“THE IMMORTAL VAMPIRE OF NEW ORLEANS” and 4 More Terrifying True Stories! #WeirdDarkness
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Listen to ““THE IMMORTAL VAMPIRE OF NEW ORLEANS” and 4 More Terrifying True Stories! #WeirdDarkness” on Spreaker.
IN THIS EPISODE: Was a New Orleans neighborhood home to an immortal vampire in the early 1900s? (Vampire in New Orleans) *** A young girl disappeared in Yosemite National Park back in 1981. To this day no one knows where she is, and some say a paranormal cause is to blame. (A Supernatural Disappearance in Yosemite) *** After Lori Erica Ruff’s death, her husband discovered he had been married to a complete stranger. Because Lori Erica Ruff never existed. (The Woman Without an Identity) *** Was there a plot to murder Marconi scientists in the 1980s? (The Marconi Murders)
SOURCES AND ESSENTIAL WEB LINKS…
“Vampire In New Orleans” by Brent Swancer: http://bit.ly/2IrlOTU
“A Supernatural Disappearance in Yosemite” by Beth Elias: http://bit.ly/2v94zOB
“The Woman Without an Identity” by Stephanie Webber: http://bit.ly/2UBMIyO
‘The Marconi Murders” posted at The Unredacted: http://bit.ly/2VR1PRC
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Throughout history there have been those mysterious, misunderstood individuals who have left bafflement, oddities, and enigmas in their wake. They seem to come from nowhere to puzzle and amaze, only to disappear into the depths of history, to be forever ciphers beyond our understanding. One such strange individual called New Orleans his home in the early 1900s, and by some accounts was more than merely an eccentric, but also an immortal vampire.
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
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…
Was a New Orleans neighborhood home to an immortal vampire in the early 1900s? (Vampire in New Orleans)
A young girl disappeared in Yosemite National Park back in 1981. To this day no one knows where she is, and some say a paranormal cause is to blame. (A Supernatural Disappearance in Yosemite)
After Lori Erica Ruff’s death, her husband discovered he had been married to a complete stranger. Because Lori Erica Ruff never existed. (The Woman Without an Identity)
Was there a plot to murder Marconi scientists in the 1980s? (The Marconi Murders)
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! And if you’re already a member of this Weirdo family, please take a moment and invite someone else to listen. Recommending Weird Darkness to others helps make it possible for me to keep doing the show! And while you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com where you can send in your own personal paranormal stories, watch horror hosts present old scary movies 24/7, see weird news items, listen to the Weird Darkness syndicated radio show, shop for Weird Darkness and Weirdo merchandise, listen to free audiobooks I’ve narrated, sign up for the newsletter to win free stuff I give away every month, and more. And on the Social/Contact page you can find the show on Facebook and Twitter, and you can also join the Weird Darkness Weirdos Facebook group.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: IMMORTAL VAMPIRE=====
The setting for this odd tale is the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the early 1900s, when one day a mysterious stranger came to town to take up residence at an opulent home at 1039 Royal Street. The stranger called himself Jacques St. Germain, and immediately made an indelible impression with his dashing good looks, charming demeanor, and obvious wealth. Indeed, he was known to splash about money as if it were nothing to him, and came to be known for holding lavish parties at his luxurious home where he would entertain high society’s rich and elite. It was not long before this stranger was the talk of the town, yet no one really had any idea of where he had come from, nor much about him at all other than that he spoke French, English, and Spanish fluently, and that he was well-traveled, talking excitedly of his trips to far-flung places throughout the world but giving very little personal information about himself. It didn’t seem to matter though, as the handsome socialite was so rich and charming, beguiling even, that people overlooked it.
As time went on, Jacque’s eccentricities began to come through. He was rarely seen during daylight hours and it was noticed that during his conversations he would often slip into talking about events in the far past with such familiarity and with such a sentimental cast to his expression that it gave people the unsettling feeling that he had actually been present at these events, despite them lying sometimes centuries in the past. He also began to make bold claims that he was a direct descendant of the late Comte de St. Germain, who was a mysterious European adventurer, philosopher, and prominent member of high society in the 1700s, as well as a personal friend and diplomat of King Louis the XV.
This was all taken with a grain of salt, and most took it to be said in jest, merely entertaining banter, but there were others who noticed that Jacques actually did bear a striking resemblance to Comte de St. Germain, and seemed to behave very much the same as well. Rumors began to swirl, and before long there were whispers that not only was Jacques related to Comte de St. Germain, but that they were one in the same, this despite the fact that he had died in 1784. Nevertheless, there was speculation that Jacques had somehow achieved immortality, an idea bolstered by the fact that Comte de St. Germain always appeared to be around the same age in all of his portraits, about 40, which was incidentally exactly the same age as the mysterious Jacques.
On top of all of his other idiosyncrasies and his uncanny resemblance to his claimed ancestor, this led to suspicion that Jacques was perhaps actually an immortal, and had merely changed his identity from Comte de St. Germain upon moving to New Orleans. This was bolstered by the fact that Comte de St. Germain had often made bold claims that he was hundreds of years old and had found an elixir of everlasting life, on top of other bold and mysterious proclamations, with the famous Italian author, adventurer, and great historical womanizer Giacomo Girolamo Casanova himself once writing of Compte St. Germain in his memoir thus: ***This extraordinary man, intended by nature to be the king of impostors and quacks, would say in an easy, assured manner that he was three hundred years old, that he knew the secret of the Universal Medicine, that he possessed a mastery over nature, that he could melt diamonds, professing himself capable of forming, out of ten or twelve small diamonds, one large one of the finest water without any loss of weight. All this, he said, was a mere trifle to him. Notwithstanding his boastings, his bare-faced lies, and his manifold eccentricities, I cannot say I thought him offensive. In spite of my knowledge of what he was and in spite of my own feelings, I thought him an astonishing man as he was always astonishing me.*****
Another oddity that Jacques shared with Comte de St. Germain was that, although he threw decadent feasts and seemed to revel in people gorging themselves on food in his presence, he never seemed to actually eat anything himself. He was said to merely talk and observe, sometimes drinking from a chalice of wine, but never actually eating any of the food on display. This oddly mirrors an unusual observation made of Comte de St. Germain by Casanova, who said of him: *****The most enjoyable dinner I had was with Madame de Robert Gergi, who came with the famous adventurer, known by the name of the Count de St. Germain. This individual, instead of eating, talked from the beginning of the meal to the end, and I followed his example in one respect as I did not eat, but listened to him with the greatest attention. It may safely be said that as a conversationalist he was unequalled.*****
All of this led to people half-jokingly suggesting that Jacques was not only immortal and actually Comte de St. Germain, but possibly even a vampire, although some people seem to have steadily grown to accept this as more than just a joke. Jacques St. Germain of course got wind of the rumors and seemed to get great amusement from it, enjoying stoking the gossip by neither admitting or denying anything. It all seemed like a game to him, and only served to fuel the fires of the rumors.
This might have been where the whole story ended, with Jacques St. Germain merely remembered as an eccentric rich playboy, if it weren’t for an odd incident that struck a few months after coming to New Orleans. One evening a woman was witnessed to drop to the street from one of St. Germain’s upper floor windows, with onlookers saying she had jumped. The woman, a prostitute, survived the fall but was described as being absolutely terrified by something she had seen up in that house. Things got even stranger when she was questioned by police, during which time she claimed that the reason she had jumped was because St. Germain had tried to ferociously bite her neck, causing her to fight him off with all of her might and fly into a panic, jumping out of that window to escape.
Despite this rather dramatic testimony, St. Germain laughed it off, and was a well-respected member of high society by that time, and the police told him that everything could be worked out the following morning. No one thought at all that he could have been guilty of what he was accused of, and it was thought that the woman, a lowly prostitute in their eyes, was on drugs or insane. The authorities explained to him that his coming in for questioning was merely a formality and that everything would quickly be sorted out. St. Gemain then pleasantly and politely accepted, wished the officers a good evening, and closed the door. It would be the last anyone ever saw of him.
When the next morning came around the police patiently waited for St. Germain to arrive but he never did. Still not thinking him guilty of anything other than a poor choice of prostitutes, they nevertheless went to his residence to see what was going on. The house was found to still hold most of St. Germain’s belongings, large amounts of valuables, and all of his furniture. The second floor of the residence was supposedly murky and heavily curtained, and as the police pushed into the gloom they allegedly made a macabre discovery of numerous bottles containing a mixture of wine and human blood. Of the missing St. Germain there was no sign, and he would indeed never be seen again, disappearing into the night to leave raging rumors and all of that blood behind.
With this strange and rather grim discovery, coupled with the sudden and mysterious disappearance of Jacques St. Germain, the rumors of immortality and vampires quickly went from a sort of joke to very serious indeed, and the legend took off as those who had looked at these ideas with skepticism suddenly were faced with the realization that something very weird was going on indeed. People were now convinced that not only were Comte St. Germain and Jacques St. Germain one and the same, but that he was an actual real-life vampire.
Many things went into such wild reasoning. Why did they look so exactly alike? Indeed, there were also many similarities in both their personas and demeanors. Both were eccentric, rich ladies men with a penchant for engaging conversation and spinning fantastical yarns, and both were well-learned world travelers. It seemed too much to be a coincidence. Why was he seen almost always in the evening hours and why was he never seen eating anything at his own luscious feasts? How was it that he knew such details about events hundreds of years before and why did he speak of these things as if he were there seeing them with his own eyes? Why was he so secretive with his personal information, and most importantly of all, why did he have bottles and bottles of blood in a darkened room? No one had a clue, but it all added up to paint a very odd picture.
This theory was further fueled along by the fact that, although Comte de St. Germain is considered to have been a real person, his actual history is rather murky and ill-defined, making him quite the mysterious figure indeed, ripe for fitting him into all of the madness. Very little is known about the man himself, where he came from, or even when and where he was born or what his true name really was. This is partly because he changed identities and titles so often, but also because he was a social chameleon and considered to be a very skilled and accomplished liar in all things. One Lady Jemima Yorke once said of him: ***He is an Odd Creature, and the more I see him the more curious I am to know something about him. He is everything with everybody: he talks Ingeniously with Mr Wray, Philosophy with Lord Willoughby, and is gallant with Miss Yorke, Miss Carpenter, and all the Young Ladies. But the Character and Philosopher is what he seems to pretend to, and to be a good deal conceited of: the Others are put on to comply with Les Manieres du Monde, but that you are to suppose his real characteristic; and I can’t but fancy he is a great Pretender in All kinds of Science, as well as that he really has acquired an uncommon Share in some.***
Put this all together and it is very difficult to pin down any concrete information on him at all, making him almost like a literary character rather than a real person, and allowing people in retrospect to make up all kinds of wild tales about him as they see fit. There were also the many accounts of Comte de St. Germain being very skilled in many areas of the arts and sciences, far beyond what would be expected from someone having lived only one lifetime, him declaring himself to be hundreds of years old, as well as much testimony that he was an actual alchemist. There are quite a few unverified accounts of him turning metal to gold or creating perfect diamonds from impure ones, and even when he was officially alive there were rumors were that he had used these powers to prolong his own life, perhaps indefinitely. Indeed, there were many who claimed that over the years he had not noticeably aged at all. This caused rumors that he had never really died at all, only moving on to take on another identity, perhaps even to New Orleans.
Combine this with the enigmatic nature of Jacques St. Germain, all of the striking similarities, the mysterious crime, and his subsequent vanishing, as well as the bottles of blood, and you have a perfect storm for the creation of an eerie legend. Now it is quite possible that Jacques St. Germain was just what he seemed to be, merely an odd, rich fellow, nocturnal because of his hard-partying lifestyle, and that he had certain kinks such as biting women’s necks and drinking wine mixed with blood, his freak flag flying high. Maybe he was afraid that he would be arrested and that was why he skipped town, and his resemblance to Comte St. Germain was just a coincidence, but where’s the fun in that? Stories of ancient immortals and vampires are much more interesting, and this has caused the legend to grow.
In the end, although it is all a fascinating story, there is little to actually verify or substantiate any of it, which has indeed allowed it to become the pervasive legend it is today. Everything else has been obscured by murky history and countless retellings, making the truth evasive. The only thing we really know for sure is that both of these men were real and that they shared many similarities in both appearance and character. Other than that we are left to wonder just who Comte de St. Germain really was and what connection he had to the mysterious Jacques St. Germain, if any. It is probable that this is all merely coincidence and misunderstanding colored by exaggeration, misinterpretation, and myth-making, but what if there really was an ageless vampire who made his way from the Old World to the New, to come calling at New Orleans? What if Comte de St. Germain really was an immortal, whether because of being a vampire or through some magical elixir of life? What if is he is still out there now?
Up next… a young girl disappeared in Yosemite National Park back in 1981. To this day no one knows where she is, and some say a paranormal cause is to blame.
After Lori Erica Ruff’s death, her husband discovered he had been married to a complete stranger. Because Lori Erica Ruff never existed.
These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: YOSEMITE DISAPPEARANCE=====
Stacy Ann Arras was only 14 years old when she vanished without a trace inside Yosemite National Park in 1981. To this day, her disappearance remains unsolved. Though Yosemite National Park has been the site of other people going missing and creepy occurrences, Arras’s case is especially eerie given the startling lack of evidence.
Due to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the event, some people believe there were supernatural forces at play. And while there is probably a scientific or rational explanation for what happened to Stacy Ann Arras on July 17, 1981, the reality of her departure remains as haunting as any paranormal mystery.
Arras was traveling with others when she disappeared; she and her father were with six other people. The group was horseback riding and had reached Sunrise High Sierra Camp before Arras wandered off to take photographs of the nearby lake.
The camp was a tourist destination – meaning there were people around to watch Arras as she walked toward the lake.
While the group was resting, Arras told her father she wanted to hike down and take pictures of a nearby lake. Her father declined to join her. When Arras left her companions, the tour guide recalled seeing her “standing on a rock about 50 yards south of the trail.” The trail to the lake was only 1.5 miles long.
That is the last time anyone has officially reported seeing Arras.
When Arras wandered off, a 77-year-old man from her camp group accompanied her. The man sat down to rest while Arras walked ahead. When Arras didn’t return, the man got up to look for her, then gathered the remainder of the group to search more extensively. He later reported that he’d spoken with a group of hikers, but they said they hadn’t seen her.
Witnesses say they saw the man sitting down as Arras wandered off, and there is no further evidence implicating him in any wrongdoing.
Despite the search beginning only minutes after Arras vanished, no one found any trace of the 14-year-old girl except for the lens from her camera. It was found inside the grove of trees Arras entered before presumably photographing the lake.
Arras reportedly had several other items on her person. She was wearing an ankle bracelet and possibly stud earrings, as well as carrying binoculars and her camera. None of these items ever turned up.
One experienced climber noted on a forum that if Arras had lost her lens cap, it shouldn’t necessarily be considered a sign of foul play since the caps are easy to lose.
Arras’s group began searching for the girl not long after she disappeared, and rescue crews invested extensive efforts to find her – it’s all the more bizarre that she has not been found. By some reports, up to 150 people looked for the teen, which includes roughly 67 Mountain Rescue Association volunteers, dogs, and helicopters all canvassing a 3 to 5 square mile area around Sunrise Lake. Despite this, the camera lens is the only clue.
According to a news article from the Fresno Bee in 1981, the dogs employed in the search “were unable to pick up any scent because of dry and dusty conditions.”
On a forum dedicated to discussions about unresolved mysteries, Redditor /u/hectorabaya shared an anecdote about how the elements in the wilderness – that is, wind, trees, and canyons – can affect a person’s sense of hearing: *****She left the group and was exploring alone, off-trail, which is very dangerous if you aren’t carrying navigation tools and experienced in using them. She was also likely distracted, paying more attention to photography than to navigation… The search was fairly small relative to the size of the area they had to work with, and it’s likely she kept moving even once she realized she was lost, because the majority of [people] do. But it’s also the absolute worst thing to do in almost every case, because then searchers are playing catch-up… A point I see brought up fairly often is that she was within shouting distance, but I don’t think there’s a way to prove that. Sound in the wilderness is weird. I’ve spent a ton of time hiding from searchers as a training subject, and even I’m still sometimes surprised at how variable sound can be. I’ve had searchers shouting for me from maybe 50 feet away who I couldn’t hear because of a slight ridge and wind blowing away from me… On the other hand, I’ve been freaked out by hearing a dog panting and human voices just above me when I knew the team wasn’t close to me yet, because I was hiding on the edge of a canyon and there was a weird magnifying/echo effect. Usually, the trend is for sound to be dampened, though. Even a bit of vegetation, a small hill, and a slight breeze you barely notice are enough to muffle sound to a surprising degree.*****
Search-and-rescue volunteers and outdoor enthusiasts who have researched Arras’s case seem to agree that some reports were possibly inaccurate in the first place. On a forum about unresolved mysteries, Redditor /u/Persimmonpluot, who claims to have grown up and worked in Yosemite, said: *****The official description of where she went missing makes no sense. Purportedly, the group arrived at the Sunrise HSC where they planned to stay in some of the cabins. We are told Stacy left to photograph the lake which was in sight of the cabins. There is no lake in sight of the camp. It would have been a very long hike to reach a lake. So that discrepancy is odd. That fact changes things a lot. If she really set out to photograph the lake, then there was a lot of distance and space that could have accounted for her disappearance. There are many crevices and spots where she could have possibly fallen, and crevices can conceal [anything]. However, not knowing where she went makes it difficult to guess.*****
From the same forum, Redditor /u/hectorabaya, who says they are a search-and-rescue volunteer, rebutted: *****Even articles from normally reputable sources get a lot of details wrong in many wilderness disappearance cases, from what I’ve seen. I think it’s just because the reporters likely don’t have a frame of reference and it’s just a quick blip, not a Pulitzer contender, so they skimp on the research, but sometimes it can be shockingly inaccurate. And it isn’t even just on the reporters, because usually, the information comes from a police spokesman who has little to no direct involvement with the investigation, and that information was relayed to the spokesman by the OIC on scene, and the OIC on scene likely got it from volunteer IC, and the volunteer IC likely got it from field searchers… it’s like the telephone game. I’m frankly amazed that they get it right as often as they do.*****
Arras is one of many people who disappeared in a national park – though the exact number is unknown. The National Park Service doesn’t keep a record of the many people who have vanished in their parks. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the number of park disappearances, an official said: *****Please know that we reached out to and collaborated with other offices/bureaus: the Office of Law Enforcement and Security, BLM [Bureau of Land Management], and NPS [National Park Service]. According to the feedback we received, they do not track or maintain listings of missing persons.*****
David Paulides – Bigfoot enthusiast, investigator, author, and documentarian – has posited through his Missing 411 series that there are similarities between National Park disappearance cases. Paulides claims he has spent 7,000 hours investigating the park system disappearances. From his research, he estimates there are around 1,600 missing persons across 85 million acres of parkland in the United States.
Paulides often chooses cases that might fit certain paranormal theories, most of which include Bigfoot. He arranges the disappearances he researches into what he calls “clusters” – cases with similar circumstances. One of the criteria for these clusters is storms. In Arras’s case, search-and-rescue dogs struggled to pick up her scent since the conditions were oddly dry and windy.
According to a news article published in the Fresno Bee around the time of Arras’s disappearance, “Park officials said Stacy was having some family or school troubles, and she was missing her teenage boyfriend.” It is speculated that perhaps the teen ran away or had simply embarked on a walk into the woods.
However, national parks spokeswoman Linda Abbott countered that Arras would not have gone for a walk since the teen wasn’t wearing suitable shoes. The last conversation Arras had with her father was about her shoes – he thought she should change into her hiking boots, but she walked off in a pair of flip-flops instead.
Yosemite is known for its large population of black bears – there are about 300-500 bears in the park alone. As the national park is a popular place to hike, visitors are to “remain at least 50 yards from” any bears they encounter in undeveloped areas.
Though these statistics evoke a small probability that Arras encountered one of these animals on her trip to the lake, it is unlikely that they would have confronted her, considering the National Park Service claims no one in Yosemite has perished from an encounter with a black bear.
One of the common themes David Paulides includes in his “clusters” is drowning. Over the last decade, this has remained the top incident to result in the loss of life in the national parks. Since Arras vanished while taking photographs of a lake, it is possible she slipped into the water. Search and rescue, however, sent in divers and spent time walking search dogs around the lake, but they came back with nothing.
There is little evidence to suggest that a person is responsible for Arras’s disappearance, but some still speculate that this may be the case. Moreover, investigators have not ruled out the possibility of something nefarious.
Redditor /u/Quarantinea shared their thoughts on a forum about unresolved mysteries: *****Is it at all possible (and/or likely) that she did get lost and wander [around] for a while, unable to hear anyone call her or too far away to be heard, but someone who knows the park better than her approaches her to “help” but is actually a deranged [person] (or something along those lines…)? I’m fairly certain that if I was lost and alone somewhere like that, I wouldn’t question anyone who offered help.*****
STORY: WOMAN WHO DIDN’T EXIST=====
On Christmas Eve 2010, the body of 42-year-old Lori Erica Ruff was found in a car parked outside the Ruff family home in Longview, Texas. She had ended her life with a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.
Lori’s husband, Blake Ruff, was devastated. In the days following her death, he began the grim task of sorting through his wife’s possessions. Included among the items was a sealed lockbox buried deep in Lori’s closet.
The grieving husband recognized the box. In life, Lori had warned him to stay away from it. Upon opening the container, Blake discovered why: Inside was a birth certificate and IDs belonging to several different people.
His wife was not who she claimed to be. She was an accomplished identity thief.
Blake Ruff married the woman he had known as Lori in 2004. Her suicide came after Blake had filed for divorce and moved back in with his parents. Lori’s behavior was highly erratic in the time between the separation and her death; she sent threatening emails to Blake and his family, and might have even attempted a break-in at Blake’s parent’s home.
Prior to marrying Blake, Lori was known as “Lori Erica Kennedy”. She arrived at this identity by way of a girl named Becky Sue Turner. Little Becky was just two years old when she died in a house fire outside of Seattle, Washington in 1971. Lori acquired Becky Turner’s birth certificate in 1988. It’s clear that even at this time, Lori knew what she was doing–Becky had been born in one state and died in another, making it far less likely that the fraudulent use of her identity would be discovered.
She then moved to Idaho and procured a driver’s license using the deceased girl’s birth certificate. After several months living as Becky Sue Turner, she legally changed her name to Lori Kennedy. It was under this new assumed name that she eventually moved to the Dallas area, where she met and married Blake Ruff.
Although Blake’s family was suspicious of Lori from the beginning, Blake himself was very much in love. When asked about her background, Lori was guarded and evasive; she claimed her parents were dead and she had no siblings. Blake and Lori married in 2004–the only witness to their marriage was the priest. After marrying, the couple moved away from the senior Ruffs, who lived in eastern Texas, settling in Leonard, Texas, in the southwestern region.
Lori and Blake tried to have a child almost immediately after they were married, but found themselves experiencing fertility issues. Four years filled with miscarriages and disappointments passed. Lori kept to herself, rarely speaking Finally, in 2008, the pair had a daughter, conceived with in vitro fertilization. After the birth of their daughter, Lori’s behavior became increasingly strange.
She refused to let other people hold the child and was overly protective, even for a first-time mother. The tension between the Ruffs continued to grow as the new grandparents were rebuffed from visits. Lori began to complain to Blake about his parents whenever she was even mildly inconvenienced. Blake, who was close with his parents, couldn’t take it anymore. In 2010, he moved back in with his parents and filed for divorce.
Within a few months of Blake moving out, Lori had completely deteriorated. She was sending unhinged, threatening emails to the Ruffs; she and her daughter were losing weight; she even possibly tried to break into the Ruffs’ home.
Early on Christmas Eve, Lori drove over to the Ruff house. She parked her car, left it running, and shot herself. Sometime later, Blake’s father left the house to pick up the paper. He noticed the car and called the police.
Lori left behind two suicide notes, one of which was addressed to her husband and the other to her young daughter. Authorities inspected both letters, which they described as “ramblings from a clearly disturbed person.” They contained no reference to Lori’s life as an identity thief, nor a confession of her true identity. With little to no clues about who she might actually be, the woman once known as Lori Erica Ruff was registered in the federal government’s database of missing and unidentified persons as a Jane Doe. Investigators then began to search of her true identity—a process that would take six years to complete.
Then, in September 2016, the case of Lori Erica Ruff was finally solved: her real name was Kimberly McLean. Using a DNA analysis from Ruff’s daughter, investigators were able to trace Ruff’s identity back to a family in Pennsylvania, whose daughter had disappeared in 1986, when she was 17. They believed she fled because she did not like her mother’s new husband.
While the file on Lori Erica Ruff may be closed, her bizarre case continues to fascinate, and will forever raise the chilling question: Just how well do you know those closest to you?
When Weird Darkness returns…
Was there a plot to murder Marconi scientists in the 1980s?
That story is up next.
STORY: MARCONI MURDERS=====
Between 1982 and 1990, a cluster of strange and often grisly deaths amongst scientists and computer experts working in Britain’s high-tech defence industry baffled investigators.
Many of the deaths were so bizarre they left coroners unable to determine their cause. Others were judged to be suicides and accidents despite clear evidence to the contrary.
Most of the victims were computer scientists working for Marconi Electronic Systems and related companies on top-secret defence projects, including the US Strategic Defence Initiative.
Due to the nature of their work and the oddness of their deaths, by 1987 the national and international press had latched onto the story. Were the deaths sabotage by a foreign government or some kind of Cold War plot?
Tony Collins, a correspondent for the UK’s Computer Weekly, started to receive reports of deaths amongst computer scientists and engineers in the mid-80s. Over the next few years he would file a series of stories on the deaths, eventually finding 25 cases he felt were connected.
In 1990 he wrote a book, ‘Open Verdict’, which concluded the spate of deaths were suspicious. Collins suspected some kind of plot but was unable to come up with any firm conclusions as to its true nature.
Was there really a plot to murder the scientists?
The story began in March 1982 with the death of senior computer scientist Dr. Keith Bowden, then a contractor for GEC Marconi — Britain’s major high-tech defence company.
One night after attending a social function in London, Bowden drove his car across a dual carriageway and plunged off a bridge, down an embankment and into an abandoned rail yard. He died instantly.
The police said Bowden was drunk and was driving too fast, but his wife and solicitor believed otherwise. Friends who were with Bowden that night denied he had been drinking.
Bowden’s solicitor hired an accident investigator to examine the wreck. Somebody had swapped the normally pristine tires on Bowden’s Rover with a set that were worn and old.
3 years later, radar designer Roger Hill killed himself with a shotgun at his home. Later that year Jonathan Wash died after plunging from a hotel window. The coroner returned an Open Verdict.
More puzzling still was the death of Vimal Dajibhai, 24, who jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol in August 1986. Dajibhai had been working at Marconi on computer control systems for Stingray torpedoes.
Another open verdict was returned. Dajibhai was found with his pants around his ankles and a needle-sized puncture wound on his buttock. The Bristol coroner was concerned by this — “it was a mystery then and remains a mystery now.”
Perhaps the most disturbing of all the deaths occurred 2 months later. Arshad Sharif, 26, another computer scientist who worked on satellite guidance systems at Marconi died in the oddest circumstances imaginable.
Sharif also travelled to Bristol, tied one end of a ligature to his neck, the other end to a tree, then jammed his foot on the accelerator of his car and decapitated himself.
The day before his death, Sharif had been acting oddly and was seen paying for accommodation in a rooming house with a bundle of high denomination bank notes.
A relative summoned to identify the body noticed something suspicious about his car. What appeared to be a metal rod was lying on the floor of the car next to the accelerator. Had it been used to wedge down the pedal?
The coroner wasn’t happy. “This is past coincidence…I will not be completing this inquest until I know how two men with no connection to Bristol came to meet the same end here”.
He never did find out why, but both men were suspected to be working on a top secret project called Cosmos, which involved underwater guidance systems, establishing a further connection between the pair.
Thousands of people worked in the UK’s defence industry in the mid-80s, and these deaths — spread out over 3 years, could easily be dismissed as coincidences. Indeed, nobody at the time made any connection.
But moving into 1987 and 1988, the pace of deaths massively increased, and the UK press and some MPs began to join the dots.
1987 started with the death of Richard Pugh. Another computer expert in the defence industry and consultant to the MOD, Pugh’s body was found in his flat — his feet bound, a plastic bag on his head and a thick rope coiled around his body. The coroner’s verdict was an accident due to sexual misadventure.
Just days later, another scientist engaged in top secret work for the MOD — Dr John Brittan, died in his own garage of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The next month, another Marconi engineer, David Skeels, also died of carbon monoxide poisoning, found in his car with a hosepipe connected to the exhaust.
Also in February, two more defence engineers and scientists died — Victor Moore from an overdose, and Peter Peapell, yet another victim of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Peapell’s death was particularly troubling. Having spent an evening with friends, he and his wife returned home and Peapell went to put away the car.
The next morning his wife found his body jammed underneath the car with his mouth next to the exhaust pipe. Police were unconvinced it was suicide because it seemed impossible he could have manoeuvred his body into the odd position it was found. An open verdict was ultimately returned.
John Whiteman supposedly drowned himself in his bathtub, the body surrounded by pills and empty alcohol bottles. Yet the autopsy revealed no trace of drugs or alcohol in his body.
In March, David Sands, a senior scientists working on computer-controlled radar at a Marconi sister company, made a sudden u-turn in his car and crashed at high speed into an empty cafe.
His vehicle was inexplicably loaded up with cans of petrol, causing the car to be completely consumed by a fireball. Sands was only identified with reference to his dental records.
In April, in almost identical fashion to Richard Pugh at the start of 1987, Mark Wisner, 24, was found dead with a plastic bag on his head and clingfilm wrapped around his face. The verdict was death by sexual misadventure.
The previous year Marconi purchased defence electronics firm Plessey. Within a month between May and June 1987 two of its scientists were dead — Michael Baker, 22 in May and Frank Jennings, 60, in June.
At the start of 1988, lab technician Russel Smith, 23, jumped off a cliff in Cornwall. A senior computer engineer at Marconi — Trevor Knight, was the victim of yet another suicide by car exhaust pipe.
In August, there were two gruesome electrocutions of senior figures at Marconi that are some of the most suspicious of all the deaths.
Alistair Beckham, 50, was a computer engineer who it’s believed was working on top secret pilot programs for America’s Strategic Defence Initiative.
After some light Sunday afternoon gardening, Beckham retired to his shed, attached wires to his chest, pushed them into a power socket and, with a handkerchief jammed in his mouth, hit the power.
Beckham’s wife was entirely unconvinced her husband committed suicide. Beckham was highly secretive about his work and just hours after his death men from the Ministry of Defence arrived at the scene and took away several documents and files from Beckham’s home.
In similar but even more gruesome fashion, Marconi director John Ferry, 60, jammed stripped wires into his own tooth fillings and electrocuted himself.
Could all of these grisly suicides really just be a coincidence? By now several stories in the press had appeared questioning whether there was actually some kind of KGB or Eastern bloc conspiracy to kill the scientists.
Several MPs and trade union leader Clive Jenkins called for an inquiry into the deaths. Jenkin’s wrote that the deaths were — “statistically incredible” and spoke of the concern amongst his members over “these clusters of suicides, violent deaths, or murders.”
The conservative government of Margaret Thatcher dismissed calls for an inquiry, claiming the deaths were not statistically unusual and were just ‘coincidences’, perhaps exacerbated by high levels of stress in the defence industry.
Professor Colin Pritchard, a noted expert in mental illness and suicides, thinks at least some of the deaths were statistically uncommon.
Whilst it’s true suicide is one of the most prevalent causes of early death in men, especially young men, Pritchard believes factors in some of the cases make the suicide verdicts unlikely.
Pritchard cites the cases of at least 4 of the men that share unusual elements. All 4 men had complained to friends and family that they had been tasked ‘strange’, ‘impossible’ and ‘unscientific’ tasks by their employers.
All 4 men committed suicide in incredibly violent and bizarre ways. Pritchard has studied numerous suicide cases and thinks such extreme suicide methods are normally only associated with people suffering severe mental breakdowns, to the extent they would be unable to even hold down jobs.
Yet the men were all employed up until the day of their deaths and none had shown any sign of mental illness or other disturbance.
All of the men had also recently found new jobs and were preparing to leave within days of their deaths. Likewise, all 4 men had recently arranged appointments with their MPs.
What were the strange ‘unscientific’ projects that the men were complaining of, and why had they all booked appointments with their MPs? Had they stumbled on something in their jobs that had worried them — something that led to them been silenced?
Several of the deaths were put down to sex games gone wrong. But intelligence expert Conrad Black says death by sexual misadventure is a common method of disguising murder in the world of espionage.
Black told the Daily Record — “Disposing of an enemy and making it look like a perverted fantasy gone wrong is in the training manuals of every spy agency from MI6 to Mossad.
The sex game cover is a very useful mechanism in a murder. Not only does it provide a disguise for the actual means and method of death, it trashes the reputation of the victim and blunts the energy of any subsequent investigation.”
The Marconi deaths weren’t the only unexplained, violent or unusual deaths amongst defence workers in Europe in the 1980s.
In West Germany in 1986 there were several incidents involving individuals associated with America’s SDI — the Strategic Defence Initiative dubbed ‘Star Wars’ by the press.
The Strategic Defence Initiative was an ambitious programme to create a space based anti-nuclear weapon shield which would have rendered Soviet nuclear capability useless.
In July, Karl-Heinz Beckurts, a director at Siemens and an SDI contractor was killed by a car bomb in Munich.
Later in ‘86, Gerrold von Bruanmuhl, a senior advisor in SDI negotiations was killed. There were other attacks on firms related to SDI and German prosecutors believed they were been targeted.
Similar deaths and disappearances amongst defence figures in Sweden and Italy occurred at the same time, giving rise to the suspicion that there was an Eastern Bloc plot to attack Western defence capability and the SDI.
Attempting to undermine an enemy’s defence capabilities by murdering their scientists is not uncommon. The US, UK and Israel have all been known to strategically stage accidents to remove high-ranking enemy scientists for political ends.
In recent years at least 4 top Iranian nuclear scientist have been killed by Israel’s Mossad in an attempt to derail Iran’s nuclear programme.
Killing targets in a foreign country is also not uncommon. In 1978, dissident Georgi Markov was murdered on Waterloo Bridge in London by agents of the Bulgarian secret police aided by the KGB.
Many of the Marconi scientists were involved either directly or peripherally in the Star Wars programme and other related projects.
Could their strange deaths actually have been a series of Russian or East German orchestrated murders designed to scuttle the SDI?
The British government, Marconi and many in the press blamed stress in the high-pressure defence industry for the cluster of suicides.
Stress has often been cited as a problem in the secret defence industry and may have been a contributing factor to the cluster of suicides.
Suicide is the most common form of death in men aged 20–49 — the age bracket into which almost all the Marconi scientists fell into.
It would therefore not be unexpected to find a fair number of suicides in a male dominated occupation, especially one that operates under such tight secrecy.
Some of the widows commented on how their husbands were unable to talk about their secret work. If they were having trouble with the jobs, the fact they may have been unable to discuss the situation with their loved ones may have been another contributory factor.
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All stories in Weird Darkness are purported to be true (unless stated otherwise) and you can find source links or links to the authors in the show notes.
“Vampire In New Orleans” by Brent Swancer
“A Supernatural Disappearance in Yosemite” by Beth Elias
“The Woman Without an Identity” by Stephanie Webber
‘The Marconi Murders” posted at The Unredacted
Again, you can find link to all of these stories in the show notes.
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Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:13
And a final thought… “Contentment is, after all, simply refined indolence” – Thomas Chandler Haliburton
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.