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Ghost Solves Murder


Sergeant Arthur Davies, 30-year-old leader of the English platoon stationed at Dubrach, Scotland, was last seen alive on the morning of 28 September 1749.  Taking leave of his platoon, he set off into the hills for a spot of hunting and never returned.  After four days, the search for him was abandoned, but foul play was not suspected given the notoriously treacherous Highland Terrain, its crags, bogs and powerful water-currents could do for a man and easily conceal his corpse.

In fact, Davies was almost certainly murdered at the hands of Duncan Clerk and Alexander MacDonald, a deerstalker and a forester whose motives were wrapped up in the acrimonious atmosphere between the Scots and the English which had pervaded since the English brutalities of 1746.  Without witnesses, a body or even a suspicion of murder, however, the chances of the case ever coming to court should have been non-existent.  But today, anyone caring to visit the General Register House archives in Edinburgh can peruse the Court Record book for the years 1752-1754 and read about it for themselves.

Ten months after the disappearance of Sergeant Davies, a young shepherd named Alexander McPherson, who lived a couple of miles south of Dubrach on the slopes of Christie Hill, had a very weird experience.  As he lay in bed, he saw the figure of a man who announced that he was Sergeant Davies and spoke to him at some length.

On 11 June 1754, McPherson took the stand in high court, as a witness for the prosecution.  An Excerpt from the court transcript of the prosecutor’s declaration reads:"

" . . . The Deponent rose from his Bed and followed him to the Door and then it was as he had been told that he said he was Sergeant Davies who had been murdered in the hill of Christie about near a year before and desired the Deponent to go to the place he pointed at where he would find his bones. . . "

The terrified McPherson followed the spectre’s instructions and found some skeletal remains.  Not Knowing what to do, he left the cadaver and fled.  The court records report that the apparition returned to McPherson’s home on a second occasion, an account corroborated by Isobel McHardie, the wife of McPherson’s employer, who was also present.  This time, the spectral sergeant asked McPherson to give his remains a proper burial and to contact his friend Donald Farquarson.  And for good measure, Davies named his murderers.

Farquarson’s court testimony asserts that he was initially skeptical of McPherson’s story, but he allowed the young stranger to lead him to the remains, which he positively identified as those of his friend, the hair color and tattered remnants of clothing being a definite match.  For many reasons – the atmosphere of political tension, the reluctance to admit involvement in ghostly goings-on and the lack of any concrete evidence being but three – although the men fulfilled Davies’s wish for a burial they agreed not to report the murder.

Many months later, the court heard, McPherson was sacked from his job and found himself employed instead by Duncan Clerk, one of the men Davies had fingered.  During a row with Clerk, McPherson accused him of the murder, and was surprised when the man offered him twenty pounds to keep it quiet.

It was not long before village gossip reached the ears of the authorities, who brought the case to court, since, aside from the rather out-there ghost story, there was the more acceptable evidence of McPherson’s hush-money (which had taken the very tangible form of a written and signed IOU from Clerk).  Also there was the fact that two distinctive rings which had belonged to Davies were found on the fingers of Clerk’s mistress.  The authorities even found two witnesses to the murder.  MacDonald and Clerk were eventually acquitted.

Ironically, it was not the legally ground-breaking ghost testimony which led to the acquittal, but a complex bout of hostility between the British prosecutor and the Scottish defense advocate which started with one of the witnesses being hanged for an unrelated felony and ended with charges of intimidation which brought the trial to a close.

Davies may not have succeeded in having his murderers put away, but he achieved the distinction of being the first ghost to have his testimony tacitly admitted as legal evidence in court.

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The Cast of Cannibal Holocaust

Still one of the most controversial films ever made, the 1980 Italian exploitation-fest cannibal Holocaust depicted such realistic and horrifying violence that Italian authorities believed it was an actual snuff film.  Ten days after its release, authorities confiscated prints of Holocaust and arrested its director on suspicion of murder.  Not helping matters much was the fact that the film’s cast had signed agreements saying they would lay low for a full year after the film’s release, fueling rumors that they were, in fact, slaughtered for the camera.  Finally facing life in prison, the director voided his actors "no-media" contracts so they could come forward to clear his name.

Unflattering Obituary Kills Marcus Garvey

A stroke incapacitated black nationalist leader Marcus Garvey in 1940.  Rumors began to circulate that he had died, and before Garvey could quell them, the Chicago Defender ran an obituary that described him as a man who died "broke, alone and unpopular."  When Garvey read the unflattering passage he let out a loud moan and collapsed to the floor, where he suffered a second stoke.  By the following morning, he was dead at 53.

Things To Do in Texas When You’re Dead

In his 16-year career, major league relief pitcher, Bill Henry, played for the Boston Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, rang up 46 wins, and even pitched in the 1961 World Series.  In August 2007 the Lakeland, Florida Ledger reported that Henry had passed away at the ripe old age of 83, and the Associated Press picked up the story for national distribution.

Bill Henry didn’t live in Lakeland where he had supposedly died, though.  He lived (and still lives) in Deer park, Texas.  Once the Ledger got wind of the truth, a very strange story came to light:  Another man named Bill Henry, a salesman from Florida, had stolen the player’s identity and spent 20 years passing himself off as the retired major league pitcher.  The fake Henry, who was 83 when he died, had fooled everybody – including his wife – who later said, "I was married to somebody that maybe I didn’t know."

How did the imposter explain the incorrect birthday listed on his baseball card?  "A printing error."  The "fake" Bill Henry even gave lectures twice a year at a Florida college entitled "Baseball, Humor and Society."  After the matter was cleared up, however, the real Bill Henry harbored no ill feelings.  "I just hoped maybe it helped him in his [sales] career," he said.

The Not-Quite-Canonized Thomas a Kempis

Well-known medieval author-monk Thomas a Kempis, it is said, was accidentally buried alive in 1471.  A most decidedly low-temperature dude in life – he spent most of his time engaged with quiet devotional exercises and copying the Bible by hand – he was apparently not so cool under pressure when it came to death.  When authorities exhumed his body some time later, they found scratch marks on the underside of the coffin and splinters of wood under his fingernails.  As if it wasn’t bad enough to be buried alive, when the Church discovered the tragedy, they promptly shut down efforts to canonize Kempis as a saint.  Their reasoning?  "Surely no aspiring saint, finding himself so close to meeting his maker, would fight death in this way!"  Talk about adding insult to being buried alive . . .

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

In 1816, the writer heard his name mentioned in a hotel by a man reading a coroner’s report in the newspaper, who remarked that "it was very extraordinary that Coleridge the poet should have hanged himself just after the success of his play, but he was always a strange mad fellow."  Coleridge replied:  "Indeed, sir, it is a most extraordinary thing that he should have hanged himself, be the subject of an inquest, and yet that  he should at this moment be speaking to you."  (Now that’s what I call a killer comeback!)  Turns out a man had been found hanging from a tree in Hyde Park – an apparent suicide – and the only identification he was the name "S.T. Coleridge" written on the inside of the collar of his shirt.  Coleridge thought the shirt had probably been stolen from him.

Hiroo Onoda, the Soldier Who Wouldn’t Die

A Japanese soldier stationed in the Philippines during World War II, Hiroo Onoda was presumed dead after the allies recaptured the country in 1945.  But he and a few comrades had fled into the jungle to hide,and for 29 years, that’s where he stayed.  Unwilling to believe that the war had ended, he and his scrappy fellows continued to launch mini-attacks against Filipino citizens that killed dozens over the years.  In 1959, he was declared legally dead in japan,and in 1972, when the last of his co-patriots were killed in gunfights with local forces, Onoda was finally alone.

Onoda stayed for two more years, until the Japanese government found his old commanding officer from the war – he had become a bookseller many years before – who was flown to the jungle, where he informed Onoda of the defeat of Japan in WWII and ordered him to lay down his arms.  Lieutenant Onoda emerged from the jungle 29 years after the end of World War II, and accepted the commanding officer’s order of surrender in his dress uniform and sword, with his Arisaka type 99 rifle still in operating condition, 500 rounds of ammunition, and several hand grenades.  Onoda later wrote a book about his experiences and started a nature camp for kids designed to teach them survival skills.



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Cleveland Torso Murders

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The Cleveland torso murders are considered by many to be one of the most gruesome and mysterious serial murders in American history. For forensic scientists, the case presented the nearly impossible task of identifying multiple victims based on body parts. An American Jack the Ripper, the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run murdered, mutilated, and dismembered 12 victims between 1934 and 1938, most of whom were never identified. Despite meticulously following thousands of leads, the police were continually stymied by dead end investigations, and the Kingsbury Run murders remain unsolved.

Kingsbury Run was a ravine cutting across Cleveland’s East Side to the Cuyahoga River that funneled the city’s railroad traffic to Youngstown. Scattered along the scar-like gorge were shanties and shacks of the transient and marginalized population of the depression era. On September 23, 1935, two boys slid down the steep side of Jackass Hill into the ravine. At the bottom of the hill they noticed something in the weeds and investigated. What they found – two headless male torsos – was the beginning of a reign of terror that gripped Cleveland until 1938, when the killings abruptly ended for no apparent reason.

Though these murders were more horrific than normal, crimes were not unusual in the Kingsbury Run neighborhood, which was accustomed to violence and murder. Detectives found the initial two torsos neatly laid out and cleaned. There was no sign of a struggle, no blood on the ground, and decomposition had already begun. The officers concluded that the victims had been killed elsewhere and moved to Kingsbury Run. This was no simple feat given the steep incline into the cut. A search of the area uncovered two heads buried nearby but no other substantive clues. Authorities turned to the morgue for answers.

The coroner’s office could not offer much information. The cause of death was recorded as decapitation. Death by decapitation is very rare in murders, and the coroner took particular notice of the professionalism of the cuts to the bodies. The bodies were so badly decomposed that victim number one could only be described in general physical terms of height, weight, and age. A fingerprint from victim number two identified him as 28-year-old Edward Andrassy, a local tough, brawler, and drunk. Inquiries ascertained that Andrassy was estranged from his family and had lived on the streets for several years. He was considered a womanizer, and there were also whispers of homosexuality.

No one in the police department immediately connected the double murder with a killing of nearly identical circumstances the previous year. An unemployed carpenter waling the shores of Lake Erie happened across the lower torso of a woman buried in the sand. Several days later, the rest of the body was located farther along the beach. Dubbed the “Lady of the Lake” by the press, she was never identified, and the case was closed. As the torso investigation progressed, the woman became an unofficial part of the case and was ultimately designated as victim zero.

Four months after the grisly discovery of the two torsos, the howling of a dog alerted neighbors to some half-bushel baskets near a factory wall. The police arrived to discover portions of a body neatly wrapped in burlap. The morgue obtained fingerprints that identified the remains as those of 42-year-od Florence Polillo, like Andrassy, a shadowy figure of the Kingsbury neighborhood. Decapitation was again the cause of death. Despite the best efforts of the police, promising leads evaporated. One year later, the killer stuck again. Labeled the “Tattooed Man” by law-enforcement authorities, this victim was also decapitated. Although a fingerprint search returned no identification, detectives were reasonably optimistic about getting a name due to six distinctive tattoos with either a name or initials in them. Photos were distributed and even a death mask was made. During the summers of 1936 and 1937, officials estimated that more than seven million people saw the victim’s photo or mask at two fair-like Great Lakes expositions. There were no results. Even an aggressive search of missing-person files, tattoo parlors, and merchant-seaman hangouts failed to put a name to the body.

Two other murders, both decapitations and dismemberments, followed in rapid succession. No identifications of the victims was possible. Eliot Ness, of Chicago fame, Cleveland’s new public safety director, assigned 20 detectives to the case. Detectives checked the state mental facilities and followed up on recently released patients. Investigators went undercover in Kingsbury Run shanties hoping to lure the killer into action, and the Cleveland News and the city council offered $1,000 rewards for any information, all to no avail. Ness ordered a cleanup of the Kingsbury district. Every hobo was brought in for an interview, warned about the killer, and urged to find another place to live. On a professional level, Ness called for a meeting of the major players in the case that became known as the “Torso Clinic.”

The “Clinic” was an attempt to profile the killer and coordinate all the information available. The county prosecutor, the chief of police, the pathologist who performed the autopsies, homicide detectives , and outside consultants attended the gathering. The group easily decided that the fiend was a psychopath, but most likely not insane. The culprit was definitely a man and very strong. There was no way a woman could have hauled those body parts into Kingsbury Run. Further, the manner of death by decapitation would have been physically very difficult for a woman. The killer was also likely from the Kingsbury area since he had successfully avoided police surveillance and his presence had not alerted suspicion in any of the residents. The skill of the dissection indicated that the “butcher” had an acute knowledge of anatomy, which always brought the inquiry back to the medical profession. This view was buttressed by the fact that the murderer needed a place of his own where he could work in confidence, undisturbed, to cut up the bodies and clean them. What better place than a doctor’s office or maybe a butcher shop? Finally, based on the basis of the postmortem examinations of the stomach contents of the victims, officials felt the killer lured the indigents to their death with promises of food and shelter. Most were convinced that it was a local doctor, medical student, or male nurse who was responsible for the carnage. Police focused their ongoing efforts on anyone in the medical profession who had a history of drug or alcohol abuse, might have been involved in homosexual activities.

Months went by with no activity, and investigators began to feel that the slaughter was over. Their hopes were dashed in February 1937 with the discovery of the remains of a young woman on the shores of Lake Erie. The site was very near where the “Lady of the Lake” had been found three years previously. June and July provided more unidentifiable torsos and remains, bringing the murder total to 10. The next year, on August 16, 1938, victims 11 and 12 were uncovered at a lakeside dump. After 12 brutal murders, three years of intense investigations, and countless man hours, Ness reacted. The day after the grisly discoveries, he raided the shanties and shacks and burned them down. Seeking a record of all the vagrants, he had each one arrested and fingerprinted. The killings ended.

As police morale bottomed out and public outrage heightened, law-enforcement officials did have a suspect. Ness never referred to the suspect publicly, by name, preferring to call him “Gaylord Sondheim” and speaking of hi only in very general terms. At first glance, Dr. Frank Sweeney appeared to be the embodiment of the American success story. Born and reared on the edge of the Kingsbury Run area, he had worked and put himself through medical school. Sweeney returned to Cleveland to take a surgical position at St. Alexis Hospital, the facility that served the Kingsbury run community. Despite all this, Sweeney was a severe alcoholic who could turn violent when provoked. His family broke up and he separated from his wife in 1934. They ultimately divorced in 1936. At the same time, Sweeney was dismissed from his position at St. Alexis. Realizing his problem, Sweeney periodically checked himself into Sandusky, Ohio, Veterans hospital for rehabilitation. The hospital was his alibi. He always seemed to be out of town at the time a torso turned up in Cleveland.

Ness and his detectives put the all-out press on the suspect doctor. They checked his mail, searched his room, and even followed him on a regular basis. An enterprising detective checked the Sandusky records and realized that there was no accountability for patients; they could come and go from the hospital as they pleased. Sweeney was an outpatient. Ness called Sweeney in and confronted him with his suspicion that the doctor was the “butcher.” Reputedly, Sweeney defiantly said, “Prove it,” and left. Two days after the interview, Sweeney checked himself into the hospital. He remained in one type of facility or another for the rest of his life. He died in 1965. The case remained open for a time but it still remains unsolved.



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