Crime

In a Word

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gen._Andrew_A._Humphreys_-_NARA_-_528076.jpg

thersitical
adj. abusive, foul-mouthed, reviling

In his Recollections of the Civil War, Charles Anderson Dana called Union general Andrew Atkinson Humphreys “one of the loudest swearers that I ever knew.” “The men of distinguished and brilliant profanity in the war were General Sherman and General Humphreys — I could not mention any others that could be classed with them. General Logan also was a strong swearer, but he was not a West Pointer: he was a civilian. Sherman and Humphreys would swear to make everything blue when some dispatch had not been delivered correctly or they were provoked.”

In Rex v. Sparling (1722), a leather dresser named James Sparling was alleged in the course of 10 days to “profanely swear fifty-four oaths, and profanely curse one hundred and sixty curses, contra formam statuti.” His conviction was overturned because the charge sheet had failed to list them. “For what is a profane oath or curse is a matter of law, and ought not to be left to the judgment of the witness … it is a matter of great dispute among the learned, what are oaths and what curses.”

When in 1985 a man named Callahan called a California highway patrolman a “fucking asshole,” California Court of Appeal Justice Gerald Brown referred to this phrase as the “Callahan epithet” to avoid having to repeat it continuously, “which arguably would assist its passage into parlor parlance.” And he reversed Callahan’s conviction:

A land as diverse as ours must expect and tolerate an infinite variety of expression. What is vulgar to one may be lyric to another. Some people spew four-letter words as their common speech such as to devalue its currency; their repetition dulls the senses; Billingsgate thus becomes commonplace. Not everyone can be a Daniel Webster, a William Jennings Bryan or a Joseph A. Ball. …

Fifty years ago the words ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ were as shocking to the sensibilities of some people as the Callahan epithet is to others today. The first word in Callahan’s epithet has many meanings. When speaking about coitus, not everyone can be an F.E. Smith (later Earl of Birkenhead) who, in his speech in 1920 in the House of Commons on the Matrimonial Causes Act, referred to ‘that bond by which nature in its ingenious telepathy has contrived to secure and render agreeable the perpetuation of the species.’

Spirit Reading

https://www.google.com/patents/US1767820

During Prohibition, an enforcement agent had a tough job: If he infiltrated a speakeasy and ordered a drink to confirm that it was alcoholic. his oral testimony could easily be attacked in court, and, ironically, once he admitted that he drank alcohol regularly then defense attorneys could question his reliability.

Robert Tetro patented this solution in 1930. Instead of drinking your drink, you’d discreetly clip a tube over the rim of the glass, reach into your pocket and squeeze a bulb, drawing off a sample. Then you’d pay your tab and leave. If the sample proved alcoholic then the feds could raid the place, which had no warning that it was under surveillance. And now the authorities had physical proof that alcohol was being served.

In the patent application, Tetro says his invention “has been used to a considerable extent, proving its value.” He was based in Michigan; I don’t know how widely it was used.

Fair Play

An extraordinary scene took place on Saturday last at a small village within three miles of Middleton. A half-witted fellow named James Driscott had cruelly ill-used his donkey. He was told by several of the villagers that he would be brought up before the magistrates and severely punished; but his informants said that if he consented to do penance for his inhuman conduct, no information should be laid against him. Discott gladly agreed to the proposed terms. The donkey was placed in the cart, and its owner, with the collar round his neck, was constrained to drag his four-footed servant through the village. The scene is described by a local reporter as being the most laughter-moving one he had ever witnessed.

Illustrated Police News, Jan. 22, 1876

Exercises

Around Christmas 1921, 16-year-old Vera Howley began to take singing lessons from Owen Richard Williams, the choirmaster of a local Presbyterian church. He had an odd way of working:

On the occasion of the second singing lesson on January 17 the appellant said that she was not singing as she should and was not getting her notes properly and told her to lie down on a settee. He then removed a portion of her clothing and placed upon the lower part of her body an instrument — which was in the nature of an aneroid barometer and according to the evidence was not in working order and would not in any event have been affected by the breathing of the girl — and then told her to take a deep breath three times. He looked at the instrument and purported to write something in a book. He then dropped on to her and proceeded to have sexual intercourse with her. She said: ‘What are you going to do?’ He said: ‘It is quite all right; do not worry. I am going to make an air passage. This is my method of training. Your breathing is not quite right and I have to make an air passage to make it right. Your parents know all about it, it has all been arranged; before God, Vera, it is quite right. I will not do you any harm.’ The girl made no resistance, as she believed what he told her and did not know that what he did was wrong — nor did she know that he was having sexual intercourse with her. The appellant had sexual intercourse with the girl a second time on April 28 in similar circumstances.

Vera told her parents, and Williams was tried at the Liverpool Assizes. He argued that she’d given consent; the court ruled that she’d consented to what she thought was a medical or surgical operation, not intercourse. Williams served 7 years for rape and 12 months for indecent assault.

(King v. Williams [1923] 1 K.B. 340. From Ralph Slovenko, Tragicomedy in Court Opinions, 1973.)

Whose Who’s

What’s the difference between forgery and plagiarism?

“This has been answered clearly by Monroe C. Beardsley: In the case of plagiarism one concerns oneself in ‘passing off another’s work as one’s own’; in the case of forgery, in ‘passing off one’s own work as another’s.'”

— Sándor Radnóti, The Fake: Forgery and Its Place in Art, 1999

Podcast Episode 64: Murder at the Priory

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hackstonr/3124552891/in/photolist-5L79Hz-7GLYPP-7GQVtm-7GLYQz-7GLYTx-7GLYSD-7GLYRz-mmJQL-697uHh-7B32gG-4mguAj-dx3n1h-dvS11W-m7xdc-m4xRt-m4vgZ-5LeaQA-6N6qA6-3RFcxJ

In 1876 London was riveted by the dramatic poisoning of a young barrister and the sordid revelations that emerged about his household. In today’s show we’ll review the baffling case of Charles Bravo’s murder, which Agatha Christie called “one of the most mysterious poisoning cases ever recorded.”

We’ll also get an update on career possibilities for garden hermits and puzzle over how the police know that a shooting death is not a homicide.

Many thanks to Ronald Hackston for his evocative photo of The Priory, Balham, the site of Charles Bravo’s unsolved 1876 poisoning.

Sources for that feature:

James Ruddick, Death at the Priory: Sex, Love, and Murder in Victorian England, 2001.

Chirag Trivedi, “Victorian Whodunnit Solved,” BBC, Jan. 13, 2003 (accessed June 28, 2015).

“The Bravo Inquiry” and “The Theory of Suicide in the Bravo Case,” Medical Times and Gazette, Aug. 19, 1876.

Joyce Emmerson Muddock, Pages From an Adventurous Life, 1907.

Listener mail:

Amanda Williams, “Wanted: ‘Outgoing’ Hermit,” Daily Mail, May 5, 2014 (retrieved July 3, 2015).

Greater Manchester News, “Hermit Wanted for Historic Gardens,” July 3, 2009 (retrieved July 3, 2015).

“Hermit Wanted for ‘Ivory Tower’,” BBC, July 1, 2009 (retrieved July 3, 2015).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Sam B., who sent this corroborating link (warning: this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

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Podcast Episode 62: Marconi Catches a Murderer

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dewcrippen.jpg

The discovery of the gruesome remains of a human body buried in a doctor’s cellar shocked London in 1910. In this week’s podcast we’ll recount the dramatic use of the recently invented wireless telegraph in capturing the main suspect in the crime.

We’ll also hear a letter that Winston Churchill wrote to Winston Churchill and puzzle over why a sober man is denied a second beer.

Sources for our feature on the telegraphic nabbing of Edwardian uxoricide Hawley Harvey Crippen:

Erik Larson, Thunderstruck, 2006.

Associated Press, “Wireless Flashes Crippen and Girl Aboard Montrose,” Los Angeles Herald, July 29, 1910.

“Captain Sure Suspects are Pair Police Seek,” Los Angeles Herald, July 29, 1910.

“Crippen Mystery Remains Despite DNA Claim,” BBC News, Oct. 18, 2007 (accessed June 16, 2015).

Mark Townsend, “Appeal Judges Asked to Clear Notorious Murderer Dr. Crippen,” Guardian, June 6, 2009 (accessed June 16, 2015).

Proceedings of Crippen’s 1910 trial at Old Bailey Online.

08/02/2015 Listener Iain Cadman notes that BBC Radio 4 recently offered this dramatization of the Crippen story.

Here’s Winston Churchill’s June 1899 letter to American author Winston Churchill:

Mr. Winston Churchill presents his compliments to Mr. Winston Churchill, and begs to draw his attention to a matter which concerns them both. He has learnt from the Press notices that Mr. Winston Churchill proposes to bring out another novel, entitled Richard Carvel, which is certain to have a considerable sale both in England and America. Mr. Winston Churchill is also the author of a novel now being published in serial form in Macmillan’s Magazine, and for which he anticipates some sale both in England and America. He also proposes to publish on the 1st of October another military chronicle on the Soudan War. He has no doubt that Mr. Winston Churchill will recognise from this letter — if indeed by no other means — that there is grave danger of his works being mistaken for those of Mr. Winston Churchill. He feels sure that Mr. Winston Churchill desires this as little as he does himself. In future to avoid mistakes as far as possible, Mr. Winston Churchill has decided to sign all published articles, stories, or other works, ‘Winston Spencer Churchill,’ and not ‘Winston Churchill’ as formerly. He trusts that this arrangement will commend itself to Mr. Winston Churchill, and he ventures to suggest, with a view to preventing further confusion which may arise out of this extraordinary coincidence, that both Mr. Winston Churchill and Mr. Winston Churchill should insert a short note in their respective publications explaining to the public which are the works of Mr. Winston Churchill and which those of Mr. Winston Churchill. The text of this note might form a subject for future discussion if Mr. Winston Churchill agrees with Mr. Winston Churchill’s proposition. He takes this occasion of complimenting Mr. Winston Churchill upon the style and success of his works, which are always brought to his notice whether in magazine or book form, and he trusts that Mr. Winston Churchill has derived equal pleasure from any work of his that may have attracted his attention.

From Richard M. Langworth, The Definitive Wit of Winston Churchill, 2009.

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle appeared originally on NPR’s Car Talk, contributed there by listener George Parks.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on iTunes or via the RSS feed at http://feedpress.me/futilitycloset.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — on our Patreon page you can pledge any amount per episode, and all contributions are greatly appreciated. You can change or cancel your pledge at any time, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support.

You can also make a one-time donation via the Donate button in the sidebar of the Futility Closet website.

Please take our five-minute survey to help us find advertisers to support the show.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

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In a Word

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lucas_Cranach_d.%C3%84._-_Alter_Mann_und_junge_Dirnen.jpg

meretriculate
v. to deceive in the manner of a prostitute

BOW-STREET — Eliza Merchant, a black-eyed girl, of that class of women known as ‘unfortunates,’ was charged by Garnet Comerford, a sailor, with robbing him of four sovereigns, several dollars and half-crowns, and his shoes. The tar stated that on Wednesday evening, about eight o’clock he left the house of his Captain, the honourable Mr. Duncan, at the west end of town, intending to pay a visit to a sister, whom he had not seen since he left England in the Seringapatem. On the way, he met as tight a looking frigate as ever he clapt his eyes on. She hoisted friendly colours; he hove to; and they agreed together to steer into port. They sailed up the Strand, when she said she would tow him to a snug berth, and he should share her hammock for the night. He consented; and when he awoke in the morning he found that she had cut and run. His rigging had been thrown all about the room, his four sovereigns and silver, and shoes were carried off.

The Morning Chronicle, Dec. 8, 1828

A Second Paradox of Blackmail

We covered one paradox regarding blackmail in 2010: If it’s legal for me to reveal your secret, and it’s legal for me to ask you for money, why is it illegal for me to demand payment to keep your secret? In the words of Northwestern University law professor James Lindgren, “Why do two rights make a wrong?”

Here’s a second paradox: If you had initiated the same transaction — if you had offered to pay me for my silence, and I’d agreed — then we’d have the same outcome, but this time it’s legal. “It is considered paradoxical that the sale of secrecy is legal if it takes the form of a bribe, yet is illegal where the sale of secrecy takes the form of blackmail,” writes Loyola University economist Walter Block. “Why should the legality of a sale of secrecy depend entirely upon who initiates the transaction? Why is bribery legal but blackmail not?”

(Walter Block et al., “The Second Paradox of Blackmail,” Business Ethics Quarterly, July 2000.)

The Panopticon

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Panopticon.jpg

In the 18th century Jeremy Bentham proposed building a circular prison in which well-lit cells face a central “inspection house” where a single watchman dwells. Because the prisoners can’t see the watchman, they never know when they’re being watched and so must constantly police their own behavior.

Bentham called this “a mill for grinding rogues honest” and listed the benefits in the preface to a 1791 book: “Morals reformed — health preserved — industry invigorated — instruction diffused — public burthens lightened — Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock — the gordian knot of the poor-law not cut, but untied — all by a simple idea in Architecture!”

He was so taken with the idea that he proposed putting it into practice himself. “Allow me to construct a prison on this model,” he wrote to the Committee for the Reform of Criminal Law. “I will be the gaoler. You will see … that the gaoler will have no salary — will cost nothing to the nation.” He spent much of the 1790s pursuing the project, but he couldn’t find enduring support for it and nothing was ever built.

(Thanks, Anna.)

Good Boy

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1207763

In November 1869 Missouri farmer Charles Burden sued his neighbor, Leonidas Hornsby, for shooting his dog Drum. Hornsby denied it, but neighbors had heard the shot and the dog’s cries of pain on the night in question, and Drum had been found dead of a gunshot the following morning. Furious, Burden sued Hornsby for $50, the maximum amount allowed by law. The two battled back and forth in the courts for a year. Finally, at end of the fourth trial, Burden’s attorney George Graham Vest rose to make this closing argument:

Gentlemen of the jury. The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name, may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is the dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground when the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws and his eyes sad but open, in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even to death.

Burden won, getting $50 and justice for his dog. Hornsby appealed to the state supreme court but lost.

Vest, the attorney, had said he would “win the case or apologize to every dog in Missouri.”

Grave Matters

In 1554 Sir James Hales drowned himself. The coroner returned a verdict of felo de se, meaning that Sir James was guilty of the felony of self-murder. His estate was forfeited to the crown, which planned to award it to one Cyriac Petit. Sir James’ widow, Margaret, contested this. So the case turned on the question whether the grounds for forfeiture had occurred during Sir James’ lifetime: Had his suicide occurred during his life, or after his death?

Margaret Hales’ counsel argued that one can’t be guilty of suicide while one is still living, practically by definition, so self-murder shouldn’t be classed as a felony: “He cannot be felo de se till the death is fully consummate, and the death precedes the felony and the forfeiture.”

But Petit’s counsel argued that part of the act of suicide lies in planning to do it, which certainly occurs during life: “The act consists of three parts: the first is the imagination, which is a reflection or meditation of the mind, whether or not it is convenient for him to destroy himself, and what way it can be done; the second is the resolution, which is a determination of the mind to destroy himself; the third is the perfection, which is the execution of what the mind had resolved to do. And of all the parts, the doing of the act is the greatest in the judgment of our law, and it is in effect the whole.”

The court ruled for Petit, finding that Sir James had killed himself during his lifetime: “The forfeiture shall have relation to the time the original offence began which caused the death, and that was the throwing himself into the water, which was done in his lifetime and this act was felony. That which caused the death may be said to be feloniously done. The felony is attributed to the act, which act is always done by a living man; for, Brown said, Sir James Hales was dead, and how came he by his death? It may be answered by drowning; and who drowned him? Sir James Hales; and when did he this? It can be answered, in his lifetime. So that Sir James Hales being alive caused Sir James Hales to be dead, and the act of the living man caused the death of the dead man.”

The case is remembered, and not charitably, in the churchyard scene in Hamlet:

First Clown: Give me leave. Here lies the water; good: here stands the man; good; if the man go to this water, and drown himself, it is, will he, nill he, he goes,–mark you that; but if the water come to him and drown him, he drowns not himself: argal, he that is not guilty of his own death shortens not his own life.

Second Clown: But is this law?

First Clown: Ay, marry, is’t; crowner’s quest law.

In a Word

laquearian
adj. armed with a noose

funipendulous
adj. hanging from a rope

patibulary
adj. pertaining to the gallows

On Feb. 23, 1885, convicted murderer John Lee of Devon was brought to the scaffold and positioned on the trapdoor. The noose was fitted around his neck, and executioner James Berry pulled the lever.

Nothing happened.

Two warders tried to force the trapdoor to open under Lee, but they failed. They removed the condemned man and tested the door, and it worked. So they put Lee in position again, and again Berry pulled the lever.

Again nothing happened.

Exasperated, the warders again put Lee aside and set to work on the door, this time with hatchets. When they were satisfied, they returned him to the scaffold, and Berry pulled the lever a third time.

Nothing happened.

So the Home Secretary commuted Lee’s sentence to life imprisonment.

The Sumter County Does

sumter county does

In the early morning of Aug. 9, 1976, the bodies of a young man and woman were found on a secluded dirt road in Sumter County, S.C. Each had been shot in the throat, chest, and back. Both were white and in their mid-20s. They bore no identification, but there were signs that they were wealthy: He wore an expensive Bulova watch and had had specialized dental work, and she wore a jade ring.

“They were clean, neat,” remembered county coroner Verna Moore. “She was beautiful, real pretty girl. He was also.”

Police circulated composite drawings across the country and asked anyone with information to come forward. The case was publicized on numerous national news programs, and police consulted Interpol, immigration authorities, and U.S. Customs investigators. In 30 years, thousands of tips have been offered, but every lead has fallen through. No one has ever explained who the pair were, how they came there, who might have killed them, or why.

“I have not given up on this case,” Moore said in 2001. “The reason I am haunted is, I cannot understand how two young people disappeared from somewhere and that their parents would not be looking for them. … I can’t count the times when somebody hasn’t asked, ‘Have you ever found out who those children are?'”

Spray Ain’t

http://www.google.com/patents/about?id=AmolAAAAEBAJ

Henry Hunt’s “graffiti prevention apparatus,” patented in 1997, offers a novel way to keep city walls clean: Paint manufacturers would mix magnetic material into their products, and a sensor near each building would sense when a vandal was near.

“When a proximity sensor on, or in the vicinity of, the structure is triggered by an approaching intruder, a magnetic field created along the targeting surface acts to repel the spray of marking media directed at it.”

Alternatively, the sensor would direct a signal to the spray-paint can, turning the nozzle away from the wall or shutting off the flow of paint. But I guess the spray-paint manufacturers would all have to participate … and vandals may be their biggest market.

Twice Mistaken

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AdolfBeckMugshot.jpg

In December 1895, Norwegian mining engineer Adolph Beck stepped out of his London flat and was accosted by a woman who accused him of tricking her out of some jewelry. Beck protested his innocence — he had been in Buenos Aires at the time — but the police accused him of an unsolved series of such swindles, and he was sentenced to seven years of penal servitude.

He was paroled in July 1901 and essentially the same thing happened again — a woman accused him of stealing her jewelry, he was arrested, and a jury found him guilty. He was saved only because another man was arrested for the same crime while Beck was awaiting sentencing. Wilhelm Meyer, it turned out, was the real swindler; Beck had been convicted twice for crimes he hadn’t committed.

They set him free and gave him £5,000, but he died a bitter man in 1909.

Double Indemnity

This past February, brothers named Elwin and Yohan were arrested for six rapes in France, but both denied the charges. Deciding which is guilty is a tricky affair — they’re identical twins, so the genetic difference between them is very slight. Marseille police chief Emmanual Kiehl said, “It could take thousands of separate tests before we know which one of them may be guilty.”

This is only the latest in a series of legal conundrums involving identical twins and DNA evidence. During a jewel heist in Germany in January 2009, thieves left behind a drop of sweat on a latex glove. A crime database showed two hits — identical twins Hassan and Abbas O. (under German law their last name was withheld). Both brothers had criminal records for theft and fraud, but both were released. The court ruled, “From the evidence we have, we can deduce that at least one of the brothers took part in the crime, but it has not been possible to determine which one.”

Later that year, identical twins Sathis Raj and Sabarish Raj escaped hanging in Malaysia when a judge ruled it was impossible to determine which was guilty of drug smuggling. “Although one of them must be called to enter a defence, I can’t be calling the wrong twin to enter his defence,” the judge told the court. “I also can’t be sending the wrong person to the gallows.”

In 2003, a Missouri woman had sex with identical twins Raymon and Richard Miller within hours of one another. When she became pregnant, both men denied fathering the child. In Missouri a man can be named a legal father only if a paternity test shows a 98 percent or higher probability of a DNA match, but the Miller twins both showed a probability of more than 99.9 percent.

“With identical twins, even if you sequenced their whole genome you wouldn’t find difference,” forensic scientist Bob Gaensslen told ABC News at the time. More recent research shows that this isn’t the case, but teasing out the difference can be expensive — in the Marseilles case, police were told that such a test would cost £850,000.

It goes on. Last month British authorities were trying to decide how to prosecute a rape when DNA evidence identified both Mohammed and Aftab Asghar. “It is an unusual case,” said prosecutor Sandra Beck. “They are identical twins. The allegation is one of rape. There is further work due.”

A Parting Kiss

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:B%C3%A9la_Kiss.jpg

In December 1912 Hungarian tinsmith Béla Kiss told his neighbors that his wife had run off with another man. At the same time he began collecting large metal drums, telling the town constable that he planned to stockpile gasoline against the approaching war in Europe.

In November 1914 Kiss was drafted and left for the front, and in 1916 he was declared dead in combat. When soldiers visited the town that June in search of gasoline, the constable directed them to the dead man’s drums. On opening these they found that each contained not gasoline but the body of a nude woman, strangled and pickled in alcohol. A search of the house showed that Kiss had been luring women using newspaper advertisements in the name of Hoffmann, a “lonely widower seeking female companionship.”

In the surrounding countryside authorities found 17 more drums, each containing a corpse. Among them were Kiss’ wife and her lover.

It got worse. In 1919 Kiss was spotted near the Margaret Bridge in Budapest, and police discovered that the Béla Kiss who had been reported dead was in fact another man. In 1924 a deserter from the French Foreign Legion told of a legionnaire named Hoffmann who matched Kiss’ description and boasted of his skill with a garotte. But this Hoffmann himself deserted before police could apprehend him.

In 1932 New York detective Henry “Camera Eye” Oswald, who was renowned for remembering faces, insisted that he had seen Kiss emerge from the subway in Times Square, but crowds had prevented him from reaching him. Kiss was never apprehended, and his final fate is unknown.

False Confessions

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Great_Fire_London.jpg

After the Great Fire of London, a French watchmaker named Robert Hubert confessed to having started the blaze in Westminster. When he learned that the fire had never reached Westminster, he claimed to have thrown a fire grenade into a bakery window in Pudding Lane. It turned out that the bakery had no windows, Hubert was too crippled to have thrown a grenade anyway, and in fact he hadn’t even arrived in London until two days after the fire had started. He was convicted and hanged anyway.

Related: In 1797, the crew of the frigate Hermione mutinied and killed the cruel captain Hugh Pigot. An Admiralty official later reported, “In my own experience I have known, on separate occasions, more than six sailors who voluntarily confessed to having struck the first blow at Captain Pigot. These men detailed all the horrid circumstances of the mutiny with extreme minuteness and perfect accuracy; nevertheless, not one of them had ever been in the ship, nor had so much as seen Captain Pigot in their lives. They had obtained, by tradition, from their messmates the particulars of the story. When long on a foreign station, hungering and thirsting for home, their minds became enfeebled; at length they actually believed themselves guilty of the crime over which they had so long brooded, and submitted, with a gloomy pleasure to being sent to England in irons for judgment. At the Admiralty we were always able to detect and establish their innocence, in defiance of their own solemn asseverations.”

From Southwood Smith, “Lectures on Forensic Medicine,” in the London Medical Gazette, Jan. 20, 1838. See also The Campden Wonder.

Planning Ahead

Excerpts from the diary of 16-year-old Pauline Parker of Christchurch, New Zealand, 1954:

February 13th: Why could not mother die? Dozens of people, thousands of people are dying every day. So why not mother, and father too? Life is hard.
April 25th: Deborah [her 15-year-old friend Juliet Hulme] and I are sticking to one thing. We sink or swim together.
April 28th: Anger against mother boiled up inside me. It is she who is one of the main obstacles in my path. Suddenly a means of ridding myself of the obstacle occurred to me. If she were to die …
April 29th: I did not tell Deborah of my plans for removing mother. The last fate I wish to meet is one in a Borstal. I am trying to think of some way. I want it to appear either a natural or an accidental death.
June 6: We are both stark, staring mad.
June 19th: We practically finished our books today and our main “ike” for the day was to moider mother. This notion is not a new one, but this time it is a definite plan which we intend to carry out. We have worked it out carefully and are both thrilled by the idea. Naturally we feel a trifle nervous, but the pleasure of anticipation is great.
June 20th: We discussed our plans for moidering mother and made them a little clearer. Peculiarly enough, I have no qualms of conscience (or is it peculiar we are so mad?).
June 21st: I rose early and helped mother vigorously this morning. Deborah rang and we decided to use a brick in a stocking rather than a sand-bag. We discussed the moider fully. I feel keyed up as if I was planning a surprise party. Mother has fallen in with everything beautifully and the happy event is to take place tomorrow afternoon. So next time I write in the diary mother will be dead. How odd, yet how pleasing.

On the afternoon of June 22, Parker and Hulme ran into a Christchurch tea shop, crying that Parker’s mother had tripped on a plank and hit her head on a brick. “Mummy’s been hurt terribly,” Parker said. “I think she’s dead.” Police found the body of 45-year-old Honora Mary Parker on a secluded path in nearby Victoria Park. An autopsy found “forty-five discernible injuries, twenty-four being lacerated wounds on the face and head.” Parker quickly confessed under questioning:

Q: Who assaulted your mother?
A: I did.
Q: Why?
A: If you don’t mind I won’t answer that question.
Q: When did you make up your mind to kill your mother?
A: A few days ago …
Q: What did your mother say when you struck her?
A: I would rather not answer that.
Q: How often did you hit her?
A: I don’t know, but a great many times I imagine.

It transpired that Hulme’s father had planned to take Juliet to South Africa, and both girls knew that Mrs. Parker would refuse to let Pauline go with her. “These girls are not incurably insane,” the prosecutor told the jury. “They are incurably bad.” They were sentenced to five years in separate prisons.

The Easy Way

Ludwig Schlekat bought a bank with its own money. Over the course of 17 years, starting in 1936, he embezzled $600,000 from the Parnassus National Bank of New Kensington, Pa. Then he invented two fictional investors and arranged for them to buy the bank and make him president.

In his new position he earned $800 a month, four times the salary he’d been getting as a teller. He bought a $19,500 home, $13,000 in furnishings, and a $1,000 diamond for his wife. When regulators pounced on these he resisted, saying they’d been bought with earned rather than stolen money. He went to jail for 10 years.

Crime Does Not Pay

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Tiger_shark.png

In 1799, the English cutter Sparrow intercepted the brig Nancy in the Caribbean. The area was forbidden to American ships, but the Nancy’s captain, Thomas Briggs, produced papers claiming she was owned by a Dutchman. Suspecting a smuggler but lacking evidence, the Sparrow’s captain sent Briggs to Jamaica to have his case heard by the vice-admiralty.

Two days later, another English ship, the Ferret, caught a large shark near the coast of Haiti. In its belly were the papers of the American ship Nancy — which Briggs had thrown overboard before getting false Dutch papers in Curaçao.

The “shark papers” were produced in court, and the Nancy and her cargo were confiscated.

Minor Theft

https://www.google.com/patents/US5079541

In 1955 Carolyn Wharton became the youngest person ever kidnapped — 29 minutes after she was born, she was abducted from the Baptist Hospital in Beaumont, Texas, by a woman disguised as a nurse.

This might have saved her — in 1992 Thomas Moody proposed adding anti-theft devices to hospital baby diapers. The diapers would bear a distinctive pattern so that any attempt to remove or replace them would be spotted by hospital workers.

“In addition to sounding an alarm, the system may be coupled to the doors or elevators of the secure area to prevent egress by would-be abductors or to other security measures such as television recorders.”

Lending a Hand

http://books.google.com/books?id=aswXAQAAMAAJ

The tricks by which a shop-lifter succeeds in plying her profession without being caught are many and ingenious. The most successful of all tricks is the false arm and hand, shown in one of the illustrations. While the shop-lifter’s hands are apparently in sight of the store clerks, one is at work stowing away articles. The false hand is, of course, gloved and thrust through one of the sleeves. The real hand works under cover of the bodice and coat. The second illustration shows one of the pockets in which stolen articles are secreted.

Popular Mechanics, September 1908