“PEARL BRYAN AND HER MISSING HEAD” and More Creepy True Tales! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: Today, the name Marquis de Sade is immediately associated with immorality and sadistic sexuality. But does history bear out the disdain we have for him? (Does the Marquis de Sade Deserve The Hate?) *** Connie Converse wrote and performed trailblazing music in the 1950s, but one day in 1974, she drove off looking for a fresh start — and was never seen again. (The Strange Disappearance of Singer-Songwriter Connie Converse) *** Jack Pyle was a hermit and a recluse, living in a tiny shack – selling the fish he caught out of the river to supplement his income. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have money, which might’ve been the reason someone killed him. (Death of a Miser) *** Napoleon Bonaparte is known as one of the greatest military commanders in history, and his battles and ambitions changed the shape of Western Europe. But it seems that the only foe that could best this great man was small and fluffy. (Napoleon Versus The Bunnies) *** For centuries, bizarre physical conditions, strange health-based occurrences, and questionable treatments have gained widespread attention, only to be exposed as frauds. We’ll look at some of the strangest! (Medical Hoaxes) *** In 1896, 22-year-old schoolteacher Pearl Bryan was found dead. But after her killers were found, tried, and hanged, her story continued to fascinate the public even to the point of having folk songs sung about her. But it wasn’t her beauty that inspired the songwriters so much as it was that she was found without her head. (Pearl Bryan and Her Missing Head)
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
ALBUM: “How Sad, How Lovely” by Connie Converse: https://amzn.to/3YV1Jdf
ALBUM: Connie Converse’s “Piano Songs”: https://amzn.to/3P1wObC
FILM: “We Lived Alone: The Connie Converse Documentary”: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3841606/
SONG” “Pearl Bryan” by Bradley Kincaid (released in January1929): https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/pearlbryan
“Pearl Bryan and Her Missing Head” by Orrin Grey for The Line Up: https://weirddarkness.com/archives/15765
“Death of a Miser” by Robert A. Waters for Kidnapping, Murder and Mayhem: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/y2uyrycy
“Does the Marquis de Sade Deserve The Hate?” by Bipin Dimri for Historic Mysteries: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/ye83efw5
“The Strange Disappearance of Singer-Songwriter Connie Converse” by Austin Harvey for All That’s Interesting:https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/zkt5yaw2
“Napoleon Versus The Bunnies” by Gemma Hollman for Just History Posts: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/2p99eecn,https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/yckskyet
“Medical Hoaxes” by Jennifer Lafferty for List Verse: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/2p8vvfam
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OTHER PODCASTS I HOST…
Paranormality Magazine: (COMING SEPT. 30, 2023) https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/paranormalitymag
Micro Terrors: Scary Stories for Kids: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/microterrors
Retro Radio – Old Time Radio In The Dark: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/retroradio
Church of the Undead: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/churchoftheundead
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(Over time links seen above may become invalid, disappear, or have different content. I always make sure to give authors credit for the material I use whenever possible. If I somehow overlooked doing so for a story, or if a credit is incorrect, please let me know and I will rectify it in these show notes immediately. Some links included above may benefit me financially through qualifying purchases.)
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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…
Today, the name Marquis de Sade is immediately associated with immorality and sadistic sexuality. But does history bear out the disdain we have for him? (Does the Marquis de Sade Deserve The Hate?)
Connie Converse wrote and performed trailblazing music in the 1950s, but one day in 1974, she drove off looking for a fresh start — and was never seen again. (The Strange Disappearance of Singer-Songwriter Connie Converse)
Jack Pyle was a hermit and a recluse, living in a tiny shack – selling the fish he caught out of the river to supplement his income. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have money, which might’ve been the reason someone killed him. (Death of a Miser)
Napoleon Bonaparte is known as one of the greatest military commanders in history, and his battles and ambitions changed the shape of Western Europe. But it seems that the only foe that could best this great man was small and fluffy. (Napoleon Versus The Bunnies)
For centuries, bizarre physical conditions, strange health-based occurrences, and questionable treatments have gained widespread attention, only to be exposed as frauds. We’ll look at some of the strangest! (Medical Hoaxes)
In 1896, 22-year-old schoolteacher Pearl Bryan was found dead. But after her killers were found, tried, and hanged, her story continued to fascinate the public even to the point of having folk songs sung about her. But it wasn’t her beauty that inspired the songwriters so much as it was that she was found without her head. (Pearl Bryan and Her Missing Head)
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: PEARL BRYAN AND HER MISSING HEAD=====
On January 28, 1896, Sunday school teacher Pearl Bryan left her home in Greencastle, Indiana to visit a friend in Indianapolis—or so she said. At the time, Bryan was 22 years old and, unbeknownst to her parents, who would never see her again, five months pregnant.
Less than a week later, Bryan’s headless body was found more than 150 miles away in Fort Thomas, Kentucky. Her head, on the other hand, has never been recovered.
In short order, two students at the Ohio College of Dental Surgery in nearby Cincinnati were arrested for the murder. Scott Jackson, it turned out, had been engaged in a secret romance with Bryan across several months leading up to her death. According to testimony offered during their trial, he had convinced his roommate Alonzo M. Walling to help him. The two had slipped cocaine into Bryan’s drink while they were at a saloon, then murdered her by cutting off her head. The coroner’s report corroborated that Bryan’s stomach contained cocaine, and that she had been decapitated while she was still alive.
As for what the two murderers had done with the missing head, no one could say. The suspects gave conflicting statements, claiming the head was buried in a Kentucky sandbar, or at the bottom of the Ohio River. Some of the authorities investigating the case believed the pair had burned her head in the furnace at the dental college. Though many nearby waterways were drained, dragged, or otherwise searched, Bryan’s head was never found—and remains missing to this day.
The gruesome nature of the crime attracted considerable media attention at the time. The trial of the two killers was dubbed “the trial of the century,” while contemporary accounts described the courtroom as “theatrical.” What’s more, people came from miles around to view the crime scene, even going so far as to take “souvenirs”—up to and including branches taken from around the area where the body was found, some of which may have been splashed with the victim’s blood. In a shameless display of distasteful opportunism, a store near the courthouse sold Pearl Bryan memorabilia and other merchandise.
Both men soon found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. According to newspaper accounts, the announcement of the verdict was accompanied by “a large force” of “armed officers in citizens clothing,” ready and waiting for any mob violence that might break out. Indeed, the likelihood of a public lynching in a case already so notorious and widely publicized was a very real danger.
According to a retrospective article published in the Dayton Daily News some forty years later, there was a jailbreak not long after the two men received their sentence. However, “An immense mob, on hearing this news, rushed to the jail but dispersed when they heard that Jackson and Walling were still behind bars.” It seemed that the two killers had been unwilling to join their fellow convicts in their flight, “because they knew that the jail was the safest place for them.”
The two men were hanged on the morning of March 20, 1897. Walling went to the gallows protesting his blamelessness in the crime, while Jackson, when given a last-minute opportunity to stay the other man’s execution with his testimony, “declared that he could not in truthfulness say that Walling was innocent.” Both men were hanged simultaneously. Accordingly to reports, neither of their necks broke—each one strangled to death.
Yet, neither ever confessed to what they had done with the head of Pearl Bryan.
Perhaps unsurprising for so grisly and mysterious a crime, the story of Pearl Bryan and her missing head did not end there. Within a couple of decades of the crime itself, popular folk songs began to appear detailing it—or embellishing it—with the earliest recordings dating to 1926 and ’27. New songs dealing with Bryan’s death have appeared as recently as the 2000s.
Among these is the claim that the (possibly still headless) ghost of Pearl Bryan haunts the establishment, which is also said to be one of several “gateways to hell.” The tenuous connection between Bryan and the honky-tonk in question is that her body was found just over two miles from the nightclub’s current location.
Legends that have sprung up over the years suggest that Bryan’s killers might have been Satanists who cursed the ground on which the nightclub stands, vowing to haunt those involved in the case. (Unlikely, but perhaps not unreasonable, given that the locale of their execution was also just a few miles from the roadhouse.) In fact, the legends around Bobby Mackey’s Music World tend to be heavily inflected with Satanic themes, probably due to the fact that most of the stories developed during the “Satanic panic” of the ’70s and ’80s.
Like most of the stories surrounding Bobby Mackey’s Music World, however, there is precious little to corroborate these tales. Nothing in the trials of either Jackson or Walling suggest occult or ritualistic motivations behind their actions. Bryan’s pregnancy was the far more likely motive. According to that same report in the Dayton Daily News, Walling testified that Jackson “told him of Pearl Bryan’s condition and asked him to relieve her by a criminal operation.”
From there, the plan seems to have gone through several mutations, possibly even once including a proposal to poison her to make it look like a suicide. The truth of what actually happened on that tragic night is shrouded in mystery—all we know is it left the trees along the roadside dripping with blood and Bryan’s headless corpse leaning against the fence.
As to what became of Bryan’s missing head, it’s a secret that—assuming they truly knew it—both men took to their graves. “I will tell you now, in the last moment of my life,” Walling is reported to have said in an emotionless voice, just before he was hanged. “I was not there and I am innocent of the whole crime. I cannot say any more.”
When Weird Darkness returns… Jack Pyle was a hermit and a recluse, living in a tiny shack – selling the fish he caught out of the river to supplement his income. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have money, which might’ve been the reason someone killed him.
But first… Napoleon Bonaparte is known as one of the greatest military commanders in history, and his battles and ambitions changed the shape of Western Europe. But it seems that the only foe that could best this great man was small and fluffy. That story is up next!
STORY: NAPOLEON VERSUS THE BUNNIES=====
Countless wars have been fought throughout the course of human history. Some have lasted for just minutes, such as the Anglo-Zanzibar War which lasted no more than 45 minutes, and others have officially lasted for hundreds of years. Perhaps one of the most bizarre wars, however, is one that Australia waged in 1932 against emus. The flightless birds.
Whilst the war sounds silly, there were actually some quite serious social and economic problems which caused it. After the First World War, many ex-soldiers from the British Commonwealth – particularly Britain and Australia – were encouraged to settle in Western Australia as farmers. However, the worldwide Depression of 1929 started by the Wall Street Crash hit Australia particularly badly and all these new farmers suddenly found that the cost of their produce had plummeted.
Making ends meet was becoming increasingly difficult for these farmers, and the problem was exacerbated by emus. Emus are native to Australia and had initially been a protected species, but by 1922 they had been causing so much damage to farmers’ crops that they became officially known as vermin and it became legal to cull them. Every year these emus would migrate from inland areas to the coast after breeding. These vast swathes of newly converted farmland which were being used for livestock or wheat turned out to be a perfect habitat for the emus. There was a plentiful food supply and it was easy to traverse. When farmers were already suffering from the Depression, to have the few assets they did have being destroyed by hordes of hungry emus on the prowl was even more ruinous.
By 1932, there were an estimated 20,000 of these emus attacking farms in Western Australia. The farmers gathered together and petitioned the Minister of Defence, George Pearce. Keen to help these former soldiers, Pearce decided to send military aid. On the 2nd November a group of soldiers led by Major G P W Meredith travelled to the Campion District to kill a group of 50 emus. It had been decided that the soldiers would use machine guns as their effectiveness had been proven during the First World War. It was also argued it would be good target practice for the soldiers and it was also expected to be good PR for the government to prove they were helping war heroes.
However, the task was not as easy as anticipated. As soon as shots were fired the emus split into small groups and they were fast runners, meaning the machine gun fire was not as effective as expected. No more than a dozen birds were killed. A few days later a group of around 1000 birds were ambushed by the same men and whilst a few more were killed the machine guns jammed and the rest of the birds had scattered before the guns could be used again. On two separate attempts the birds had made a mockery of the army. The rest of the first week had little more success, with 2500 rounds of ammunition being fired to kill somewhere between 50 and 500 birds. On the 8th November, just six days after initial engagement, the military personnel were withdrawn due to negative press coverage.
The conflict had been discussed by members of the Australian House of Representatives, and parliamentarian A E Green quipped that medals should be given to the emus who had “won every round so far”. Despite all this, farmers continued to ask for support as a drought had brought even more emus onto farmland in search for water. On 12th November approval was once again granted for a military campaign. By December the troops seem to have come up with a better system for culling the birds, for on the 10th of the month Meredith claimed he had killed nearly 1000 birds with just under 10,000 rounds. Despite this, the operation was officially ended and was not taken up again despite farmers continuing to ask for military assistance in the next few years.
The Australian Government ended up setting up a bounty on emus which led to over 280,000 emus being killed in Western Australia between 1945 and 1960. This coupled with barrier fences being erected eventually controlled the problem of emus destroying crops. Although the emus won the war, Australia seem to have forgiven them, as an emu still features on the Australian Coat of Arms to this day.
When looking at history, it seems that great military men losing fights against animals is not so unique. This brings us to Napoleon.
The story of Napoleon’s most humiliating defeat is one that has circulated the internet for years. According to legend, in July 1807 Napoleon’s Chief of Staff, Alexandre Berthier, organised a rabbit hunt for his esteemed master. He invited Napoleon and his entourage to a park he owned within Paris, and was ecstatic when the Emperor accepted. He made sure to do everything he could to make the hunt as pleasing for Napoleon as possible, and the day started with a splendid breakfast.
The only thing that Berthier had not been able to organise from within his property were the rabbits himself. Rabbits were, at the time, the most common game eaten in France, and so sourcing them could be difficult. He therefore arranged for 1,000 rabbits to be brought to the park especially for the Emperor. Berthier had just gained the title of Prince of Neuchâtel thanks to Napoleon, so perhaps this was his way of thanking him.
Breakfast finished, the rabbits were released in the park. The huge horde started to bolt and split in different directions in an attempt to avoid the attacks that Napoleon and his companions were firing at them. Then, the strangest thing happened: the herd of rabbits converged into one large mass, turned around, and swarmed towards Napoleon. Shock hit the party, and the angry Berthier immediately organised the coachmen into a battalion armed with their long riding whips to knock them back.
Initially, this organisation worked and the rabbits started to flee again. The party considered it a bizarre delay but were preparing to resume their hunt, when once again the rabbits turned on them. The rabbits turned around and flanked the party on the left and right. They attacked Napoleon “with an unspeakable frenzy”, climbing up his legs and swarming him so much that he stumbled. Realising this was not a fight he could win, Napoleon fled to his carriage, but the rabbits followed him and climbed upon it. Eventually, the party was able to escape.
With the Emperor of France safe, investigations began as to what exactly happened in this strange incident. As it turned out, the man with whom Berthier had entrusted the task of procurement did not realise “that there could be any difference between a rabbit and a rabbit” and as such had bought tame, hutch rabbits instead of wild rabbits which were usually used for hunts. These rabbits were less wary of humans, and had not eaten since the day before. Thus, when they were released, they ran towards the group looking eagerly for food, instead of running in fear as a wild rabbit would.
The story is certainly fantastic, but is it true? Most of the most popular results on Google recount the story in very similar words, and many of them consistently quote “historian David Chandler” with the exact same quote from him each time. This made me suspicious that the story could be a case of internet telephone, and so I decided to try and go back to some sources. I found the David Chandler in question, and sure enough Google books threw up a source: The Campaigns of Napoleon by David G Chandler, originally published in 1966. There, on page 593, was the tale of Napoleon fighting the rabbits – but frustratingly, Chandler did not provide a source for the story. This is not so unusual for older history books, but maddening nonetheless.
So, back to Google. After some deeper digging, I came across a Tumblr page called “… and other lies” run by a French woman who describes herself as an amateur historian. Back in August 2019, someone had asked the question I wanted answered. Was the Napoleon story true? Luckily for us, there was finally a source: A user called Napoleon Did That cited a French text published in the 1890s, called “Mémoires du général Bon Thiébault”. The book is digitised by the Bibliothèque nationale de France and is listed as being written by Paul Thiébault, the eponymous general. Thiébault was a general who fought in Napoleon’s army, and thus would have been on first hand to know such a story. However, Thiébault died in 1846 and many of his histories and memoirs were published after his death. In this case, the book entry tells us that this version was published by his daughter from the original manuscript by someone called Fernand Calmettes.
So, whilst the story comes from someone who knew Napoleon and was a general in his army, it was published almost 90 years after the alleged incident by the general’s daughter. This means we have to have some scepticism, especially as “Napoleon Did That” highlights that Thiébault had a long-standing grudge against Berthier, the unfortunate host whose park was home to the whole incident. So, did this happen at all? Or was it something that Thiébault made up to spite his enemy who had died 30 years before him?
Maybe some historians with far more knowledge and expertise than me in the era will dig through papers and archives and one day be able to corroborate the story further. Perhaps they already have, and the answer is to be found in history books I have not yet read! But in the meantime, we can smile at the story and the image of one of Europe’s greatest military commanders cowering in terror at (a ridiculously large amount of) rabbits.
STORY: DEATH OF A MISER=====
In 1908, Jack Pyle, 56, lived in Holt County, Missouri. A widower, his only living relatives were a brother and a daughter who resided in Kansas. Pyle rented a “shack” and five acres from Emmit Haer, about three miles outside the village of Craig. The Corning Mirror reported that he “raised chickens and pigs and worked by day for nearby neighbors.” Living within yards of the Missouri River, Pyle often sold fish to augment his income.
The Mirror stated that “on Saturday morning, August 23, at 11:30 o’clock, Jack Pyle was found dead on his kitchen floor in the Lake Shore district. On Monday and Tues. the 17th and 18th he had been helping Jim Allan make hay. He took supper at Mr. Allan’s Tuesday evening. This was the last seen of him.” Allan had paid Pyle $60.00 for his services.
Pyle, described variously as a “recluse,” a “miser,” or a “hermit,” lived in a small, cluttered cabin. For years, rumors circulated in town that he had a stash of gold coins secreted in his home. He was said to be irritable at times, and somewhat “daffy.” But he was a good worker, so neighbors put up with his quirky habits.
The St. Joseph Press reported the obvious. “Robbery is believed to have been the motive for the killing,” the headline read. On Tuesday, after working with Allan, Pyle visited Haer. He spoke to his landlord about wanting to purchase a small farm. Pyle showed Haer his earnings and said he planned to use the cash as a down-payment.
He hadn’t been seen since leaving the Haer farm and, after a week, neighbors went to Pyle’s home to check on him.
Investigators told reporters the victim had been sitting in a chair eating supper when someone fired a shotgun through the window, hitting him in the temple. The killer then entered the residence, stole Pyle’s small wad of cash, and placed a “rust-colored and cobweb-choked shotgun” across his body. If this was intended to make Pyle’s death look like a suicide, it failed. Dust and spider-webs blocked the inside of the barrel and the coroner, who was in charge of the case, proved the gun had not been fired in months.
Pyle’s cabin sat alone in a remote area of Haer’s property, making the victim an easy target for robbers. The place had been ransacked, and news reports speculated the killer may have been searching for the fabled gold. Whether the alleged stash was found, or even existed, is still a mystery.
As investigators searched for his killer, the community laid Pyle to rest in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Corning. Suspicion fell on a farmhand who worked for Emmit Haer. The worker was known to have a shotgun and disappeared the day of the murder.
He was never found.
Five months after his interment, The Leader reported “an exhumation and examination of the body was made a few days ago by Doctors J. M. Davis and Edgar Miller of this place…Only the skull was exhumed and examined, all the necessities of the inquiry being answered by it.”
Unfortunately, there were actually few answers, the main one being that the shooter had stood outside Pyle’s window. (Of course, that had already been determined by investigators.) “The load [from the shotgun shell] ranged downward at a rather sharp pitch,” editors wrote, “tearing an oblique hole in the floor of the skull and into the pharynx. Of the forty or fifty shot taken from the wound a large proportion were in the pharynx, the remainder in the skull.”
After the exhumation, the case died.
Pyle probably never saw the shooter. The murderer did seem to have some cunning about him. Placing Pyle’s own shotgun on his body didn’t convince investigators that Pyle had committed suicide, but it showed a bit of creativity in the killer’s makeup.
Speaking of creativity, Jack Pyle seemed to have an artistic streak. Among his possessions, authorities found a hand-made violin. The box and the arm of the violin had been made of driftwood found along the banks of the river. Pyle had cut it into shape, then scraped and polished the wood to perfection. Finally, he added keys and strings to it. A local musician played the violin and told reporters it was worth at least $100 (an equivalent of $3,100 in today’s world). Homemade violins are often found, the musician stated, but few meet the quality of Pyle’s.
You have to wonder if the lonely laborer enjoyed attending local hoedowns with that fiddle he made. Did he take pleasure in hearing musicians play the fiddle while people danced and enjoyed themselves? Did he flirt with local women at these dances? Was he a musician himself? We’ll never know. Fiddlesticks.
Coming up… today, the name Marquis de Sade is immediately associated with immorality and sadistic sexuality. But does history bear out the disdain we have for him?
Plus… Connie Converse wrote and performed trailblazing music in the 1950s, but one day in 1974, she drove off looking for a fresh start — and was never seen again. These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns!
STORY: DOES THE MARQUIS DE SADE DESERVE THE HATE?=====
Donatien Alphonse François, Marquis de Sade, was one of the highest ranked and powerful French noblemen of the 18th and 19th centuries. Yet he is remembered today for his depraved reputation and cruelty to others, apparently in pursuit of self-exploration and discovery.
Despite all the advantages of rank, position and wealth, the Marquis would end his life in a mental asylum, dying wretchedly and shunned by his peers. But does the man who coined the word “sadism” to describe his wanton cruelties deserve his fate?
Certainly, the evidence is damning. The Marquis wrote many scandalous, sexually explicit and sadistic literary works. But already there is a contradiction, in the response of his readership. On one side, he was a bestselling author of his day, gaining quite a bit of fame. On the other side, his works were often banned from public circulation, some as late as the 1950s.
Modern appreciation has been a long time coming, but it is firmly in support of the Marquis today. In 2017, the modern-day French government announced that Marquis de Sade’s works were a national treasure. So, the question again arises, Was Marquis de Sade a great writer and genius or simply someone who indulged in sexual profanity and sadism? The answer is yet to be found.
Although he was a politician and philosopher, the Marquis de Sade was more famous for his works. His works included novels, short stories, plays, and political tracts. Many of his works were indeed published under his name.
However, a number of his works were published under a pseudonym, and Marquis de Sade denied ever writing them. He is most famous for his erotic literature works that combine pornography with deep philosophy. There was both violence and beauty in Marquis de Sade’s erotic works.
His works often focused on physical and emotional responses to external influences, and he returned several times to the concepts of humiliation, sodomy, pain, and crime. More dangerously, his erotic works also touched upon blasphemy against Christianity which enraged people of his time. Therefore, it is unsurprising that he became infamous, and his works were forbidden.
Were the extreme acts he explored in his literary works mirrored in his real life? It certainly seemed so, with several anecdotes about the Marquis showing the same streak of violent sadism he discussed in his works. He was certainly a man of excess, known to participate in orgies and beat his servants.
Was it madness that drove him to these acts, then, madness he even apparently self-diagnosed in his works? This seems to be a step too far: these incidents did not show clinical signs of sadism, as explained in his writing.
This shows that how the mind works is not always reflected by the actions of a person. The person can very well function according to social rules while hiding dark unacceptable thoughts in his mind, and it seems the Marquis was exploring his dark thoughts, but also aware of their limitations within society. He was aware of his boundaries, but perhaps he was testing them also.
Sade was not a supporter of unbridled lust that could lead to criminal corruption in society. He advocated for the use of public brothels supported by the state so that men could satisfy their most innate desires without causing harm to society.
In a way, this shows that Marquis de Sade was not really the sex-hungry, depraved maniac that he has been portrayed as. In his recognition of the baser instincts of humans there was an honestly that most public conversations shy away from in their prudery. He was, to an extent, merely acknowledging sides of human emotion which exist and which, for some, must give vent to expression.
However, this does not mean that Marquis de Sade was free from controversies or scandals.
To be clear, the Marquis was not above practicing what he preached, and from his life history, it is clear that he thrived on scandal and controversies. He repeatedly hired prostitutes, both male, and female, to fulfill his sexual fantasies. The accusation of blasphemy was also at that time a serious allegation against a nobleman.
All these stories of the Marquis, including a suggestion of an extra-marital affair with his wife’s sister, are however only accusations. With the events described hidden away behind the high walls of his castle, these accounts cannot be fully proven. Even if they were true, Marquis de Sade was never publicly profane.
Even today, people are confused about the Marquis de Sade. On the one hand we have a revolutionary philosopher, not afraid to speak out at both the hypocrisies of the French aristocracy and the evils of the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution, both actions which saw this imprisoned. On the other we have a monster driven by lust and greed of the physical kind.
Although the written accounts only point to the beating of a maid, Marquis de Sade was also accused of rape, sodomy, and torture. He was even accused of keeping six children as prisoners in his palace. He is also believed to have fed his many prostitutes with the aphrodisiac known as “spanish fly” extracted from beetles, a dangerous substance which could even kill.
It seems the Marquis was seeking to explore the sensations he discussed in his works, either himself or through proxies that he summoned to his castle. But in the details of these acts it seems he was not deliberately cruel so much as careless with the lives of people from a lesser station. Nevertheless, his actions did get him into trouble.
In the year 1763, the infamous Marquis de Sade was imprisoned in the prison of Vincennes for committing blasphemy and ruining an image of Christ. He reportedly stomped over a crucifix while screaming profanities to a hired prostitute in a locked room.
Once this episode was over, he ordered the prostitute to whip him with a cat o’ nine tails, a particularly brutal form of punishmeny. Because of his works and his sexual reputation, he was put under arrest and surveillance many other times in his life.
In the year 1768, some years after his first imprisonment for sexual crimes and blasphemy, he was also accused of keeping a woman captive after giving her a job as a housemaid in his residence. He picked up this German widow and took her to his country residence with the excuse of needing house cleaning services.
He then held her at knifepoint and assaulted her for two days. He even raped her, tortured her with hot wax, and whipped her. After two days of torture and sexual assault, the poor woman was able to escape from the residence through a small window. The Marquis de Sade was then again arrested on charges of rape and torture.
However, the widow was later bribed to drop the charges, and Marquis de Sade escaped without any legal charge against his name. Even though there were no legal charges against him, Sade spent most of his time in captivity and under house arrest. Most of his works were also indeed written while he was in captivity.
Although he did spend a lot of time in an asylum, his continued writings and philosophical works raise the question if he was really mad. He died in 1814 in a mental asylum, forever branded as a madman. However, the nature of his works and his views about sex and philosophy have inspired many modern historians and philosophers to study his works and life closely. Whether he was a sex maniac or not, his works continue to influence today’s literature and thinking.
So, a man who explored cruelty alongside other expressions of his free will? Certainly. A man drawn to such cruelties perhaps more than most? Apparently. But was he a madman, or rather someone searching for the basic truths about the human condition? Or was he just evil? That answer is less clear. I’ll let you decide.
STORY: THE STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF SINGER-SONGWRITER, CONNIE CONVERSE=====
Connie Converse never released a commercial album, yet nearly 50 years after she vanished from the face of the Earth, her music has gained more recognition and acclaim than ever before.
She was ahead of her time, a singer-songwriter whose music sounds surprisingly contemporary considering when it was made. Her lyrics are witty, solemn, and at times funny, but with an unspoken sense of longing, reveling in her isolation as much as she lamented it.
She was a female folk songwriter at a time when such a thing was largely unheard of — and no one knew her name.
It’s entirely possible her name would still be unknown, had her friend Gene Deitch not held onto tape recordings of Converse’s music for half a century — tapes that were recorded in a New York City apartment kitchen in 1954 and kept a secret from the world until 2009, when they were compiled into the album, How Sad, How Lovely
– I’ll place a link to the album in Amazon Music in the show notes. But while her music has earned a cult following since its public release, the woman who wrote it never took her rightful place in the spotlight. In 1974, just after her 50th birthday, the downtrodden, depressed Converse sent letters to her family and friends saying she wanted a fresh start in life. She was never seen again.
This is her story.
Elizabeth Eaton Converse was born on August 3, 1924, in Laconia, New Hampshire to a minister and his wife, whose household was strictly Baptist. She had two brothers: Paul, who was three years older, and Philip, four years younger.
Per the BBC, Philip, who later became a political scientist, once described his sister Connie as both a “genius” and a “polymath” when she was young. “I do not use the terms lightly,” he said.
Converse excelled in her academic studies, and eventually earned a full scholarship to Mount Holyoke College, which both her grandmother and mother had attended.
But in a departure from tradition, Converse did not graduate from Mount Holyoke College. Instead, she dropped out after her second year and charted a course for New York City to pursue her passions for music and writing. In a further act of shunning tradition, she dropped the name Elizabeth and began to use the name Connie instead.
“Our parents were devastated,” Philip Converse would later tell The New Yorker.
And if that weren’t devastating enough for their parents, Connie Converse took up drinking and smoking, reveling in her independence and self-reinvention.
While in New York, Converse spent her time writing poetry, drawing, painting, and learning to play the guitar. She began publishing essays with The Far Eastern Survey and worked at a printing house in the Flatiron district. She had an apartment in Greenwich Village, and it was there that she wrote her music and performed it for her friends.
As chronicled in The New Yorker, Philip Converse did not follow his sister to New York. Instead, he moved to the Midwest, and the two kept in touch by exchanging letters.
In one of these letters, she wrote to him: “Being a complex and inward personality, I have always found it difficult to make myself known. I generally conceal my own problems and listen attentively to those of others.”
Converse’s introspection reads like an unfortunate prediction. For one reason or another, she could never make herself known — and her recognition only came many years after she vanished.
When Connie Converse arrived at Gene Deitch’s apartment in 1954 to record her music, the animator and audio enthusiast nearly didn’t record the standoffish, plain woman. Converse was a friend of a friend, an atypical woman of the time who, one attendee said, looked “like she had just come in from milking the cows.”
But when she performed her intimate songs in Deitch’s kitchen that day before a small audience, she stunned everyone in the room. Her music was personal, eerie, folksy, and metaphorical in a way that had never been done before, though the echoes of it can now be heard in the music of modern singer-songwriters.
“The more I thought about it, the songs were all about herself,” Deitch later told the BBC. “I think that’s what makes the songs interesting. No matter what she was singing, it all had to do with sexual frustration and loneliness. There’s something about those songs that was extremely personal. In those days, this was something you never heard.”
Not long after the recordings at Deitch’s, Converse appeared on CBS’s “Morning Show” hosted by Walter Cronkite. But what should have been a moment that skyrocketed Converse’s career instead amounted to nothing. Despite the televised performance, there were no recording contracts, no tours, and no marquis featuring her name.
Over the course of the next seven years, Converse’s style changed dramatically. She put down the guitar in exchange for the piano.
Her once short-form compositions became longer and more sophisticated, all culminating in a series of songs inspired by the myth of Cassandra, which tells of a woman who was given the gift of prophecy by the gods — and then cursed by Apollo so that no one would believe them.
Still, Converse struggled to find an audience for her music, and in 1961, she left New York for Ann Arbor. Once again, Converse was ready to start anew.
By 1963, according to The New York Times, Converse abandoned songwriting entirely.
She worked as a secretary, then as the managing editor for the University of Michigan’s Journal of Conflict Resolution. She began writing a novel and volunteered as a political activist while, back in New York, the folk revival was properly taking off without her as artists such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Woody Guthrie, and Leonard Cohen rose to stardom.
Converse’s friends and relatives, meanwhile, saw a woman who had become bored with her routine, increasingly disillusioned and depressed, drinking with an alarming frequency. Half a year in London did little to ease her sorrows, and a subsequent trip to Alaska seemingly made them worse.
Then, in 1974, she reportedly told her brother Philip, “Human society fascinates me and awes me and fills me with grief and joy; I just can’t find my place to plug into it.” That same year, one week after her 50th birthday, she wrote a series of letters to her family and close friends saying she needed to make a fresh start somewhere else.
She loaded her things into the boot of her Volkswagen Beetle and left Ann Arbor. No one ever heard from her again.
In 2014, five years after the release of How Sad, How Lovely, filmmaker Andrea Kannes released We Lived Alone: The Connie Converse Documentary, which explored Converse’s life and music through Converse’s own home recordings, letters, and journals.
“It’s almost like she wanted it to be found and looked through,” Kannes told the BBC. “What I found most fascinating was how funny she was in her writing. Here was a person who struggled through her whole life to feel successful, and you can tell there’s a great sadness with a lot of the things she did and the way she lived her life, but she was also incredibly funny.”
“But there was still this wall between her and other people,” she added, “where it didn’t seem like she 100 percent connected with anybody.”
Perhaps the clearest insight into Converse’s mind, however, comes in the form of a letter she wrote to her brother Philip: “I’ve watched the elegant, energetic people of Ann Arbor, those I know and those I don’t, going about their daily business on the streets and in the buildings, and I felt a detached admiration for their energy and elegance. If I ever was a member of this species perhaps it was a social accident that has now been canceled.”
“Let me go, let me be if I can, let me not be if I can’t,” she wrote in another letter. And while the truth of what happened to Converse is still a mystery, Philip Converse came to believe that his sister died by suicide, her dreams forever unfulfilled.
Today, though, Connie Converse’s legacy lives on in her music, and many credit her as history’s first modern singer-songwriter.
Up next… For centuries, bizarre physical conditions, strange health-based occurrences, and questionable treatments have gained widespread attention, only to be exposed as frauds. We’ll look at some of the strangest! <COMMERCIAL BREAK>
STORY: MEDICAL HOAXES=====
Often the people perpetrating medical hoaxes are ordinary individuals who manage to fool physicians or scientists – at least for a while. Sometimes, a medical practitioner is in on the scam as well for one reason or another. Here are just a few of history’s weirdest medical hoaxes.
***While modern science has done a lot to dispel myths and superstitions associated with trans-species breeding, major developments in reproduction, such as the ability to clone mammals, have given way to a whole new crop of lab-based breeding hoaxes. One recent example of this is the story of a human-dog hybrid that was widely circulated across the internet. The article explained that Israeli scientists were studying a cross between a human and a Labrador retriever. Acknowledging that a trans-species like this was thought to be impossible, it went on to report that humane workers had discovered the remains of another trans-species that was believed to be this animal’s parent, buried in a shallow grave. The human parent seemed to be the son of a high-profile political family. The story was accompanied by a photo of what appeared to be a “strange half-woman, half-dog (or pig) hybrid mother nursing its young.” It turns out that there was no human-dog hybrid. Apparently, the image in the photo, which has been forwarded to so many inboxes all over the world, is not even a living creature, just a sculpture by Patricia Piccinini from a 2003 exhibit titled “We Are Family.” Not to be confused with the Sister Sledge song.
***The Phil Donahue Show, which aired on TV in syndication from 1970 to 1996, was a pioneering daytime talk show for its emphasis on socially relevant topics. But along with the lofty subject matter, there was also a fair amount of sensationalistic episodes, including one show that was shocking in a completely unexpected way. During the live taping of an episode about gay senior citizens on January 21, 1985, people in the audience started fainting. Beginning with an audience member who passed out while she was speaking into a microphone, seven people fainted in the course of taping that one show. There was speculation that the heat in the studio, which contrasted with the very cold temperature outside, might be the explanation for this strange occurrence. It turned out that the mass fainting was just a stunt organized by the group Fight Against Idiotic Neurotic Television (FAINT), led by media hoaxer Alan Abel, to protest what Abel thought was the poor quality of TV at the time. Wouldn’t he love what’s on TV today!
***The term cello scrotum sounds like a joke, which is exactly what it turned out to be. However, 35 years went by before the two people who mischievously coined the phrase admitted they were only kidding. The prank was in response to a letter from Dr. P. Curtis that appeared in the British Medical Journal, reporting three cases of a malady the doctor described as “guitar nipple.” Assuming this letter was a hoax, married couple John Murphy and Dr. Elaine Murphy were inspired to write a reply. The letter, published in a 1974 issue of the journal, was signed by John but written by Elaine. It said in part: “Though I have not come across ‘guitar nipple’ as reported by Dr. P. Curtis… I did once come across a case of ‘cello scrotum’ caused by irritation from the body of the cello.” When the Murphys finally announced that cello scrotum was just a spoof, they argued that it would be obvious to anyone who had watched the cello being played that such a condition was impossible.
***Here’s a good one. In medieval times, astrology was often used to guide medical practitioners and researchers. In the late 16th century, a medical professor at Julius University in Helmstedt named Jakob Horst decided to investigate reports of Christoph Müller, a young boy in Silesia, said to have grown a golden tooth. When tests confirmed that Müller had a real gold tooth, Horst wrote a treatise in which he laid out a theory based on astrology. He speculated that the bone in Müller’s jaw had turned to gold because he was born when the planets were in an unusual alignment, which Horst believed had caused heat from the sun’s rays to intensify. When the impact of chewing food and multiple tests caused deterioration of what turned out to just be a thin layer of gold fitted on the outside of the tooth, Müller refused to let it be examined anymore. One curious, drunken nobleman who wouldn’t take no for an answer stabbed the boy’s cheek. After a physician treating the wound discovered the truth about the tooth, the person responsible for the gold veneer seems to have escaped punishment either by running away or remaining anonymous, but Müller was hauled off to prison. However, something positive did come out of the hoax: this was the first documented creation of a molded gold crown in the history of dentistry.
***There have been a lot of hoaxes that have centered on the possibility of extending the human lifespan. One of these was a widespread story in the 1970s involving the Ecuadorian village of Vilcabamba, where it was said to be common for residents to live past 100 years old, with at least one person reaching 134. American journalists took the story seriously, and an article in National Geographic drew a large number of tourists to Vilcabamba. But the reason behind the longevity was unclear. In 1978, Richard Mazess of the University of Wisconsin and Sylvia Forman of U.C. Berkeley released the findings of research they had conducted, which revealed this fountain of youth to be a myth. Investigation showed that no one in the village was over 100 years old. The average age of those who were believed to be centenarians was just 86 years old. One man claiming to be 127 was actually 91. Still impressive, just not as much so.
***As a playful hoax, 18th-century physician Johann Heinrich Cohausen included a description of a very strange formula in Hermippus redivivus, an expositional work he authored on longevity. He wrote about an elixir that bottled the breath of young women, saying the consumption of the product could lengthen a person’s life span. However, Cohausen reveals in the last few pages of the treatise that it is really a satire. So, instead of fraud, it’s more of a scholarly practical joke.
***There have been countless weight loss hoaxes over the years, from pills and elixirs to topical treatments, fad diets, and more. One product sold in the 1970s with glaringly false claims was Vision-Dieter glasses, which were said to decrease cravings and hunger by using “secret European color technology.” The initial objective of the creator was to manufacture glasses that would distort the color of food packaging in hopes of making shoppers less likely to purchase products just because they were in colorful containers. But realizing how much money could be made in the dieting field, he decided to market the glasses as a tool for consumers who were trying to lose weight. It should come as no surprise that the Food and Drug Administration took action. These color-tinted weight reduction glasses were seized due to misbranding. Most pairs were eventually destroyed by the FDA when the claimant refused to come forward.
***The 18th century was filled with all sorts of preposterous medical hoaxes, especially far-fetched devices and treatments. One of the strangest products marketed for pain relief was a set of two small pointed metal rods flat on one side and rounded on the other, called “metallic tractors.” They were invented by Connecticut physician Elisha Perkins. These implements could, according to Perkins, ease discomfort from gout, rheumatism, and other conditions by draining the “noxious electrical fluids,” which he thought were to blame for these conditions. The sufferer was instructed to gently rub the affected area with these rods. It wasn’t just ignorant people who fell for this scam. Among those who ordered a set was George Washington. A series of clinical trials from 1799 to 1801 demonstrated that any pain relief was just a placebo effect.
***Have you heard about the Celestial Bed? The legendary 18th-century British quack James Graham had a whole temple full of hoaxes. Graham, who had passed himself off as a physician, even though he never completed his medical schooling, was best known for what he called electrical medicine. The harnessing of electricity was still a new science during this time, and Graham was inspired by the experiments of Benjamin Franklin, who he actually met while in America. Graham’s Temple of Health was frequented by aristocrats and other celebrities. One of his most interesting devices was a fertility contraption called a Celestial Bed, which he claimed could cure sterility and impotence. This love nest was available for couples to rent per night. It could be tilted to different angles and contained a mattress full of sweet new wheat or oat straw, lavender flowers, rose leaves, balm, and horse tail hairs. There were also costly perfumes and oils underneath the bed. According to the self-styled doctor, static electricity that moved through copper coils around the bed produced a magnetic fluid surrounding the lovers, which “helped boost their strength and increase the women’s fertility.” The couple was treated to gentle music, and above the bed, there was a mirror decorated with lush flowers and erotic illustrations. Graham asserted that anyone who spent an evening there would conceive a child.
***And I’ve saved the best for last. People have often been fascinated by the idea of crossbreeding between different species, especially the possibility of humans breeding with other types of animals – such as the human-dog hybrid hoax mentioned earlier. There have been a number of women over the centuries who claimed to have given birth to creatures belonging to a different species. However, the most famous such story is that of an 18th-century English servant woman, Mary Toft, who managed to convince physicians and others that she had given birth to rabbits. There were thought to be multiple litters totaling 15 bunnies, all dead at birth. To answer an obvious question, “how were the rabbits conceived,” Toft said she had been startled by a rabbit in a field, an explanation which fit in with the old myth of maternal impression. Following the incident, Toft supposedly dreamt about rabbits and experienced an intense appetite for rabbits—as food. Obstetrician John Howard was sure enough that Toft really had birthed rabbits. He spread the word to prominent British doctors, as well as King George I, who had his doctor look into the matter. Although this physician was fooled as well, an investigation by a surgeon dispatched from the royal household found evidence of a hoax. While examining some of the rabbits, he discovered “that dung inside one of them contained corn—proving it could not have developed inside Mrs. Toft’s womb.” Toft kept up the ruse, producing various animal parts like a hog’s bladder and a kitten’s legs. So when a man was caught sneaking a rabbit into her room, she finally confessed to placing the rabbits in her vagina, allowing them to be delivered, hoping the stunt would result in a pension from the crown. But instead she got a few months in prison.
Thanks for listening. 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 email@example.com. 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.
“Pearl Bryan and Her Missing Head” by Orrin Grey for The Line Up
“Death of a Miser” by Robert A. Waters for Kidnapping, Murder and Mayhem
“Does the Marquis de Sade Deserve The Hate?” by Bipin Dimri for Historic Mysteries
“The Strange Disappearance of Singer-Songwriter Connie Converse” by Austin Harvey for All That’s Interesting
“Napoleon Versus The Bunnies” by Gemma Hollman for Just History Posts
“Medical Hoaxes” by Jennifer Lafferty for List Verse
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Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… (Matthew 6:31-33) [Jesus emphasized the following truth to his disciples,] “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”
And a final thought… “Good luck is when opportunity meets preparation, while bad luck is when lack of preparation meets reality.” – Eliyahu Goldratt
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.