“GHOSTS, GRAVITY, AND ISAAC NEWTON” and Other True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: The scientist Isaac Newton is best known for his being the first to create the theory of gravity. But now we’ve learned it is very possible that would never have happened had this scientist not had a bit of sorcerer in him as well. (Ghosts, Gravity, and Isaac Newton) *** On Easter Sunday, 1475, in the city of Trent, a 2-year-old boy named Simon was found dead. This one act triggered a wave of anti-Semitism that wiped out a community of Jewish males and threatened the power of a pope. All from the death of one child. (History’s Most Dangerous Toddler) *** “I am innocent, that mark of mine will NEVER be wiped out. It will remain forever to shame the county for hanging an innocent man…. ” Alexander Campbell said these words on June 21, 1877 shortly before his hanging. And true to his word, the handprint he left behind refuses to fade away – no matter how hard people try to remove it. (The Reappearing Handprint) *** A century ago, in July 1920, The Illustrated Police News, ran a single story on its front page, complete with a drawing of a man lying on top of a woman, both surrounded in blood. But even more disturbing – a young boy, very much alive, and apparently watching the whole thing. (The Little Boy Who Watched His Parents Die) *** It took a while before the first woman to be hanged would take place in the USA – but in 1778 it finally happened. And her name was Bathsheba Spooner. (The Hanging of Bathsheba Spooner)
TRANSCRIPT FOR THIS EPISODE…
Find a full or partial transcript at the bottom of this blog post.
MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE…
BOOK: “Never At Rest: Isaac Newton Biography” by Richard Westfall: https://amzn.to/39sjNS7
BOOK: “Ghostwalk” by Rebecca Stott: https://amzn.to/3eYzilN
BOOK: “Trent 1475: Stories of a Ritual Murder Trial” by Po-Chia Hsia: https://amzn.to/3fTNnSS
BOOK: “The Martyrdom of the Franciscans: Islam, the Papacy, and an Order of Conflict” by Christopher MacEvitt: https://amzn.to/39qHYjF
BOOK: “Most Haunted Crime Scenes in The World” by David Pietras: https://amzn.to/2CYWNxT
BOOK: “Murdered By His Wife” by Deborah Navas: https://amzn.to/2ZXkH5V
BOOK: “Bathsheba Spooner: A Novel” by Deborah Navas: https://amzn.to/3fZMMiq
“The Lizzy Borden Newspaper Hoax” story is in this episode: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/6637
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STORY AND MUSIC CREDITS/SOURCES…
(Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“Ghosts, Gravity, and Isaac Newton” by Stuart Clark for The Guardian: https://tinyurl.com/yyuh7drh
“History’s Most Dangerous Toddler” by Candida Moss for The Daily Beast: https://tinyurl.com/yytph8ck
“The Reappearing Handprint” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages: https://tinyurl.com/y6cxde8r
“The Little Boy Who Watched His Parents Die” by Dr. Nell Darby for Criminal Historian: https://tinyurl.com/y4tzofj3
“The Hanging of Bathsheba Spooner” posted at Executed Today: https://tinyurl.com/y267xktg
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music Library. 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), and/or Nicolas Gasparini/Myuu (https://www.youtube.com/user/myuuji) used with permission.
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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.
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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…
On Easter Sunday, 1475, in the city of Trent, a 2-year-old boy named Simon was found dead. This one act triggered a wave of anti-Semitism that wiped out a community of Jewish males and threatened the power of a pope. All from the death of one child.
“I am innocent, that mark of mine will NEVER be wiped out. It will remain forever to shame the county for hanging an innocent man…. ” Alexander Campbell said these words on June 21, 1877 shortly before his hanging. And true to his word, the handprint he left behind refuses to fade away – no matter how hard people try to remove it.
A century ago, in July 1920, The Illustrated Police News, ran a single story on its front page, complete with a drawing of a man lying on top of a woman, both surrounded in blood. But even more disturbing – a young boy, very much alive, and apparently watching the whole thing.
It took a while before the first woman to be hanged would take place in the USA – but in 1778 it finally happened. And her name was Bathsheba Spooner.
The scientist Isaac Newton is best known for his being the first to create the theory of gravity. But now we’ve learned it is very possible that would never have happened had this scientist not had a bit of sorcerer in him as well.
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, you can find my other podcast, “Church of the Undead”, plus you can visit the “Hope In The Darkness” page if you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide. And you can also shop the Weird Darkness store where all profits go to support depression awareness and relief. 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!
Often wrongly portrayed as a cold rationalist, Isaac Newton is one of history’s most compelling figures. It is true that he was capable of the most precise and logical thought it is possible for a human to achieve: his three years of obsessive work that gave birth to the Principia, containing his theory of gravity, stand as the greatest achievement in science.
Just as certainly, though, he was also consumed with what we would now view as completely unscientific pursuits: alchemy and biblical prophesy.
Alchemy was a major passion of Newton’s. In a footnote on page 21 of Richard Westfall’s meticulous biography, Never at Rest (which I’ve linked to in the show notes), the author states: “My modes of thought are so far removed from those of alchemy that I am constantly uneasy in writing on the subject … [Nevertheless] my personal preferences cannot make more than a million words he wrote in the study of alchemy disappear.”
Historian and novelist Rebecca Stott wrote in her novel Ghostwalk (which I’ve also included in the show notes) that with those words, “Westfall admitted to wishing that he could make those million words disappear.” That may be stretching it somewhat but clearly Newton’s alchemy is a bit of an embarrassment to modern scholars.
Then there was Newton’s biblical prophesy. In almost the same years that he was working on the Principia, he also wrote a treatise on Revelation in which he talked about souls burning in lakes of fire. With talk like that, he could have been the lyricist for Iron Maiden. (He had the hair too.)
Tempting as it is to dismiss all of this as somehow removed from Newton’s science, his belief in spirits and what the alchemists called active principles almost certainly allowed him to conceive gravity in the mathematical form that we still use today.
In Newton’s time, the natural philosophers had turned their backs on astrology and with it, the idea that influences could simply leap across empty space. Instead impulses had to be transmitted through things touching one another. So, if there was a force coming from the Sun that moved the planets, then it had to do so through a medium.
Perhaps it was a fluid, driven to circulate by the rotation of the sun, which carried the planets around. This was the thinking of French philosopher René Descartes.
Yet Newton could not make the mechanical solution of Descartes work. The vortices simply could not reproduce the changes in speed of the planets as they approached the sun.
Alchemy offered a way out by having as a philosophical underpinning that non-material influences – spirits – existed. These needed no physical contact and could induce transformations or movement through the triggering of “active principles” within an object.
Primed to believe in these ideas, Newton discovered a simple, elegant mathematical equation that described the behavior of gravity without the need for an intervening fluid. Gravity apparently worked across empty space. He called this principle “action at a distance” and instead of “spirit” began using the word “force” to better reflect its mathematical character.
His equation also reveals the “active principle” that governs an object’s response to gravity. It is mass. With such direct analogies to spirits and active principles, Newton must surely have felt some sort of vindication for his alchemical beliefs.
The theory of gravity was so successful that it became one of the triggers for the Age of Enlightenment. Although hardly anyone now believes in the concept of alchemy, we do still believe that gravity can exert an influence across empty space. Engineers still use Newton’s maths to launch satellites and send spacecraft to distant planets.
So was Sir Isaac a scientist or a sorcerer? In truth, he was a bit of both. And that was why he could succeed where others had failed.
On Easter Sunday, 1475, in the city of Trent, a 2-year-old boy named Simon was found dead. This one act triggered a wave of anti-Semitism that wiped out a community of Jewish males and threatened the power of a pope. All from the death of one child.
Plus, Alexander Campbell said: “I am innocent, that mark of mine will NEVER be wiped out!” That was in 1877 – and the handprint he left behind refuses to fade away – and no one knows why it keeps reappearing.
These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
How would you like to see the very first episode of a horror host’s show? If your answer is YES, then join us for our next Weirdo Watch Party as horror host Professor Will Shivers from the Staying Scared Show brings his kooky concoctions of creepiness with the 1962 horror film, “Carnival of Souls”. “After a traumatic accident, a woman becomes drawn to a mysterious abandoned carnival.” (Because that’s completely normal!) As always, the Weirdo Watch party is always free, and while you watch the film you can jump into the chatroom with me and other Weirdo family members to trade snarky comments about the film – sometimes the horror hosts get in on the chat too! So again – join me as horror host Professor Willie Shivers presents 1962’s “Carnival of Souls!” Again, the Weirdo Watch Party is Saturday August 8th at 9pm Central Time – that’s 7pm Pacific, 8pm Mountain, 10pm Eastern on the Weirdo Watch Party page at WeirdDarkness.com.
On Easter Sunday, 1475, in the city of Trent, a German-Italian city in what is now Northern Italy, a tragedy occurred. A 2-year-old boy named Simon was found dead. His death, a devastating blow to his family, would set in motion a chain of events that would leave almost all of the male members of the Jewish community in Trent dead, create an almost heretical flock of devoted followers who saw him as the new baby Jesus, and perpetuate and foster widespread anti-Semitism in the region for hundreds of years.
According to historian Po-Chia Hsia in his book Trent 1475: Stories of a Ritual Murder Trial (which I have linked to in the show notes), Simon went missing in the early evening of Thursday, 23 March and the following day, Good Friday, the boy’s father had asked the prince-bishop of the city, Johannes Hinderbach, for help in locating his missing son.
Searches ensued and by Easter Saturday suspicion had lighted on the small Jewish community in the city. The chief magistrate, Giovanni de Salis, had the households of the three main Jewish families searched, but Simon was not to be found. Then on Easter Sunday Seligman, a cook in the household of Samuel (a moneylender), discovered Simon’s body in a water cellar on Samuel’s extensive property. As all historians agree, the body had clearly been planted there. Samuel could have fled but had, up until this point, enjoyed an amicable relationship with the city’s authorities. So, instead, he “trusted the system” and reported the discovery. He also insisted that all members of the community stay put, including visitors who just happened to be in town for the Jewish Passover. That Samuel came forward and complied with the authorities was never mentioned in the ensuing trials.
In the aftermath of the discovery, things escalated quickly. Anti-Jewish feeling in the city had recently been inflamed by the arrival of an itinerant Franciscan preacher, Bernardino da Feltre, who had spent the Lenten season railing against Jewish usury and amplifying local hostilities. There were others in the local community, Hsia writes, who had exploited the vulnerability of this small religious minority in order to blackmail members of the Jewish community. All of these elements coupled with centuries-old rumors of blood libel (the dangerous myth that Jews used the blood of Christian children in their religious rituals) combined to create a kind of tinderbox of hatred that was sparked by Simon’s death.
Over the course of several months, the entire Jewish community were arrested and tortured and were forced to confess to having murdered Simon in order to use his blood in their Passover rituals. At first, Samuel withstood several bouts of torture and protested that Jews simply did not use human blood in their rituals. When he reached the limits of his endurance and in an effort to spare others, he confessed that only he and one other had suffocated Simon with a handkerchief. Other members of the community were forced both to confess and to invent fictitious religious motivations for exsanguinating the child. By the time the torture was over 15 male members of the Jewish community were sentenced to death: they were subsequently burned at the stake. Interestingly, female members of the community escaped on the grounds that, as women, they were unable to participate in these rituals (They were eventually freed in 1478 after the pope intervened). The news of the trials spread throughout Northern Italy to Veneto, Lombardy and Tyrol. By 1479 Jewish moneylending had been banned and by 1486 Jews were expelled from the region.
While Hinderbach supported the trials and even forged documents to promote the idea that Jews in Trent were responsible for Simon’s death, the pope was not so sure. In early August 1475, Pope Sixtus IV, commanded Hinderbach to suspend the trials until his representative, Battista De’ Giudici, arrived in Trent. At every turn Hinderbach thwarted De’ Giudici’s attempts to investigate: De’ Giudici was not granted access to those accused and was denied proper access to the original trial documents. When De’ Giudici voiced concerns about the process at Rome, he was accused of being paid off by Jews. He eventually wrote several treatises including an Apology for the Jews defending himself and the Jewish community of any wrongdoing. In 1478, Sixtus IV issued a papal bull on the matter that was something of a political compromise: he accepted that the trials in Trent had been legal but did not acknowledge either the conclusions of the trial or the supposed cause of death of the child. He also reasserted papal protections for Jews and reiterated the ban on blood libel trials.
While this power struggle played out in the halls of ecclesial power, a different more popular movement was gaining support in Northern Italy. There were many who wanted to canonize the murdered toddler. Within three weeks of the Simon’s death a “passio” (an account of his martyrdom) was circulating throughout the region. Hinderbach gathered together documentation that included over a hundred miracles supposedly performed by the boy ‘martyr’ and support for his canonization as a saint gathered steam in Austria, Italy, and Germany.
Sixtus IV, however, was having none of it. The Simon of Trent cult was dangerous and a threat to his authority. He forbade the production of images of Simon (although many grizzly violence-inducing woodcuts of his murder have survived). He was also understandably alarmed by the ferocity of devotion Simon inspired. De’ Giudici reported in his Apology for the Jews that the people in Trent “adored their blessed one as a second Christ and as a second Messiah.” Statements like this, which border on heresy, were troubling to the Franciscan pope, who correctly noted that toddlers are incapable of choosing to die as martyrs. As Christopher MacEvitt, a professor at Dartmouth, told The Daily Beast, “Sixtus IV did not canonize Simon of Trent not because he was particularly sympathetic to the plight of Jewish communities, but because he was determined to uphold papal authority; the popes had made clear that accusations of blood libel and putting Jews on trial for such claims was unacceptable.”
Part of Sixtus IV’s refusal to canonize the child as a martyr was motivated by what was in his mind a far more pressing problem involving non-Christian murderers and persecutors. In 1480 the Ottomans invaded Southern Italy and drew steadily closer to Rome, the pope, and the heart of Christianity. It was a political and military threat as much as a religious one. Sixtus IV wanted martyrs to rally Christians to the anti-Ottoman cause. He turned to five Franciscans who had died attempting to evangelize in Muslim countries roughly a century earlier. There was very little popular interest or support for these martyrs; they had been demonstrably unsuccessful and had failed to convert any Muslims whatsoever. On the contrary, as MacEvitt tells it, when Franciscans engaged in efforts to evangelize in Muslim countries “they tended to focus on… fellow Christians living in Muslim lands—merchants, mercenaries, and captives.”
But these martyrs who, like Sixtus IV, were Franciscans, were politically and religiously useful. In his exquisitely written and recently published The Martyrdom of the Franciscans: Islam, the Papacy, and an Order of Conflict (link in the show notes), MacEvitt shows that Sixtus IV found that, “Martyrdom was useful for Christians as a way to depict the Ottomans not as a rival for political and economic power in the Mediterranean and eastern Europe, but as a primordial threat to Christians and Christendom. Stories of martyrdom assimilated the Ottomans with demonic forces that were the enemy of goodness, virtue, and salvation.” Over time, MacEvitt shows, “death by Saracen” came to rival other definitions of what made someone a martyr.
All of Sixtus IV’s power, however, could not crush the cult of Simon the child martyr. Stories, poems, and images of his supposed martyrdom continued to circulate. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V beatified him (he was never made a saint) and approved his veneration in Trent. It was only in 1965, in the wake of the Holocaust and Vatican II, that Pope Paul VI removed Simon of Trent from the Roman Martyrology and formally tried to suppress his cult. Yet, most of the statues and images of Simon in the city of Trent are, as Sara Lipton has noted, unaccompanied by placards explaining the anti-Semitic history of his veneration. A few years ago a reddit thread for traditional Catholics discussed the “feast day of Simon of Trent” and there’s even a wildly anti-Semitic webpage bearing his name. Five hundred years after his death, slanderous propaganda about the tragic death of this abducted child continues to languish online and among conservative groups.
As children, we are taught that justice will always prevail, but when we grow up, we notice far too often this is not the case. There is injustice everywhere and it should be our responsibility to fight for those who have suffered without being guilty of doing anything wrong.
Sometimes we notice injustice, but it’s much too late to change the course of events. People often say one should never judge another person without knowing the whole truth, but sometimes judgment is inevitable, and it worst cases the results of our actions can have fatal consequences.
This story is about a mysterious handprint that has remained an unexplained mystery up to today. Experts have analyzed the handprint using sophisticated technology, but no-one can answer why this handprint keeps reappearing. We discuss a man whose frightening cry for justice can still be heard, and we can only wonder if a horrible mistake took place many years ago.
“I am innocent, and let this be my testimony…” “I was nowhere near the scene of the crime…””That mark of mine will NEVER be wiped out. It will remain forever to shame the county for hanging an innocent man…. ”
These ominous words were the last words of Alexander Campbell, a man who was hanged on the prison’s gallows on Black Thursday, June 21, 1877.
This remarkable and tragic incident happened more than 140 years ago but every day since then Alexander Campbell (c. 1833 – June 21, 1877) is still trying to tell us that he is innocent. Campbell was a tavern owner, who, with three other convicted Molly Maguires, was hanged for the murders of two mine operatives, but was he really guilty?
Moments before his death, as he was led out of his jail cell, Alexander Campbell slammed his open hand against the wall of his cell and left his handprint on it.
It was his only way to say that he was innocent. Campbell also said the handprint would remain forever on the wall to prove his innocence, and it remained, just as he said it would.
Along with him, three other very brave Irish coal miners were hanged that day in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania – John Donohue, Michael Doyle, and Edward Kelly all convicted of conspiracy to murder two of their foremen.
The investigation, prosecution, and arrests were carried out by representatives of the mine owners who had money, power and of course the law on their side.
No one of the convicted expected mercy from them, and so they were executed.
The men were also associated with the Molly Maguires pro-union organization and anyone who was pro-union was a “Molly”. Those so-called Mollies were the immigrants who fought for better conditions in the mines.
Today it is hard to say whether the four men were guilty of the murders or not. However one can guess that their trial was certainly unfair.
The nineteen men who were convicted of “Molly crimes” and executed during 1877 were: James Boyle, Alexander Campbell, James Carroll, John Donahue, Michael J. Doyle, Thomas Duffy, Thomas P. Fisher, Patrick Hester, John Kehoe, Edward J. Kelly, Andrew Lanahan, Hugh McGeehan, Peter McHugh, Peter McManus, Thomas Munley, James Roarity, and Patrick Tully.
All of these men had been practicing Catholics and were excommunicated from the Church (before the trials) and denied a Christian burial.
On Black Thursday, June 21, 1877, the day of execution, Donohue, Doyle, and Kelly were calm and ready to face the death penalty with dignity. They expected nothing from their prosecutors.
Alexander Campbell’s behavior was different. Already earlier during the trial, he declared his innocence but was sentenced to death anyway. No one listened to him, though. Just minutes before his death, he declared once again his innocence, but this time not only in words. He picked up some dirt from the cell’s floor and slammed his open hand against the wall of his cell. His handprint would remain there forever as a reminder of the injustice that took his life.
His handprint still remains on the wall of cell 17 in the Carbon County Jailhouse.
It has baffled and fascinated both sheriffs and prisoners over the years. The authorities have tried to wipe it out. The handprint was scrubbed off, cleaned, painted over, later concreted over. All efforts have proved to be impossible to get rid of the print.
In 1930 the original wall was taken off and changed to a new one but the print reappeared.
The strange mark made all those years ago was thoroughly analyzed by experts using infrared photography and other high-tech equipment.
Exactly nothing was found that would explain the handprint’s very existence.
It still persists until today. As David Pietras writes in his book Most Haunted Crime Scenes In The World (which I will place a link to in the show notes), “according to the legend, as recounted in Weird Pennsylvania, after over a century and several coats of paint on that wall, the handprint is still visible to this day. For some it is the sight of death and carnage that draws a person to crime scenes. And others prefer to visit famous crime scenes from the past. The morbid curiosity of the human race is a force that is so strong that even scientists cannot explain it. But what causes the dead to return to the scene of their demise? Some believe that they are searching for something while others claim that these spirits do not know that they are dead. No matter what causes the dead to return to their crime scenes it is a known fact that most crime scenes today have some kind of residual hauntings.”
Supposedly, each time there is an attempt to cover it up, within a few days it mysteriously reappears to remind people of the tragedy of executing an innocent man — especially in the name of greed. It can be seen on tours of the Old Jail Museum, housed in the former Carbon County Jail. Reportedly, some high-tech equipment occasionally fails when trying to capture the image.
“Feuds and violence appear to breed ghosts — or at least, ghost stories — and sometimes indirect victims are the ones who suffer.”
Is the handprint a miracle? One could say it is a true phenomenon.
“…That mark of mine will NEVER be wiped out. It will remain forever to shame the county for hanging an innocent man…”
When Weird Darkness returns…
A century ago, in July 1920, The Illustrated Police News, ran a single story on its front page, complete with a drawing of a man lying on top of a woman, both covered in blood. But even more disturbing – a young boy, very much alive, and apparently watching the whole thing.
And… it took a while before the first woman to be hanged would take place in the USA – but in 1778 it finally happened. And her name was Bathsheba Spooner.
These stories are up next.
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Exactly 100 years ago, in July 1920, the Illustrated Police News had one story dominating its front page. This was the death of two individuals in Essex that was described as a ‘double domestic crime at East Ham’.
As usual with the Illustrated Police News, the crime was illustrated with a dramatic picture of a man lying over the body of a woman, blood pooling around both bodies, and a small razor visible on the floor in front of the male.
The domestic nature of the deaths is highlighted by the surroundings themselves – a room with clothing hung up on the door, a jug or ewer on the table, and a dresser full of crockery. There is also a sobbing little boy on his own on one side of the door, and a rather worn looking woman in her outdoor clothes pushing that door open, an older boy by her side, in his hat and cap.
Even without looking any further, we can hazard a guess at what has happened, for the drawing is explicit: a couple dying – the wife presumably murdered by her husband, who then kills himself, while their little son looks on. Their deaths are then discovered by a relative or neighbor and her child.
On page 2, the story emerged. The domestic scene was a depiction of the kitchen at 8 Gooseley Lane, East Ham, home to the Ingall family. This was a solid working-class family: father Frederick Ingall, 35, worked as a purifier at the Beckton Gasworks. He lived with his wife Daisy, and their four sons, aged between three and 13. They were happy; the neighbors had never heard Frederick and Daisy quarrel, and they were seen to be a contented couple.
Things were not going well for the family in 1920, however. Frederick had been ill and off work for some time, receiving medical care. It is not clear how the family were maintaining themselves while he was unable to work and earn. One morning, Frederick acted oddly. He sent the eldest son out of the house, telling him to go and fetch a relative – other family members lived locally.
In the time it took for the boy to go to his aunt’s house and bring her back to his own, Frederick had slit Daisy’s throat and then his own. The son and aunt were faced not only with the vision of this couple lying in the kitchen doorway surrounded by blood, but also with the fact that the youngest son, aged three, had witnessed the events. When the first two ran screaming out of the house, the little boy followed them, his face covered with the blood that had splashed up onto him as he watched his father kill his mother and them himself.
This was all the detail the IPN gave 100 years ago. However, a check of the archival records shows that Frederick Ingall had married Daisy Rosaline Harriet Merrikin at St Bartholomew’s Church in East Ham on 10 February 1906. Frederick was the son of Matthew and Rosetta Ingall; Daisy the daughter of James Merrikin, a blacksmith, and his wife Eliza. Daisy was just 21 at the time of her marriage. Frederick’s age at marriage was given as 24, which would actually make him 38 when he died, rather than the 35 published by the IPN.
Although both Daisy and Frederick were born in the local area – Daisy in East Ham, Frederick slightly further out in Barking – their parents were not. Daisy’s father had come to the area from Norfolk, while her mother was from Westminster; Frederick’s father was from Lincolnshire. But they had made East Ham their home, with siblings and aunts and uncles populating the area and making it feel as though they had always been there.
They therefore stayed in the area after their marriage, and the 1911 census shows them living at 72 Eastbourne Road, with Frederick working at that time as a general laborer – as his father was also doing.
They had already had two sons at this point – Frederick James, born in 1907, and Alfred Matthew two years later – and Daisy’s older brother Alfred was also living with them. They would go on to have Ernest William in early 1914, and then, finally, Albert Edward in the autumn of 1916. It was little Albert who was splashed with his parent’s blood when he was just three months short of his fourth birthday.
Albert would grow up to become a brick-maker, and moved to Buckinghamshire, but never married. One wonders how the events he witnessed as a little boy affected him in adulthood. A century ago, his parents died. His father may have been more deeply affected by his poor health and job loss than friends and neighbors realized, suddenly finding that he could no longer cope.
For his wife Daisy, this sudden loss of control may have been just as much a shock for her as for her children and the aunt who was called by Frederick to take care of his children, he planning in some strange way to ensure that they were looked after from the moment he died.
Bathsheba Spooner, the first woman executed* in the post-Declaration of Independence (i.e., post-July 4, 1776) United States.
The daughter of one of Massachusetts’s most prominent Tory loyalists — the latter fled to Nova Scotia during the events comprising this story, owing to the ongoing American Revolution — Spooner was married to a wealthy Brookfield gentleman whom she utterly despised.
From late 1777 into 1778, Bathsheba beguiled three young would-be Davids — Ezra Ross, a wounded former Continental Army soldier whom she nursed back to health; and James Buchanan and William Brooks, two redcoat deserters — into getting rid of Mr. Joshua Spooner.
Ross she sent on February 1778 business trip with her hubby and instructions to dose him with nitric acid. The youth chickened out and didn’t do it — but neither did he warn his proposed victim what was afoot.
A couple of weeks later, the Brits achieved by main force what their American opposite dared not attempt by stealth, and “on the evening of the first of March, about 9 o’clock, being returning home from his neighbors, near by his own door was feloniously assaulted by one or more ruffians, knocked down by a club, beat and bruised, and thrown into his well with water in it.” Ross, importantly, had been invited by his lover/sponsor to return and he helped to dispose of the body.
They had not a day’s liberty after this shocking crime, evidently having thought little beyond the deed; the very young Ross especially stands out for his naivete — certainly mingled with lust and cupidity as he contemplated the prospect of attaining a frolicsome, wealthy widow — when the wife went to work on him.
“As She was going to Hardwick She asked me the Reason of my being so low Spirited? I made answer It was my long absence from home. She replyed that her Opinion was, I wanted some one to lodge with — I told her it would be agreeable. She asked me if Such an One as her self would do? I made answer If She was agreeable I was. [Marginal notation: The Dialect was so.] Upon which She said ‘After She came off her Journey she would See.’ N.B. After her Return She Gave me an Invitation to Defile her Marriage Bed; which I Expected. [accepted] And after that she proposed constantly every sheam [scheme] for her Husbands Death. [Marginal notation: The spelling is so.]” – Ezra Ross
That quoted section is a written account given in jail to the preacher Ebenezer Parkman, who preached a thundering sermon three days after the executions titled “The Adultress Shall Hunt for the Precious Life”. Here is a section of that sermon, as quoted in Deborah Navas’s book about the affair, “Murdered By His Wife” which I’ll link to in the show notes:
“a woman who … allows her loose imagination to range and wander after Others, nay not a few, & rove from [her husband] to pollute & defile the marriage bed [indulging] her own wanton salacious desires … How loathsome are all such, and how directly opposite the pure & holy Nature, Law, and Will of God. So keep thee from the Evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Neither let her take thee with her eyelids. There are a thousand dangers, that poor young wretches are in by reason of the snres & traps which are everywhere laid … particularly the poor beardless youth not quite 18.”
Side note, Deborah Navas also wrote a full-length novel about Bathsheba called simply, “Bathsheba Spooner: A Novel” which I’ve also included a link to in the show notes.
Mrs. Spooner, whose Loyalist family ties did her no favors in this moment, sought a reprieve on grounds of pregnancy. Many condemned women in those days made such requests; more often than not they were temporizing devices that bought no more than the time needed for a panel of matrons to examine them and dismiss the claim. In her case, four examiners submitted a dissenting opinion to the effect “that we have reason to think that she is now quick with child.” Although overruled, they were correct: after the dramatic quadruple execution under a thunderstorm at Worcester’s Washington Square, an autopsy found that Spooner was about five months along with what would have been her fifth child.
According to an early 20th century Chicago Chronicle retrospective, her grave can be located on a manor at Worcester that formerly belonged to the great New York City planner Andrew Haswell Green: Bathsheba Spooner’s sister was Green’s grandmother.
A full original record of the proceedings does not survive for us, but this public domain volume has a lengthy chapter about events, with an appendix preserving some of the original documents.
* We’re at the mercy of uncertain documentation in this context, of course, but there are at least none whose executions can be established that predate Spooner’s within the infant republic. Per the Espy file, a woman named Ann Wyley was hanged in Detroit in 1777, but at the time that city was under British administration as part of the province of Quebec.
For its part, Massachusetts hanged several more women in the 1780s, but has not executed any other women since the George Washington presidential administration. It’s presently a death penalty abolitionist jurisdiction.
Coming up, we’ll step into the Chamber of Comments!
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Here in the Chamber of Comments I answer your emails, comments, podcast reviews, voice messages, letters I get in the mail, and more. You can find all of my contact information, postal address, social media links, and a link to leave a voice message, on the CONTACT page at WeirdDarkness.com. While you’re there, join the Facebook Group, “Weird Darkness Weirdos” and hang out with me and the rest of our Weirdo family! Or drop me an email anytime at: darren @ weirddarkness.com.
(Review from Every Name ID Is Taken): “I drive a commercial vehicle and Weird Darkness is my go-to podcast. I think Darren is awesome and his voice definitely keeps me intrigued and drawn into his stories. Thank you for all you do, and I tell every possible truck driver I come in contact with about your podcast. Many Blessings Darren! Much love!”
REPLY: Thank you so very much, my truck-driving friend! I greatly appreciate you spreading the word over the CB to your fellow good buddies. It’s an honor to be riding in the cab with you!
(Podcast review from The Lonely Cupcake): I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast (at least in the beginning) but It kinda gets boring like around halfway and especially at the end. I would also recommend that you cut the time to like 50 minutes to an hour maybe. And maybe start doing ONE subject per episode. The last one I was listening to I couldn’t even keep track of the snake stories mixed with black eyed people and who knows what else. Also, it was very hard to tell when he was reading a story, or talking about something or even sharing his own story. I’m sorry for the review, but I don’t know where to email you. (That’s why I still put five stars).
REPLY: Thanks for the review, cupcake – and for the five stars even though you had a criticism, that was nice of you. You must be fairly new to the podcast because in almost every episode I do say during the Chamber of Comments what my email address is – but I must not have had a Chamber of Comments on the episode you are referring to. Also, most episodes are approximately an hour, maybe a tad bit longer – but I’m guessing the one you heard was an extra-long archive episode, not the typical length. So I’m going to guess that you are doing a podcast review based on a single episode that you’ve listened to. How did I do?
(Review from Jschu80): Love the podcast!! I’ve been listening for 3yrs now. I listen everyday with my headphones on too and from work. I can’t listen as I work in a factory and it’s not allowed for safety reasons. I work 2nd shift I leave my headphones on when I get home and listen a lot of nights till I fall asleep. Your podcast helps me to forget the world around me and takes my mind off everything. I have anxiety also, and I thank you for giving me some relief. I wanted to tell you, the story you did about Lizzie Borden, in the background you could hear like a woodpecker pecking in the music. It creeped me out!! Every time I heard I kept looking around like what is that, until I finally realized it was in the show!! Well done Mr. Marlar well done. Keep if the great work!!
REPLY: Thank you, 80! Yeah – you have to be careful wearing headphones. Once in a while those sound effects can get so realistic you get sucked in and can’t tell what’s real and what is Memorex! I’m guessing you are referring to the episode “Night Witches” which has the story “The Lizzy Borden Newspaper Hoax” – I’ll place a link to it in the show notes. I don’t recall placing the sound of a woodpecker into the story, so it’s either very light in the music – or it was Miss Mocha making noise in the background while I was recording and somehow I missed it while editing. Ooooor… your podcast player is haunted. Yeah, let’s go with that.
(Review from Spaghettios66): I really like most of his content. However, lately he has kind of taken an obsession with telling stories of child murder and torture. It’s very disturbing and there should be a disclaimer with these stories. We know these horrible things happen to children sometimes but it brings an evil and horrendous feeling to what would otherwise be a fun, scary podcast.
REPLY: Hey, Spaghetti – it is just a coincidence that a couple of episodes about children being killed happened to come close together – it is definitely not something I am looking for, or taking an interest in. Quite the opposite. Those stories are disturbing to me as well, but I also know that many people find true crime stories fascinating so I include those kinds of stories for them. As for placing a disclaimer, I do that at the very beginning of every episode, I’m sure you’ve heard it. You may have become desensitized to the disclaimer and it has become background noise at the start of each show, but it’s there.
(Comment from Patty Fecho): I love the way you always bring the stories to life. I really like the way you don’t sound as though you are reading the stock exchange as some others do. I also like it (that) you do your bloopers at the end occasionally. It’s actually my favorite part sometimes. I think it’s great that you give information on depression and where to find help from ifred.org . One day I will tell you one of my scary true tales. Thanks for everything. God bless you and your family.
REPLY: Thank you, Patty – I look forward to reading your stories when you do finally get around to sending them in! And I’ll end the Chamber of Comments with your review – that way I can step out with an upbeat message!
I’ll answer more of your emails, comments, letters, and voice messages next time! Again, you can find all of my social media, a link to leave a voice message for me, and other contact information on the CONTACT page at WeirdDarkness.com, or drop me an email at darren @ weirddarkness.com.
Thanks for listening. If you like the podcast, please share a link to this episode and recommend Weird Darkness to your friends, family, and co-workers who love the paranormal, horror stories, or true crime like you do! Every time you share a link to the podcast it helps spread the word about it – growing our Weirdo family, and also helps get the word out about resources available for those who suffer from depression. So please share the podcast with others.
Do you have a dark tale to tell of your own? Fact or fiction, click on “Tell Your Story” at WeirdDarkness.com and I might use it in a future episode.
All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise), and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“Ghosts, Gravity, and Isaac Newton” by Stuart Clark for The Guardian
“History’s Most Dangerous Toddler” by Candida Moss for The Daily Beast
“The Reappearing Handprint” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages
“The Little Boy Who Watched His Parents Die” by Dr. Nell Darby for Criminal Historian
“The Hanging of Bathsheba Spooner” posted at Executed Today
Weird Darkness theme by Alibi Music.
WeirdDarkness™ – is a registered trademark. Copyright ©Weird Darkness 2020.
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… Proverbs 11:18 = “The wicked man earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward.”
And a final thought… “The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about.”
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.