the mesmerising dentist

Rachael Weaver uncovers an old Sydney murder case…..

News of the tragedy began with reports of an inquest into the violent death of Henry Kinder on 7 October 1865. Kinder was an official at the City Bank and lived with his young family in a comfortable home on Sydney’s north shore. Originally an Englishman, Kinder had arrived in the colonies from New Zealand with his wife, Maria, two years earlier.

image found here

The evidence presented at the inquest was of a man who was restless and excitable, smoked heavily, was careless about his personal appearance and anxious about unpaid debts. Bertrand, a successful Sydney dentist who saw the Kinders socially every day, deposed that Kinder had been drinking freely, that he had challenged Bertrand to a duel, and that he was jealous of his wife with everyone.

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According to Bertrand and Maria Kinder they had been in the Kinders’ drawing room with Henry Kinder and Bertrand’s wife Jane on Monday evening when Kinder suddenly shot himself in the head. Dr Eichler described having been called in around five hours later to treat a large laceration, which had caused Kinder’s ear to hang away from its proper place. The wound had torn his face open from the jaw to the temple. Eichler described his treatments before offering his opinion that the deceased was an imbecile. Kinder was awake and remained conscious throughout the week, lingering until the Friday when he died.

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The inquest into the death of Henry Kinder caused ‘some sensation’ at the time. But this was nothing compared with the outpouring of public excitement two months later, when Henry Bertrand, his wife Jane Bertrand and Maria Kinder were charged with Kinder’s murder. The sensation surrounding the case arose from the idea of ‘profligacy, and something akin to madness, occurring in a respectable circle’.

the respectability question found here

Those involved were young, good-looking, affluent and fashionable. Their relationships were wildly unorthodox and everyone who had come within their orbit had strange tales to tell. Maria Kinder was invested with a seductive malice and Henry Bertrand with deep eccentricities and charisma. Bertrand’s distinctive traits and peculiar behaviour added greatly to the case’s sense of intrigue, but perhaps most fascinating of all was his professed ability to control others using hypnosis.

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If analysts of the case loved to dwell on Bertrand’s dangerous powers of hypnosis, they were perhaps even more seduced by the idea of Maria Kinder as a femme fatale, whose passions had driven the men around her to insanity and murder. Perceptions of her magnetic sexuality, infidelity, gold-digging and cunning criminality coalesced with stereotypes of the evil woman that were circulating in the sensational popular fiction of the time.

Femme Fatale by Patrick Demarchelier found here

Maria Kinder first met Henry Bertrand as a patient at his Wynyard Square practice, and their relationship quickly evolved into an illicit affair. They did little to conceal it from family and friends, who seem to have looked on with a peculiar level of acceptance. They used Bertrand’s young assistant, Alfred Burne, as messenger and he carried letters between them. 

Wynyard Square c 1938 found here

Shortly after the lovers met, Francis Jackson, another key figure in the case, arrived on the scene. He had been Maria Kinder’s lover in New Zealand and upon meeting again in Sydney, Jackson and Maria Kinder quickly rekindled their affair. During his testimony at the trial he described having orchestrated drinking sessions with Henry Kinder so that he could have his way with Maria when the banker fell unconscious. Meanwhile Bertrand sought to play his rivals, Jackson and Kinder, against each other. He tried to incite Kinder to violence and then threatened to implicate Jackson in Kinder’s death if he remained in Sydney. To get him out of the way, Bertrand offered to pay Jackson’s passage back to New Zealand and Jackson took the money and departed, but travelled only as far as Maitland in regional New South Wales.

Maitland floods 2007 found here

Meanwhile, Bertrand was also plotting against Kinder. He asked his assistant, Alfred Burne, if he knew where a pistol could be bought, and they arranged to purchase one from a city pawnshop. Bertrand turned up disguised as a woman.  The next morning Bertrand asked Alfred Burne to buy a sheep’s head from the butcher. Back at his Wynyard Square surgery he cast his own bullets before testing them out by firing at the sheep’s head.

sheep’s head found here

Just two weeks later Kinder was dead. According to Jane Bertrand’s testimony, she and Maria Kinder had been standing by the window arranging flowers when they heard a shot. They turned to see Kinder drooping in his seat by the piano, a pistol falling from his hand, Bertrand standing over him. Dr Eichler was sent for and arrived a few hours later. Kinder was conscious but sank into a wordless stupor when the doctor told him to put his affairs in order.

flower arrangement found here

The next day, Eichler examined Kinder again and found him much improved. That evening at the dental surgery Bertrand showed to Alfred Burne a phial of white liquid, telling him it was the poison he would use to murder Kinder. On 6 October Kinder died. 

Following the coroner’s inquest into Henry Kinder’s death, Bertrand and Maria Kinder continued their affair. She came to live with Bertrand and his wife, who was sometimes forced to share a bed with the lovers—a salacious detail that generated nearly as much moral outrage as the murder itself. 

Meanwhile, Bertrand received a letter from Francis Jackson attempting to blackmail him by threatening to expose his relationship with Maria Kinder and his involvement in Henry Kinder’s death. Bertrand’s surgery was searched and his diary, a bottle marked poison, a pistol, gunpowder, caps and a tomahawk were seized. Bertrand was charged with murder.

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Despite testimony that she had mixed the poison that had killed Kinder, a charge of murder against Jane Bertrand was dropped. Maria Kinder, likewise, escaped further prosecution due to lack of evidence. Bertrand was tried alone. After deliberating for twenty hours without reaching agreement, the jury was dismissed. A second trial began and was concluded the following day. This time the jury returned a guilty verdict and Bertrand was sentenced to death.

The Kinder Tragedy was described as the greatest criminal case on record in the Australian colonies. Keeping interest in the case alive was the fact that Bertrand had evaded the death penalty. From time to time he was moved to a new prison, and a fresh spate of newspaper articles recalling the case would appear. New Zealand’s Wanganui Chronicle reported in September 1879 that he had been relocated to Darlinghurst, and was ‘considered a valuable acquisition to that institution’. Maria Kinder made the news just once after the trial had ended, in July 1867, when she announced her marriage to a Mr Stanley Williams of Greymouth, New Zealand.

Darlinghurst jail, now the National Art School

By far the greatest rekindling of interest in the case, however, came in 1894 with Bertrand’s release after twenty-eight years in prison. Maria Kinder was dead by then. After a night or two spent at the Hotel Metropole in Sydney, Bertrand left Australia for good. It is believed he went to live under an assumed name in Paris.

dante’s inferno

Lana Turner’s eighth husband led an interesting life….

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“Ronald Dante, or Ronald Pellar, or whatever his name really is, is not just any old guy, but a prolific con man with a history that is almost impossible to believe. 

In the 1970s, he was convicted of trying to murder a rival hypnotist.

A decade earlier he was actress Lana Turner’s eighth husband. She was one of his seven wives.

Lana Turner as a child found here

In the 1990s, he operated one of the greatest diploma-mill scams in U.S. history, although in his opinion it wasn’t a scam at all. The government disagreed.

Dr. Dante, a name he made up when he was a young man because he liked the way it sounded, said he was born in 1920. When he was 5, Dante claimed, he and his family were in Kuala Lumpur when Malaysian insurgents attacked. His mother, father and sister were killed, leaving only himself and his 10-year-old brother, who were sent to a Chicago orphanage.

image found here (click to read fine print)

At 11, Dante said, he walked away from the orphanage with his brother and hit the streets. His first “business venture” involved buying gold-plated watches for $2.99, packaging them in cases with a $150 price tag attached, and selling them to businessmen who assumed they were buying stolen merchandise for $25.

erotic watch found here

Dante, who still speaks in the deep baritone that made him a sensation as a hypnotist, said he attended several colleges as a young man, including the University of Wisconsin. It was there he met a hypnotist who taught him stage presence, he said.

In 1969 he met “sweater girl” actress Turner in a Los Angeles discotheque called The Candy Store. He soon would become her eighth and final husband.


He had a persuasive voice and strange, compelling eyes,” she wrote in her 1982 autobiography. “He claimed to have been brought up in Singapore and to have earned a doctorate in psychology there, but the press dug up something to debunk that. Shortly after our wedding he was shot at, or so he said, in an underground garage, by a gunman wearing an Australian bush hat. It got a lot of attention in the papers – maybe that was what he wanted.”

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Six months after the marriage, she found Dante’s motorcycle and all his belongings gone and a note typed on blue stationery. “It’s obvious that you have your thing to do, and I have mine, and I have to keep on doing it,” the note said.

Dante continued to perform as a hypnotist, and in the early 1970s was working in a Tucson nightclub. In 1974 he was found guilty of attempting to contract for the murder of Michael Dean of San Diego, the widely known hypnotist and entertainer. 

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After being released from prison, he created a permanent-makeup business in which he taught thousands of people how to tattoo eye liner and lip liner, using felt-tip pens and cantaloupes as demonstration tools. The Federal Trade Commission had problems with the company. For one thing, Dante said, he called his graduates “dermatologists,” which angered legitimate dermatologists, who are physicians. The government sued and eventually Dante settled the civil case.

image found here

From the mid-1980s until the late 1990s, according to court documents, Senate committee transcripts and official reports, Dante made somewhere between $10 million and $20 million selling advanced degrees to people in one of the great diploma-mill scams in U.S. history. 

Dante bristles when “diploma mill” or “scam” is mentioned in the same breath with Columbia State. “They all realized what they were getting,” he said. “I mean, come on, who’s kidding who? They were getting a Ph.D. in a month.”

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After an ABC television news show featured him in a story about Columbia State University, he was kidnapped – he says by Mexican federal police – and taken to the United States, where a five-year prison sentence was enforced.

At the time of his kidnapping, Dante said, he had $26 million stashed on the yacht in cash, gold coins, cashier’s checks and American Express checks. While he was in prison, all the money disappeared.

 These days, Dante makes paper flowers, a skill he said he learned while married to Lana Turner. He also has put together a DVD he hopes to sell about how to make the flowers, as well as a DVD about being a hypnotist.

paper flowers found here

His website correctly says he has been listed in Guinness World Records for almost 20 years as having been paid the highest lecture fee: more than $3 million about hypnotherapy at a two-day course held in 1986 in Chicago.

 “That was a good weekend,” Dante said.

 He proudly produces a copy of “Marquis Who’s Who” from 1993, which lists Ronald Pellar as holding a doctorate from Columbia State University and of having been a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.

 Is the Marine Corps reference true?

 Dante smiled slightly. “Of course not,” he said

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hypnosis with a grain of salt

In 1941, 27 year old Andrew Salter was being touted as the next big thing in the field of hypnosis.


“Teaching alcoholics to cure themselves is only a small sample of the work which Salter performs with the minds of his subjects. Since starting his odd profession a couple of years ago, he has worked on upwards of 250 cases. Some two dozen of these were obese females who couldn’t stick to their diets.

image from Wellcome Collection 1887

By the time Salter got through with them they had learned to despise such things as Fudge Sundaes, Charlotte Russe, Lobster Thermidor and other flesh building dishes, and were smacking their lips at the thought of raw carrots, lettuce salad with mineral oil dressing and similar atrocities.

Charlotte Russe

Then there was the case of the melancholy magazine editor who came to Salter to ask if he “couldn’t get a little fun out of life.” Not long afterwards Salter was visited by the editor’s wife who was greatly agitated by the change in her husband. Formerly he had gloomed about the house and spent his time complaining. Now he bounded out of bed with a merry laugh, sang in the shower, chuckled as he read the paper and was turning into a practical joker. “I’m so relieved it’s only hypnotism” she told Salter. “I was afraid he’d found another woman.”

Practical Joker

Salter says “In psychology, hypnotism has a bad name. The average person seems to think that hypnotists specialise in seducing females or in making subjects sign false wills or commit murder. He believes there are few psychoneuroses that can’t be straightened out in a good subject. This excludes morons, young children and the insane, none of whom can be hypnotized.


He is convinced that the US Army should pay heed to the value of self hypnosis in war. “Soldiers could march 30 miles a day and not be fatigued. They could fall asleep in open trenches with an artillery barrage going on overhead and sleep soundly for as long as they pleased. In fact, they could learn to forget the war entirely.”


Published in: on December 2, 2010 at 8:33 pm  Comments (36)  
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one good memory

Milton Erickson was an American psychiatrist who specialised in hypnosis. Some of his methods were quite unorthodox as this story reveals…..

A depressed woman went to Erickson for help. She was ashamed and upset about being so ugly and unattractive. She had a small gap in her front teeth that she thought was a disfigurement and she despaired of ever marrying or having children. She was planning to suicide, but decided to give Erickson a crack at it first.

After taking a history, Erickson prescribed the following: She was to buy some new outfits and get a new hairstyle as well as a facial makeover. Finally, he told her she was to practice squirting water through the gap in her teeth until she could squirt it accurately at a distance of seven or eight feet.

During questioning, Erickson had deduced that she had an admirer at work that had triggered the onslaught on negative self-statements. She would often see him at the drinking fountain, and when she did, she’d run back to her desk and bury herself in her work. Erickson got her to agree to dress up in her new clothes, fix her hair and make up and go to work. When the young man would show up at the drinking fountain, she was to get a mouth full of water and squirt it at him right before she’d take one step toward him, then turn around and “run like hell.”

Olga found here

Initially she was reluctant but Erickson reminded her that she had come in contemplating suicide. As long as she was planning to die, she ought to die with at least one good memory. So she did it. And to her* amazement, the young man ran after her, caught her, spun her around and kissed her. She came out of the depression, formed new relationships, and ultimately got married.

* and to my amazement as well. Is this some secret you guys have been keeping from us for years? How many proposals could I expect to receive in a year if I practiced squirting water out of my mouth and running like hell after I doused the object of my affections?

Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 5:52 am  Comments (30)  
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