“CURSE OF THE ICEMAN” and More True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: In 1991 scientists found a perfectly preserved corpse of a man encased in ice… and then one by one, those scientists died. (Curse of the Iceman) *** Weirdo family member Joy Smallwood shares a story she calls “Dogs, They Know Evil.” *** Clara Phillips and Madalynne Obenchain are mostly forgotten by history today, but in their times, they were the most popular psychopaths in L.A. (Los Angeles’ Favorite Murderesses) *** She wanders the road at night, haunting all those who pass. We’ll take a look at “The Bloody Bride of 13 Curves Road.” *** (Originally aired July 07, 2020)
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
“Curse of the Iceman” by April A. Taylor for Ranker: https://tinyurl.com/ybsnjbbp
“Dogs, They Know Evil” by Joy Smallwood for Weird Darkness
“Los Angeles’ Favorite Murderesses” by Robert Wilhelm for Murder By Gaslight: https://tinyurl.com/yawxzwzz,https://tinyurl.com/yct6yhfg
“The Bloody Bride of 13 Curves Road” by Jessica Ferri: https://tinyurl.com/y7d6vzwl, Audrey Webster: https://tinyurl.com/w734whf, and Jamie Bogert: https://tinyurl.com/y93p928f (all for The Lineup)
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IDENTIFY THE IMPOSTER: Hey, Weirdos – if you played “Identify the Imposter” on my Patreon page for today’s show, the story that is a hoax and is NOT one of the stories in this episode is: _________.
DISCLAIMER: Stories and content in Weird Darkness can be disturbing for some listeners and intended for mature audiences only. Parental discretion is strongly advised.
Welcome, Weirdos – (I’m Darren Marlar and) this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
Weirdo family member Joy Smallwood shares a story she calls “Dogs, They Know Evil.”
Clara Phillips and Madalynne Obenchain are mostly forgotten by history today, but in their times, they were the most popular psychopaths in L.A. (Los Angeles’ Favorite Murderesses)
She wanders the road at night, haunting all those who pass. We’ll take a look at “The Bloody Bride of 13 Curves Road.”
In 1991 scientists found a perfectly preserved corpse of a man encased in ice… and then one by one, those scientists died. (Curse of the Iceman)
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, to visit sponsors you hear about during the show, sign up for my newsletter, enter contests, connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. 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!
STORY: CURSE OF THE ICEMAN=====
The story of Ötzi the Iceman is more than a little creepy. On September 19, 1991, German tourists Helmut and Erika Simon took a hike off the beaten path in the Alps on the Austrian-Italian border. There, they made a gruesome discovery: the body of a man frozen in the ice who they assumed had recently died. The truth was much more bizarre. The body that came to be known as Ötzi likely met his demise between 3239 and 3105 B.C.
The mummified remains were stunningly well preserved, and the Ötzi Iceman discovery led to a legal fight between Austria and Italy. The valuable find promised to shed light on humans’ distant past, and everyone wanted their chance to spend more time with Ötzi. But that was before mysterious accidents and deaths began befalling those who came into contact with him. Despite everything that the Iceman offers to the fields of science and anthropology, people who have fallen victim to the Ötzi Iceman curse probably wished he was still frozen on that mountain.
The debate over whether or not the Ötzi curse is real continues. On the one hand, there are a lot of odd circumstances surrounding the mummified remains that seem to support the theory of a real-life curse. However, it’s also definitely possible that all of the strange incidents are nothing more than coincidences. No matter which side of the argument you fall on, it’s fascinating to consider that an ancient Iceman could somehow be linked to a modern-day curse and numerous tragedies.
One of the many debates that Ötzi’s mummified remains have sparked is how he perished. Researchers at the South Tyrol Museum of Archeology in Italy found evidence that Ötzi was murdered. If the museum staff is correct, he would have bled out in a matter of minutes after being hit with an arrow in his subclavian artery. Modern research techniques have also made it clear that Ötzi had head trauma when he passed.
Could the supposed curse be caused by Ötzi’s need for revenge for his untimely end?
Ötzi was discovered on September 19, 1991, but weather conditions prevented the excavation team from completing their task until September 23. The Iceman had spent thousands of years frozen, so four extra days weren’t exactly major. However, his remains were no longer at rest; he was poked, prodded, and photographed before he was finally pried from the ice.
If the Ötzi Iceman curse is real, could part of the issue be that it took so long to uncover his remains? Or would the problem actually have started by removing him from his final resting place?
Rainer Henn had the honor of placing Ötzi’s frozen remains into a body bag. Did this act ultimately cost him his life?
In 1992, Rainer was traveling to a convention where he planned to talk about Ötzi. Tragically, he got into a deadly accident and never reached his destination. This happened one year after Ötzi was uncovered, making Rainer the first potential victim of the Iceman’s curse.
Kurt Fritz took his place in history by leading researchers to Ötzi’s body. He also organized the transportation of the ancient man’s remains. An avalanche ended up claiming his life in 1993 when he was 52.
Fritz was the only member of his expedition group who died during the avalanche. This could be nothing more than a mere coincidence, but it definitely seems odd, especially considering the fact that he was an experienced guide.
Helmut Simon and his wife, Erika, discovered Ötzi. They received a lot of media attention and, eventually, some compensation for their rare find. Unfortunately, Simon may have also received the Ötzi Iceman curse.
In October 2004, the experienced hiker disappeared in the Alps. Due to snowy conditions, it took searchers eight days to discover his body. Simon had fallen more than 300 feet to his death.
Dieter Warnecke wasn’t part of the original Ötzi excavation or research crew, but his potential connection to the curse is still worth noting. When Helmut Simon disappeared in the Alps in 2004, Warnecke led a search team. They ultimately recovered Simon’s body eight days after he went missing.
The world’s leading expert on Ötzi, Konrad Spindler, didn’t believe in the curse. He even joked about it during an interview, saying, “I think it’s a load of rubbish. It is all a media hype. The next thing you will be saying I will be next.”
Indeed, Spindler was the next person associated with Ötzi to die. He passed in 2005 due to complications from multiple sclerosis.
Rainer Hölz was the only person allowed to film the recovery of Ötzi’s body, and he later turned his footage into an hour-long documentary. But showing Ötzi’s face to the world may have been a mistake.
Hölz died from a brain tumor shortly after finishing the film.
Tom Loy was the first researcher to discover extremely important evidence on Ötzi’s clothing. His findings indicated that the Iceman had died during a violent conflict, due to the presence of multiple types of blood on the fabric and tools. Ironically, Loy ultimately died due to a hereditary blood disease – one that wasn’t diagnosed until after Loy began studying Ötzi’s remains.
Loy’s colleagues resented the talk of a curse, saying, “It trivializes his death, and does not do justice to his life and work.”
As of 2017, seven deaths have been linked to the discovery of Ötzi. It seems like a high number, until you consider the hundreds of people who have been involved with Ötzi research projects over the years. Everyone from reconstruction artists and DNA experts to the museum’s ticket booth salespeople has a connection to the ancient Iceman. In other words, if there really is a curse, there should be many more deaths.
Perhaps Ötzi only went after individuals related to the original discovery of his body. Or perhaps these tragedies are nothing more than deeply unfortunate coincidences.
The fact that Ötzi’s discovery has been associated with so many deaths isn’t exactly a new concept; for starters, cultures have connected disturbing human remains with curses for centuries, if not thousands of years.
This trend was especially prevalent in ancient Egypt, where it was considered extremely unlucky to desecrate the grave of anyone, be they pharaoh or enslaved person, although the threats tied to disturbing a pharaoh’s resting place tended to be a lot more extreme.
Whether or not Ötzi was seeking out revenge on those who disturbed him or not, his curse is far less famous than that of King Tut.
When the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun was uncovered in 1922 by Howard Carter, it sparked the beginning of the age of Egyptology, but it also sparked a media storm after a number of people associated with the excavation ended up perishing under bizarre circumstances.
Up next… Weirdo family member Joy Smallwood shares a story she calls “Dogs, They Know Evil.”
She wanders the road at night, haunting all those who pass. We’ll take a look at “The Bloody Bride of 13 Curves Road.” These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: DOGS, THEY KNOW EVIL=====
I’ve always felt like I’ve been followed by darkness…this is simply, one of many, many things I’ve experienced.
I grew up in a very “disturbed” neighborhood. Always neighborly drama, fights, and even death. The cops always showed up in our street due to the amount of issues. The neighborhood wasn’t very safe, so every house had gates and iron surrounding the windows, doors, and garages. Honestly, most of everybody in the neighborhood had dogs, large dogs to ensure protection.
So, it wasn’t unusual for us to hear barking all day long. We were used to it. My family and I had a dog as well, a mutt mixed with German shepherd and some other breed that I didn’t know of.
He was very protective of us and he was a BIG, BIG dog and he barked at basically anybody that came near our house.
But at night, when everybody went to sleep and there was no activity in the streets…the streets were dead silent. No noise, no barking, no nothing! It was the only time we actually had some “peace”.
My bedroom window faced the garage, in other words, the front of the house. My dog slept in the garage since it was open, only fenced around it and we didn’t have snowy, cold winters. So, he was pretty content out there!
But moving on…
I remember one night, I woke up to my dog angrily barking outside. It was very late! I looked at my watch and it was 2am! From my bedroom I could yell: Shut up, P! Be Quiet!!! He was loud, very very loud! I though he saw an animal or something on the streets. So, out of curiosity…I looked out of my window. And I? I saw nothing! The street was dead! There wasn’t even the sound of crickets. Very eerie to be honest but…I was too tired to make any thinking of it.
After telling him to stop barking, P stopped for a couple of minutes but then he started again. Only this time, he was very very angry! His barking was protective! Something was right in front of him in order to piss him off that way!
I got scared at this point! I mean, what in hell! Is someone trying to break in?! I asked myself.
I looked out of my window again and yet, I couldn’t see anybody out there.
But when I looked at P, he was barking right at the gate! He was trying badly to get a hold of whatever or whoever was in front of him. It felt like it was taunting him!
I’m not gonna lie…an overwhelming feeling of “there’s something out there” took over. I could see in P’s eye that he was indeed looking at someone. It was an uneasy, eerie feeling. I’ve seen ghosts before but this, this energy was NOT it. Whatever it is, it was evil and I could tell…it was also, watching me.
I tried to brush it off, I did try. I asked P once more to be quiet and said that there was nothing there! Here I am, trying to lie to myself so I can feel at peace again. But as soon as I talked to P, he barked once more and then..all of the sudden, he stared whimpering. I didn’t see anything hitting him but P coward himself to the corner of the garage and stared “crying”, like he was terrified!!! What in hell did that to P?! He was not scared of anything and there he was…curling up to a ball, laying on his own submissive way. I froze! What was that?!
All I know is that, P and I were NOT alone that night. Something evil, nasty, eerie, terrifying was out there…looking at me, taunting my dog!
Deep in my heart, I know it wasn’t just a supernatural energy coming from a ghost…it was straight from hell. Nothing in the world will convince me that what happened that night wasn’t demonic. I could feel it.
I picked up my dog and took him inside, he was never the same after that night.
Trust your dogs, trust the animals because they see what we can’t. And they know…what’s from this world and what isn’t.
STORY: THE BLOODY BRIDE OF 13 CURVES ROAD, AND OTHER HAUNTED PATHS=====
After a long night, the dark drive home along a backcountry road can be perilous. Your eyes play tricks on you. But those who have traveled down Cedervale Road, just outside of Syracuse, New York, know they can’t all be seeing the same “trick”—can they?
For decades, nighttime travelers of Cedervale Road, perhaps better known as 13 Curves Road, have claimed to see the chilling sight of a young woman, battered and bloody, still dressed in her white wedding gown, wandering along the side of the road.
This apparition is known as the Bloody Bride, and it’s said that she and her husband died on the very night of their marriage after losing control of their vehicle along the winding stretch. Others say the young bride survived, only to come back in death to haunt the spot where she lost her new husband so many years before.
Dozens of witnesses have claimed to see the Bloody Bride gliding along the road. Sometimes she’s described as carrying a small lantern. For some especially unlucky drivers, the Bloody Bride appears in the backseat of their car, with a haunting expression on her face, before disappearing.
As long as most can remember, the tragic tale of the Bloody Bride of 13 Curves Road has been told. Some locals believe the accident took place over a hundred years ago, and instead of a car, the bride and her husband were thrown from a horse and buggy down the steep curve and into the creek.
A local named David D’Ambrosio has been known to string up a spooky decoration resembling the Bloody Bride in the trees that line the road. The decoration gives motorists quite the shock on the pitch-black stretch where even the stars are covered by a dense canopy of trees.
One eyewitness claimed as he and his friend made their way around the sixth curve, “a dim glowing white shape appeared in the road ahead of us. It slowly made its way from the left side of the road to the right. When it got right in the middle of the road, it stopped and turned towards us. It was about the height of an average woman, but it was not very well defined––it was more of a static-y blur than a clear image. It did have a red glow up near where the head would approximately be on a human being.”
For those brave enough to venture along the snaking curves, beware, the Bloody Bride is known to lunge out, desperate to catch passing vehicles. Whatever you do, do not explore the darkness on foot. The winding road is dangerous, and dark.
Of course, 13 Curves Road is by no means the only haunted or cursed road to be traversed by those seeking an experience with the paranormal. Haunting various winding roadways and desolate thoroughfares are tales of tragic deaths, phantom vehicles, and restless apparitions. Those brave—or foolish—enough to venture down them, may encounter the malevolent spirit of a drowned child or a lonely woman looking for a ride, who disappears before your very eyes.
Boy Scout Lane, Stevens Point, Wisconsin: The legend of Boy Scout Lane begins with a stretch of road running through a dense wooded area, unpaved and unwelcoming. Legend has it that a Boy Scout troop met a grisly end in these woods while on a camping trip in the late 1950s or early 1960s. No one agrees as to just what caused the deaths. One version suggests the kids snuck into the woods at night, dropped their lantern, and sparked a forest fire that wiped them out. Another claims the boys became lost among the towering trees and starved to death. Yet another tells of a deranged bus driver or Scoutmaster who massacred the scouts in cold blood. The truth is that the Boy Scouts of America once owned this track of land. They planned to build a campground, but it was never constructed. Those who travel down Boy Scout Lane today, report hearing the sound of many footsteps struggling through the brush. Some have caught sightings of red lights shining through the trees, thought to be the ghosts of lost scouts searching for a way out of the woods.
Prospectors Road, Lotus, California: The rolling hills alongside California’s Prospector Road sit above old mines, most of which have since caved in. In some cases, the collapse reportedly occurred with miners still inside, leading to premature burials. As for the men who worked above ground during the California Gold Rush, greed and desperation cracked any moral compasses they once possessed. Several miners struck gold along Prospector Road during the 1800s, attracting more men desperate to make it rich. Consequently, the area became a busy and dangerous place. Territorial arguments were common; if anyone came in between another man and his potential riches, they were sure to meet a bloody end. Visitors today may very well be traveling over the unmarked graves of lost prospectors. One restless soul is said to still haunt the road. He appears from the bushes at night, warning intruders: “Get off my claim.”
Route 2A, Haynesville, Maine: As the country song by Dick Curless says, “It’s a stretch of road up North in Maine, that’s never, ever, ever seen a smile. If they buried all the truckers lost in them woods, there’d be a tombstone every mile.” Yet what haunts Route 2A isn’t the ghost of a burly trucker barreling by at night. Instead, the specter is of a young girl wandering alone down the roadway. The legend goes that she was hit by a truck and killed instantly during a walk along the woods in Haynesville, Maine. Records do indicate that two 10-year-old girls died on August 22, 1967 along the road. Today, motorists say they’ve seen a ghostly figure walking beside the Haynesville Woods, appearing lost and confused. Some claim to have stopped and offered her a ride, only to have the phantom passenger vanish from her seat shortly after climbing in.
Stocksbridge Pass, Sheffield, England: Described as “Killer Road” because of its many accidents and deaths, Stocksbridge Bypass is the site of numerous haunting tales. Some have seen children dressed in outdated clothing playing under the Pearoyd Bridge late at night. Startled, the drivers swerve to avoid the children, only to look back and see no one present. Witnesses have also encountered the eerie figure of a monk wandering the roadway. It’s said that the monk left a nearby priory many years ago. Now his disillusioned spirit wanders the road, staring at drivers as they pass.
Karak Highway, Malaysia: It all started with a young couple and their newborn baby driving down the Karak Highway. All was going well until the car broke down. The husband pulled over and inspected the car. He then decided to set out to the nearest phone booth, leaving his wife and new baby behind. Hours passed and the wife grew distressed. Not wanting to abandon the car and search for her husband alone, she waited. Finally, she decided to step out, only to feel a terrible presence lurking behind her. Upon turning around she encountered the severed head of her husband propped on top of the car. Today, the wife’s spirit is said to haunt the road in search of her husband. Other ghost stories associated with Karak Highway involve a phantom yellow Volkswagen that repeatedly appears before motorists no matter how many times they try to pass it and a young boy with bloodied eyes who wanders the roadway. If approached, the figure says he is looking for his mother.
And of course, what is possibly the most infamous of all cursed streets… Clinton Road in New Jersey. While I’ve covered Clinton Road in the past here on Weird Darkness, it’s hard not to include it again when talking about haunted highways. If you’ve ever wanted to play a game of catch with a ghost boy, race a phantom Camaro, or encounter a mythological beast, Clinton Road should be your next destination. Just climb in your car (going with a friend is recommended) and hit the road. Rural New Jersey’s Clinton Road will certainly make your skin crawl.
A number of haunts and strange buildings are reputed to make Clinton Road their home. Depending on what time of day you drive through, you may encounter one, two or all of these Clinton Road legends.
Under one of the bridges crossing Clinton Brook, also known as Dead Man’s Curve, you can find one of the Road’s most famous haunts. Rumor has it, if you throw a quarter into the water below then take a few steps back, the quarter will be thrown back by the ghost of a boy who drowned while swimming. In some stories, the ghost shoves the living visitor into the water if they peek too far over the side of the bridge.
There are first-hand accounts of tourists and locals seeing a ghost Camaro driven by the girl who supposedly died in a tragic crash in 1998. This appearance is triggered by a mere mention of the incident. Others claim to have had encounters with two park rangers near Terrace Pond who are thought to be the ghosts of two rangers who died while on duty in 1939.
There are countless accounts of phantom vehicles. The majority of the sightings are of pickup trucks, but in some cases there are only floating headlights not attached to any vehicle. The headlights chase drivers to the end of Clinton Road, then disappear.
From hellhounds to monkeys, a variety of bizarre creatures have supposedly been seen on this road at night. In some cases, people report seeing an unidentifiable hybrid, which vanishes too quickly for them to get a good look. The more exotic sightings are blamed on survivors of Jungle Habitat, an attraction which housed wild and exotic animals before closing its doors in 1976.
There is also a strange druidic temple. This oddly shaped stone structure is said to be the place where local Druids practiced their rituals. Legends tell of awful things happening to those who look too closely or come too close to the ruin at the wrong time. In more historical terms, the building is actually the remains of an iron smelter from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The site has now been blocked off to prevent any injury caused by exploring such a rundown building.
Another man-built structure of the strange off Clinton Road is Cross Castle. In 1905, Richard Cross built this castle near the Clinton Reservoir for his wife and three children. A few years later, it fell to ruin after a fire destroyed part of it. It has since become a popular destination for hikers and local teenagers looking for secluded places to camp and have parties. Many visitors have reported strange occurrences near the site. These include people who have gone into seizures, bruises which randomly appear after visiting, and strange and disturbing visions after leaving. Satanic symbols have appeared on the inside of the castle’s walls in areas that were previously thought to be inaccessible.
In 1983, a body was found in the woods near Clinton Road. An autopsy showed the man had been murdered, as well as something even stranger: ice crystals had formed in blood vessels near his heart. His internal organs had also decayed at a rate far slower than his skin. After a drawn-out investigation, an arrest was made in 1986 of Richard Kuklinski, also known as The Iceman. Kuklinski was a New Jersey native and hit man involved in organized crime with a local mafia.
When Weird Darkness returns… Clara Phillips and Madalynne Obenchain are mostly forgotten by history today, but in their times, they were the most popular psychopaths in L.A.
STORY: LOS ANGELES’ FAVORITE MURDERESSES=====
Clara Phillips is a forgotten figure today, but for one brief, but epic period she was the most popular psychopath in Los Angeles.
Phillips’ road to stardom began on a hot July evening in 1922, when the twenty-three year old arrived home, spattered with blood, and announced to her husband Armour, “She’s dead, and I killed her!”
“Her” was Armour Phillips’ mistress, Alberta Meadows.
When Phillips saw that Clara had driven home in Meadows’ car, which contained more blood and Alberta’s purse, he realized his wife was a woman of her word. He asked Clara what she was going to do.
“Nothing,” she replied. “I’m going to bed now, and to headquarters in the morning.”
Armour—who actually comes off as the stranger member of this very strange couple—thought otherwise.
He had Clara drive Meadows’ car to Pomona, where she abandoned the vehicle. He picked her up in his own car and deposited her in a downtown hotel. Armour then spent the rest of the night frantically raising enough money to send this admitted killer to Mexico.
By morning, he had enough cash to send Clara off on a train bound for El Paso. Only then, evidently, did magic little words like “accessory to a crime,” and “perverting the course of justice” begin to filter into his brain. He went to see a lawyer friend of his, and—to the future disgust of Clara’s fan club—he told all.
The story he gave to this attorney, and, subsequently, to a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, was one that held Angelinos enthralled for weeks. On the day of the murder, Clara had brought a friend, Peggy Caffee, along with her to “have a talk” with Alberta Meadows. When they arrived at her rival’s home, Clara, after a little pleasant chit-chat, asked Meadows to give them a lift across town. Meadows, for who knows what reason, agreed.
During the drive, Clara continued amicably chattering away about this and that until they reached a hilly, remote section of their drive. She asked Meadows to stop so they could talk more privately. When the two women got out of the car, Clara had a couple of questions for Meadows: Had Armour bought the new tires that were on her car? No, Meadows replied. Did he buy that gold watch Meadows was wearing?
Meadows again said no. Then, suddenly, Clara went from Little Bo Peep to Lady Macbeth. “He did buy it,” she growled. Unbeknownst to her rival, Clara had with her a hammer she had recently bought. She pulled it out and beat Alberta Meadows to death with it.
When Clara finished her work, she told Caffee, who was cringing and whimpering in terror at the ghastly scene she had just witnessed, “Don’t you dare tell your husband. Remember, you’re in this as much as I am.” She then dropped Caffee off at her home and went to announce the news to Armour.
Once the LAPD got an earful of Armour’s story—they already had had an eyeful of the mangled corpse that was once Alberta Meadows—they wired an alert to the authorities in Arizona and Texas. Clara was nabbed on a train in Tucson, and hauled back for trial and instant stardom.
The “Tiger Woman,” as the papers dubbed her, was a media sensation. Her combination of youth, good looks, and undeniable savoir-faire and can-do spirit kept a growing legion of admirers enthralled. By committing a particularly base, gruesome, shocking murder with an utter lack of any conscience or remorse, she became a heroine. While she was awaiting her trial, one local paper cooed, “In the face of many extreme discomforts, she has taken everything cheerfully. She is tolerant. She has never yet uttered a single complaint, has never asked for anything, taking all things as they come without a whimper.”
Alberta Meadows was unavailable for comment.
A large, admiring crowd met the train bringing Clara back to Los Angeles. She beamed at her fans, posed prettily for photographers, and merrily flirted with the reporters.
When she was installed in the County Jail, (“she said she was sure she would be happy up here, because everyone was so jolly and happy,”) more people were there to cheer her on. They sent her flowers, candy, love letters. In her cell, she spent most of her time eagerly reading the many newspaper reports about her crime. Clara Phillips, the former two-bit chorus girl, had finally become a headliner.
Clara’s first meeting with her husband since the day he saw her off for Mexico was front-page news. Clara dolled herself up for the occasion with a new lace-edged dress, and held a little press conference beforehand. A reporter asked her if she still loved her husband.
“Yes,” she replied sweetly.
Had their nine years of marriage been one long honeymoon?
“Well, I guess so. That is—yes and no.”
To those members of the press tactless enough to mention the reason why they were all there, she replied demurely that she was not allowed to comment on the subject.
Was it true that she had once created a scene in her husband’s office because she was jealous of his stenographer?
Was it true that she had once stabbed a man in a local theater?
Definitely no comment.
Armour finally appeared on the scene, wearing a dapper suit and carrying a box of candy. As one of the newspapers breathlessly reported, Clara “threw her arms around her husband…she looked up into her husband’s eyes and then buried her fluffy brown head of hair on his shoulder…She cuddled to him as a dove would to its mate, and when he kissed her and whispered to her, she played with the lapel of his coat.”
Clara’s legions of fans were, of course, expecting to see her greatest performance to date at her trial, and the lady did not disappoint. Each day, she swept in and out of the courtroom like a mezzo soprano coming on stage for one more encore. A woman covering the trial for one of the local papers sighed, “There really is some class to Clara. If she isn’t a gentlewoman born, she is certainly what Elinor Glyn would call one of nature’s ladies…” It was Armour Phillips, who cut such a pitiful figure compared to his hammer-wielding dynamo of a wife, who bore the brunt of public opprobrium. One journalist openly expressed his incredulity that Mr. Phillips could have been responsible for all this bother. “As he sat in court yesterday, hearing Peggy Caffee’s sordid testimony, it didn’t seem possible that any woman as bright as Clara could have considered him worth all that agony.” From the contemporary newspaper reports, one sometimes gets the feeling that the reporters rather wished that Clara had taken that hammer to her husband as well.
Everyone wondered what Clara’s defense would be. Her friend said she killed Alberta Meadows. Her husband said she killed Alberta Meadows. There seemed no possible way for her to squirm out of this one.
Clara showed the naysayers a thing or two. When she took the stand, she—with a few demure tears–explained how Alberta died. It was very simple, she said. It was Peggy Caffee—timid, traumatized, mousy little Peggy Caffee, who had practically turned into a weeping, quivering bowl of jello on the witness stand—who bludgeoned Alberta Meadows to death. This would surely be taking sympathizing with the troubles of a friend a bit too far.
Everyone applauded this magnificent playacting, and everyone realized that it was utter hogwash. In the end, Clara was convicted of second-degree murder, which earned her ten years to life in San Quentin, and it seemed that the curtain had at last fallen on her little show.
No one was counting on Jesse Carson. He was a stranger to Clara, claiming to be just one of the many men who had become spellbound by her charms during the trial. He swore that he would see to it that she stayed out of prison, and he meant what he said. His favorite prisoner somehow acquired a hack saw, which she used to cut the bars on her window. On the night of December 4th, 1922, she squirmed out that window, shinnied down a vent pipe, and made her way to where Carson was waiting in his car.
Clara’s play had spawned an unexpected third act.
While all of Los Angeles was working itself into a perfect frenzy over this latest plot twist, Clara hid out in an empty house in Pomona, happily reading in the newspapers about all the fuss she had created. On January 4th, the fugitive, heavily disguised, began the journey to New Orleans, where Carson arranged for her to get passage on a ship bound for Mexico.
Clara, as far as the authorities could tell, had vanished without a trace, and they were frankly stumped about what to do next. It took Morris Lavine, an enterprising reporter from the “Los Angeles Examiner” to do a bit of sleuthing. He managed to uncover financial transactions involving Armour and Jesse Carson which enabled him to deduce that Clara was in Mexico. Unfortunately, by the time the Mexican authorities were contacted, the Tiger Girl had fled to Honduras.
American law enforcement soon learned that figuring out where Clara was would be much easier than actually getting their hands on her. There were some unexpected difficulties with extraditing her. Honduras was in the midst of one of their periodic revolutions, and the powers-that-be were in no mood to cooperate with the despised Yankee government. Besides, it was rumored that some local official had the hots for our Clara.
The chorus girl turned hammer murderer was now an international political hot potato.
The American Ambassador in Honduras did a good deal of politicking with the Honduran government—a special meeting of their cabinet was even called at one point to discuss the Problem of Clara—but the best they could achieve was a stalemate. The Hondurans were quite happy to just turn the lady loose and wish her godspeed.
The Americans were desperate to get Clara back in custody. After all, there were a lot of hammers in the world, and who knew what she might do with them next? In any case, it seems to have become practically a matter of national honor that Clara not be allowed to continue making them look like so many fools.
A plan was hatched to get Clara to return to the United States voluntarily. Morris Lavine had a chummy breakfast with her one morning, where he cleverly played on her considerable ego. If she was truly innocent, he asked her, why not prove it? Since the appeal on her conviction was still pending, she could ask for a new trial. If she could clear her name, what a triumph that would be! The public would adore her more than ever!
Clara was cunning, but not very bright. She was so confident of her own ability to fascinate that she actually fell for this argument. She willingly took a ship back to America. Armour Phillips was there to greet her.
“My darling!” said Mr. Phillips.
“My baby!” cooed Mrs. Phillips.
The two lovebirds hugged for the cameras, as Clara explained how she had never, never wished to flee San Quentin. She had been kidnapped against her will, she said sweetly. Armour told reporters, “I would give my life to undo the wrong I have done this little woman.”
There was, of course, no way to undo the wrong done to Alberta Meadows, but few seemed to care about that.
In California, Clara’s new show was given a disastrous review by the Los Angeles District Attorney. He informed her that as her lawyer (who had recently dropped dead of a heart attack, and who can blame him?) had missed the deadline for filing an appeal, the law decreed that she be returned to prison, without another trial. It was back to San Quentin for Clara, with no hope of a repeat performance to “clear her name.”
To do her justice, Clara took this defeat gallantly. She went back to jail vowing to be a “model prisoner,” and, for the most part, she kept her promise. (Her one fall from grace was when she entered into a clandestine love affair with one of her fellow prisoners, a handsome young burglar.) While behind bars, she found religion, trained to be a dental technician, learned to play the saxophone, wrote and directed a play described as “a satire of stage life,” and organized a seven-piece orchestra. Clara continued to maintain Peggy Caffee was the real killer of Alberta Meadows. She was released on parole in 1935, saying that she hoped the world would give her “an even break.”
Upon gaining her freedom, she told a reporter, “Please let me be forgotten.” And so she was. For a while, she lived quietly in San Diego with her mother, and then the ex-Tiger Woman changed her name and moved to Texas, where she worked as a dental assistant. Clara and Armour divorced in 1938. (Armour, incidentally, had had a lively time during his wife’s incarceration. At various times, he faced charges for running a bogus film school, assault–at a Christmas party!–traffic violations, and grand theft.)
Only one man claimed to know this once world-famous woman’s subsequent history. A. R. O’Brien, head of California’s State Prison Board, kept in touch with his former prisoner, and in 1939 he reported that Clara was happily remarried and grateful to live in obscurity. He added the rather startling–and, as far as I know, completely uncorroborated–claim that Clara belonged to one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the country. According to O’Brien, it was her family connections that allowed her to escape prison and flee the country.
It’s nice to know Clara remained such a resourceful fantasist to the end.
A certain type of woman has a natural gift for enlisting the support of a certain type of man for doing the damndest things, including homicide. Amazingly, Clara Phillips was not the only notorious example of that breed causing bloody havoc in Los Angeles in the early 1920s. Before there was Clara and her hammer, there was Madalynne Obenchain and her revolver. In both those cases, a man was at the center of the case, and in both cases, these extremely lethal ladies found men willing to move heaven and earth to literally help them get away with murder.
Obenchain’s story opened in what was then a pleasingly rustic Los Angeles canyon named Beverly Glen, where a young man named John Belton Kennedy owned a cabin. On the night of August 5, 1921, a railroad man, George Deering, was driving past this cabin on his way to work, when a hysterically sobbing woman ran into the road, begging him to stop. When he pulled over, she begged him to help an injured friend. The “friend” he found lying on the steps of the cabin was far more than just injured. John Belton Kennedy was dead. The beautiful young damsel in distress, who was the soon-to-be-famous Madalynne Obenchain, begged him to get a doctor—something Deering immediately realized was pointless. As there were no telephones in the area, neighbors watched over the body while Deering and Madalynne drove to the police station.
The statement Madalynne made there was essentially the same story she consistently stuck to through the end. The dead man, she explained, was her fiancé. On their way to have dinner at the Brentwood Club, they stopped off at his cabin to search for a lucky penny she had once hidden there. She heard a stranger’s voice say something she couldn’t make out, and then there was a gunshot. Kennedy cried, “Goodnight, Madalynne,” as he was shot a second time. She saw two men run off into the brush. And then she fled in horror and flagged down Deering.
Such a simple, heart-tugging tale told with such sweet earnestness by a beautiful, grief-stricken young woman. The DA wasn’t buying any of it. Six days after Kennedy’s death, she and a man named Arthur Courtney Burch were indicted for first-degree murder. Kennedy’s death, it became clear, had its roots in the very beginning of Madalynne’s lengthy and exceedingly complicated love life.
It all began in 1914, when the twenty year old Madalynne Connor became engaged to Ralph Obenchain, a man who later, for good reason, was to become immortalized by the Los Angeles prosecutors as “The Human Doormat.” Before many weeks had passed, however, she broke the engagement and went off to study drama in New York and Europe for two years. In 1917, while visiting her mother in California, she met John Belton Kennedy, son of a wealthy insurance broker. She and Kennedy soon fell in love, but there was one major obstacle to their romance—namely, Kennedy’s mother. Mrs. Kennedy was, as an acquaintance called her, a “smothering” mother. She did not want her baby marrying anyone—or doing much of anything that might loosen the apron strings—and she was hell-bent on preventing her son from having any other woman in his life. This led him to maintain a maddening indecisiveness with his relations with Madalynne that would eventually have fatal consequences.
Throughout 1917 and 1918, Kennedy would sometimes vow that he loved Madalynne and was determined to marry her, and at other times, when his courage faltered and the thought of Mother made his blood run cold, he would back off and urge his sweetheart to be patient. It all was enough to get on the nerves of the most saintly girl—and Madalynne was anything but a saint. In the midst of all this, Ralph Obenchain suddenly swooped into town to offer her his devoted shoulder to cry on. The upshot was, as the lady later put it, she “was engaged to Belton Kennedy, but somehow she married Mr. Obenchain.”
Her marriage did not prevent Kennedy from pleading with her to take him back. Within four days of the wedding, the two of them were again romantically involved. Within three months of the wedding, Obenchain agreed, for his precious Madalynne’s sake, to go back to Chicago and allow her to divorce him. Every week, he sent her $80 in alimony, and, frequently, signed blank checks as well.
Madalynne relocated to Evanston, Indiana to await her divorce, not to mention Kennedy, who had promised to meet her in Chicago. While there, she became reacquainted with yet another old male admirer, Arthur Burch. He took her for car rides and did her grocery shopping. Madalynne got her divorce, but her man failed to materialize. After a few months, she again got fed up with this male tower of mush and wrote Kennedy a letter vowing to go back to Obenchain if he did not immediately come to Evanston. Kennedy stayed in Los Angeles, and Madalynne, again, swore that they were through forever. However, she did not follow through on her threat to give Obenchain another chance.
After several months, she got a letter—rather past its sell-by date—from Kennedy announcing he was coming to claim her. She sent a frantic reply, asking if he had lost his mind entirely, and declaring that “I wouldn’t marry you even if I were free to do so—ever!”
In January of 1921 she returned to Los Angeles. Shortly after that, Kennedy was begging to be allowed to call on her, and by April, these two masochistic lunatics lovebirds were re-engaged. They planned on May 5th to take the train to San Francisco and get married, Mrs. Kennedy be damned. At the station, however, Madalynne had second thoughts. She went to Chicago instead, to talk the whole situation out with Ralph Obenchain. Kennedy promised to meet her there. He didn’t.
Madalynne consoled herself with some traveling through Canada, down to San Francisco. She was, she later said, on the point of going to Honolulu and forgetting about men altogether when…she was bombarded with letters from J. Belton Kennedy, begging her to come back to Los Angeles and his waiting arms. For reasons that escape me, she did return to L.A., but she held off on the waiting arms.
The two continued their same old dance routine. Belton begged her to marry him, but never worked up the courage to actually take steps in that direction. Madalynne held him off, but never completely severed contact with him, either. In the meantime, back in Chicago, Arthur Burch was also in regular contact with Madalynne, urging his “Goddess” to return and settle down with him. On August 3, 1921, she wrote in her diary, “I am so tired of trouble.”
The trouble, of course, was just beginning.
At the end of July, Burch took the train to Los Angeles. A Pullman porter later testified he was carrying a shotgun with him. Upon his arrival, he took a hotel room—one that was directly opposite the offices where Kennedy worked–and rented a car. The hotel manager was to say that on July 26th, a woman he identified as Madalynne visited Burch in his room. (A quaint touch of bygone days—city law insisted that the hotel room door be kept open during her visit, for the sake of public decency.) The proprietor testified that Burch and Madalynne spent their time gazing out the window in the direction of Kennedy’s office.
On the afternoon of August 5th, a woman phoned the hotel asking for Burch. As he was out, she left a message that his “cousin” had called. When Burch got the message, he left, returned after a while, and soon left again carrying an item wrapped in newspaper that the manager thought looked very like the shape of a shotgun. The next morning, Burch checked out, very unwisely leaving behind him newspaper stories discussing Kennedy’s mysterious murder, and a telegram from Evanston. Having noted from the newspapers that Madalynne Obenchain happened to be from that city, the hotel manager decided to have a chat with the DA. His story—along with the fact that tire marks found on the murder scene matched those of the car Burch had rented—was enough to land Burch and Madalynne under arrest. They were left to reflect on the odd turns romance can take until their trials began.
The prosecution essentially argued that J. Belton Kennedy’s behavior as a lover was enough to make any woman reach for a gun, and to be honest, it’s a hard assertion to argue. Madalynne, for her part, maintained that her memory simply went blank after she heard the first gunshot. Burch, she stated, was nothing but a dear, platonic friend who was highly supportive of her feelings for her “true love,” J. Belton Kennedy.
What one reporter described as Madalynne’s habitual “maimed look of a dying antelope,” had an irresistible force on some men. As soon as she was arrested, she wired an SOS to Ralph Obenchain, who immediately quit his job and rushed to Los Angeles vowing to save her. He topped it all off by obtaining a marriage license and asking to remarry her in the County Jail. An unsentimental judge vetoed the idea. Obenchain went on to make the most of his new fame by co-producing and starring in “A Man in a Million,” a film dramatizing his life and romance with Madalynne. It was announced that he would make personal appearances whenever the film was shown and donate the profits to his ex-wife’s defense fund, but, alas, most theater owners refused to show his project, huffing that they wanted pictures that were “suitable for public showing without resorting to sensationalism as a basis.”
Madalynne’s dying antelope look must really have been something. From this distance in time, it’s hard to figure what anyone saw in this woman, but during her incarceration, she made many warm friends among men and women alike. (When Clara Phillips joined her in prison, the two became pals, and oh, what girl-talk they must have shared.) Even some of the jurors would later openly fall under her spell. When she spent her first Christmas in prison, she received over a hundred gifts, including a thousand-dollar bill. The newspapers wrote about her as if she had been Lillian Gish starring in her latest melodrama rather than a murderess awaiting trial. They even published her poetry:
“Oh darling boy of my yesterdays,
If you but only knew
How even now my hopes and plans
Hold no one else but you.
I’m sorry I returned here
For my heart will surely break,
But you said if I couldn’t forget you
To come back, dear, for your sake.”
It was fortunate for Madalynne that bad verse was not a criminal offense. If it had been, she could have scarcely avoided the electric chair.
Madalynne and Burch were tried separately, with the gentleman going first. Various people testified to seeing Burch and his car in the vicinity of the murder scene, but the most startling moment of the legal proceedings came when Chandler Sprague, a reporter from the “Los Angeles Examiner” announced that—in exchange for $4500—Burch gave him an interview stating that Madalynne had enlisted him to murder J. Belton Kennedy, who was an “evil influence” over her. The lady certainly had a knack for attracting men who were both weak in the will and weak in the head. Burch, of course denied he had said any such thing, even after Sprague also revealed that he had cannily secretly made an audio recording of the defendant admitting that Sprague’s initial story about him was true. Fortunately for Burch, it was ruled that his little moment of soul-baring could not be used as evidence.
Burch’s defense was simple: He wasn’t there at the time; even if he had been, he didn’t shoot Kennedy; and none of this mattered anyway, because he was mentally incompetent. The trial ended with a hung jury. His second trial had the same inconclusive result. When a third effort to send Burch to jail ended with yet another deadlocked jury, the D.A. finally gave up and turned him loose.
Madalynne’s trials—yes, I used the plural—were enlivened by the revelation that she had spent her time in jail getting romantically involved with yet another man who saw those antelope eyes and found them a temptation not to be resisted. He was Paul Roman, a convicted felon who had made her acquaintance in the County Jail before he was packed off to Folsom. The two carried on an ardent correspondence where—in exchange for Madalynne regularly sending him money—they arranged that Roman should come forward claiming that he had overheard two men standing on a street corner plotting the murder of John Belton Kennedy. Instead, in the hope of getting a reduced sentence, Roman ratted, and Madalynne had the embarrassing experience of hearing her love letters to him read aloud in court. (“Tonight I have a little pale pink rose near me—the rose will be your soft warm lips, dear Paul.”) The court also learned the quaint detail that Roman composed his replies with the aid of a library book, which he used to copy samples of the standard love letter, adding poetic flourishes such as, “What you need is a lot of attention, and I’m the guy to give it to you.” All this, of course, made Roman the ideal Judas of the story—the newspapers noted with great approval that his fellow convicts were hanging him in effigy for his betrayal of the lovely Madalynne.
The most curious touch to the Paul Roman interlude is that testimony was given—testimony which was neither confirmed nor refuted—that Roman and Kennedy had been friends. This witness—the owner of a costume store where she said the two men often rented women’s clothing—said that Kennedy once remarked that Roman threatened to beat him up if he ever married. If that was true, it is unknown what all this may have meant in regard to his murder, but it certainly provides interesting food for thought.
Madalynne’s juries were no more decisive than Burch’s had been. Trial number one: Hung jury. Trial number two: Ditto. Five trials, five panels hopelessly unable to agree that these two spectacularly incompetent, stupidly crude, blatantly self-incriminating defendants were guilty. Rumor had it that enough of the male jurors became enamored of Madalynne to ensure hopeless deadlock.
Never underestimate the power of a dying antelope gaze.
After her release, Madalynne spoke dreamily of serving humanity in a leper colony in the South Seas. She instead settled for a bungalow in Eagle Rock, where she studied acting, hoping to use her undoubted thespian talents for a more reputable sort of fame. (Those hopes were, alas, unfulfilled.) A few years later, she was back in the news briefly when Paul Roman, who had been released from Folsom, made a nuisance of himself by hanging around her house and threatening to kill her. He was sent back to jail, and her life quieted down again.
Early in 1927 Burch had John Belton Kennedy’s father arrested on a charge of assault and battery. It seems that John D. Kennedy entered the building where Burch worked and did his best to choke him. The jurors of Los Angeles may have been uncertain about how John Belton met his death, but Kennedy senior was not. (An obviously sympathetic judge gave Kennedy a suspended sentence of thirty days and the advice that if he should encounter Burch again, he should simply “go to the other side of the street.”)
Our heroine last made headlines when Arthur Burch died in 1944. His will left his entire estate to “my lifelong friend” Madelynne Obenchain. Madalynne tactfully rejected the bequest, and the court wound up dividing Burch’s money and property between his mother and his son.
Thanks for listening (and be sure to stick around for the bloopers at the end)! If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! You can email me anytime with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find information on any of the sponsors you heard about during the show, find all of my social media, listen to audiobooks I’ve narrated, sign up for the email newsletter, find other podcasts that I host including “Church of the Undead”, visit the store for Weird Darkness merchandise, and more. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. Also on the website, if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
All stories on Weird Darkness are purported to be true unless stated otherwise, and you can find links to the stories or the authors in the show notes.
“Curse of the Iceman” by April A. Taylor for Ranker
“Dogs, They Know Evil” by Weird family member Joy Smallwood
“Los Angeles’ Favorite Murderesses” by Robert Wilhelm for Murder by Gaslight
“The Bloody Bride of 13 Curves Road” by Jessica Ferri, Audrey Webster, and Jamie Bogert for The Lineup
WeirdDarkness® is a registered trademark. Copyright, Weird Darkness.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10
And a final thought… “Most of us are just about as happy as we make up our minds to be.” – Abraham Lincoln
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.