Saturday, May 22, 2010
It was a foolproof plan. Six men in Lebanon County Pennsylvania bought insurance policies on the life of Joseph Raber, an elderly recluse living in a hut in the Blue Mountains. They were sure Raber would die soon and end their financial problems. But the premiums proved costly and the men grew tired of waiting for Raber to die. In July 1878 they decided to take matters into their own hands. Their plot was common knowledge in Lebanon County and it was not long before all six were arrested for murder. The conspirators had a number of common characteristics–all six men were illiterate, all six were living in poverty, all six were of low moral character— but one trait captured the public’s imagination – all six had blue eyes.
Harry Hayward was a handsome young playboy from a wealthy Minneapolis family. An inveterate gambler, he would finance his habit through theft, insurance fraud and counterfeit currency. And he was thought to have hypnotic powers. He persuaded Catherine Ging to make him beneficiary on a life insurance policy, then, on December 3, 1894, he lured her to a meeting with Claus Blixt – also acting under Hayward’s spell. As Catherine Ging was being murdered, Harry Hayward sat in a Minneapolis theatre watching a play with another woman. When the sordid details were learned, the press dubbed Hayward “The Minneapolis Svengali.”
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Mary Lula Noel’s sister and brother-in-law were not afraid to leave Mary alone with her boyfriend William Simmons. They were going across Elk River to meet Mary’s parents and they knew Mary would soon follow, after William caught the train to Joplin, Missouri. But the river rose that afternoon, becoming uncrossable, and Mary did not meet her relatives. A week later her strangled and battered body was found floating in Elk River. The brutal murder was memorialized by an equally brutal folk ballad, "The Knoxville girl;" an American song with very deep English roots.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
The growth of textile mills in the middle of the 19th century brought new opportunities to young women in rural New England. Though the days were long and the toil hard and dangerous, factory work provided financial independence and freedom of movement unknown to women of previous generations. But along with opportunity came new temptations and new perils. A body, identified as Mary Bean, a young factory girl who was treated for typhoid, was found floating in a culvert in the mill town of Saco, Maine, in April 1850. Her real name was not Mary Bean and her condition was not typhoid. When the truth was learned, the story of Mary Bean's death became a cautionary tale exhorting factory girls to guard their virtue.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
Inspector Thomas Byrnes, head of the Detective Bureau of the New York City police at the end of the 19th Century, had no love of mystery. For Inspector Byrnes, solving crimes was a simple matter of applied common sense, and no-nonsense police work. In 1888 with London in terror and Scotland Yard baffled by the Whitechapel murders attributed to “Jack the Ripper,” Inspector Byrnes told a reporter that if someone committed such murders in New York, police would have him ”in the jug in 36 hours.” When Bowery prostitute, Carrie Brown, was found murdered and mutilated on April 24, 1891, the headlines screamed “Jack the Ripper has come to America.” And, true to his word, Inspector Byrnes had a man in custody the next day. Never mind that it was the wrong man. Whether or not Jack the Ripper killed Carrie Brown – as some theorist still believe— there is no question that the Ripper influenced the investigation and prosecution of her murder.