FOLLOW US ON: follow us in feedly
GET THE NEWSLETTER
CONTACT US
Killers, crooks and vampires: Thrilling pages from Penny Dreadfuls
06.30.2016
11:46 am
Topics:
Tags:

001pendread.jpg
 
The “penny dreadful” was the name given to an incredible publishing phenomenon that flourished in Victorian Britain between the mid-1830s and the early 1900s. The penny dreadful or “penny blood” was a luridly illustrated booklet or magazine—usually of some sixteen pages in length—filled with sensationalist tales of highwaymen, murderers, cannibals, bounders, vagabonds, vampires and thieves. 

The first known penny dreadful was published on Saturday April 30th, 1836 under the title The Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads and Murderers. The cover featured a fight between a gang of ne’er-do-wells—led by Grimes Bolton, a notorious robber and cannibal—and a group of gamekeepers. The success of The Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads and Murderers led to an unprecedented range of similar publications which reached their height around the mid-1860s.

Originally penny dreadfuls focussed on thrilling tales of adventure but through time these fell out of fashion as the audience demanded increasingly lurid stories. These magazines hit pay-dirt with tales of true crime (Jack the Ripper being the best known subject) and grotesque fantasies of such creations as the murderous Sweeney Todd—the Demon Barber of Fleet Street; the bloodthirsty Varney the Vampire or the demonic urban legend of Spring-Heeled Jack—The Terror of London.

The penny dreadful ushered in a new era of publishing—launching a whole range of magazines and periodicals that benefitted from new printing technology and from the markets opened up by the penny dreadful. Political and educational serial publications similarly benefitted from the pioneering work of penny dreadfuls. But it wasn’t all money-making business. Before the Education Act of 1870 introduced free education for all, the penny dreadful can take some credit for encouraging generations of young men and women to read.

As tastes changed, the penny dreadful dropped in popularity—the now literate audience wanted more nuanced and stimulating tales. However, the genres it launched (horror, detective and true-life crime) continued and flourished under writers like Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells.
 
002pendread.jpg
 
More pages from penny dreadfuls, after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Paul Gallagher
|
06.30.2016
11:46 am
|
The Original CSI: Crime scene photos from the early 1900s

0_1_bertmurd01.jpg
 
The French detective and biometrics researcher Alphonse Bertillon was the father of modern crime scene investigation. Among his major contributions were the mugshot and the crime scene photograph.

Before Bertillon pioneered the use of the mugshot criminals were identified by verbal description and artist sketches—which were not always reliable as eyewitness often gave confusing and contradictory descriptions. The mugshot obviously made it easier for police to identify and apprehend criminals and to disseminate posters of the most wanted across the country.

Bertillon was the first to recognize the importance of using photography to document a crime scene—the position of the body, the murder weapon, the footprints or personal artifacts left behind, the disarray of the scene. While some at first doubted the relevance of photographing murder victims—considering it ghoulish and highly disrespectful to the deceased—it became quickly apparent how such photographs helped solve innumerable murders.

Now, before anyone jumps in with a “Yeah, but they wuz taking photos of crime scenes before then…” Well, yes, they were, but in a disorganized and arbitrary manner—for example, those depicting Jack the Ripper’s victims. These and other early photographs were taken primarily as a useful “aide-memoire” or “descriptive record” of the event—not as a means for forensic investigation. Bertillon codified crime scene photography and organized the process into a structured system, whereby the position of the body was always photographed from the same set of angles. Similarly, the murder weapon or any blood splatter or artifacts left by the possible culprit. This is why Bertillon was the “father of modern crime scene investigation.”

Bertillon also devised a system of anthropometry by which criminals could be identified. The system, called “Bertillonage,” classified criminals by identifiable physical characteristics–eyes, length of nose, shape of ear, measurements of head, etc. From the late 1800s until around the end of the First World War Bertillonage was the main system for identifying criminals as used across Europe and America. It was eventually replaced by fingerprinting.
 
0_1bertmurd40.jpg
 
His success as a detective led Bertillon to be described by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the greatest detective in Europe—rivalling his very own creation Sherlock Holmes who was only the “second highest expert in Europe.”

There is an oft-quoted story that Bertillonage was discredited by the strange case of two men Will West and William West in 1903. The story goes that when Will West was arrested and sentenced to Leavenworth prison, his anthropometric measurements matched another prisoner who was also (quite unbelievably) called William West. Yet, according to Bertillon’s methodology both men were the very same person—which was of course impossible. 

Though it was claimed their measurements were identical—it is probably more correct to say these figures conformed within certain ratios which were similar but not exactly the same. The two men were later identified by fingerprinting—and it was this that gave lie to the claim that the confusion over Will West and William West led to the abandonment of the Bertillonage system. However, it should be pointed out that Bertillonage was used up as late as 1918 in America and Canada and around the time in Europe. What probably discredited this system of anthropometry more than anything else was its adoption by the Nazis prior to the Second World War as a means to identify non-Aryans.

The following photographs were taken by Alphonse Bertillon (or are credited to him) and depict some of the murder scenes he encountered during his work as a detective. They are among the very earliest crime scene photographs ever taken.
 
0_1_bertmurd01B.jpg
 
0_1bertmurd01A.jpg
 
More of the earliest crime scene photographs ever taken, after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Paul Gallagher
|
06.09.2016
09:52 am
|
Murder, Madness and Miss Marple: The Secret Life of Dame Margaret Rutherford

01murdshsaid.jpg
 
Sunday afternoon matinees on television first introduced me to the utter delight of watching Margaret Rutherford’s acting on screen. Her appearance as the much loved Miss Marple in a series of 1960s whodunnits loosely based on the novels by Agatha Christie left such an indelible impression that for all of those great actresses who have since played the inquisitive spinster from St. Mary Mead not one has eclipsed her unforgettable performance.

There was always something special about Margaret Rutherford. No matter what she did, she was always likeable. Over a thirty-year career on stage and screen she consistently delivered performances of quality and distinction, of grace and beauty, of comedy and excellence that made her sparkle in even the most second rate production.

Nowadays she is best remembered for her scene-stealing turn as Madame Arcati in David Lean’s movie adaptation of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit in 1945. Or her fighting the battle of the sexes as headmistress of a girls school in The Happiest Days of Your Life from 1950. Or her 1963 Oscar-winning role as the Duchess of Brighton in the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor movie The V.I.P.s.

As the actor Robert Morley once said, Margaret Rutherford was “everyone’s Maiden Aunt—a woman of enormous integrity who acted naturally…and was always frightfully funny.” Yet behind all this talent to amuse was a terrible secret worthy of a Miss Marple mystery—a story of madness, suicide and murder that haunted the great actress throughout her life.

To unlock this family secret we have to go back to the decade before Margaret Rutherford’s birth—to the marriage of her parents William Rutherford Benn and Florence Nicholson at All Saints Church, Wandsworth in December of 1882.

William was the son of the Reverend Julius Benn, an eminent social reformer and church figure and the grandfather of politician Tony Benn. Florence was of similar middle class stock but her parents were dead and one sister had committed suicide a few years before—which was an intimation of things to come.

Not long after their honeymoon, William had a serious psychotic breakdown. It has been suggested this was caused by his failure to consummate the marriage. Exactly a month after their wedding, William was admitted to Bethnal House Lunatic Asylum, where he was described as suffering from:

...depression alternating with unusual excitement and irritability.

William was detained at the asylum for several weeks until his condition improved. On release, his parents decided it best that William should not return immediately to Florence but instead take “a rest cure in the country.” William’s father the Rev. Julius decided to take his son to the spa town of Matlock in Derbyshire.

On February 27th, 1883, the two men checked into their room at a boarding house run by a Mrs Marchant in Chesterfield Road. Father and son appeared “on the most affectionate of terms” and were “very attached to each other.” They were described as “abstemious” and were seen taking long walks to various local sites.

But on Sunday March 4th something terrible happened.
 
02murdmosfo.jpg
 
The first indications of there being wrong was the strange ghastly noises coming from their room. When neither men appeared for breakfast:

Mrs Marchant, accompanied by her husband, entered the Benns’ room to find William Benn, his night shirt covered in blood, pointing to his father, who lay on the bed quite dead.

William had killed his father with a single blow to the head with an earthenware chamber pot. William had then attempted suicide by cutting his own throat. He stood in the room making feral noises blood bubbling from the gash in his throat.

This self-inflicted was not fatal. William was arrested and treated at the local infirmary. A few days later he attempted suicide again this time by jumping out of a second story window. He suffered injuries to his back and cuts to his body but was not seriously hurt. He was recaptured and held at the hospital.

At the inquest, the jury unanimously decided William had “wilfully murdered” his father. He was committed to the mercy of the Derbyshire Assizes for sentencing. William’s condition deteriorated drastically. He was declared “insane” and admitted to Broadmoor hospital. All charges against him were dropped on grounds of insanity.

What caused this tragic psychotic episode is unknown. William was treated at Broadmoor for seven years, after which he was released into the care of his wife Florence.

In a bid to escape the association with his murderous past, William changed his name from Benn to Rutherford by deed poll. This time the marriage was consummated and Margaret Taylor Rutherford was born on May 11th, 1892.
 
03murdahomr.jpg
 
William moved his family to India, where he worked as a merchant or “shipping clerk” and sometime journalist. Little is known of what happened during these years other than the suggestion (from Tony Benn) that William was deeply moved by the poverty he encountered and dedicated his time to helping those in direst need.

During their time together in India, Florence became pregnant. At some point during her pregnancy, Florence fell into a deep depression and exhibited signs of severe mental illness. Aware of his wife’s deteriorating condition, William made plans to move back to England. It came too late. Florence committed suicide. Her body was discovered one morning hanging from a tree in the garden.

In 1895, William and Margaret returned to England. He handed his daughter over to his wife’s remaining sister Bessie to raise. William then suffered a series of severe mental breakdowns that led to his incarceration at the Northumberland House Asylum, Finsbury Park, London in 1903.

Bessie took full charge of raising her niece. She told Margaret her parents were dead. All went well until one day a tramp approached Margaret as she played in the garden. This disheveled man told the young girl her father was very much alive and sent her his love. Margaret was terrified by the man and deeply troubled by what he had said.

She asked her aunt about her father. Bessie eventually told the truth. Margaret was devastated. She became depressed, withdrawn and non-communicative. Rutherford was terrified that she had inherited her parents’ insanity. She suffered the first of many mental breakdowns that she endured throughout her life, in later years going as far as undertaking electric shock therapy as a hopeful cure for her depression.

Margaret Rutherford never spoke publicly of her family’s history. In her autobiography, she made no reference to her father’s illness instead describing him as a:

...complicated romantic who changed his name to Rutherford as it was more aesthetic for a writer. My father died in tragic circumstances soon after my mother and so I became an orphan.

William had in fact been re-admitted to Broadmoor where he was incarcerated until his death in 1921. It is not known whether Margaret ever visited her father. However, he did write many letters to his daughter that caused her family considerable concern.

More after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Paul Gallagher
|
05.04.2016
01:42 pm
|
James Ellroy’s obsessive and murderous world
01.23.2015
01:21 pm
Topics:
Tags:

aaellpicroy.jpg
 
James Ellroy. Often writes. In. One. Word. Sentences. Sometimes two. It’s a style he developed when editing his novel White Jazz—the final volume of his famous (first) L.A. Quartet. He thought the manuscript too long—the action held back by unnecessary descriptive passages—so he slashed whole paragraphs and sentences to one-word blasts. The result was powerful, explosive, relentless—like being punched by a champion heavyweight, or poked in the chest by a speed freak keeping your attention focussed on his latest conspiracy theory.

Ellroy is the greatest living historical novelist/crime writer—historical novelist is how he describes himself—writing rich, complex novels—filled with multiple plot lines and characters—all held together, with Tolstoyan skill, in a single narrative.
 
aahilellro.jpg
Ellroy as a child pictured next to his mother in news report of her slaying.
 
If the past is a foreign country then Ellroy is a pioneer of that territory. He maps out America’s hidden criminal history—a dark foreboding underworld—which he situates between the twin poles of his personal obsession: the unsolved murder of his mother in 1958 and the slaying of Elizabeth Short, the “Black Dahlia,” whose tortured, brutalized and severed body was discovered in January 1947.
 
aablackdell.jpg
LA Times report on the ‘Black Dahlia’ murder, 1947.
 
These two murders underscore much of Ellroy’s life and fiction. He was just a ten-year-old kid when his mother was murdered by person or persons unknown. The trauma of this act led Ellroy into a world of petty crime, drug addiction and prison. He daydreamed and plotted and ran movies in his head where he saved a fantasy amalgam of his mother and Elizabeth Short from torturous demise. He knew his life was in free-fall—he was on a one-way ticket to the morgue. After a near fatal incident—a lung infection caused by his drug and alcohol addiction—Ellroy saved himself by writing crime fiction.

Last year, Ellroy published Perfidia—the first volume of his second L.A. Quartet—which follows (in real time) factual public and fictional private deeds across Los Angeles in the days around Pearl Harbor. Perfidia documents the racism and brutality of the cops and everyday Angelenos as Japanese-Americans are rounded-up and dumped in internment camps. It is a remarkable book, an adrenaline charged assault on America’s secret history and is arguably the best book he has written.

In 1994, Nicola Black made an astounding documentary on Ellroy called White Jazz that followed his quest to find his mother’s killer. If that had been available I’d have posted it here. Instead here is James Ellroy’s Feast of Death a BBC documentary form 2001 that covers similar ground but with the added bonus of a round table discussion on the Black Dahlia killing held in the Pacific Dining Car restaurant between Ellroy and a bunch of ex-cops and interested parties—including a briefly glimpsed Nick Nolte.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
|
01.23.2015
01:21 pm
|
Cold case playing cards highlight unsolved murders
01.20.2015
12:33 pm
Topics:
Tags:


James Foote, Florida (SOLVED)
 
In 2007 the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Department of Corrections, and the Attorney General’s Office worked with the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers to forge a new way to solve some of the state’s unsolved cases. It’s a regular deck of cards in which the face of each card features a photograph and some factual information about an unsolved homicide or missing persons case. In July 2007, 100,000 decks of cold case playing cards (two decks highlighting 104 unsolved cases) were distributed to inmates in the Florida’s prisons. Two cases, the murder of James Foote and the murder of Ingrid Lugo, were solved as a result.

Connecticut and Indiana have also taken up this idea, and produced decks of cards with homicide victims (sometimes missing persons) on them. We found a few images of the cards to show you. A friend of mine gave me a deck of the Connecticut set at a party recently, where they made quite the impression. They’re a little bit reminiscent of the “Iraqi Most-Wanted” playing cards that coalition forces distributed after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
 

Maurice White, Indiana
 

Linda Weldy, Indiana
 

 

Ingrid Lugo, Florida (SOLVED)

More after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Martin Schneider
|
01.20.2015
12:33 pm
|
‘Hannibal Lecter’ cannibal eats woman alive
11.07.2014
07:41 am
Topics:
Tags:

hannibalcaneatface.jpg
 
A “Hannibal Lecter” style cannibal was tasered to death by police after being found eating a woman alive in an hotel room in Wales.

Matthew Williams was discovered by security guards at the Sirhowy Arms Hotel in Argoed, Caerphilly, chewing on 22-year-old Cerys Marie Yemm’s eyeball “like a Creme Egg”. He was then seen eating half her face while in a “zombie-like” state.

Hotel staff called police who arrived and tasered Williams as he resisted arrest. It has been reported that Williams was high on cocaine and collapsed and died when hit by the electric shock.

The cannibal killer and his victim were both pronounced dead at the scene.

One shocked local, Lynn Beasley, told press:

“He went Hannibal Lecter on the woman. He gouged her eyeball out, ate that and then ate and half her face. He had just been released from prison and was high on coke.”

Another local woman, Jill Edwards, who lives near the hotel said:

“This animal was eating this girl to death. He murdered her so police stopped him – good on them. Security said they told him no girls in his room and he didn’t answer when they went to check. When they opened his door he was eating her face.”

It is believed Williams was in a relationship with Cerys Marie Yemm, who he had brought back to the hotel for a drink. Williams, who was nicknamed “Fifi,” was staying at the hotel following his release from prison after serving only half of a five-year prison sentence for an attack on his ex-partner. The hotel is used as a hostel for homeless, “vulnerable people” and recently released offenders.

Police said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the “incident.”
 

 
Via Daily Record & Daily Star
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher
|
11.07.2014
07:41 am
|
When Stoners Attack: ‘It’s Zippy, your favourite serial killer!’
06.05.2012
12:01 pm
Topics:
Tags:

image
Reefer Madness—not so ridiculous after all?
 
Another month, another PCP face-eating incident – it’s difficult to imagine this particular drug ever wholly shedding its unfortunate association with spontaneous cannibalism.

All such occurrences recall to me a curious chat I once had with an engaging crank who claimed disembodied and malevolent spirits liked to haunt pubs and bars, as sufficiently inebriated souls (if sufficiently weak-minded) were easy to “hitch a ride with” – hence the middling mayhem that forever orbits serious boozing.

Accordingly, might we posit that PCP can open channels to some very unpleasant (not to mention peckish) entities indeed?

If you keep an eye out for these incidents, you might also observe that some of the other, generally better-regarded recreational drugs appear to induce comparable states of spiritual vulnerability. To my mind, one of the most illustrative (not to mention blackly comic) examples of this phenomenon took place in 2004, when the then 24-year-old Daniel Gonzales – aka “Zippy” aka “The Freddy Krueger Killer” and the “Mummy’s Boy Killer”– ended up going on a four day knife-wielding killing spree around Sussex and North London after a night’s raving – killing four and attacking two others.

An insight into the singularly bizarre turn of Zippy’s mind was provided when an old friend of his sold their correspondence (conducted after Zippy was convicted and locked up in a maximum security psychiatric institution) to an English tabloid. In this correspondence, Zippy comes across as a truly ungodly mixture of Ali G and Jack the Ripper. Generally buoyant – “Bruv, it’s Zippy, your favourite serial killer!” – but forever pining for his beloved Ketamine and Doomcore (a fast, particularly unpleasant form of techno), the least effort at introspection reduces Zippy to a state of bewildered incoherence.

“Did you read my story in da paper? Enuff of dat cos it’s doin my head in, I just wanted to be like the guy in Scream or Halloween nuffin wrong wiv dat iz there? Wouldn’t you wanna be like Mike Meyers? But it ain’t worth it. U ’ave to pay the price.”

Deep. But however hard our “favourite serial killer” on occasion tries to meditate upon his actions (“I done somefin sick + I can’t believe it”), Zippy’s thoughts tend more towards raving than redemption:

“I know you will still be partying when I get out so we can go to Amsterdam together and all that. I won’t be in here forever so not to worry – as long as you stay goin partys and snortin K.”

You’ve got to admire Zippy’s conviction that, in the extraordinarily unlikely eventuality of his release (Zippy’s judge recommended he be incarcerated indefinitely –  and poor Zippy actually died in custody in 2007), his old pals would be so keen to pick up where they left off – skipping over to the ’dam to feast on psychedelics with a geriatric serial killer. Certainly Zippy’s “eccentricities” were generously tolerated prior to his arrest, as the following vignette (offered by Zippy’s correspondent in the accompanying tabloid interview) vividly demonstrates:

“Only a year before the murders we were round a friend’s house when Zippy pulled a map out of his pocket and unfolded it. He’d marked several churches in red ink and also named vicars serving at each. Someone asked what it was and he said he was studying it because he planned to kill all of the vicars in one, long rampage. Everyone just burst out laughing.”

A retrospectively sinister moment, you imagine! And one that arguably fits the hypothesis of possession – as might the following account of the killings themselves. Walk us through it, Zip, how did it all come to pass?

“Well I guess u wanna no wot happened! Remember that party wot we went to, it all happened after that party. I went out + killed 4 people cos I was so bored, basically I don’t know why I done it.”

So it would seem. At the time, the tabloids launched a half-baked witch hunt for Doomcore, but quickly lost interest after establishing that Zippy was one of about seven people who actually liked it. You’d think they’d have gone after recreational drugs (or even slasher films) instead. But, possession theory aside, I would recommend steering clear of anyone whose ideal night in consists of Doomcore, Freddy Kruger, and a gram of Ketamine. And whatever you do, don’t give them any PCP.

Posted by Thomas McGrath
|
06.05.2012
12:01 pm
|
Today is Transgender Day of Rememberance

image
 
So take a moment to remember all the gender variant people who have been killed in the past 12 months just for being who they are: Idania Roberta Sevilla Raudales, Luisa Alvarado Hernandez, Lady Oscar Martinez Salgado, Reana ‘Cheo’ Bustamente, Genesis Briget Makaligton, Krissy Bates (pictured), Alice Ferg, Tyra Trent, Priscila Brandao, Marcal Camero Tye, Shakra Harahap, Miss Nate Nate Daivs, Lashal Mclean, Didem, Camila Guzman, Gaby, Gaurav Gopalan, Ramazan Cetin, Shelley Hillard, Jesica Rollon, Astrid Carolina Lopez Cruz, Chassity Nathan Vickers, and the countless more un-named or unidentified murder victims (from the Transgender DOR website).

In their memory, and for all the gender variant people putting up with close-minded shit every single day, here’s Jayne County performing “Are You Man Enough To Be A Woman?” from the Japanese documentary New York Underground:
 

 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
|
11.20.2011
03:03 pm
|
Dorian Corey: The Drag Queen Had a Mummy in Her Closet
01.24.2011
09:18 pm
Topics:
Tags:

image
 
Here’s an interesting aside to the Paris Is Burning post from yesterday. Dorian Corey, the older drag queen featured heavily in the film, kept a mummified corpse in her apartment for an untold amount of years. Shot in the head, wrapped in fake leather and stuffed in a suitcase, it was only discovered after her death.

Figueroa said the body was “half-way” between mummified and decomposed. “When you have all this wrapping no air is getting to it” he explained. “But it is still losing liquid out of its body. So the body sort of floats in its own soup.” The skin was in very bad shape. “It was like very old fabric” Figueroa said. “If you touch it, it’s going to fall apart.” Figueroa spent several days treating the skin so he could take ten fingerprints off it.

...

I asked Figueroa if he thought the person who wrapped the body in imitation leather was trying to emulate the Egyptians. I thought it possible that Dorian Corey was into high camp with dead bodies as well as live ones.

“I don’t think so” he said. “People just wrap a body in whatever is available. It’s just spontaneous. You wrap it up. Then you put it in a suitcase. Then you put it in the closet. Then you just look at it periodically and wish it would go away.”

To this day nobody knows for sure who killed Bobby Worley or why. The full story, from a 1995 issue of New York magazine, can be read here. This is a bona fide legend of the drag scene, so it’s good to finally get the full low down. Or at least as much of it as possible.

Thanks to Geoff for digging this out!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
|
01.24.2011
09:18 pm
|