Podcast Episode 272: The Cannibal Convict

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

In 1822, Irish thief Alexander Pearce joined seven convicts fleeing a penal colony in western Tasmania. As they struggled eastward through some of the most inhospitable terrain on Earth, starvation pressed the party into a series of grim sacrifices. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the prisoners on their nightmarish bid for freedom.

We’ll also unearth another giant and puzzle over an eagle’s itinerary.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 271: The Fraudulent Life of Cassie Chadwick

https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Bankers_Magazine/LFgmAQAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&pg=PA551

In 1902, scam artist Cassie Chadwick convinced an Ohio lawyer that she was the illegitimate daughter of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. She parlayed this reputation into a life of unthinkable extravagance — until her debts came due. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Chadwick’s efforts to maintain the ruse — and how she hoped to get away with it.

We’ll also encounter a haunted tomb and puzzle over an exonerated merchant.

See full show notes …

No One Home

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On the afternoon of Oct. 24, 1961, 31-year-old Joan Risch was found to be missing from her home in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Blood that matched her type was found in the kitchen and the driveway, a table had been overturned, and a telephone handset had been torn from the wall. Risch’s 2-year-old son was safe in his crib upstairs. Her husband, returning from a business trip, said he could not explain the source of some empty beer bottles in a wastebasket.

Risch had last been seen wearing a trench coat and carrying something red quickly up her driveway, toward the garage. Several people reported having seen a two-tone blue car in the neighborhood, and possibly in Risch’s driveway, at about the time of her disappearance, and a number of witnesses reported having seen a disoriented woman matching Risch’s description walking along nearby roads.

Some time after her disappearance, it was discovered that Risch had checked out 25 books on murders and missing-persons cases over the summer of 1961. The case has never been solved. Both Risch’s husband and police chief Leo Algeo died in 2009. Algeo said, “I thought they’d find a body or bones or something. … Things do turn up. People don’t disappear without a trace.”

Podcast Episode 268: The Great Impostor

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_Waldo_Demara#/media/Fichier:Ferdinand_Waldo_Demara.jpg

Ferdinand Demara earned his reputation as the Great Impostor: For over 22 years he criss-crossed the country, posing as everything from an auditor to a zoologist and stealing a succession of identities to fool his employers. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review Demara’s motivation, morality, and techniques — and the charismatic spell he seemed to cast over others.

We’ll also make Big Ben strike 13 and puzzle over a movie watcher’s cat.

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Podcast Episode 267: The Murchison Murders

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In 1929, detective novelist Arthur Upfield wanted to devise the perfect murder, so he started a discussion among his friends in Western Australia. He was pleased with their solution — until local workers began disappearing, as if the book were coming true. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe the Murchison murders, a disturbing case of life imitating art.

We’ll also incite a revolution and puzzle over a perplexing purchase.

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Cant

The Coquillars, a 16th-century company of French bandits, created “an exquisite language” “that other people cannot understand”:

A crocheteur is someone who picks locks. A vendegeur is a snatcher of bags. A beffleur is a thief who draws fools into the game. An envoyeur is a murderer. A desrocheur is someone who leaves nothing to the person he robs. … A blanc coulon is someone who sleeps with a merchant or someone else and robs him of his money, his clothes and everything he has, and throws it from the window to his companion, who waits below. A baladeur is someone who rushes ahead to speak to a churchman or someone else to whom he wants to offer a fake golden chain or a fraudulent stone. A pipeur is a player of dice and other games in which there are tricks and treachery. … Fustiller is to change the dice. They call the court of any place the marine or the rouhe. They call the sergeant the gaffres. … A simple man who knows nothing of their ways is a sire or a duppe or a blanc. … A bag is a fellouse. … To do a roy David is to open a lock, a door, a coffer, and to close it again. … To bazir someone is to kill him. … Jour is torture. … When one of them says, ‘Estoffe!’ it means that he is asking for his booty from some earnings made somehow from the knowledge of the Shell [their syndicate]. And when he says, ‘Estoffe, ou je faugerey!’ it means that he will betray whoever does not pay his part.

Jean Rabustel, public prosecutor and clerk of the court of the viscountcy of Dijon, wrote in summary, “Every trickery of which they make use has its name in their jargon, and no one could understand it, were he not of their number and compact, or if one of them did not reveal it to another.”

(From Daniel Heller-Roazen, Dark Tongues: The Art of Rogues and Riddlers, 2013.)

Podcast Episode 261: The Murder of Lord William Russell

https://curiosity.lib.harvard.edu/crime-broadsides/catalog/46-990080942200203941
Image: Harvard Digital Collections

In May 1840 London was scandalized by the murder of Lord William Russell, who’d been found in his bed with his throat cut. The evidence seemed to point to an intruder, but suspicion soon fell on Russell’s valet. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow the investigation and trial, and the late revelation that decided the case.

We’ll also marvel at Ireland’s greenery and puzzle over a foiled kidnapping.

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Podcast Episode 258: The First Great Train Robbery

https://pixabay.com/illustrations/steam-train-locomotive-train-502120/

In 1855 a band of London thieves set their sights on a new target: the South Eastern Railway, which carried gold bullion to the English coast. The payoff could be enormous, but the heist would require meticulous planning. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the first great train robbery, one of the most audacious crimes of the 19th century.

We’ll also jump into the record books and puzzle over a changing citizen.

See full show notes …

Poetic Justice

After being caught driving at 91 mph on the 60 mph A361 North Devon Link road in 2011, filmmaker and traffic legislation activist Martin Cassini presented his case at Barnstaple Magistrates Court in a series of rhymed couplets:

Before you today stands a man in the dock
To whom this bleak chapter’s a terrible shock

Kind and aware on the road as a rule
He tripped up that day and transgressed a rule.

The outlandish speed was but a short burst
On a dual lane stretch to get up there first

To the top of the hill to avoid getting stuck
Down the single lane stretch by a slow moving truck.

If you averaged my speed over hillock and dale
You’d find it to be not at all yon the pale

The law’s quick to judge if you’re over the limit
No praise if you’re under — one sided, innit?

The design of the road is dubious at most
It’s the link for Pete’s sake from M5 to coast

Why only three lanes? There was good room for four
The vision was lacking, the carriageway’s poor.

The limit is 60 for one lane downhill
And 60 — the same — for two lanes uphill

Until this dark day my licence was clean
Too late for considering what might have been.

They say that speed kills, but throughout these lands
Inappropriate speed kills, or speed in the wrong hands

I wasn’t lacking due care and attention
Indeed I was using true care and attention

I was watching the road, not checking the speed
Could this be a safer, superior creed.

They fined him £175. “I wanted to challenge one-size-fits-all regulation that ignores the spirit of the law, and at the same time recognise that I had disobeyed the letter,” he told the Daily Mail. But “Now I’m taking greater pains to follow the letter of the law.”

(Thanks, Volodymyr.)

A Broken Promise

The Los Angeles Times called this “the most horrible crime of the 1920s”: On Dec. 18, 1927, a man appeared at the junior high school attended by Marion and Marjorie Parker, 12-year-old twin daughters of banker Perry H. Parker. The man said that he was a bank employee and that Marion was wanted immediately by her father.

Marion departed with him, and no one suspected anything until Marjorie came home alone. Police searched the city but had found nothing when a ransom note arrived the following morning asking Parker to gather $1,500 and await further instructions. The kidnapper sent an appeal from Marion and then called that evening with directions to a dropoff location. Parker obeyed, but police were visible in the area and the kidnapper stayed away.

A new letter was delivered the following afternoon:

I am vexed and disgusted with you … You will never know how you disappointed your daughter … Pray to God for forgiveness for your mistake last night.

Fate — Fox

He included a note from Marion:

Dear Daddy and Mother:

Daddy, please don’t bring any one with you today. I am sorry for what happened last night. We drove right by the house. I cried all the time last night. If you don’t meet us this morning, you will never see me again.

Love to all

Marion Parker

A call came at 7:15 telling Parker where to go. He parked his car and turned off the lights as instructed. A car parked beside him and a man pointed a gun and told him to hand over the money. Parker demanded to see his daughter. The stranger lifted the girl’s head from beside him; she appeared to be asleep. Parker assumed she’d been drugged and handed over the money.

The man drove 200 feet forward, stopped, got out, and lifted the girl’s body onto the sidewalk. Then he got in and drove away. Parker ran to the girl and lifted her head, then screamed. Her legs had been cut off near the hips. She had been dead for hours.

Police tracked down 18-year-old bank messenger William Hickman, who said he’d wanted the money to go to college. He did say that he’d strangled Marion with a towel before he’d amputated her legs. He was hanged the following October.

(From Hank Messick and Burt Goldblatt, Kidnapping: The Illustrated History, 1974.)