Al Capone’s jail cell, Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia. High-level gangsters retained amazing power even inside maximum-security penitentiaries. Visiting Frank Costello in prison in the 1950s, lawyer Edward Bennett Williams mentioned that he’d been unable to get tickets to My Fair Lady that evening. “Mr. Williams,” the Luciano boss upbraided him, “You should have told me. Maybe I could have helped.” Williams thought no more about it and returned to his hotel, where shortly there was a knock at the door. A broad-shouldered man handed him four tickets to that evening’s performance and silently walked away.
In 356 B.C., Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis.
He said he did it to immortalize his name in history.
An old volume of the Quarterly Review mentions a crime discovered in a most extraordinary way in Australia in the year 1830, of which a public record is preserved, and which figures with full details in the journals of that period. The confidential steward of a wealthy settler near Sydney stated that his master had suddenly been called to England on important business, and that during his absence the whole of his immense property would be in his exclusive care. Some weeks after an acquaintance of the absentee settler riding through his grounds was astonished to perceive him sitting upon a stile. He strode forward to speak, when the figure turned from him with a look of intense sorrow and walked to the edge of a pond, where it mysteriously disappeared. On the morrow he brought a number of men to the water to drag it, and the body of the man supposed to be on his way to England was brought up. The steward was arrested, brought to trial, and, frightened at the story of his master’s ghost, confessed the crime, stating that he did the murder at the very stile on which his master’s ghost had appeared. He was duly executed.
— The World of Wonders, 1883
In April 1828, Ann Marten was growing increasingly worried about her daughter, Maria. The girl had eloped recently from Suffolk with her lover, William Corder, but Ann had not heard from her since. Corder gave various explanations: A letter had been lost, he said, or Maria was ill or had hurt her hand.
One night Ann awoke her husband in great agitation: She had had a vivid dream, she said, that their daughter’s body was buried under the “right-hand bay of the further side of Corder’s red barn,” where the couple had met to begin their journey. She persuaded her husband to investigate, and to their horror he discovered their daughter’s body buried in a sack just where her dream had indicated.
The case made a sensation. Corder was retrieved and tried and eventually confessed: He had shot Maria in the eye during an argument in the barn. He was hanged in August and his body left for medical students, and the rope was sold at a guinea an inch to the morbid throng. The dream was never explained.
On May 25, 2003, someone stole a Boeing 727 from an airport in Luanda, Angola. The plane, which had been sitting idle for 14 months, took off without communicating with the tower.
An American mechanic, Ben Charles Padilla, was on board at the time. He has not been seen since.
Counterfeiting was a lot harder in the old days.
In the 1880s, Emanuel Ninger, known as “Jim the Penman,” drew $50 and $100 bills by hand, spending weeks on each one. Fifty bucks was a lot back then, about $2,000 in today’s money, so the effort was worthwhile. This also meant that his “work” ended up in the hands of rich people, and he actually gained a perverse following who realized the forgeries’ value as works of art.
He drew this note in 1896, just before the Secret Service nabbed him. He’d left a note on a wet bar, and the bartender saw the ink run. Ninger served six months and was forced to pay restitution of $1. He never forged again.
The first arrest by telegraph took place in 1845. John Tawell poisoned his mistress at her home at Salt Hill and fled by train to London, but police sent the following memorable message ahead to Paddington Station:
A MURDER HAD JUST BEEN COMMITTED AT SALT HILL AND THE SUSPECTED MURDERER WAS SEEN TO TAKE A FIRST CLASS TICKET TO LONDON BY THE TRAIN THAT LEFT SLOUGH AT 7.42 PM. HE IS IN THE GARB OF A KWAKER [the instrument lacked a Q] WITH A BROWN GREAT COAT ON WHICH REACHES HIS FEET. HE IS IN THE LAST COMPARTMENT OF THE SECOND FIRST-CLASS CARRIAGE.
In a London coffee tavern Tawell was confronted by a detective who asked, no doubt triumphantly, “Haven’t you just come from Slough?” He was jailed, tried, convicted, and hanged.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 3, 2003, assistant U.S. attorney Jonathan Luna drove north out of Baltimore. At about 1 a.m. he withdrew $200 from an ATM in Newark, Del., and at 3:20 a.m. he bought gas at a Pennsylvania service plaza. At 4:04 he exited the Pennsylvania Turnpike with a bloodstained toll ticket.
At 5:30 a.m. his car was discovered in a stream behind a Pennsylvania well drilling company. Luna’s body was under the engine. He had been stabbed 36 times with his own penknife and drowned.
Despite a federal reward of $100,000, no one has ever explained what happened that night.
These are the remains of Mary Jane Kelly, the fifth canonical victim of Jack the Ripper. Her mutilations were far more extensive than the others’, perhaps because she was the only victim killed in a private room. From the notes of police surgeon Thomas Bond:
“The whole of the surface of the abdomen and thighs was removed and the abdominal cavity emptied of its viscera. The breasts were cut off, the arms mutilated by several jagged wounds and the face hacked beyond recognition of the features. The tissues of the neck were severed all round down to the bone.
“The viscera were found in various parts viz: the uterus and kidneys with one breast under the head, the other breast by the right foot, the liver between the feet, the intestines by the right side and the spleen by the left side of the body. The flaps removed from the abdomen and thighs were on a table.”
She was last seen alive at 2 a.m. on Nov. 9, 1888, in the company of a “Jewish-looking man” as they walked to her room. Her fellow prostitute Mary Ann Cox, unable to sleep, heard someone leave the house at 5:45. In between, at about 4 a.m., two neighbors heard a faint woman’s voice cry “Murder!”
On April 25, 1935, a shark in Australia’s Coogee Aquarium disgorged a human arm. The shark had recently been caught off Sydney, but no swimmers had been reported missing. The arm, which had been severed with a knife, was eventually identified as that of 40-year-old ex-boxer James Smith, who had been missing since April 7.
Police began a murder investigation, but without a body there was no proof that Smith was dead. The case collapsed, and it remains unsolved.