Podcast

The Futility Closet podcast is a weekly show featuring forgotten stories from the pages of history. Join us each Monday for surprising and curious tales from the past and to challenge yourself with our lateral thinking puzzles.

You can listen using the streaming players below, or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Android, or Google Play Music or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

Support us on Patreon to get post-show discussions, outtakes, extra lateral thinking puzzles, and more.

If you have any questions or comments, please write to us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

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.

Intro:

Marshal Ney directed his own execution.

Lewis Carroll invented an alphabet he could write in the dark.

Sources for our feature on the murder of Lord William Russell:

Yseult Bridges, Two Studies in Crime, 1959.

Claire Harman, Murder by the Book: The Crime That Shocked Dickens’s London, 2019.

Thomas Dunphy and Thomas J. Cummins, Remarkable Trials of All Countries, 1870.

J.E. Latton Pickering, Report of the Trial of Courvoisier for the Murder of Lord William Russell, June 1840, 1918.

William Harrison Ainsworth, Jack Sheppard: A Romance, 1839.

“Remarkable Cases of Circumstantial Evidence,” in Norman Wise Sibley, Criminal Appeal and Evidence, 1908.

Samuel Warren, “The Mystery of Murder, and Its Defence,” in Miscellanies, Critical, Imaginative, and Juridical, 1855, 237-271.

“Trial, Confession, and Execution of Courvoisier for the Murder of Lord Wm. Russell: Memoir of F.B. Courvoisier, Lord W. Russell’s Valet [broadside],” 1840.

“Russell, Lord William (1767-1840),” in D.R. Fisher, ed., The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1820-1832, 2009.

“The Practice of Advocacy: Mr. Charles Phillips, and His Defence of Courvoisier,” Littell’s Living Age 25:313 (May 18, 1850), 289-311.

“English Causes Celebres,” Legal News 14:39 (Sept. 26, 1891), 310-311.

O’Neill Ryan, “The Courvoisier Case,” Washington University Law Review 12:1 (January 1926), 39-46.

Michael Asimow, “When the Lawyer Knows the Client Is Guilty: Legal Ethics, and Popular Culture,” Law Society of Upper Canada 6th Colloquium, University of Toronto Faculty of Law 10 (2006).

J.B. Atlay, “Famous Trials: The Queen Against Courvoisier,” Cornhill Magazine 2:11 (May 1897), 604-616.

Paul Bergman, “Rumpole’s Ethics,” Berkeley Journal of Entertainment and Sports Law 1:2 (April 2012), 117-124.

Abigail Droge, “‘Always Called Jack’: A Brief History of the Transferable Skill,” Victorian Periodicals Review 50:1 (Spring 2017) 39-65, 266.

Albert D. Pionke, “Navigating ‘Those Terrible Meshes of the Law’: Legal Realism in Anthony Trollope’s Orley Farm and The Eustace Diamonds,” ELH: Journal of English Literary History 77:1 (2010), 129-157.

Matthew S. Buckley, “Sensations of Celebrity: Jack Sheppard and the Mass Audience,” Victorian Studies 44:3 (2002), 423-463.

Elizabeth Stearns, “A ‘Darling of the Mob’: The Antidisciplinarity of the Jack Sheppard Texts,” Victorian Literature and Culture 41:3 (2013), 435-461.

Ellen L. O’Brien, “‘Every Man Who Is Hanged Leaves a Poem’: Criminal Poets in Victorian Street Ballads,” Victorian Poetry 39:2 (Summer 2001), 319-342.

Matthew Buckley, “Sensations of Celebrity: Jack Sheppard and the Mass Audience,” Victorian Studies 44:3 (Spring 2002), 423-463.

“This Day’s Examination of the Valet for the Murder of Lord William Russell, M.P.,” 1840, English Crime and Execution Broadsides, Harvard Digital Collections.

Peter Dean, “Death by Servant,” Daily Mail, May 18, 2019, 12.

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, “The Victorian Melodrama That Led to Murder and Mayhem,” Spectator, Nov. 10, 2018.

Hannah Rosefield, “The Strange Victorian Murder of Lord William Russell,” New Statesman, Oct. 31, 2018.

“Look Death in the Face,” [Liverpool] Daily Post, Sept. 1, 2018, 12.

Alexandra Mullen, “Bloody-Minded Victorians,” Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2013.

Dalya Alberge, “Vital Clue Ignored for 50 Years,” Independent, Dec. 9, 2012.

“Murder of Lord William Russell — Confession of the Murderer,” Sydney Herald, Oct. 20, 1840, 3.

William Makepeace Thackeray, “Going to See a Man Hanged,” Fraser’s Magazine 128:22 (August 1840), 150-158.

“Murder of Lord William Russell,” New-Orleans Commercial Bulletin, June 16, 1840.

“Further Evidence Concerning the Murder of Lord William Russell,” Spectator, May 23, 1840, 7.

“Francois Benjamin Courvoisier: Killing: Murder,” Proceedings of the Old Bailey, June 15, 1840 (accessed Aug. 4, 2019).

Annalisa Quinn, “Could A Novel Lead Someone To Kill? ‘Murder By The Book’ Explores The Notion,” National Public Radio, March 27, 2019.

Listener mail:

“Local Elections Results,” Irish Times, Aug. 17, 2019.

Wikipedia, “List of Political Parties in the Republic of Ireland,” (accessed Aug. 8, 2019).

Wikipedia, “List of Political Parties in the United States” (accessed Aug. 9, 2019).

Wikipedia, “United States Marijuana Party” (accessed Aug. 9, 2019).

Wikipedia, “United States Congress” (accessed Aug. 8, 2019).

Justin McCurry, “South Korea Mulls Ending Arcane Age System to Match Rest of World,” Guardian, June 2, 2019.

James Griffiths and Yoonjung Seo, “In South Korea, You’re a 1-Year-Old the Day You’re Born. Some Want to Change That,” CNN, June 3, 2019.

Beatrice Christofaro, “In South Korea’s Unique Aging System, Some Babies Turn 2 Years Old the Day After They Were Born. A Bill Is Trying to Change That,” Insider, Jun. 3, 2019.

“Life Term in Murder Contested; Culture Cited on Age,” KDKA Pittsburgh, Aug. 7, 2019.

James Halpin, “Killer Claims Ignorance of Korean Age Custom,” Citizens’ Voice, Aug. 8, 2019.

James Halpin, “Killer Blames Culture Quirk for Age Miscalculation,” Citizens’ Voice, Aug. 7, 2019.

Wikipedia, “National Assembly (South Korea)” (accessed Aug. 11, 2019).

Penelope’s drawing:

penelope's drawing

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Ken Murphy.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

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

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!

Podcast Episode 260: The Rugged Road

florence blenkiron and theresa wallach

In 1934, two Englishwomen set out to do what no one had ever done before: travel the length of Africa on a motorcycle. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Theresa Wallach and Florence Blenkiron from Algiers to Cape Town on a 14,000-mile adventure that many had told them was impossible.

We’ll also anticipate some earthquakes and puzzle over a daughter’s age.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 259: The Astor Place Riot

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Astor_Place_Opera-House_riots_crop.jpg

The second-bloodiest riot in the history of New York was touched off by a dispute between two Shakespearean actors. Their supporters started a brawl that killed as many as 30 people and changed the institution of theater in American society. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Astor Place riot, “one of the strangest episodes in dramatic history.”

We’ll also fertilize a forest and puzzle over some left-handed light bulbs.

See full show notes …

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 …

Podcast Episode 257: The Sledge Patrol

https://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/13469389134
Image: NASA Earth Observatory

In 1943 an isolated sledge patrol came upon a secret German weather station in northeastern Greenland. The discovery set off a series of dramatic incidents that unfolded across 400 miles of desolate coast. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow this arctic struggle, an often overlooked drama of World War II.

We’ll also catch some speeders and puzzle over a disastrous remedy.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 256: Lasseter’s Reef

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gibson_Desert_and_moon_from_Alfred_%26_Marie_Range.jpg

In 1930 Harold Lasseter claimed he’d discovered an enormous deposit of gold in the remote interior of Australia, and a small group of men set off into the punishing desert in search of a fortune estimated at 66 million pounds. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Lasseter’s reef, one of the most enduring legends of the Australian outback.

We’ll also reconsider the mortality rates of presidents and puzzle over an unlocked door.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 255: Death on the Ice

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SS_Newfoundland_survivors.png

In 1914, 132 sealers found themselves stranded on a North Atlantic icefield as a bitter blizzard approached. Thinly dressed and with little food, they faced a harrowing night on the ice. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Newfoundland sealing disaster, one of the most dramatic chapters in Canadian maritime history.

We’ll also meet another battlefield dog and puzzle over a rejected necklace.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 254: The Porthole Murder

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:13_MS_Italie_Hublot_121116.jpg
Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1947 actress Gay Gibson disappeared from her cabin on an ocean liner off the coast of West Africa. The deck steward, James Camb, admitted to pushing her body out a porthole, but insisted she had died of natural causes and not in a sexual assault. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll review the curious case of the porthole murder, which is still raising doubts today.

We’ll also explore another fraudulent utopia and puzzle over a pedestrian’s victory.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 253: The Dame of Sark

https://www.flickr.com/photos/flissphil/44394163
Image: Flickr

In June 1940, German forces took the Channel Islands, a small British dependency off the coast of France. They expected the occupation to go easily, but they hadn’t reckoned on the island of Sark, ruled by an iron-willed noblewoman with a disdain for Nazis. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of Sibyl Hathaway and her indomitable stand against the Germans.

We’ll also overtake an earthquake and puzzle over an inscrutable water pipe.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 252: The Wild Boy of Aveyron

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jean_marc_gaspard_itard_1775_hi.jpg

In 1800 a 12-year-old boy emerged from a forest in southern France, where he had apparently lived alone for seven years. His case was taken up by a young Paris doctor who set out to see if the boy could be civilized. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll explore the strange, sad story of Victor of Aveyron and the mysteries of child development.

We’ll also consider the nature of art and puzzle over the relationship between salmon and trees.

See full show notes …