Murder Maps–Life and Crime in London

image I just stumbled across an interesting series from the History Channel – Murder Maps, which chronicles some nefarious crimes that took place in London right after it’s dark period of the Jack the Ripper murders. As you may recall, conditions in certain parts of London were pretty atrocious, with poverty and crime running rampant. Also keep in mind that the police force was almost a volunteer service with little training, no budget and no real tools for solving and cataloging crimes.

What we see from these grim tales is more of an effort put into the police force and their methods. We begin to see pathology and science playing a larger part in solving murders. We have the beginnings of using and recording fingerprints as well as the beginnings of forensics. In many ways we see Scotland Yard go from bungling the crime scenes of Jack the Ripper to a highly trained organization that would bring together its resources to capture criminals. The order and method of Sherlock Holmes is becoming a reality.

Listed below are the four episodes from this series and even by today’s standards, they are devious crimes. These stories also showcase how hampered the police force was in capturing criminals. Unlike today, you can’t simply post a picture and it’s seen by millions. There was no way to easily alert neighboring towns to be on the lookout. You couldn’t consult security cameras or have people standing around with their cellphones recording every minute of an event. Social media and newscasts didn’t exist. The best you could do was have someone render a sketch, transfer it to the newspaper and hopefully it looks close enough fora citizen to send a letter or come down to the station to make a comment about it. The public really had to go out of their way to help. Bit of a different mindset back then wasn’t it?

The Bermondsey Horror
In 1849, a man suddenly disappeared in Bermondsey. The discovery that he had been brutally murdered enraptured the press and the public. Even Charles Dickens was totally engrossed in the story of the sinister Marie Manning.

A couple has a gentleman over for dinner, then he disappears. They begin by saying they have no idea where he is, but soon it all goes wrong and his body is found under their kitchen floor. The couple ends up going their separate ways to stay ahead of the law, but ultimately turn against each other when facing the gallows. And it is indeed the gallows. As noted, Charles Dickens witnesses the hanging and makes note of the vulgar mob mentality it inspires.

In the Shadow of Jack
At the time of Jack The Ripper, London was home to some of the most terrible individuals the city has ever seen. One of the very worst was the elusive Borough Poisoner, George Chapman.

George Chapman comes across as the respectable owner of a public house. But there is something else going on as his wife gets sick for reasons the doctor can’t explain. When admitted to the hospital, she gets better, but when back in George’s care, she’s back to being sick. In a departure from the norm, we have a man doing the poisoning and for reasons that are shockingly mundane.

Finding Dr Crippen
Having killed his wife and buried her in the basement, Dr Crippen believed he had escaped on a ship to Canada. But the police managed to hunt him down and bring him to account for his terrible crime.

Dr. Crippen is at odds with his wife. He’s looking to change careers and perhaps make a new man of himself. His wife plods along as no-talent opera singer. But then fortunes change as Mrs. Crippen disappears. At first she has gone on holiday, then she’s taken sick, then she’s believed to be dead in America, then finally Cripped admits he made up the whole story because he was embarrassed over his wife leaving him.

Enter the young woman who moves into his recently vacated house under the guise of a new housekeeper. But everyone is getting suspicious and soon Crippen and his companion are on the run. It’s time to hit the high seas for boat chase to Canada and some clever use of the on-board telegraph.

The Brides in the Bath Killer
George Smith had many aliases. He needed them for his many wives who he would soon murder in order to claim the inheritance. Catching this chameleon would be a gargantuan challenge.

George Joseph Smith seems like a very good catch to ladies that are falling outside the prime of their marriage years. But instead of marital bliss, they are treated to a hot bath that ends in their death. One wife dies on her honeymoon, another a few weeks into the marriage. And there is a third drowning victim with the same MO as the first two. Same man? Terrible coincidence?

The police force has become much more savvy and has more resources at their disposal. They’re able to investigate and deduce with greater accuracy and are soon on the trail. When they have their man, they come to trial with a slew of evidence that mystify and astound the court and the public.

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Cursed – The Bell Witch

image A&E recently aired Cursed: The Bell Witch, a five part series where John Ceallach and Chad Higginbotham arrive in Adams, Tennessee to investigate the legend of the Bell Witch. Certainly not a new thing, what makes this so special? Well, it turns out, John is a direct descendant of John Bell and this curse affects his son. So, he’s out to try and learn about this curse and bring it to an end.

Things start off quite amusingly at the local diner, where the regulars seem to give John a hard time and are affronted by his intrusion. He’s politely given a warning and told to be careful.

Along the way he hears lots of stories about the legend and a lot of variations. That’s expected since the story takes place in the early 1800s and everyone associated with the tale is long gone. Clearly what we have now are interpretations and guesses. But the truth might be out there and John is going to make an effort to find it.

The legend seems pretty ingrained this area as John sets up camp on a small plot of farm land and finds little wooden stick dolls strung up in the trees reminiscent of Blair Witch. These are obviously new and were put there to hype up the legend.

During another late night trip, John has his truck vandalized, clearly by earthly forces, but yet another play on the legend to try and scare them. You have to keep in mind, people make money off the Bell Witch legend so it’s paramount to keep the story going.

Along the way, John meets with some historians and even a few relations from the other side of the family. All of them seem quite taken with the Bell Witch story and fear the consequences of it. John also visits the Bell Witch caves where he hears strange animal noises and visits with a Native American Shaman who thinks some of the curse may have come from the land.

It seems a Native American burial site may have been disturbed and the remain were treated improperly. There is some mention a skull was brought back and a tooth may have been left behind. It may simply have been the act of disturbing the grave. This may also just be a guess since there’s no real evidence to support the story.

John visits where John Bell is buried and to be honest, his site is completely overrun with growth. It doesn’t look like anyone has visited or taken care of that plot in ages.

There is also a visit to the family of Kate Batts who was accused of being the witch that harassed John. The Batts family feels their lineage has been wrongly accused and says most of the facts about the haunting are incorrect. One example, Kate lived for many years after John, so it wasn’t her "haunting" him.

As John and Chad continue, they discover a lot of the details about the legend are incorrect and try their hand at a few theories. They have some theories about abuse, bad land deals, jilted lover and even revenge. All of which sound a lot more plausible than the current story.

John is able to get the Bell family bible and has John Zaffis come have a look. Just as it comes out, a corkboard falls from the wall. Taking it as a bad sign, they simply put the book away. Of course, John feeds into this story with the usual rhetoric that items and the land can be cursed. But why put the bible away? What’s the problem?

They do some scientific inquiry, such as what would have been in the mysterious vial that was found near John Bell. The contents were supposedly fed to the cat, which died almost immediately and when thrown in the fire, it created a blue flame. Way to go in destroying evidence everyone. Even an idiot alchemist of the time could have you told you if it was poison. But no no, let’s throw it into the fire so no one can know what really happened.

Turns out the chemical could have been arsenic, which was readily available during that time and John may have been victim of a regular poisoning. And it sounds like the person throwing the vial in the fire may have been the guilty party.

Another thing they discover is that John Bell was a right bastard with a right bad temper. So much so, he killed a man. John apparently shot a man in the stomach. They also go with an angle that might have made John and Kate jilted lovers. Interesting angle, but it doesn’t really pan out. There is talk of perhaps improper relations with Betsy, the daughter plagued with all the visions and harassment. Not sure if that pans out either. We also get that John was excommunicated from the local church because of some bad land deals. Seems he found himself afoul his fellow parishioners.

At any rate, John Bell is not some poor, hapless victim. It looks like he pissed off a lot of people, treated them poorly and even killed a man. That lends a whole lot more to the idea that a creature of this earth was responsible for his death. It seems we have plenty of suspects, plenty of motives and considering the time, opportunity wouldn’t be an issue.

It’s time for another visit to a cemetery and this time they bring along a medium. The local investigator whips out her K2 meter and goes with the trick of unscrewing the back of the flashlight as a way to communicate. Haven’t seen that gag since Jason and Grant on Ghost Hunters.

Without making too much headway, John decides to circle back to the Native American angle. He makes an offering to the spirits and to the land with his own Burning Man in the middle of the field. Lots of townspeople show up, because hey, there’s a fire, why not come on down and have a look.

When that doesn’t seem to work, it’s time to try an exorcism. John gets his Pastor to come out and perform a blessing/cleansing/exorcism on him to rid him of the curse.

And seemingly, that might have done the trick. If there was anything to exorcise.

The Conclusion:

The Bell Witch story is pretty damn fascinating, there’s no disputing that. It makes for a great ghost story with lots of characters and lots of blame to go around. However, if you look past the hearsay, conjecture and rumor and look at the source material itself, you find there are a lot of problems with this story and you begin to question everything. After a few minutes it’s hard to feel that the Bell Witch legend is anything more than just a legend.

Most of what people know about the story comes from John Bell’s son and his diary entries. The diary of John Bell’s son was written 30 years after the event and he is writing about what occurred when he was 6.

The second source, The Goodspeed documentation, was published 60 years after the event and the definitive source, the book by Martin Van Buren Ingram were written down 75 years after the events and obviously based on materials already 60 years old.

So nothing was written at the time the events really happened. No one has a single reliable source of information and clearly nothing from anyone who was actually there. This is what the legend is based on, those three items. Further, the diary of John Bell has never been seen.

Like all tall tales, all sorts of pieces have been woven in, including Andrew Jackson, who never went to visit the Bell home. He was never in the area, at least not during the time he was claimed to be there. So clearly he never slept at the home and clearly he never saw this supposed witch.

While it may be written that John Bell died from supernatural causes, it’s obvious that’s not the case. If you look at the symptoms described, he had a neurological disorder that caused hallucinations and delusions. There was a chance he was poisoned because he was an ass to his family and community so they slipped him a little something. Either way, no curse from a witch.

This has all the same hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials and the same rationale. Put it this way, if your crops died, it was the work of evil. If your child got sick, it was the work of evil. If you got some sort of skin irritation or lesion, it was the work of evil. People of the time believed if you didn’t pray to God, every second of every day, that no matter how small the sin, evil would be visited upon you and it would take a physical form.

Contrast that with, if you were successful you were in league with the devil. If you failed, you were a sinner and punished by God. You can’t win. No matter how it played out, were a sinner or in league with the devil. That leads to rumors and hysteria.

Further, since medical knowledge was basic at best, doctors didn’t know how to treat an ailment other than through blood letting. Any disease they didn’t understand, which was just about all of them, was the work of evil. And that evil could be anyone or anything. If you didn’t dress correctly, you were a witch. If you didn’t spend every minute in church, you were a witch. If animals followed you around, you were a witch. If you kept to yourself, you were a witch. If you didn’t go along with the mob mentality, you were a witch.

This meant there was a witch around every corner and superstitions ran rampant. And that’s how you get a story like this. There is no Bell Witch and no Bell Witch curse. It’s just a superstitious story that keeps getting passed down. Now, there is just a lot of tourism trying to cash in on the fun and a couple of half-way decent movies here and there.

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Deadly Possessions – Conjure Chest and St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – S01E02

image As the Demonic Antiques Roadshow continues, Zak, sitting as though he is the Mafia Don this time, gets two new relics to look over. The first is known as the Conjure Chest and those who store their clothes inside will most assuredly die. It might take 50 years for the curse to take full effect, but in the end, it’ll get ya. The other involves some mob on mob violence – St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

The Conjure Chest is reported to have taken the lives of 17 people in its long history. The story goes a little something like this. It was built by a slave, Hosea. Unfortunately, his owner, Jacob Cooley, didn’t appreciate the effort and beat the poor man to death. However, instead of destroying the chest like you would expect, he kept it and put it in their child’s room after all.

But to seek revenge this act of violence, the slaves put a curse on the chest. They didn’t put a curse on him or his family, but instead chose furniture. From there, multiple deaths are attributed to the chest. Not to the diseases and piss poor medical treatment of the time, but to a chest of drawers that will supposedly taint your clothes to the point they can kill.

However, many believed in the curse and at one time a Conjure Woman took it upon herself to take the curse away. Shortly after she did so, she died. Now, it appears the curse may be lifted, but Zak isn’t taking chances. He refrains from even opening the drawers. He’ll get the museum curator to do it, but he’s too damn scared. He will, however, take full spectrum photos around it.

Low and behold, a blob appears which they feel is an owl – a part of the curse lifting ceremony that was performed.

For the next segment we have a B-grade movie actor show up in mobster garb to offer Zak a deal he can’t refuse. After insulting Zak a couple of times and doing his best to sound like a thug, the stranger shows a picture of the actual St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, believed to have been orchestrated by Al Capone. The mobster clown then disappears and Zak is off to the Mob Museum to check out their display.

It is all shockingly, shockingly, cheesy. Why not just ask Zak to come and look at the exhibit? Who doesn’t want to check out mob history?

They Mob Museum has pieces of the very wall the gangsters where shot against and one of the guns believed to have been used. Zak is able to very lightly touch the gun and then gets down to capturing EVPs.

Billy and Zak believe they capture some voices that are residual energy from the wall.

To be honest, I found this episode to be rather silly. None of it really makes any sense. A curse on a clothes chest? If they were really able to conjure up some serious mojo, why curse a chest? Why not kill the landowner? Why not give him a series of crippling and debilitating heart attacks? Why not make him bleed out his eyes and other orifices? That would have certainly made him suffer. Certainly more along the lines of what he deserved, not some curse on a piece of wood that will affect random people. Nothing about that story makes sense. It doesn’t seem tangible. It doesn’t sound logical. Obviously, I wasn’t there and have no idea what happened. But then again, neither was anyone else telling this story.

The piece about the mob is just laughable. The guy bringing in the picture looks like a reject from a pizza commercial. Anyone remember a Godfather’s Pizza? It’s just silly. And what are we supposed to gain from this little exercise? There was some sort of injustice? There is some hidden message? We get to see a Tommy gun and pieces of a brick wall. They are kind of neat and a tricky bit of business from the mobsters of the day, but are we saying this wall and gun are cursed items? Is the gun going to go off if we don’t ask permission before taking it’s picture? Is the wall going to collapse if we say the blood stains make it ugly? Where exactly are we going with this?

Again, these are not pieces meant to stay in Zak’s collection, but are offerings from others who have come into odd curios and want to share their stories. These are interesting stories, but it’s really hard to put any stock into the legends surrounding them.

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Deadly Possessions – Dibbuk Box and Robert the Doll – S01E01

image Since we’re in a slight lull from Ghost Adventures, let’s have a look at the other project Zak has been working on. As you may have seen from newspaper articles, Zak has been collecting odd trinkets from the world of the paranormal, much like Ed and Lorraine Warren and their nephew John Zaffis. He’s been able to procure a cauldron supposedly used by Ed Gein and the VW Bus used by Dr. Kevorkian. After amassing a collection of oddities, he’s opened his museum of the bizarre to the public.

Along with the items he’s personally collected, he’s open to others bringing in their treasures, much like a demonic Antiques Roadshow. To that end, the first item up for inspection is the Dibbuk Box. This box was actually featured on Haunted History back in 2013, or at least that’s when I saw it. This is the same Dibbuk box that was purchased by Kevin and subsequently sold on eBay. Jason now owns the box, but he’s had problems with it. Problems he solved by locking it in another vessel and burying it in the ground.

Until now. Jason and Kevin have unearthed the relic and brought it to Zak. He decides to put the box in his "isolation chamber" and has Kevin hang out with it. What does Kevin do? Why open it of course. He then starts mumbling what sounds like a Poe poem (although I have no idea what it is). Zak thinks he’s speaking in tongues, or is possessed, or something equally bad. We can’t really see too much because there is an old style lamp right in the way of Kevin’s face the entire time. However, he does say there is something lurking down there with him.

They take it to a Rabbi, who surprisingly doesn’t seem all that concerned about it, but, Kevin breaks into a coughing fit and sweats like he’s been doing some serious manual labor. Remember, he opened the Dibbuk Box, so clearly he must exhibit some sort of side effect.

What happened to the Dibbuk Box? What did they ultimately do with it?

The other part of the show involves Robert the Doll, perhaps the inspiration for Chucky. It’s a very old toy, owned by a boy named Robert who identified with the doll to the point of calling it Robert and he went by his middle name, Eugene.

Eugene had the doll for decades and continued to both play with and speak to the doll his entire life. Or so the legend goes. It’s now in the possession of East Martello Museum and his caretaker, Cori Convertito.

There is an odd past for Robert, to the point that he is so dangerous and so mischievous and so prone to causing terror that the only recourse is put him on display. You just have to be respectful. Ask permission before you take his picture and don’t make any disparaging comments or lest the curse take hold.

Such is the plight of Bonnie Randolph who comes to beg Robert for forgiveness because she took his picture without permission. Also, while looking at the exhibit, someone else made a derogatory comment about Robert, but she somehow took the brunt of his anger. I’m not sure why she takes responsibility or why evil got dumped in her lap, but there it is.

But wait, before we get to that. As the doll is displayed for Zak, his man-troll Theodore comes in and exclaims in surprise at the visage of Robert. Clearly there is nothing staged about this scene and Zak springs into action. He tells Theodore he needs to apologize to Robert or else they’ll probably find him dead on the steps. (I added that last bit, it’s not in the show)

Bonnie Randolph who believes in the power of the evil eye from Robert, offers her apologies like begging for forgiveness from a Mafia Don. She is brought to tears while explaining Robert is responsible for her terrible driving that involved her in 3 accidents and that she’s not clumsy, it was Robert that pushed her down the stairs causing all sorts of medical problems. All because she took his photograph without asking, even though he was out on display for all to see, and someone else made smartass comments about him.

Let’s be realistic here. If this doll is so capable of evil, and quite frankly, Cori believes it to be true by the way she talks and handles Robert, why isn’t Robert locked in a vault, hidden deep within the earth where he can’t see anyone and no one can make the terrible mistake of taking his picture without his permission. If he’s so bloody dangerous, why is he just sitting there like a spectacle? I’m sorry, but the whole thing is just shockingly foolish.

But if a doll really could control traffic, could I have a go with it please? I could use it to move the other cars out of the way and cut my work commute time in half.

Also, does anyone else note the contradiction in Zak asking to take a picture with the doll after they’ve already been filming it?

I don’t believe either of these items are meant to be part of Zak’s collection, I believe they just wanted to brave unleashing pure evil and truck it across the country for a spot on his show. Nothing harmful in that right?

Quick update. The “chanting”, “mumbling” or “speaking in tongues” you hear from Kevin in this episode is him reciting lines from a poem called “Shadowman” he wrote back in 2012. It has nothing to do with him somehow being possessed by the contents of the box. Taken at face value, it’s a little bit of theater, a flair for the dramatic and perhaps just a hint of being staged. If you listen to the link, you’ll notice Kevin’s voice sounds the same in the recording as it does in the show, so clearly he’s “not out of it”, or “not himself”. It’s a pretty decent reading actually, but it’s obviously bogus evidence.

Kevin Mannis – The Shadowman

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