Posts Tagged ‘1897’

Duncan is best known for being the last person to be imprisoned under the British Witchcraft Act, 1735. She was born November 25th, 1897 and died December 6th, 1956. At school she was known to have alarmed fellow pupils with prophecies of doom and displaying hysterical behaviour.

She married Henry Duncan in 1916 who supported her talents and in 1926 she went from clairvoyant to medium, offering séances to summon recently deceased spirits via emitting ectoplasm. She worked part time in a bleach factory and was a mother of six, a pretty busy lady.

In 1928 photography showed her tricks via dolls and old sheets as drapes. In 1931 the ectoplasm was supposedly cheesecloth, paper mixed with egg-white and toilet paper. In 1933 a trick to summon ‘Peggy’ a spirit was investigated and she was fined £10 for fraud, Harry Price concluded it was all fake and so why am I reporting on her? Well… here goes.

November 1941, WWII, she held a seance in Portsmouth and laid down the claim that a sailor spirit told her the HMS Barham had been sunk. An official announcement for the sinking came months later in February 1942. Due to this the Navy took interest in her claims. There was scepticism about her claims of the spirit telling her this because close family members of the victims had been informed about it. It was summarised that she might has known as around 861 families at the time could have been discussing it with the links they had, and she may well have over heard the news.

Duncan’s claims were taken seriously enough that they arrested her on a minor other issue, but then found the clause of witchcraft. She had a mock-up of an old HMS Barham hat band but after 1939 they hadn’t been worn. There seemed to be concerns that she would leak more confidential information, whatever her source, and that she was exploiting the recently bereaved. Seances did not come cheap, incidentally they don’t these days either…

She was found guilty on one count, and she was imprisoned for nine months. Winston Churchill seemed unimpressed by what seemed to be a waste of time and resources on “obsolete tomfoolery”. In 1945 she was released and promised to stop, which clearly wasn’t the case as she was arrested again in 1956. There was no sign of anything odd about her death after though, she had been suffering ill-health from around 1944 and was an obese woman who would move slowly due to heart trouble.

All too often when the media talks about these events it is with a very sceptical approach. Replications of their so-called trickery has been given as the reason not to trust mediums etc. Helen Duncan was unfortunate in the media enough times I’d question why folks even continued to see her, but the grief of a lost one is hard and people may well have given her more benefit over doubt due to this.

In the case of HMS Barnham, she was in Portsmouth, a naval town in a time where it was already considered a badly kept secret. Sailors of the living variety may have been talking and she overheard it. Perhaps she truly was told by a spirit but I hate to admit full poo-poo on the situation however I would say the only S involved here was media speculation and sensation.


The infamous Dr Crippen, 23rd November 2010 marked his 100th year since his execution. Hawley Harvey Crippen supposedly haunts the Pentonville Prison where he was hanged and interred for the murder of his wife. They say a “bespectacled, sorrowful figure” is seen standing around the unmarked grave.

Crippen was a homeopathic physician and salesman, he was convicted of the murder of his wife Cora Henrietta Crippen. He was also notably the first criminal to be caught with the use of wireless communication. His first wife died of a stroke and his son was entrusted to his parents care. He met Cora in New York, who had the stage name Belle Elmore and had very open affairs.

In 1897 Crippen and his spouse moved to England, he was not however considered qualified to practise in the UK and so worked as a distributor of patent medicines. He was sacked by his manager in 1899 as he spent more time working on his wife’s stage career than doing his job. Having moved around various places they settled in Holloway, London where a lodger was brought in to supplement the meagre wages. Cora decided that the lodger was appealing and in turn Crippen took Le Neve (young typist in the firm he worked for) as his mistress.

January 31st, 1910 there was a party at their home and Cora disappeared, he claimed that she had returned home to California and later on added she had died and been cremated. Le Neve began to wear Cora’s clothes and jewellery, the police first became aware of the disappearance when Cora’s friend (a strongwoman known as Vulcana) reported it. Friends in high places led to more requests for investigations and a house search was made but nothing was found.

The police seemed satisfied but Crippen and Le Neve did not seem to know this and fled in panic to Brussels. They went on a pacific liner the SS Montrose destined for Canada. Inspector Water Dew then ordered a further three searches of the house, and on the fourth they found human remains buried under the brick floor of the basement. The body contained traces of a calming drug, the corpse was identified by a piece of skin but the head, limbs and skeleton were never recovered.

Meanwhile Crippen and Le Neve were disguised on board the ship when a wireless telegram was sent out to British Authorities saying they suspected Crippen of London cellar murder and his accomplice was aboard the ship. Perhaps if he had travelled third class he would never have been spotted but Dew boarded a faster White Star liner and headed off to intercept them. Dew boarded the ship disguised as a passenger and followed him over to Canada. Canada meant that they could arrest him without the need for extradite as they were still part of the English Empire at that time.

When Dew announced who he was Dr Crippen was relieved and had expressed how the suspense was really too much. He held out his arms to enable the handcuffs to be placed on him and Crippen was returned to England on the SS Megantic.

Both suspects were tried separately at the London assizes and stated that they could not formally identify the remains as male or female but they had been able to locate abdominal scar tissue that matched Cora’s medical history. The drug found in the remains matched one that Crippen had brought from a local chemist.

The defence maintained that Cora had fled to America with another man, Bruce Miller, and suggested the previous owner could be something to do with the remains in the house. They also stated the marks on the skin were just folded tissue. The prosecution continued with a pyjama top that Crippen owned, it was not found but the bottoms were in his bedroom and a fragment of the fabric was found with the remains, the prosecution stated that the type he wore were not made before 1908 and so it would not have been the former owners to blame for the human remains.

Throughout the proceedings Dr Crippen showed no sign of remorse, he also showed no concern for his wife but showed concern for his lover’s reputation. After only 27 minutes the jury returned with a verdict of guilty and he was hanged. His grave, as previously mentioned, is unmarked and perhaps one of the reasons his ghost still lingers is that he is waiting for his innocence to be declared… however that is unlikely to happen as in 2009 the court of appeal said they would not hear the case to posthumously pardon him.

The 1962 feature film Dr. Crippen stars Donald Pleasance in the lead role.  His story is also retold in a Broadway musical One Touch of Venus.  He even boasts a waxwork model at Madame Tussauds in London!

One of my favourite subjects is vampires. I have tried to hold off from making this yet another vampire blog but I can hardly ignore them now can I?

I’ll try to keep this set of posts to a minimum, there is so much to cover but I will just go through the bits I love the most and hope to get it out of my system and on to other weird, wacky or strange finds.

Vampires are recorded through many cultures and seem to have various  claimed roots. Romania is probably one of the most famous thanks to Bram Stoker’s Dracula but that’s not the only book, I would of course advise any enthusiast of non-sparkling vampires to get their fangs into it. Some of the most heightened panics of vampire hysteria led to beheaded corpses and staked bodies.

The romanticised version can most likely be traced back to John Polidori, The Vampyre, 1819 who gave the vampire a charismatic and sophisticated overhaul, Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel secured the vampire’s literary romance and passion creating a genre of horror that has brought the nightmares to many modern formats including gaming and television series.

A noted first appearance of the word vampire comes from the Oxford English Dictionary, 1734. They reported about a local practice in Europe of exhuming bodies and “killing vampires.” Quite often a trait of the vampire is that are revenants of evil beings, suicide victims, witches, or a possessed malevolent spirit in a corpse or by being bitten.

It is hard to make a single definition of what a vampire actually is but the biggest thing that seems to have followed them around is the desire to drink the life fluid, blood. Without blood the vampire cannot feed correctly and will whither away, though not necessarily die. Common denominators in the vampire’s appearance are a healthy, perhaps bloated, corpse that show recent blood drinking. Perhaps there was even blood escaping when the body was later exhumed, the teeth had developed to be sharper or even fangs (see previous posts about fangs) and the nails and hair had grown. It is worth noting that in many tales of this undead creature there are not always mentions of fangs.

Finding the vampire might lead you to need a virgin stallion (black or white depending on the area) to lead around the graveyard. If it shies you know you are on the right spot. Hole around a grave might show signs of a vampire (or mole infestation in my view), perhaps the livestock keep dying off and if you are not in goatsucker territory you might consider a vampire. Oh and if your vampire is of the fanged variety I would suggest a regular check for bite marks.

Creating a vampire.

Again there seems to be no generic way, which is probably a good thing for any writers out there. Perhaps an animal jumped over the corpse, a body was left along with untreated wounds, people who have come back from beyond and taken a new body (I’d prefer a living sample to possess thanks). Another is that the vampire forces it’s blood into a living victim (and of course it’s bound to be a sexy virgin).

There are of course attempts that can be made to prevent the terrible curse of blood drinking immortality, ranging from burying someone upside down to pre-staking them just in case. Earthly objects can be put into the mouth, though I suspect that would be better placed with the idea of paying to cross the River Styx than to worry about vampires.

One I do like is the idea that a vampire is suddenly imbued with a supernatural OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) so putting rice or poppy seeds on the floor would force them to be distracted into counting them until they could be despatched after the confirmation of their being. This one seems more common place in Indian, Southern American and Chinese myths.