sarah’s rapist.
That’s when Sarah decided “to be my own judge.”
On June 8, she lured her rapist to the home of a pretend patient. When Auspitz arrived, she shot him through the heart. She didn’t protest when the police took her away. Never did she proclaim her innocence. She simply stated that her actions had been justified – she’d done it to protect other women.
She was correct, at least as far as that went. Sarah had not been Auspitz’s only victim. It was later discovered that Auspitz had a history of “wronging” women. Before Sarah killed him, at least two other women brought complaints against the doctor. One woman, Agnes Deffa, tried to attack Auspitz in court when he claimed that she had initiated a sexual relationship with him. The other woman, Anna Jensen, had been a patient at Auspitz’s sanitarium. After Auspitz raped her, she burst into his office with a gun. She tried to shoot him but the cartridge in her revolver failed to fire. This attempted murder happened only a few months before Auspitz raped Sarah.
The police had been aware of the incident and yet, still did nothing to help Sarah when she lodged her complaint against the doctor.
As Sarah waited in prison for her trial, her case became a media sensation. At first the stories were negative – she was called “wretched,” “a frenzied girl,” and “a total wreck.” The stories painted a picture of “hysteria and criminality,” an immigrant who was naturally a vicious killer. But all that changed after she gave birth to her son, Abraham, in prison. The newspaper now told a new story of a women who must be innocent. Abraham was the proof of her story. The evil doctor had tried to pressure her to abort the baby and Sarah’s refusal made her popular with the public. She was a model mother, they said, who was only defending her honor.
Reporters compared her case to the “unwritten law” that applied to gentlemen in the nineteenth century. If a woman’s honor was at stake, gentlemen were allowed to retaliate, even if it violated the law. By the turn of the twentieth century, that same law began to apply to women themselves. Women had little power to stop men’s aggression and violence, the unwritten law argued, so it was acceptable for women to protect themselves in any way they could – even with a gun.
At the end of Sarah’s trial, Judge James A. Blanchard accepted her plea of insanity. He gave her a suspended sentence, sending her to the care of the Council of Jewish Women.
Sarah’s defense inspired other women. In early 1909, a woman named Elizabeth coerced Charles Schmidt into marrying her, saying if he didn’t, she would “blow out his brains like Sarah Koten did.” Sarah Comiskey attempted to kill her father for abandoning his family. Nellie Walden killed her ex-boyfriend for running off. These women claimed they were inspired to violence because of Sarah Koten.
As for Sarah herself, she walked out of prison after her trial and vanished from history. The Council for Jewish Women helped her to find a suitable home “where she might change her name and rear her child in ignorance of the crime its mother had committed.” The Council concluded its statement on Sarah’s case with this:
“While no one can consistently condone murder, or any other offense against the law, it is gratifying to know that this suffering woman is not to be cast into prison for a crime that she primarily was not to blame for.”
On December 18, 1931, gangster and bootlegger, Jack “Legs” Diamond, was shot to death in a rooming house in Albany, New York. Diamond had already survived five attempts on his life between 1916 and 1931, causing him to be known as the “clay pigeon of the underworld.” In 1930, Dutch Schultz, an enemy of Diamond, remarked to his gang, “Ain’t there nobody that can shoot this guy so that he don’t bounce back?”
This time, Diamond didn’t “bounce back.”
Diamond, whose real name was John Moran, was born in Philadelphia on July 10, 1897. His parents, John and Sara, were Irish immigrants. In 1889, a younger brother, Eddie, was born. The two boys struggled through grade school, while their mother suffered from health problems. She died on December 24, 1913, and their father moved them to Brooklyn soon after. Jack almost immediately fell in with some of the young street gangs of the era, notably the Boiler Gang. His first arrest for burglary occurred when he broke into a jewelry store on February 4, 1914. More than a dozen arrests would eventually follow. After a brief stint in a juvenile reformatory, he was drafted into the military during World War I. Not surprisingly, he deserted after less than a year and was sent to Leavenworth.
When he got out of prison in 1921, he returned to New York, where he began associating with Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who was then a young, but up and coming gangster. Diamond did odd jobs for Luciano, who introduced him to gambler Arnold Rothstein, who was the most powerful mobster in the city at the time. He eventually became Rothstein’s personal bodyguard and was cut in on the new heroin racket, which was making a lot of money.
Diamond, who had taken in his younger brother Eddie, was now making a lot of cash and the brothers decided to start their own bootlegging business. It was a common practice at the time to hijack liquor shipments from other gangsters and then sell it, hurting the competition and making a huge profit. Unfortunately, the brothers decided to hijack truckloads that belonged to Owen “The Killer” Madden and “Big Bill” Dwyer, two of the most ruthless Irish mobsters in the city. They were also connected to a larger syndicate that was run by Dutch Schultz, Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and others. Once word got around that the hijackings had been carried out by the Diamonds, the brothers lost any protection that they might have had and became targets for everyone.
On October 24, 1924, Diamond was driving his Dodge sedan along Fifth Avenue and stopped at the intersection with 110th Street. A large black limousine pulled up next to him. A shotgun appeared from the back window and, according to witnesses, opened fire on Diamond. He ducked down and hit the gas. He drove an entire block without looking over the dashboard. When he did, he saw that the black car was gone. He drove himself to nearby Mount Sinai Hospital, where doctors removed shotgun pellets from his head and face. When the police questioned him, he shrugged the whole thing off. They must’ve thought he was someone else, he told them.
It was obvious to Diamond that he needed protection, so he turned to Jacob “Little Augie” Orgen, a Jewish gangster who ran several rackets in Lower Manhattan. The main thing that he had going for him, as far as Diamond was concerned, was that he was one of the few people who didn’t want to kill him. Orgen wanted to increase his own power base so that he could compete with Luciano, Lansky, and the rest. Diamond would provide some of the muscle that he needed. Jack and Eddie became Orgen’s bodyguards and, in turn, Orgen cut them in on his liquor and narcotic rackets.
Then, on October 15, 1925, Orgen and Diamond were finishing their daily meetings and collections rounds and were approaching the corner of Delancy and Norfolk Streets in Lower Manhattan. Three men approached them and started shooting. Orgen was fatally wounded in the head and Diamond was hit twice on the right side. He was taken to Bellevue Hospital for emergency surgery and eventually recovered. He refused to tell the police anything and they tried to charge him with murder, but couldn’t make anything stick. Orgen’s murder was never solved, although it was believed to have been arranged by Louis “Lepke” Buchalter and his partner, Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro. They wanted to take over Orgen’s rackets and it’s believed that Diamond may have been in on the plot. After he was released from the hospital, he took over Orgen’s liquor operation, while Buchalter and Shapiro took over the dead man’s narcotics and other rackets.
With cash now pouring in, Diamond became a regular on the nightclub circuit and his picture started showing up in the newspapers. He was never portrayed as a gangster, though, only as a “wealthy man about town.” The public loved him and so did the ladies. Although married, he was a womanizer and his best-known mistress was showgirl and dancer Marion “Kiki” Roberts. His flamboyant lifestyle kept him out at the clubs at night and this may have been how he obtained the nickname “Legs.” He was a great dancer and was part owner of the Hotsy Totsy Club, a dance spot on Broadway. So, the nickname could have come from this or, as others have suggested, from his uncanny ability to escape death.
On July 14, 1929, violence came to the Hotsy Totsy Club. Two brothers, Pete and William “Red” Cassidy, along with a friend named Simon Walker, started a fight at the club after bartenders and staff members refused to serve the already drunk men. When a waiter told them to quiet down, Red turned on the waiter and began arguing with him. Walker grabbed club manager Hymie Cohen by the arm, demanded service, and threatened to destroy the club if they didn’t get it. He then shoved Cohen to the floor. Diamond and one of his cronies, Charles Entratta, saw the exchanged and stepped in. He told Walker, “I’m Jack Diamond and I run this place. If you don’t calm down, I’ll blow your fucking head off.”
Walker turned to Diamond and snarled, “You can’t push me around.” Those turned out to be his final words.
Diamond and Entratta both pulled their guns and shot Walker and the Cassidy brothers. Red was hit three times in the head, once in the stomach, and once in the groin. Walker was hit six times in the stomach. Both men were dead when they hit the floor. When the police arrived, Pete Cassidy was lying at the bottom of a flight of stairs with three gunshot wounds. Guns were found on all three of the men, who had extensive arrest records.
There were more than 50 people in the club when the incident took place – but no one saw a thing. Their backs were turned, they told detectives, or they were in the bathroom. Within six weeks of the shooting, Cohen, the waiter, two bartenders, and the club’s hat-check girl all disappeared. The waiter’s bullet-ridden body was later found in New Jersey. No trace was ever located of the others.
No witnesses ever came forward, so Diamond and Entratta were never charged. With the heat on him, though, Diamond closed down the club and moved to Greene County in upstate New York with his long-suffering wife, Alice. But he was only in Greene County for a short time before he sent word to New York that he was planning to return soon and reclaim what was his. When he had left the city, Schultz and Madden had quickly taken over his rackets. His planned return made him an immediate target and earned him the moniker of “clay pigeon of the underworld.”
In 1930, while preparing for his move back to the city, but also while establishing a bootlegging operation in Greene County, Diamond and two others kidnapped Grover Parks, a truck driver, who had been hauling liquor. They wanted to know where he was picking up his alcohol shipments, but Parks refused to tell them. Oddly, they set him loose. A few months later, Diamond tried the same thing with another driver, James Parks, and this time, he was arrested and charged with kidnapping. He was later acquitted at trial.
In late August 1930, Diamond traveled to Europe. He told reporters that he was on his way to Vichy, France, where he would take a mineral water “cure” for his health. The real reason for the trip, though, was to establish a German liquor source. He was planning to smuggle alcohol from Europe to reestablish his New York operation.
But nothing went according to plan. When the ship docked in Belgium, he was taken into custody by the police. After several hours of questioning, he was put on a train to Germany. When he arrived there, he was arrested by the German Secret Service and put him on a freighter that was bound for Philadelphia. It arrived on September 23 and he was immediately arrested by the Philadelphia police. At a court hearing on the same day, Diamond was told that he would be released if he left for New York within the hour. The weary gangster readily agreed.
In New York, he moved into the Hotel Monticello in Manhattan and began trying to take back his rackets in the city. Hardly anyone was happy to have him back. On the morning of October 10, 1930, Diamond was wounded by three men who forced their way into his hotel suite and shot him five times. Still in his pajamas, he staggered out into the hall, where he collapsed. He was rushed to Polyclinic Hospital, where he slowly recovered enough to be discharged on December 30. When asked how he had managed to make it to the hallway with five bullets in him, Diamond said that he had already had two shots of whiskey for breakfast.
On April 21, 1931, Diamond was arrested again, this time on assault charges that dated back to the Parks beating in 1930. Two days later, he posted bond and was released.
A week later, however, he was shot and wounded again. He was at a roadhouse called the Aratoga Inn, near Cairo, New York, which was owned by Jimmy Wynne. Wynne had numerous underworld connection and the nightclub was a popular hangout for gangsters. Diamond had just finished eating with three companions and was waiting on a telephone call from his attorney. As he walked to the front door to get some fresh air, three gunmen who were dressed as duck hunters, opened fire on him. Diamond was hit several times. A local man drove him to a hospital in Albany, where he was treated for his injuries.
His troubles continued. On May 1, while he was still in the hospital, New York State Troopers seized beer and liquor worth more than $5,000 from one of Diamond’s hideouts in Cairo. He was charged with bootlegging and sentenced to four years in state prison. He appealed the conviction and remained free on bail while he awaited the outcome of the appeal.
Meanwhile, Diamond still had to face the music in the Parks case and later that year, he went to trial. He was again acquitted on the assault and kidnapping charges. He left court a free man on December 17, 1931.
In the mood for a celebration, he and his family, along with a few friends, celebrated at the Rainbow Room of the Kenmore Hotel, the best hotel in Albany. At about 1:00 a.m. on December 18, he left the party and went to his see his mistress, “Kiki” Roberts, who was staying at another hotel. Roberts had attended the celebration party, but had left before midnight. Diamond stayed in her room until about 4:30 a.m. and then was driven to 67 Dove Street, a private rooming house where he had been staying during his trial. He entered the locked front door with his key, went upstairs to his room, and fell asleep on the bed.
Witness reports say that a large black car, which had been parked down the street for some time, pulled up to the rooming house soon after Diamond arrived. Two men got out and entered the front door, using a key, and quickly went upstairs. When they got to Diamond’s room they either used a key or, as some believe, Diamond drunkenly left his own key in the lock, and entered the room. Diamond was asleep on the bed. While one man held him down, the other shot Diamond three times in the head.
They ran out of the room, but when they were halfway down the stairs, one of the gunman rack back up, went back into Diamond’s room, and shot him a few more times – apparently, just for good measure. The landlady, Laura Woods, awakened by the shots, overheard the second gunman call out, “Oh hell, that’s enough, come on!” The men left the house and drove away in the black car.
A few minutes later, at 5:00 a.m., Mrs. Woods telephoned Alice Diamond, the contact that Jack had given her in case there was any trouble. Within minutes, Alice, one of Diamond’s men, and Diamond’s eight-year-old nephew, Eddie, arrived at the house. Alice entered the room and began to scream. She frantically wiped blood from his face with a towel while the police and an ambulance were called.
Like most gangland slayings, the murder was never solved. In this case, there were just too many suspects since almost everyone seemed to want Diamond dead, from Dutch Schultz to the New York Syndicate, relatives of the Cassidy brothers who had been shot at the Hotsy Totsy Club, and even local politicians who wanted Diamond out of the Albany area. It didn’t seem to matter to most who had killed him – there weren’t many who were going to miss him.
Diamond was buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Queens on December 23. There was no church service of graveside ceremony. The burial was attended by Alice, her sister and brother-in-law, three nieces, a cousin, about a dozen reporters, and more than 200 curiosity-seekers. There were no known gangsters in attendance and, against the custom of the day, none of them sent flowers either.
Diamond may have gotten what he deserved, but there was one sad footnote to the story. On July 1, 1933, Alice Diamond was found shot to death in her Brooklyn apartment. It was speculated that she was killed by her husband’s enemies to keep her quiet, but no one knows for sure. Her murder, like the murder of Jack “Legs” Diamond, was never solved.
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On June 6, 1992, two Missouri teenagers and one teen’s mother vanished without a trace after a graduation ceremony and have never been seen again. It was a shocking and tragic end to what should have been the event of a lifetime and it remains a haunting, unsolved mystery to this day.
Best friends Suzanne “Suzie” Streeter, 19, and Stacy McCall, 18, had just graduated from Kickapoo High School and they spent the evening celebrating with friends. They visited several different graduation parties and then decided to go to Suzie’s house – which she shared with her mother, Sherril Levitt, a 47-year-old cosmetologist – for the rest of the night. Sherrill was probably happy to see them. Her night had been quiet. She had been on the phone with a friend, talking about painting furniture, until about 11:15 p.m.
What happened after that remains a chilling puzzle.
Since all of Suzie and Stacy’s belongings were later found at Sherrill’s house – purses, clothes, makeup, etc. – it was assumed that they did make it there. Their cars were also in the driveway. But when friends arrived at the Levitt house the next morning, Suzie, Stacy, and Sherrill were missing.
A group of graduating friends all planned to go to the Whitewater water park the next day, so friends Janelle and Kirby came to the Levitt house at 8:00 a.m. on June 7. They knocked, but there was no answer. They went home and then returned at noon, thinking that perhaps the two girls had left for the water park without them. As they approached the house, they saw that the porch light was broken. They swept up the glass – trying to be helpful – but unknowingly contaminated a crime scene.
Janelle and Kirby checked the door – it was unlocked. That was their first inkling that something might be wrong. When they entered the house, though, everything seemed intact. There were no signs of a struggle. The house was just empty as if they had simply walked away. But to where? The cars were all parking in the driveway, but Suzie, Stacy, and Sherrill were nowhere to be found.
Just before the two teenagers left, the telephone rang. Janelle answered. The caller didn’t identify himself but began making lewd comments, so Janelle hung up, assuming it was a prank call. She and Kirby left the house.
A little while later, Stacy’s mother, Janis McCall, arrived at the house. She had tried to call, but there was no answer, so she had driven over. She hadn’t heard from her daughter since early the previous evening. There was no answer when she knocked, so she went inside. She looked around and found Stacy’s belongings. Her daughter’s underwear and t-shirt were missing, but the rest of her clothes were neatly folded on a chair. It looked like both girls had removed their makeup in the bathroom the night before. Janis also found all three of the missing women’s purses lined up on the floor outside of Suzie’s room, which seemed odd. The television was on, and Janis saw there was a message flashing on the answering machine. When she tried to listen to it, she accidentally deleted it.
She was convinced that something was wrong. It had been 16 hours since the three women had been seen. Janis and her husband decided to contact the police. When the authorities arrived, they tried to nail down just how many people had been inside of the house, possibly contaminating the crime scene, and tried to figure out what had happened. It was a baffling situation but suspects soon emerged.
The first suspect was Sherrill’s son, Bartt Streeter, who had recently argued with his mother and sister about his drinking problem. But Bartt had a solid alibi and was soon ruled out. Authorities also questioned Suzie’s ex-boyfriend, Dustin Recla. He’d been in trouble before. A short time back, he and a friend were arrested for vandalizing cemeteries. Suzie had given a statement to the police that stated that the boys had been digging up graves and stealing gold teeth from the corpses. Threats had been made against Suzie and her mother. When questioned, though, the boys were cooperative and also ruled out as suspects.
The investigation then focused on Robert Craig Cox, an Army veteran who had been arrested and convicted of a woman’s murder in Florida. The case was overturned due to a lack of evidence. In 1985, Cox was convicted of two different abduction attempts and sentenced to nine years in prison. His case was appealed and overturned in 1992 when a judge ruled that the evidence only gave the suspicion of guilt rather than proof of it. He was released in 1992 and sent to live with his parents in Springfield, Missouri – which put him in the right place at the right time to have been potentially involved in the disappearance of the three women.
Cox worked as an electrician, which the police speculated could have given him an excuse to enter the home. They also found that Cox had previously worked with Stacy’s father at his car lot. Cox’s girlfriend gave him an alibi at the time but, years later, she admitted that she lied. Cox had convinced her to make up the story if the police asked where he was during that weekend in June. Her story seemed solid, so the police had no choice but to let him go.
But Cox found it impossible to stay out of trouble. A short time later, he was arrested again for an unrelated crime. Detectives still believed that he had something to do with the missing women and took the opportunity to question him again. Cox laughed at them. He said that he knew the women were dead and, he claimed, he knew where their bodies were buried. Was he telling the truth? The police didn’t know. Cox loved attention, and this was the perfect way to get it. He was their most promising suspect, but he wouldn’t talk, and they had no hard evidence against him. Eventually, the case went cold.
The case of the “Springfield Three” officially remains open. Tips and stories have led to nothing but dead ends over the years. Theories abound. Some say they were victims of sex trafficking, while others claim they were carried off by a satanic cult. One tip – claiming that the women were buried in the foundation of a parking garage at a local hospital – was so convincing that the authorities tore up the concrete to look for them. And they found nothing.
What happened that night in 1992? There was no sign of a struggle. The three women were simply gone. They were declared legally dead in 1997 but the questions that linger still weigh heavy on surviving family members and on detectives who refuse to close the case.
Where are the “Springfield Three?” After all these years, no one knows.
On June 5, 1930, the body of Chicago mobster Eugene “Red” McLaughlin was found floating in the Chicago River, despite the baling wire that was wrapped around his body and the 75-pounds of metal that had been used to try and sink him to the bottom. The murder was actually one in a number of mob-related killings during what the Chicago papers called “Slaughter Week.” Like most mob hits of the Prohibition era, it was never officially solved.
It had already been a rough year, prior to the events of late May and early June. In January, a gun battle occurred in which Frank McErlane – the mobster responsible for introducing the “tommy gun” to Chicago – received partial payback for the murders of at least nine victims of gangland slayings that he was reportedly responsible for. Coroners had often listed him as a cause of death in autopsy reports. He had been indicted for two murders a short time before, but charges were dismissed. McErlane had been recently restless. He had fought over shares with his partner Joe Saltis and had transferred his allegiance to the South Side O’Donnells.
During the ambush on January 28, he was struck in the right leg by a bullet. While recovering at the German Deaconess Hospital, he had two unexpected visitors, who walked into his room and opened fire. McErlane, imprisoned by splints, did the best he could. He reached under his pillow and pulled out a .38 caliber revolver, which he fired five times. The intruders ran, leaving McErlane still alive. Two full chambers had been fired at him but McErlane was only hit three times and none of the wounds were fatal.
He was interviewed by the police but, of course, did not name his attackers. He did, however, hint angrily that this would not be the end of the matter. One of the gunmen had been John “Dingbat” O’Berta, a ferocious little man who was the chief gunman for McErlane’s old partner, Saltis. On March 5, O’Berta and his driver, Sam Malaga, were taken for a ride in Dingbat’s own Lincoln sedan. He was shotgunned to death. O’Berta’s funeral was a two-day wake, attending by 15,000 admirers from the Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood on the South Side, where O’Berta had earned a name for himself as an influential young politician.
Dingbat’s widow had previously been the wife of Big Tim Murphy, the racketeer controller of the Street Sweeper’s Union, who had been machine-gunned in front of his Rogers Park home in June 1928. She and O’Berta had met at Murphy’s funeral. She had her second husband buried next to her first husband in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. She told reporters, “They were both good men.”
Then, in the last week of May 1930, the guns roared again, kicking off what some news scribblers dubbed “Slaughter Week.” On Saturday, Peter Gnolfo — who had once worked for the defunct Genna operation and switched his allegiance to Joe Aiello – was shotgunned by the Druggan-Lake gang, allegedly on orders from Al Capone. Within hours, the Aiellos struck back and three died in the reprisal. A party of five was sitting on the terrace of a small resort hotel on Piskatee Lake during the early hours of Sunday morning. They were Joseph Bertsche, who since being released from the Atlanta Penitentiary had been working for the Druggan-Lake mob; Micheal Quirk, a labor racketeer and beer runner; George Druggan, Terry Druggan’s brother; Sam Peller, an election strong-arm man from the Twentieth Ward; and Mrs. Vivian McGinnis, the wife of a Chicago lawyer. A full drum of machine gun bullets shattered the glass and slaughtered the group at the table. Peller, Quirk, and Bertshe died on the spot. Druggan and Mrs. McGinnis were both injured. The assailants vanished into the darkness.
No arrest was made and newspapers explained the attack as a quarrel that had developed because some of the Druggan-Lake boys were muscling in on the Fox Lake area, which was then supplied by Aiello and Moran breweries.
The reprisals continued and on Tuesday, Thomas Somnerio, an Aiello man, was found dead in an alley at the rear of 831 West Harrison Street in Chicago. He had been garroted and his wrists were tied with wire. He appeared to have been tortured for information.
Four days later, a tugboat passing along the drainage canal at Summit, on the Southwest Side, bumped into the body of Eugene “Red” McLaughlin, a Druggan-Lake gunman who had been named four times as a murderer and twice as a diamond thief and yet had never seen the inside of a prison. He had been shot twice in the head and dumped in the river. His wrists had been tied behind his back with baling wire and 75 pounds of iron had been stuffed in his pockets. It hadn’t been enough to keep him from floating up from the bottom of the canal.
Two weeks later, his body was identified by his brother, Bob McLaughlin, who was president of the Chicago Checker Cab Company. He had taken over the office from Joe Wokral, who had run into a nasty accident while running for re-election – he had been shot in the head. Before he died, he named Red McLaughlin as his attacker, a lead that was ignored by the police. A mournful Bob McLaughlin spoke to reporters after the grim task of identifying his brother’s corpse. He said: “A better kid never lived. He was friendly with all the boys, the West Side outfit, the North Siders, and the bunch on the South Side, Capone, too… I don’t know, I don’t know…”
Red McLaughlin was just another casualty of the wars over territory in Chicago in the waning days of Prohibition. The identity of his killer remains unknown.
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If you’d like a transcript of this episode, you can find a link in the show notes.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… Psalm 33:4 = For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does.
And a final thought… Always find a reason to laugh. It may not add years to your life, but it will surely add life to your years.
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.