The Hook Hoax

Desperate to fill a hole on the front page of Truth one Friday afternoon in 1954, Australian journalist Phillip Knightley invented a story about a sex criminal known as the Hook who haunted the Sydney train network raising women’s skirts with a length of wire fashioned from an old coat hanger. “The wire ran over his right shoulder and down his coat sleeve where it stopped in a hook just short of the cuff. The Hook, while pretending to read a newspaper, would sidle alongside an attractive and unsuspecting girl as they stood in a crowded train, drop his shoulder to extend the hook which he would then slip under the girl’s skirt and surreptitiously raise it to look at her stocking tops.”

Knightley quoted an anonymous officer saying that suburban police had been inundated with complaints; an anonymous victim spoke of her resolution to avoid the trains until the pervert was caught; and a staff artist drew his impression of the Hook at work. Knightley’s editor approved the story, and it ran with the headline HOOK SEX PERVERT STRIKES AGAIN.

On Monday morning Knightley’s phone rang.

“Sergeant Williamson here. Did you write that stuff about the Hook?”


“Right. Well, I just want to thank you and let you know that we go the bastard this morning.”

“Got him?”

“Yeah. Arrested him at Punchbowl station. Caught him in the act. You might want to write about it.”

“Thinking about it, as I still do from time to time, I came up with several explanations,” Knightley wrote in his 1997 memoir A Hack’s Progress. Possibly a copycat had read the story, emulated the Hook, and got caught. Possibly a Hook had really existed who coincidentally matched Knightley’s story. Or possibly the Sydney police had nominated a minor sex offender as the Hook in order to polish its record. “I decided that the last explanation was the most likely and, filled with guilt, I swore that would be the first and last time I would ever make up a story,” Knightley wrote. “This turned out to be a vow that was not easy to keep, because I soon fell in with the Fleet Street Royal press corps, which made up stories all the time.”

Things to Come

doughty shell

This is remarkable: In 1862, U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton received a letter proposing the use of chlorine gas against the Confederate army, an idea 50 years ahead of its time. The inventor was John W. Doughty of New York City:


The above is a representation of a projectile which I have devised to be used as a means for routing an entrenched enemy. Believing it to be new and valuable, I send the War Department a brief description: Chlorine is a gas so irritating in its effects upon the respiratory organs, that a small quantity diffused in the atmosphere, produces incessant & uncontrollably violent coughing.It is 2 1/2 times heavier than the atmosphere, and when subjected to a pressure of 60 pounds to the inch, it is condensed into a liquid, its volume being reduced many hundred times. A shell holding two or three quarts, would therefore contain many cubic feet of the gas.

If the shell should explode over the heads of the enemy, the gas would, by its great specific gravity, rapidly fall to the ground: the men could not dodge it, and their first intimation of its presence would be by its inhalation, which would most effectually disqualify every man for service that was within the circle of its influence; rendering the disarming and capturing of them as certain as though both their legs were broken.

The War Department, which was flooded with well-meant but impractical suggestions, let this one go, and chlorine gas would not appear on the battlefield until Ypres in 1915.

“Experiment alone can determine whether this shell has any practical merit,” Doughty had written. “Possibly, I overrate its value; but it must not be forgotten, that while it does the work of an ordinary shell, it also carries with it a force against whose effect the most skillful military engineering can not possibly make any adequate provision.”

“As to the moral question involved in its introduction, I have, after watching the progress of events during the last eight months with reference to it, arrived at the somewhat paradoxical conclusion, that its introduction would very much lessen the sanguinary character of the battlefield, and at the same time render conflicts more decisive in their results.”

Professional Monster

Issei Sagawa took an unlikely path to fame — after killing and cannibalizing a Dutch woman in Paris in 1981, he wrote a fictionalized account of the crime, In the Mist, that sold 200,000 copies in his native Japan:

There is a loud sound and her body falls from the chair onto the floor. It is like she is watching me. I see her cheeks, her eyes, her nose and mouth, the blood pouring from her head. I try to talk to her, but she no longer answers. There is blood all over the floor. I try to wipe it up, but I realize I cannot stop the flow of blood from her head. It is very quiet here. There is only the silence of death.

Since his release from a Japanese psychiatric hospital in 1985, Sagawa has parlayed his reputation into a ghoulish industry. He has produced four novels, written a weekly column for a Japanese tabloid, appeared on the cover of a gourmet magazine, and is a regular subject of television documentaries. His crime inspired the Rolling Stones’ song “Too Much Blood.”

“The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism, and I am happy about that,” he said. “I will always look at the world through the eyes of a cannibal.”

Pest Control

Besieged by cotton worms in 1870, Louisiana planter Auguste Le Blanc invented the 19-century equivalent of a bug zapper. The worms transform into noctural moths in order to reproduce, so Le Blanc suspended an eight-foot ring of gasoline burners from the roof of a horse-drawn cart that he drove through his fields at night, following lanes that he had laid out for this purpose.

The roof may serve not only to protect the burners from rain, but also as a means of destroying the moths, for I sometimes coat the underside of the roof with a paint, preferably white paint, made without any ‘drying’ in it, that is to say, made with oil alone, so as to present a sticky surface. When the machine is in use, the moths, attracted and blinded by the light, will either be destroyed by the flame, or else will come in contact with and adhere to the sticky coating of paint.

I don’t know how well it worked, but he deserves credit for his ingenuity. “A machine of eight burners will protect from forty-five to fifty acres of cotton, while the cheapness of the fluid employed for burning purposes renders the expense trifling in comparison with the benefits derived.”

Cold Water

There is also another matter to be mentioned for which both present and future ages have good reason to bless the name of Jonas Hanway. He was the first person who had the courage to hold an umbrella over his head in walking along the streets of London. ‘The eighteenth century,’ writes Chambers, ‘was half elapsed before the umbrella had even begun to be used in England. General Wolfe, writing from Paris in 1752, remarks: “The people here use umbrellas in hot weather to defend them from the sun, and something of the same kind to save them from the snow and the rain. I wonder that a practice so useful is not introduced in England.” Just about that time, however, a gentleman did exercise the moral courage to use an umbrella in the streets of London. He was the noted Jonas Hanway, then newly returned form Persia, and in delicate health, by which, of course, his using such a convenience was justified both to himself and to the public. “A parapluie,” we are told, defended Mr. Hanway’s face and wig. For a time no other than dainty beings, then called “Macaronies,” ventured to carry an umbrella; and any one doing so was sure to be hailed by the mob as a “mincing Frenchman.” One John Macdonald, a footman, who has favored the public with his memoirs, found as late as 1770 that, on appearing with a fine silk umbrella which he had brought from Spain, he was saluted with the cry of “Frenchman, why don’t you get a coach?”‘

— “Jonas Hanway, the Philanthropist,” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly, April 1884

Roll Call

In 1938, University of North Carolina folklorist Arthur Palmer Hudson published a collection of unusual African-American names, most gathered through personal interviews but others “unimpeachably attested” by state bureaus of vital statistics:

Comer Mercantile Company
Castor Oil
Dr. Root Beer
Artificial Flowers
Dill Pickle
League of Nations
Toledo Ohio
Positive Wasserman (after a hospital wrist tag)
Jesus Hoover Christ (“the family was a beneficiary of the Red Cross when Hoover was director”)
Jesse James Outlaw
James All Virtuous
Sandy Alexander Soap Fish and Tobacco Box
Susan Anna Banana Green Doosenberry Watson
Rosa Belle Locust Hill North Carolina Beauty Spot Evans
Frank Harrison President of the United States Eats His Lasses Candy and Swings on Every Gate Williams
Pneumonia and Neuralgia (twins)
Flat Foot Floogie
State Normal and Industrial College (“Snic”)
No Parking
Lake Erie Banks
Cleopatra Blue

In the 1850s, a Stanly County, N.C., slave was named Sunday May Ninth “to guarantee the bearer’s remembrance of his birthday.” “This name proved useful to the ex-slave in establishing his status with reference to a monetary claim.”

Hudson seems to have been enchanted by unusual names generally — among the UNC alumni he found a white student named Shively Dewilder Accus Baccus Dulcido.

(Arthur Palmer Hudson, “Some Curious Negro Names,” Southern Folklore Quarterly 2:4, December 1938, pp. 179-193.)

Ends and Means

Prove that if each point in the plane is colored red, yellow, or blue, a unit segment must exist whose endpoints are the same color.

Click for Answer

A Latin Spoonerism

Arthur Schopenhauer was so ill-tempered that he once assaulted an elderly seamstress for talking outside his door.

A court ordered him to pay her 15 thalers every quarter for the rest of her life.

When she finally passed away 20 years later, he wrote in his account book Obit anus, abit onus — Latin for “The old woman dies, the burden is lifted.”