“A HISTORY OF ELVES” and More Strange True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: Elves – they are portrayed as helpful and joyous when helping a shoemaker, or a jolly old man with a white beard at the north pole. But they are portrayed as evil in some other cultures – even claimed to be in league with the devil himself. And what do they have to do with Cain and Abel? We’ll look at the history of elves. (A History of Elves) *** There was a struggle, one of the men fell through a window to the street below, breaking his neck. A case that practically solved itself according to police. That is… until they began questioning those involved. Then it began to get very murky, and a bit bizarre. (The Strange Death of Thomas Farrant) *** Do you believe in vampires? If you are thinking of the undead, immortal, blood-sucking creatures of the night who speak with a Hungarian accent, then probably not. Or if you are thinking of the kind of vampires with pale skin and mussed hair that sparkle, then definitely not. But that doesn’t mean that vampires don’t exist. They in fact do roam the earth in human form, and I’ll tell you about them. (Are Vampires Real?) *** It’s the story of two Georges, one with his father’s name and one with not quite his father’s name, one legitimate, one illegitimate – with the latter being very good with elephants. I’ll tell you the odd life story of George Nyleve. (The Strange Story of George Nyleve) *** “Be quiet and give me the money in the cash drawer… This gun talks.” And with those words began a string of bank robberies conducted not by a gang of outlaws, or even a couple of bad men… but by one little old lady. (The Grandma Bandit)
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(Over time links can and may become invalid, disappear, or have different content.)
“The Elves and the Shoemaker” story was adapted from the Brothers Grimm by Margaret Hunt and posted at Kids Pages: https://tinyurl.com/y2rhxrlz
“A History of Elves” by Gemma Hollman for Just History Posts: https://tinyurl.com/y5dsfbgo
“The Strange Death of Thomas Farrant” by Les Hewitt for Historic Mysteries: https://tinyurl.com/y3w5yvrd
“Are Vampires Real?” by Stephen Wagner for Live About: https://tinyurl.com/y3qanbbs
“The Strange Story of George Nyleve” by William and Karen Ellis-Rees for London Overlooked: https://tinyurl.com/yynxc7od
“The Grandma Bandit” by Robert A. Waters for Kidnapping Murder and Mayhem: https://tinyurl.com/yxpyxd9x
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Once upon a time there was a poor shoemaker who lived with his wife. He made excellent shoes and worked quite diligently, but even so he could not earn enough to support himself and his family. He became so poor that he he could not even afford to buy the leather he needed to make shoes; finally he had only enough to make one last pair. He cut them out with great care and put the pieces on his workbench, so that he could sew them together the following morning.
His wife asked, “What will happen to us? The cupboards are bare, and we have no firewood. Even our last candle has almost burned away.” She was very worried.
“Don’t worry,” said the shoemaker. “Things will work out for us. You’ll see, I will finish these shoes tomorrow, and someone will buy them.”
He cut out the leather and then went to bed. The shoemaker would finish working first thing in the morning.
The next morning, he awoke early and went down to his workshop. On his bench he found an exquisite pair of shoes! They had small and even stitches, formed so perfectly that he knew he couldn’t have produced a better pair himself. Upon close examination, the shoes proved to be from the very pieces of leather he had set out the night before. The shoemaker called for his wife to come and look at the wonderful shoes. She was just as amazed as he was. “Who could have made these shoes?” she asked.
They immediately put the fine pair of shoes in the window and drew back the blinds.
Who in the world could’ve done this great service for me?” he asked himself. Even before he could make up an answer, a rich man strode into his shop and bought the shoes– and for a fancy price.
The shoemaker was ecstatic; he immediately went out and purchased plenty of food for his family–and some more leather. That afternoon he cut out two pairs of shoes and, just as before, laid all the pieces on the bench so that he could sew them the next day. Then he went upstairs to enjoy the good meal with his family.
My goodness!” he cried the next morning when he found two pairs of beautifully finished shoes on his workbench. “Who could make such fine shoes–and so quickly?” He put them in his shop window, and before long some wealthy people came in and paid a great deal of money for them. The happy shoemaker went right out and bought even more leather.
This continued for many nights, until the shoemaker’s shelves were filled with beautiful shoes like no one had ever seen before.
Soon his small shop was crowded with customers. He cut out many types of shoes: stiff boots lined with fur, delicate slippers for dancers, walking shoes for ladies, tiny shoes for children. Soon his shoes had bows and laces and buckles of fine silver. The little shop prospered as never before, and it’s proprietor was soon a rich man himself. His family wanted for nothing.
As the shoemaker and his wife sat by the fire one night, he said, “One of these days, I shall have to learn who has been helping us.”
“We could hide behind the cupboard in your workroom,” his wife said. “That way, we could find out just who your helpers are.”
And that was just what they did. That evening, when the clock struck twelve, the shoemaker and his wife heard a noise. Two tiny men, each with a bag of tools, were squeezing beneath a crack under the door. Their clothing was old and worn, which made the shoemaker and his wife sad. The elves wore thin, torn pants that were ripped and covered with patches. They were making shoes, but they didn’t have any for themselves.
The next day, the shoemaker’s wife said, “Those little elves have done so much good for us. We should make some gifts for them.”
“Yes!” cried the shoemaker. “I’ll make some shoes that will fit them, and you make some clothes.” They worked until dawn. The presents were laid out upon the workbench: two tiny jackets, two pairs of trousers, and two pairs of shoes. They also left out some plates of good things to eat and drink. Then they hid once again behind the cupboard and waited to see what would happen.
Just as before, the elves appeared at the stroke of midnight. They jumped onto the bench to begin their work, but when they saw all the presents they began to laugh and shout with joy. They tried on all the clothes, then helped themselves to the food and drink. Then they jumped down and danced excitedly around the workroom, and disappeared beneath the door.
After that, the shoemaker cut out his leather as he always had–but the two elves never returned. “I believe they have heard us whispering,” his wife said. “Elves are so very shy when it comes to people, you know.”
“I know I will miss their help,” the shoemaker said, “but we will manage. The shop is always so busy now. But my stitches will never be as tight and small as theirs!”
The shoemaker did indeed continue to prosper, but he and his wife always remembered the good elves who had helped them during the hard times.
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…
Elves – they are portrayed as helpful and joyous when helping a shoemaker, or a jolly old man with a white beard at the north pole. But they are portrayed as evil in some other cultures – even claimed to be in league with the devil himself. And what do they have to do with Cain and Abel? We’ll look at the history of elves.
There was a struggle, one of the men fell through a window to the street below, breaking his neck. A case that practically solved itself according to police. That is… until they began questioning those involved. Then it began to get very murky, and a bit bizarre.
Do you believe in vampires? If you are thinking of the undead, immortal, blood-sucking creatures of the night who speak with a Hungarian accent, then probably not. Or if you are thinking of the kind of vampires with pale skin and mussed hair that sparkle, then definitely not. But that doesn’t mean that vampires don’t exist. They in fact do roam the earth in human form, and I’ll tell you about them.
It’s the story of two Georges, one with his father’s name and one with not quite his father’s name, one legitimate, one illegitimate – with the latter being very good with elephants. I’ll tell you the odd life story of George Nyleve.
“Be quiet and give me the money in the cash drawer… This gun talks.” And with those words began a string of bank robberies conducted not by a gang of outlaws, or even a couple of bad men… but by one little old lady.
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.
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It is a fairly common belief that the legend of elves was created by JRR Tolkien amongst other now popular mythical creatures that he created. However, Tolkien simply popularized the creatures, and legends of elves have existed for centuries as a distinct legend from fairies (although the two legends often get conflated). The English word ‘elf’ comes from the Old English ælf. The origin of the word probably meant ‘white’ or ‘white person’, with whiteness being associated with beauty and luminosity.
Surprisingly, almost all surviving textual sources about elves were produced by Christians. This comes in sharp contrast to mermaids where the Church tried to destroy old pagan stories about the sea-dwelling humanoids as it did not fit the Christian world-view. As such, elves were usually incorporated into Christian ideology either neutrally or negatively. Some aligned elves with the devil – for example, in early modern Scottish witchcraft trials, people who confessed to encountering elves were deemed by prosecutors to have been encountering the devil. Others found a place for elves within Christian history that neither made them good nor bad; Beowulf says that elves were created amongst a host of other monstrous races as a result of Cain’s murder of Abel, whilst some Icelandic folktales said that elves were angels who sided neither with Lucifer nor God at the fall, and so rather than being sent to hell, God banished them to earth.
Elves appear to be largely a Germanic legend, although Japan has legendary Yōkai which have some similar qualities. The earliest significant evidence for the legend of elves originates in medieval texts from Anglo-Saxon England and high medieval Iceland, meaning they are a relatively recent legend when compared to other mythical creatures. Generally, elves are considered to look like humans, or closely human-like, and they are dangerous to encounter. They were often sexualised beings, which is probably owing to their beauty (again, as with mermaids, the link between beauty and sexual sin/temptation was a common Christian theme).
Their earliest appearances tended to come from medical texts which blamed elves for illness in livestock, or afflictions in humans – most commonly, they were blamed for sharp, internal pains or mental disorders. A tenth-century Old English text, the Wið færstice (surviving in a collection known as Lacnunga) translates as ‘against a sudden/violent stabbing pain’ and is a charm intended to cure the pain which had been caused by being shot by witches, elves, or other malicious spirits. A salve is suggested, but the charm is the important part. This is a good example how early medicine often combined science and magic (although contemporaries would not view it in this modern dichotomy).
Whilst this suggests elves were thought to cause disease using weapons, they are generally more clearly associated with using a type of magic. As the medieval period went on, elves became associated more and more as being female rather than male, which is probably due to the British cultural values which emphasises femininity as the beauty ideal – if elves are beautiful, and beauty is female, elves must be female. The legend developed alongside medieval romantic traditions of fairies and the Fairy Queen and elves began to borrow qualities from fairies, or even be used interchangeably with fairies. Increasingly, elves were viewed more as sexual beings full of sexual allure, rather than being associated with disease. They also became associated with the art of alchemy – the transmutation of materials into better ones, particularly gold – which was also associated with the creation of an elixir of immortality.
As the medieval period drew to a close, references to elves in English culture tended to die out (potentially due to their synonymy with fairies?) but the legend remained strong in early modern Scotland. This is probably why references to elves become prominent in early modern Scottish witchcraft trials. Here, the idea of elves as causing disease remained strong, and many depositions show that people believed that they knew of people or animals that had been made sick by elves. Neolithic arrow heads which had been found seem to have been thought to have been made by elves, and evidence from a few witchcraft trials show that these arrow heads were used in healing rituals, or used by alleged witches to injure people.
In Medieval Icelandic culture, elves usually had an association with the gods. Here, a similar relationship evolved as in England between elves and fairies: in Iceland, elves were associated with the Æsir, who were the gods in the principal pantheon of Norse religion, and at times elves seem to be indistinguishable from the Æsir. Elves were still thought to be human or human-like, as were the gods, and a text composed around 1020 mentions an Álfablót (Elven sacrifice) that occurred in what is now southern Sweden. An Álfablót was a pagan sacrifice to the elves towards the end of autumn, after crops had been harvested, and they were usually performed by the lady of the household.
The god Freyr seems to have been most heavily associated with elves, and in Grímnismál, a mythological poem, it is said that Álfheimr, the elf world where light elves resided, was given to Freyr. As elves were viewed far more positively in Icelandic mythology, there are many legends, particularly in sagas, of human-elf relations. The offspring of such relations were far more beautiful than most people, and sometimes they had magic powers. As in England, at the end of the medieval period, references to elves largely disappear.
As with other mythical creatures, elves entered popular culture in a variety of ways. In German heroic poetry, dwarfs seem to usually relate to elves, particularly if the dwarf is called Alberich (which means elf-powerful). Alberich was translated into French as Auberon, and the name entered English literature when Lord Berner translated the Chanson de Geste around 1540. Auberon then became Oberon, the king of elves and fairies, in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Numerous early modern ballads which must have originated in the medieval period survive where elves have a prominent place. They circulated widely in Scandinavia and northern Britain where legends of elves were strongest. The ballads usually focus on the sexual side of the legend of the elves, and usually describe sexual encounters between humans and elves. Usually, a beautiful woman from the elf-world tries to tempt a young knight to join her in dancing or to come and live amongst the elves – this always ends badly for the young man, and whether he agrees or refuses the elf’s offer he always dies.
This idea was found in Scandinavia too – it was said that elves could be seen dancing over meadows, particularly at night or on misty mornings. They would leave behind a circle where they had danced, which was usually considered to be the more familiar fairy ring of a ring of small mushrooms. If a human watched the elves dance they would become warped by time. Whilst it would seem to the person that only a few hours had passed, in the real world many years had gone by. As in the English ballads, Scandinavian ballads spoke of humans being invited or lured to dance with the elves.
Whilst the idea of elves diminished or became synonymous for fairies in the early modern period, the idea continued in one form or another across the centuries, but became warped. By the Victorian period, the British imagined elves as tiny men and women with pointed ears and stocking caps. Here, elves once again begin to separate from fairies, as although both creatures were tiny people, fairies had butterfly wings, whilst elves did not. Throughout nineteenth and twentieth-century children’s literature, the two creatures diverge further, but emerged in a very different form from their original legend. A Brothers Grimm fairy tale which I won’t even try to pronounce featured two tiny men who help a shoemaker; this was translated in 1884 by Margaret Hunt into The Elves and the Shoemaker. This idea of elves being linked with work is echoed in some modern work, such as J. K. Rowling’s house elves in Harry Potter.
It is perhaps this more modern idea of small elves that led to the creation of the Christmas elf. In the 1823 poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ (known more popularly as ‘Twas the Night before Christmas), St Nicholas is called ‘a right jolly old elf’ who had little helpers, and it is perhaps this idea of small creatures who help with work (as seen in The Elves and the Shoemaker) that caused them to be thought of as elves themselves. It is only through fantasy literature such as that Tolkien popularised that saw elves return somewhat to their former legend. Here, elves tend to return to human size, or even larger, and are beautiful, magical creatures. They tend to still keep the long pointed ears of Victorian imagination, but gain wisdom, a love of nature, and sharper senses than humans. They are often associated with archery – a fitting reminder of the ‘elf-shot’ of medieval lore.
The legend of elves is certainly centred around Germanic language cultures, particularly Britain and Scandinavia. Whilst a comparatively recent legend, ideas of elves have transformed through time, yet come somewhat full circle so that today ideas of elves are not too dissimilar to the original legend. Elves have often inhabited the same legendary space as fairies, often borrowing from fairy mythology or becoming absorbed by it altogether. Thanks to the popularity and prevalence of fantasy culture in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, however, elves are once again inhabiting their own mythical space.
There was a struggle, a man fell through a window to the street below, breaking his neck. A case that practically solved itself according to police. Until they began investigating. We’ll look at the strange death of Thomas Farrant!
Do you believe in vampires? You should – because they do exist! Just not in the way you’ve been led to believe.
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.
Giles Clift was blind. The 53-year-old lived in lodgings that he shared with his spouse at 1 Little Street, St James, Bristol. The debate regarding how long Clift was married varies between 4 and 12 years, depending on what account is accurate.
However long his marriage was, it was a less than successful one, despite the birth of their 3-year-old daughter. The couple was routinely and invariably at one another’s throats. All of this bickering eventually led to a local Magistrate getting involved. Several sessions with the Magistrate led them to separate. Clift retained his lodgings while his estranged partner went to live with Clift’s Great Nephew, Thomas Farrant.
Farrant earned his living selling fruit and at the time was in the prime of his life at 25 years of age. Farrant also lived in lodgings in Bristol, but his address was the Colston Arms, Hotwells Road.
According to local gossip, Clift was less than thrilled at his ex’s new address and was even less than impressed with her apparent kleptomania. He was of the opinion that she had improperly acquired some of his personal possessions and on Boxing Day 1867, Clift persuaded one of his current lodgers – a man known only as Mr. Lyons – to escort him to the home of Farrant.
It was about 6 pm when the pair arrived. While Lyons remained downstairs, Clift went upstairs to see his former wife. Only a few minutes after Clift went upstairs, Lyons heard a loud commotion coming from the room directly above him. Assuming that the shouting and hollering were just the latest in a long line of arguments the couple had, Lyons made his way up.
When he got access to the room itself, he was horrified by what he saw. Clift had somehow removed one of the legs of the bedstead that was in the room and was using it to assault the unfortunate woman. Lyons didn’t think twice about wading in to save the poor woman. The doting mother was more concerned, naturally, about her young child and repeatedly tried to head back upstairs.
While all of this was taking place inside the lodging house, a couple of passers-by outside saw someone fall from the window of Farrant’s room and land head first on the ledge of the basement before tumbling onto the pavement. The victim was bleeding from wounds to his nose, mouth, and ears, taking a minute or two to congeal around his body. It was Farrant himself. Nobody could tell whether or not the fall was solely responsible for his death. But it was clear that Farrant would not have survived for very long afterward anyway.
A boy was sent to the local police station with news of the deceased. Inspector Attwood, on duty at the time, sent a pair of constables to the scene. When the deceased was brought back to the station via a stretcher, the Police Surgeon was called for. Dr. Bernard examined Farrant and determined the cause of death to be a dislocated neck.
The investigation switched to Farrant’s room. PC 179 (Fletcher) took a closer look at the room. There were obvious signs of a struggle and with only one real witness, it appeared to be an open and shut case. Not wishing to take things at face value, Attwood insisted that Clift be brought in for questioning.
During the first sessions, however, very little information came to light. According to their eye witness, Farrant did nothing to prevent the domestic abuse between spouses and even attempted to leave them alone. It was this motion that ended up with Farrant, by Clift’s own admission, stumbling with a wooden chair and somehow tumbling through a two-foot square window that most would have problems circumnavigating if they gave it their all.
That was just one problem that greeted the investigations team. Another was equally as bizarre. How could it be possible for a diminutive and spindly man such as Clift to overcome and subdue a strapping young man less than half of his age and twice his size in a matter of seconds? Then tossing him through a tiny window barely adequate for the job? And more to the point, why? Clift’s quarrel was clearly with his former partner, who was out of the room at the time.
Mrs. Clift was also questioned about the events leading up to the death of her room-mate. In her version, Thomas Farrant took a much more active or prominent part in proceedings. When Farrant tried to step in, Clift’s sense of outrage intensified. He was quoted as insisting that ‘I will break your neck out of the window’. If Lyons was to be believed then Clift clearly had anger management issues and perhaps, when riled, was more than capable of holding his own. Mrs. Clift’s involvement did little to clarify precisely what took place. Being the only other real witness and not in the good books of the other main witness, it seemed to be a classic case of ‘he said, she said’.
Given the diversity of the two accounts and the apparent ulterior motives of both sides – he was angry and prone to lash out; while she perhaps saw this as a chance to finally rid herself of a brutal thug, even if he was blind and aging.
When the inquest opened on Saturday, 28th December, the key consideration was to examine the window that Farrant had fallen out of. While the frame was two feet square, the actual window itself only measured 17 inches across. Such a tiny opening made any accident almost impossible.
The fall was a deliberate act on the part of someone. Perhaps Clift was correct after all; Farrant may have eased himself through the tiny window, hoping to lower himself onto a lower ledge but slipping and falling to his death in the process. Outside the window, a heel mark was reported to have been discovered. As well as that mark, others were reportedly found which may or may not have been fingerprinted. When Clift was examined by a medical expert – Clifton Union medical officer, Dr. Steele – no marks were found on his person, which would indicate that he was not involved in a physical altercation.
What did happen to Thomas Farrant the day after Christmas 1867? Did he jump or was he pushed? Only three people knew the answer to that. One was the victim, another was the widow… the third was blind.
The enormous interest in the creatures prompts the question: Are vampires real?
Interest in the vampire mythos is at an all-time high. The recent enthusiasm for this blood-sucking immortal began perhaps with the highly popular Anne Rice novel, Interview with the Vampire published in 1976, and which she followed up with several more books about the vampire world she created. Movies and television capitalized on this popularity with such offerings as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Lost Boys, Francis Ford Coppola’s film version of Dracula, Underworld, and the Tom Cruise-Brad Pitt film adaptation of Interview with the Vampire.
The genre is more popular than ever thanks to TV’s True Blood and Vampire Diaries, and especially the enormous success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series of novels, which also received the Hollywood treatment.
When a phenomenon like this creeps into our mass consciousness—you can barely turn around without bumping into vampire-related media—some people begin to think it’s real. Or they want it to be real because they so enjoy the fantasy. So what about it? Are there real vampires?
The question of whether vampires are real or not depends on the definition. If by vampire we mean the supernatural creature who is practically immortal, has fangs through which he or she can suck blood, has an aversion to sunlight, can shapeshift into other creatures, fears garlic and crosses, and can even fly…then we have to say no, such a creature does not exist. At least there’s no good evidence that it exists. Such a creature is a fabrication of novels, TV shows, and movies.
If we dispense with the supernatural attributes, however, there are people who call themselves vampires of one kind or another.
Largely due to the influence of vampires in the media, there is now a subculture of vampirism, the members of which seek to mimic the lifestyle of their fictional heroes (or antiheroes). There is some overlap with the Goth community, both of which seem to seek empowerment in the dark, mysterious side of things. The lifestyle vampires typically dress in black and other accouterments of the “vampire aesthetic” and favor a goth music genre. According to one website, these lifestylers take this on “not just as something to do at clubs, but as part of their total lifestyle, and who form alternative extended families modeled on the covens, clans, etc. found in some vampire fiction and role-playing games.”
Lifestyle vampires make no claims of supernatural powers. And it would be unfair to dismiss them as people who just like to play at Halloween year-round. They take their lifestyle quite seriously as it fulfills for them some inner, even spiritual need.
The sanguine (meaning bloody or blood-red) vampires may belong to the lifestyle groups mentioned above but take the fantasy one step further by actually drinking human blood. They typically will not drink a glass of the stuff as one would a glass of wine, for example, but usually will add a few drops to some other liquid for drinking. On occasion, a sanguine vampire will feed directly from a volunteer or “donor” by making a small cut and sucking up a small trickle of blood.
Some of these sanguine vampires claim an actual need to ingest human blood. The human body does not digest blood very well, and there seems to be no physiological condition that would account for such a need. If the craving is present, then, it is almost certainly psychological in nature or simply a choice.
Psychic vampires, some of whom might also adopt the vampire lifestyle described above, claim that they have a need to feed off the energy of other people. According to The Psychic Vampire Resource and Support Pages, pranic vampires, as they are sometimes called, are people “who by reason of a condition of their spirit, need to obtain vital energy from outside sources. They are unable to generate their own energy, and often times don’t have the best capacity to store the energy they do have.” The website even has a section of psychic “feeding techniques.”
Again, in the spirit of “keeping it real,” we have to question whether this is a genuine phenomenon. By the same token, we’ve all been around people who seem to drain the energy from a room when they enter, have you met my mother in law? Sorry – just kidding. It could be argued that the effect is strictly psychological…but then that’s why they call it psychic vampirism.
If drinking human blood qualifies one as being a vampire, then several serial killers deserve the label. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Peter Kürten, known as “The Vampire of Düsseldorf,” committed as many as nine murders and seven attempted murders. He achieved sexual arousal with the sight of his victims’ blood and was said to have even ingested it. Richard Trenton Chase was dubbed “The Vampire of Sacramento” after he murdered six people and drank their blood.
Obviously, these “vampires” are criminally insane. Ironically, however, their murderous compulsions and ghoulish practices make them more like the demonic vampires of literary tradition than the other “vampires” described here.
So, are vampires real? For supernatural beings like Nosferatu, Dracula, Lestat and Twilight‘s Edward Cullen, we’d have to say no. But the lifestyle, sanguine, psychic and psychopathic vampires certainly are out there.
I’ll tell you the odd life story of George Nyleve, which involves another George, a father named Evelyn, and a love of elephants.
Plus… “Be quiet and give me the money in the cash drawer… This gun talks.” And with those words began a string of bank robberies conducted not by a gang of outlaws, or even a couple of bad men… but by one little old lady.
These stories when Weird Darkness returns.
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On the 12th of July 1821 at the church of St Marylebone, just south of Regent’s Park, a George Evelyn married a Mary Jane Massy-Dawson.
Evelyn was a remarkable man. He had fought at Waterloo, receiving a severe wound during the defence of the Château d’Hougoumont, when a shot fired through a hole in an old gate hit his left arm. He had been born in Ireland, educated in England, and was now marrying the daughter of another Irish family. The groom and his bride were cousins. He was twenty-nine years old, and still suffered pain from his shattered arm. She was twenty years old, and was small and pretty, with dark hair and blue eyes.
However, we are concerned not with the veteran of 1815 but with another George, who at the time was living barely four miles from Marylebone in the City of London, and who was his half-brother, and was a son of the same father, even though his name was not Evelyn but Nyleve. George Nyleve. He was cut from a very different cloth, and his story, which now follows, is certainly a strange one.
The father of the two Georges was John Evelyn, a namesake and cousin several times removed of the seventeenth-century diarist. Starting in 1770 at the age of twenty-seven he worked for twenty years for the Honourable East India Company, holding various offices in what were then Calcutta and Dacca.
At first glance Evelyn’s life in India was conventional enough. He was introduced to a young Irish girl by the name of Anne Shee, who had been sent out to Dacca to find a suitable husband, and he married her, aged sixteen, in 1787. Three years later the Evelyns sold their horses and carriages and left Bengal for England. By this time they had two children, and another two were born after their return, of whom the elder was the George who would one day distinguish himself fighting in Wellington’s army. But whereas Anne Evelyn née Shee was a mother of four, John Evelyn was a father of five. For he also had an illegitimate child—a son—whose arrival in the world requires a word or two of explanation.
In a way, the fact that Evelyn had an illegitimate son should not surprise us, given that Company men in Calcutta freely consorted with Bengali women. Thomas Williamson’s East India Vade-Mecum, published in 1810 as a “complete guide to gentlemen” heading out from Europe, openly discusses the business of “concubinage in the East”. Williamson reckoned that keeping a mistress drawn from the local population would set his reader back only about forty rupees a month—equivalent to sixty pounds sterling a year—an outlay that “must certainly be considered no great price for a bosom friend, when compared with the sums laid out upon some British damsels”. However, the identity of Evelyn’s mistress remains a mystery. Family tradition has it that she was the daughter of a similar European-Bengali partnership. But beyond that nothing of her survives. No name, no age. She has been written out of history.
The boy was born in about 1785, that is to say two years before Evelyn’s marriage to Anne Shee. He was called George, which was the name that the Evelyns would give their third son when he was born in 1791 in Galway. However, there was never any confusion between the two Georges, because in spite of having the same father they had different surnames. The legitimate George was naturally an Evelyn. But his illegitimate half-brother was the Nyleve referred to earlier.
We do not know with any degree of certainty why Evelyn gave his first-born son this odd pseudonym, which is, incidentally, nothing more than “Evelyn” written backwards. Probably he was anxious to keep his liaison secret, in which he was certainly successful, as no record of a baptism has come to light. At the same time he did not simply abandon the boy, who came back with him—or at least was sent back by him—from Calcutta. And years later, in 1827, he would make provision in his will for his “natural”—illegitimate—“son George Nyleve”, leaving him the freehold on a property in Sidmouth in Devon called Cannister House, a brick-built pile complete with a stable, a coach-house and a cottage. When Nyleve died, the property was auctioned off as The Marine Hotel, an enterprise that had been managed for many years by a man called Daniel Pearcy. There is no evidence that he ever actually lived there himself.
Nyleve first appears in the records living and working in Wood Street, which runs north from Cheapside in the City of London. In 1797, when he was still a boy, he had been apprenticed to a joiner by the name of Thomas Smith, and the indenture, which survives, surprisingly identifies him as the son not of John Evelyn but of John Nyleve. Even more surprisingly, this John Nyleve was a “gentleman deceased”! We must assume that Evelyn, who was very much alive, wanted to distance himself from his Calcutta family to avoid complications in his new life in Ireland and England.
Nyleve entered into a partnership with Smith as japanners, and, although the joint enterprise eventually folded in 1806, he continued in this line of work for some time. In 1811 he was listed in the London and Country Directory as an “ornamental, transparent and decorative painter”. A Sun Fire Office policy dating from 1815 shows that he entered into a second partnership, this time with a William Roberts. He would remain in his Wood Street premises until at least 1825, and during this time he married twice—his first wife, Keziah, died in 1823—and fathered five daughters.
By the year 1829 he had moved from the City to Charing Cross, and it was there that his second wife, Elizabeth, bore him his sixth daughter. However, at the time of the 1841 census he was living not with Elizabeth but with a woman by the name of Matilda Gatrill. His married life was evidently no more straightforward than his father’s had been.
Matilda must have meant a great deal to him, for in his will, which he drew up in 1840, he left her a third of his freehold and leasehold property and a half of his goods and chattels. To Elizabeth, on the other hand, he left five shillings. But all that we know about Matilda is that she was the daughter of a carpenter from Hampshire, and that she married a labourer, John Stratton, on Christmas Day in 1843, the year of George’s death. Stratton was more than twenty years her senior, and had once served in the 66th Regiment of Foot. She was a spinster, according to the marriage certificate—her relationship with George had never been formalised.
Another name of great significance in Nyleve’s will is that of Edward Cross, the owner of the menagerie at Exeter Change in the Strand. Nyleve left no money to Cross, but there must have been a close connection, as he appointed him his executor alongside his executrix, who was almost inevitably Matilda Gatrill. Quite how Nyleve and Cross were connected is a bit of a mystery. In Cross’s ledger of expenses there is reference to a shawl that Nyleve, for some unspecified reason, had cleaned and repaired for him. Beyond this we can only guess. A delightful possibility is that Nyleve had painted the exuberant scenery—a distant memory of the Bengal of his early childhood—that gave Cross’s caged animals a suitably exotic backdrop.
What we do know, though, is that when in January 1826 the Asian elephant residing on an upper floor of Exeter Change went berserk, Cross turned to Nyleve for advice.
Nyleve died of chronic bowel disease at the age of 58. At the time of his death he was living in Amelia Street in Walworth, only doors away from Edward Cross, who had long ago left the Strand to found the Surrey Zoological Gardens. There may be nothing in it, of course, but it is at least possible that Nyleve worked for Cross at the Gardens in some capacity, maybe again as an artist painting the backdrops to the “entertainments” that were so popular with the public. So many unanswered questions!
But in a way these only add to the aura of mystery that already surrounds George Nyleve. He was indeed something of an enigma. He had one foot in the East, the other in the West. His name was almost but not quite that of his father. He had an Anglo-Indian mother, of whom no record survives. He lived most of his life in London, and yet he never entirely forgot his native Bengal. After all he knew—or thought he knew!—how to deal with elephants when they got out of hand.
The Wiltshire Boulevard branch of the California Bank in Los Angeles was crowded on that Friday morning in 1952. Behind the counter, Marguerite Evert politely greeted each customer. Next in line was a “little old lady” who wore a black jacket and green scarf. The woman quietly pulled a wrinkled-up brown paper sack from a shabby leather purse. Shoving it toward Evert, she said, “Be quiet and give me the money in the cash drawer.”
Evert was astounded. She hesitated, and the robber poked the barrel of a pistol through the bottom of the bag. “This gun talks,” she said, “and I know how to use it.” With that, she pushed a red envelope toward Evert. The teller took $1200 out of her drawer and handed it to the woman. Placing it in her envelope and putting the brown bag back in her purse, the robber casually walked away. No one noticed as she ambled to the door, strolled down the street and flagged down a cab.
Evert was so flustered it took her more than a minute to ring for the bank manager. Soon the place was swarming with cops, but they had missed their prey. The old woman was nowhere to be seen.
In the next few weeks, as she robbed bank after bank, California news hounds gave her an appropriate nickname: “The Grandma Bandit.” Both local police and FBI agents joined the hunt, but it was a local bank manager who finally caught her.
It was nearing Christmas in the United States National Bank in Arcadia, fifteen miles east of Los Angeles, when a woman walked up to teller Lorene McGehee. “Give me all your money,” Grandma said. “I’m desperate.” McGehee, incredulous, turned to William H. Lloyd, her manager, and said, “This woman wants to rob me.”
Grandma didn’t hesitate. She turned and sprinted to the door. But Lloyd was quicker. He grabbed her and jerked the paper bag from her hands. A toy pistol fell to the floor. As Grandma begged Lloyd to let her go, bank employees triggered an alarm and soon the robber was in handcuffs. Checking her purse, cops found sixty-three cents.
Fifty-three-year-old Ethel Arata was no normal bank robber. She had once been an heiress, the daughter of Robert Catts, who lost 20 million dollars in the stock market crash of 1929. A syndicated news article written by Sam Cohen and Ruth Reynolds stated that “she once studied voice abroad and sang with the Duncan Sisters in their ‘Topsy and Eva’ company.”
Arata informed detectives that she was a Robin Hood robber, stealing from banks to give to the poor. She claimed to have given some of her proceeds from the robberies to a destitute couple who wanted to return home to Minnesota for Christmas.
Cops learned that Arata had been born to privilege in Philadelphia in 1900 and spent her childhood in private grooming schools. In 1903, Robert Catts divorced his wife and married an actress, Dorothy Tennant. In 1913, Oja McWhorter Catts, Ethel’s mother, overdosed on prescription drugs and died. In 1929, the stock market crash bankrupted her father. He died in 1942, leaving Ethel nothing.
Ethel had married four times. She’d had one child, a boy who died as an infant. In 1948, Ethel was committed to a mental institution for alcoholism. According to Cohen and Reynolds, after leaving the institution “she resumed her drinking, became hysterical and tried to kill herself by jumping from a fourth-story hotel window. Two weeks after this suicide attempt, she was found sprawled in a stupor amid a litter of wine bottles in a Hollywood rooming house. She spent five days in jail for disorderly conduct.”
When arrested for the bank robberies, Ethel was living in a dive hotel in Monrovia, California. Detectives learned that she had gambled her money away and not given it to poor people as she claimed.
A federal grand jury found her guilty of bank robbery and she was sentenced to ten years in Federal prison. Ethel Arata was paroled in 1957, two years after her conviction, and disappeared into the mists of history.
Up next on Weird Darkness, 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.
I want to start with a couple of reviews I received just over the past couple of days – both regarding last Thursday’s Creepypasta episode.
(Review from Debby): Creepypasta Thursday. Head weirdo – about the man, and the kids. Had to let you know this story was very upsetting, I love this podcast, but this story was very unsettling. I think this went too far. I couldn’t finish it. This was too too much. From weirdo Debby.
(Review from MrsBritt): “It would seem to me the values of one Christians beliefs system would keep stories of torture porn from being submitted as allowed on this podcast but I can see now that that not the case… I thought I would give this podcast another chance and the first story I hear is about a guy torturing little kids. You’ve gone too far but I suspect you know this, and then you always put in the bubbly stuff about life being worthwhile yet you choose to read stories about someone torturing kids. Very People Under The Stairs and just sad and tasteless. There’s definitely a darkness in you and you’re encouraging others that are like that in supporting that sorry type of story.”
REPLY: I also received a lot of similar comments on YouTube regarding the same episode. First, I want to thank every single one of you who took the time to write and let me know of your concerns. Especially those who emailed as opposed to posting a public review – that was very considerate of you. But no matter, I very much value feedback and looking back on that episode, which was titled “Eleven Rules For Idiots Who Bought a Haunted House”, I completely agree – that last story might fit other podcasts, but not this one. The episode is still available to listen to, but I have gone in and removed the last story, and I’ve removed the episode completely from YouTube. To be honest, while narrating that last story I had what you might call a “check” in my spirit – a little nudge to my conscience letting me know I probably shouldn’t use it. But I ignored that feeling and kept going. I see now that was probably God or one of his angels tapping on my shoulder saying, “Ahem… seriously, dude? This is the direction you want to take your podcast?” I had another message the other day from someone saying that they miss the humor that the earlier episodes had. I still talked about dark subject matter, but mixed in was also some oddball stuff – more of the WEIRD to go along with the DARKNESS. And honestly, I don’t know why I’ve strayed from that. It wasn’t done intentionally. Maybe those stories just stopped coming across my eyeballs or something. But thinking about it, I miss those kinds of stories too. So I’m going to try and keep an eye out for more of the strange stories that aren’t necessarily horror or crime. Again, more weird than darkness. If you come across something like that feel free to email it to me – I’m always looking for content. And apologies to those of you who have thought similarly to how Debby and Mrs. Britt have – that the show has become too dark. I want this to be a fun place to be along with the macabre content. I know it’s a balancing act and apparently I leaned too far to one side without realizing it – so I’m getting back up onto the beam to start balancing again.
(Email from Shannon): I am a what you would call a new weirdo or a weirdo that has come out of the closet 🤣 in a matter of speaking. I have always loved horror movies, stories, the tales of the paranormal and haunted places. I found your podcast about two months ago and I listen to it all the time it gets me through my nights at work. I recently ordered a shirt as well from your weird darkness store. Just want to say I love you and your amazing I can’t get enough of your stories. – Shannon a weird darkness fan for life!
REPLY: Thank you very much, Shannon! I appreciate the words of support – and I’m very glad you are out of the closet now. After listening to the podcast for a while, you should know there are very possibly monsters in the closet and that’s a bad place to stay for too long!
(Email from an anonymous Weirdo): After listening to the episode “I drive for cerber”, I want a career change!! That would be awesome to have a ride share like that. My friend that got me into listening to weird darkness agrees with me. Where do we apply?? And thank you for thanking different groups of people during your intros. My son is in the navy and I have heard a couple of episodes with the Theodore Roosevelt mentioned. He and his shipmates just got back from deployment after enduring a covid19 outbreak and being sidelined in Guam for two months. So I want to say thank you to our military with you. And I also want to say keep up the good work to all of of my fellow delivery people. I work for the post office and I know first hand what we are going through right now. I also suffer from depression and have a difficult time once in a while dealing with stress. So thank you Darren for your recognition and I appreciate you. A question though… do you talk with your hands? Sometimes I can almost see you using airquotes during your podcasts. Lol
REPLY: You’re not far off, Anonymous! If I’m really getting into it I will use hand gestures while narrating – especially during the creepypastas and other fictional tales where I’m playing a character rather than narrating a non-fiction documentary piece. I’ve found it helps me to make the character’s vocal inflections more believable. I’ve also caught myself making some pretty ugly faces too. Maybe someday I’ll make a video of me recording a creepypasta just for fun – if I can work up the bravery to share it! By the way, regarding “I Drive For Cerber” – I thought I had found a sequel to the story, but it turns out the story is not yet complete, and the author has dropped off the face of the earth. If he ever finished the story I might narrate it – but what he has written so far is already triple the length of “I Drive For Cerber” and the story isn’t done yet. Sorry for misleading everybody about my having a sequel – I truly thought I did, but it was only the other day I realized the end wasn’t really the end. Dagnabbit.
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.
The fictional story “The Elves and the Shoemaker” was adapted from the Brothers Grimm by Margaret Hunt and posted at Kids Pages
“A History of Elves” by Gemma Hollman for Just History Posts
“The Strange Death of Thomas Farrant” by Les Hewitt for Historic Mysteries
“Are Vampires Real?” by Stephen Wagner for Live About
“The Strange Story of George Nyleve” by William and Karen Ellis-Rees for London Overlooked
“The Grandma Bandit” by Robert A. Waters for Kidnapping Murder and Mayhem
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… Philippians 4:13 = “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
And a final thought… “Look for something positive in each day, even if some days you have to look a little harder.”
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.