happy new year

Happy New Year from the nurse and her two beautiful boys

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 9:56 pm  Comments (55)  
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chewing an ear off

The Whyos were one of the infamous gangs of New York.

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The Whyos had several leaders, but longest reigning were Danny Lyons, his girlfriend (“Pretty” Kitty McGowan) and Danny Driscoll. The members were predominantly Irish, but unlike the Irish gangs of the past, victimized anyone – not just white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Driscoll and Lyons eventually decreed that in order to be a real Whyo, the person must have killed at least once. They were so powerful that most of the other gangs at the time had to ask their permission to operate.

Pretty Kitty Bento Box found here

A prominent member, “Dandy” John Dolan, is noted for inventing several unique gang weapons including a set of shoes in which pieces of an ax blade were embedded and a copper eye gouger (worn on the thumb), first used in a robbery in the summer of 1875. As he attempted to rob a local jewelry store, the owner James H. Noe tried to stop Dolan who then proceeded to use the eye gouger on Noe, taking the eyes with him.

David mourns the eye gouger found here

Aside from committing many crimes, the Whyos also offered specific criminal services for a price. The following list was found on Piker Ryan when he was arrested by the NYPD in 1884.

Punching $1

Both eyes blacked $3

Nose and jaw broke $7

Jacked out (knocked out with a Blackjack) $15

Ear chewed off $15

Leg or arm broke $19

Shot in the leg $20

Stab $21.50

“Doing the big job” (murder) $100 and up

Hedgehog with three broken legs found here

Over a century later, prices have risen accordingly. According to slate.com, they also vary quite widely.

Undercover investigator Gary Johnson has been hired by more than 60 Texans to off their enemies in the past 20 years. At the high end, a wealthy socialite who wanted her husband dead gave Johnson $200,000 in jewels as a down payment on the killing. At the low end, a teenager once offered him “seven Atari computer games, three dollar bills, and $2.30 in nickels and dimes” to take out a romantic rival.

$200,000 pendant found here

The FBI works undercover on an average of 70 to 90 murder-for-hire cases a year. According to bureau press releases, recent quoted fees have ranged from $25,000 to kill a spouse to $600 to kill a girlfriend. And a drug dealer in New Orleans tried to pay for a contract killing in crack. Richard Kuklinski, a man who claimed to have killed more than 100 people as a Mafia hit man, said in an HBO documentary that he received just $1,600 per victim.

Kuklinski as a family man

The Australian Institute of Criminology studied 163 attempted and actual contract killings between 1989 and 2002. The average rate received was $12,700. The lowest was $380, and the highest was $76,000. In Russia, where murders-for-hire are on the rise, contracts start at a couple of hundred dollars. An expert quoted in the Moscow Times says the most expensive Russian hit may have been the 1998 killing of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, which may have gone for $150,000 because of the long chain of people allegedly involved.


Russian soldiers found here

when one wife is not enough

Johann Hoch was born John Schmidt in 1862.

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Hoch first appeared in Wheeling in February 1895 using the name “Jacob Huff”. He opened a saloon in a German neighborhood and became a popular man in the community. He also began to seek out marriageable widows or at least divorced women with money. One of those he found was Caroline Hoch, a middle-aged widow whom he quickly married. Caroline died in agony after her husband was seen giving her some sort of white powder. Huff (as he was known) insisted that his wife be buried right away. He then collected on Caroline’s life insurance, sold her house, cleaned out her bank accounts and disappeared.

Brown Widow Spider with egg sacs found here

Huff went to the nearby Ohio River on the night of his disappearance, stripped off his clothes, placed his good watch, with his photo in the locket, and a suicide note on his pile of clothing and walked into the river to a rowboat. He then rowed up to the Ohio side of the river, set the boat adrift and continued on with his journey. He was no longer Jacob Huff but Johann Otto Hoch, taking the last name of his victim.

image found here

From 1900 to 1904, Hoch, using various names, married and murdered as many as 15 more women. Prior to a prison term in Chicago for swindling, Hoch would marry women and then slowly poison them to death, calling in doctors who he knew would innocently diagnose his wife’s ailment as a disease of the kidneys, for which there was no treatment. He took his time, spending patient months and murdering his wives very carefully. After his release from the Cook County jail however, Hoch’s careful method fell to pieces. He began killing in record time, murdering some of his wives within a week of their nuptials. He married his last victim, Marie Walcker, in Chicago on December 5, 1904 and he poisoned her days later.

Yves St Laurent wedding dress found here

On the night of her death, the victim’s estranged sister, Amelia, appeared at her home. As his wife lay dying, Hoch embraced and kissed Amelia and asked her to marry him after the death of her sister. Amazingly, she agreed. Marie was buried a day later without being embalmed and Hoch married Amelia six days after the service. The killer had received $500 from Marie’s life insurance policy and Amelia gave him another $750. He disappeared immediately after.

No, not this Amelia

Amelia went to the Chicago police who sent photographs of Hoch to every major newspaper in the country and a short time later, a widowed landlady in New York, Mrs. Katherine Kimmerle, recognized the likeness as being that of her new boarder, Henry Bartels. She recalled him so vividly because the strange man had proposed marriage to her only 20 minutes after he had taken the room. The authorities soon had Hoch in custody.

Kim Novak in The Notorious Landlady

When he was arrested, Hoch claimed that he was being framed and the “truth” about him was misrepresented. Discovered in his room was $625, several wedding rings with the inscriptions filed off, a loaded revolver and a fountain pen that contained 58 grams of arsenic. Hoch claimed that he had planned to commit suicide with the poison.

Montblanc Fountain Pen found here

During his trial, the killer hummed, whistled and twirled his thumbs in court. Until the very end, he insisted that he was innocent.

Police believe that he married at least 44 women (and perhaps more) in his career as a bigamist and a swindler and he murdered an unknown number of those. Hoch was a middle-aged, balding and burly man with light-blue eyes and a handlebar mustache. There was nothing about him to suggest that he would be so attractive to the fairer sex that they would agree to marry him within days of an introduction — and yet many of them did so. Hoch did have a set of rules that he lived by which he used to make women fall in love with him. He told them to the Chicago Sun newspaper just a short time before he was executed:

6 WAYS TO WIN A WOMAN TOLD BY “BLUEBEARD” HOCH

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- Nine out of every ten women can be won by flattery

- Never let a woman know her own shortcomings

- Always appear to a woman to be the anxious one

- Women like to be told pleasant things about themselves

- When you make love, be ardent and earnest

- The average man can fool the average woman if he will only let her have her own way at the start

Original article found here

Published in: on December 29, 2010 at 10:29 am  Comments (36)  
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early goggling

Guy Gilpatric (1896-1950) was a pilot and author with an overwhelming interest in diving and a particularly rigorous regime.

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“I had always lived the outdoor life when I wasn’t in the house, never drinking anything stronger than whisky except vodka and rarely smoking more than one cigarette at a time”.

One chapter in his book The Compleat Goggler was entitled thus: Garglings of a garrulous goggler, witnessing wonders, telling lies, exploring wrecks and hunting treasures.

Medusa goggles found here

“I must explain that goggle fishing doesn’t mean fishing for goggles….. it’s fishing with a spear and watertight eyeglasses. I made my first pair from an old pair of flying goggles, plugging up the ventilating holes with putty and painting over them.”

template for making WW1 aviation goggles here

Some of these early gogglers were not immune to divers’ tales. The Blanchet brothers say they wrestled an enormous groper for two hours before landing him. When they got him home, he sprang back into life, wrecked the kitchen, chased Mother Blanchet three times around the parlour and ate a framed chromo-lithograph of the battle of Austerlitz before they calmed him with an axe.

image of groper found here

Alec Kramarenko made a cast of his face so that he could mould his device to its contours. He constructed a face mask out of celluloid, dissolving photographic film in acetone and painting it layer by layer on to the cast. Then he made a lead mould into which he poured molten rubber.

learn how to mould paint splatter in photoshop here

Others took to the seas with pitchforks, ski poles and a type of  spear gun that Kramarenko invented. An English yachtsman bought two guns and employed beaters to drive mullet towards him as of they were grouse. He caught 70 fish in a day. ‘We were vastly cheered,’ Gilpatric admitted, ‘to learn that one of the gunmen had shot himself in the foot.’

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Published in: on December 27, 2010 at 9:48 pm  Comments (34)  
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merry xmas

I didn’t put up a tree this year so I’ve strung the xmas lights around myself instead. Wishing you all health and happiness for the festive season.

Published in: on December 25, 2010 at 12:48 am  Comments (40)  
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a resort for disorderly women

In 1890s New York, the worst dive on the Bowery was McGurk’s Suicide Hall.

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***Located in the heart of the old Red Light District, McGurk’s saloon had the distinction of sporting one of the first electric signs in the city. The clientele typically consisted of sailors, pickpockets, waterfront thieves, gang members, morphine addicts, and prostitutes—or as the police reports frequently described them, “women of no occupation.” Entertainment was provided by singing waiters and a small band. Whiskey was the drink of choice, selling for five cents a glass. Liquor was often mixed with water and liquid camphor (also used as moth repellent and embalming fluid) to strengthen the drink—sometimes fatally. Waiters were armed with chloral hydrate (the ever-popular Mickey Finn) for doping unsuspecting guests as preparation for back alley robbery, or worse.


The headwaiter was Charles “Short-Change Charley” Steele, once arrested for burglary and attempted murder, but released when none of the witnesses could identify him. According to rumors another McGurk employee was Commodore Dutch, a freeloader and con artist later famous for his forty year stint chairing a “society” whose sole purpose was to collect funds for himself.

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On hand as “mayhem specialist” was a pock-marked ex-prizefighter with cauliflower ears known as Thomas “Eat ‘Em Up Jack” McManus who, according to a newspaper account of the time, wore “a flaming cerise tie and a derby at a tilted angle.”

image found at chateauthombeau

What distinguished McGurk’s Saloon from the other roughneck dives on skid row was that it soon became the suicide den of choice for Bowery prostitutes down on their luck. Figures are hazy, but there were reportedly from six to a dozen self-administered deaths in the year 1899 alone. Swallowing carbolic acid was the most popular method of offing oneself. Later known as Phenol, carbolic acid was typically used as a disinfectant and was easily available at pharmacies.

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Blonde Madge Davenport and Big Mame were two such prostitutes who chose the carbolic acid route, possibly mixing the acid into their booze to make it more palatable. Blonde Madge died of internal chemical burn. Big Mame was less successful. She spilled most of the acid on her face, disfiguring herself, which got her permanently barred from the saloon.

Mamie Van Doren NOT Big Mame

The suicides “got to be quite a fad,” an observer later recounted, and the saloon was quickly rechristened McGurk’s Suicide Hall as a shrewd marketing ploy to attract the morbidly curious. With this kind of reputation the police led countless raids on the saloon. Newspapers gave lurid accounts of sailors and gamblers, women “conducting themselves indecorously” and all manner of “indiscretions” happening in the upstairs rooms.

“Indiscretion” recipe found here

Tom McManus, by now having acquired a second moniker of “The Brute,” opened a music hall of his own called Eat ‘Em Up Jacks. In 1905 he got in a dispute over a woman with a notorious gangster named Chick Tricker who owned a joint of his own called The Fleabag. A pistol duel left Tricker with a bullet in his leg and one of his associates with six knife wounds. The next day, as McManus was leaving work someone crept out of an alley and cracked his skull with an iron bar wrapped in newspaper. His murderer was never arrested.

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During the Suicide Hall’s heyday a woman known as the “Pride of the Stevedores” and her husband Big Barney were regulars at the saloon. They would waltz down the middle of the saloon as everyone would push their tables against the wall to clear space. Big Barney and the woman later disappeared. She resurfaced many years later with a new husband named Billy the Gink, called so because his right eye had been knocked out. By then the woman was known as Deaf Lilly, and in 1910 Billy the Gink beat her to death in their apartment and fled.

read the story behind the one eyed man ad campaign here

The Suicide Hall was a natural for literary material. Soon after it closed a play appeared by Theodore Kremer called The Bowery After Dark, which was partially set there. The Hall also provides the setting for Mae West’s novel Diamond Lil, in which the second chapter is titled “Suicide Hall.”

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As for the building itself, from World War I until the 1950s it was known as the Liberty Hotel, a Skid Row flophouse with a sign above the door that read “When did you write to mother?”

In 2005, the building which housed McGurk’s Suicide Hall was bulldozed to make way for the Avalon Bowery Place apartment complex. Avalon Bay advertised their new development as “one of Manhattan’s finest locations in Soho”. Future residents should not be surprised to discover their crisp new apartments haunted by the ghosts of women of no occupation, rifling through the medicine cabinet in search of an antidote.

***by Rob Hill

More excellent artwork by Ellen Rixford here


witching at Rudgwick

This is what passed for news as reported in the Ipswich Journal, 3 May 1851

Ipswich by Cormac Scanlan

“A farmer had four pigs suddenly taken in so strange a way that he thought they were bewitched. The next day one of the pigs died and it was proposed to burn its heart, so that revenge would be obtained on the witch who had caused this.

Miniature pig found here

Two neighbours were to assist in the performance, a stoker and a member of the local peerage. The farmer’s wife and children retired to bed leaving our three daring adventurers to perform the spell. Faggots were provided in plenty and His Lordship was appointed to stick the heart with 99 pins in 9 crosses. The heart was then committed to the flames with the faggots piled in abundance.

Dali Heart Pin

At midnight the farmer and stoker began clubbing and striking the air as if there were a dozen witches in the room. His Lordship turned pale, his lips trembled and his hair stood on end. At this awful moment the pothook caught in the flames and down came the boiler. The chimney had caught fire, greatly endangering a quantity of bacon.

Extreme Bacon Sandwich found here

The farmer’s wife descended the stairs, undeterred by any respect for peerage, she scolded His Lordship and told him he was nothing but an old fool for believing in witches and almost burning her house down. The unfortunate Lord disappeared at once and has scarcely dared show his face since. The farmer was eventually allowed to return to the house, the only result from this adventure being that the chimney was burnt out as clean as though the witch had flown up it on her broomstick.

image found here

the man who never was

Armand Peltzer was an Antwerp engineer when he fell in love with Julie Bernays, the wife of a local lawyer. He decided to eliminate the husband using his younger brother Leon in an ingenious way.

The Lawyer by Arcimboldo

Leon, after some financial indiscretions in Argentina, was living under an assumed name in New York where he worked as a linen goods salesman. Armand contacted Leon and arranged a meeting in Paris.

The Peltzer brothers met on November 16, 1881, and Armand explained his scheme to Leon who agreed to cooperate. The basic plot was simple. The crime would be committed by a person who did not exist. Therefore, after the murder, the police would have no one to look for.

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Leon changed his appearance, complexion, dress, and took on the guise of one Henry Vaughan, a millionaire preparing to establish a fleet of ships crossing from Amsterdam to Sydney. Having converted himself into a fictitious tycoon, Leon visited Bremen, Amsterdam, Brussels, working out of the most expensive hotels and becoming known to the world’s foremost navigation firms.

Amsterdam 1880

Finally, Leon wrote to the lawyer Bernays–under the signature of the fictional Vaughan–explaining that he had been recommended as an attorney who might represent the new steamship line in Brussels. Bernays readily agreed to an appointment in Brussels to talk business. Leon, now a bewhiskered and bespectacled dandy, admitted Bernays to his flat, and led him to a chair. Then he drew out a noiseless pistol and shot Bernays through the back of the head. The murder was accomplished.

Jim Dandy

After the killing, Leon burned his wig and false beard, disposed of his glasses, washed off his makeup, and departed from the flat forever. Vaughan, the murderer, vanished into thin air. A man named Leon Peltzer, recently on a visit from New York, could not be suspected. And certainly his brother, Armand Peltzer, who had been going about his business in Antwerp, could not have even the vaguest connection with the violent crime. The deed had been done by an unknown hand. The slayer was nonexistent.

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There was only one flaw with the crime imperfect, and that stemmed from vanity. In Switzerland Leon Peltzer perused the newspapers daily for word of the discovery of the victim’s body. When 10 days had passed without the corpse being found, the impatient Leon wrote a letter to the Belgian police directing them to the body. He explained Bernays’s death had been the result of a “horrible accident.” He had been visiting Bernays on business, had shown him a revolver, and somehow it had gone off by accident, killing him. Frightened and fearful because he was a foreigner, he fled. The letter was signed “Henry Vaughan.”

world’s smallest revolver found here

The Belgian police began an intensive investigation. They also posted a 25,000-franc reward for information leading to the apprehension of Henry Vaughan, and they circulated specimens of his handwriting.

It was Leon’s penmanship that was his undoing.  In writing his Henry Vaughan letter, he had neglected to change or disguise his Leon-style handwriting. A local chemist saw the photocopy specimen of Henry Vaughan’s handwriting–and thought he recognized it. Leon was traced, and found to be unable to account for his movements when “Vaughan” seemed to have legitimately existed. Eventually both brothers were tried and convicted of murder, receiving life sentences though Armand, the mastermind, maintained his innocence to the end.

John Wayne Gacy’s handwriting found here

Published in: on December 21, 2010 at 8:36 am  Comments (37)  
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circles of purchasable beauty

Sophia Baddeley (1745-1783) was a celebrated actress and courtesan.

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In 1764, Sophia eloped with Robert Baddeley, a Drury Lane theater player almost twice her age. The marriage was not a happy one, but Robert Baddeley recognized an opportunity when a rich Jewish friend of his approached him about becoming involved with Sophia. Robert encouraged her to accept, saying that such rich friends were not to be slighted.

Rich but definitely not Friendly

Most scholars record Sophia’s first acting gig as her 1764 role as an understudy for the role of Cordelia in King Lear; when the lead was unable to perform, Sophia Baddeley played the part. However, she’d never actually seen the play, and upon seeing the actor playing Mad Tom she was so afraid she screamed and fell over. The audience was immediately emotionally drawn to her, and thus began Britain’s love affair with Sophia Baddeley.

Not this Mad Tom

As a courtesan, Sophia Baddeley was renowned for her beauty. One of Sophia’s many paramours, the Duke of Ancaster, compared her eyes to that of the basilisk. “Absolutely one of the wonders of the age. No man can gaze on you unwounded…whose eyes kill those whom they fix on.” In 1771 Samuel Foote opened his satirical comedy The Maid of Bath at the Haymarket. The playwright himself acting in the play extemporized, “Not even the beauty of the nine Muses, nor even that of the divine Baddeley herself, who there sits, could exceed that of the Maid of Bath.” Upon remarking on Sophia’s magnificence, he pointed to where she sat in a theater seat, and she stood, bowing. Twenty five minutes and three encores later she finally sat back down.

more amazing eyes here

Most women who were in “circles of purchasable beauty” were all the rage for a short time before their popularity waned. Sophia Baddeley’s rampant desirability and vogue as a top courtesan only lasted from 1771-1774. Her extravagance makes one gasp: she spent the modern equivalent of £200 a day on hothouse flowers, a quarter of a million on diamonds, and thousands a month on hats and linen. A present from Lord Melbourne for the equivalent of £3,000 would last her barely four days. But then with sex with this gentleman Sophia had much to endure. “Lord Melbourne bored Sophia, she often had a headache which mysteriously disappeared as soon as he was gone.”

flowers found here

Sophia’s memoirs were penned by her lifelong friend and companion, Mrs. Eliza Steele. Eliza was noted to wear men’s clothing and declared that she had fallen in love with her. To protect Sophia, she also carried a pair of pistols. Today, there is much speculation over whether there was any erotic or sexual relationship between Steele and Baddeley.

Girls’ Rifle Team found here

Her husband, Robert, is remembered for something other than his love life.

In his will Baddeley bequeathed £650 towards the maintenance of decrepit actors. He also left £100, invested at 3% per annum, to provide for a twelfth night cake to be supplied to the Drury Lane cast in his memory. This sum covered the provision of a good quantity of ‘lamb’s wool’, wine with baked apple dissolving in it to give a woolly texture, but that part of the tradition seems to have gone by the wayside.

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Many years ago, the New York Times reported on one such celebration here:

Oscar Wilde, in conventional evening dress, apologises to young Tennyson, a handsome bright faced youth, as he pushes by him to make a place for Jennie Lee. Oscar has grown stout and looks domestic.

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The curtain rises on a stage with a small white table in the centre and long white tables on either side. Banks of crystal glasses glitter and the dark green bottles of champagne have a cool inviting look. Mr Fernandez, custodian of the Drury Lane fund, takes up a Damoscletian sword and holds it over the large round white cake with red and green icing.

Endless bottles of champagne flow like water, their consumption greatly disproportionate with the cotelettes de homard, foie gras and other delicacies. The dance begins. It is a gay scene, very gay, and it rapidly grows gayer and gayer. The theatre rings with laughter and music and the popping of more champagne corks. Not until the yellow sun is beginning its daily struggle with the London mist do the guests go forth to slumber more or less disturbed by memories of the Baddeley cake.

image by Dav Thomas


Published in: on December 19, 2010 at 8:08 am  Comments (34)  
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we’re all going on a summer holiday

I’m taking a short pre-Christmas break in Hardys Bay. Five blissful days of swimming, eating, drinking, reading, sleeping, laughing and playing mah jongg. I may also use the time to invent a new cocktail, unravel the truth behind several conspiracy theories, take photos of aliens and master the art of walking on water. Or maybe I’ll do nothing at all…..

image by Stuart Townsend

Published in: on December 14, 2010 at 7:58 am  Comments (41)  
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