Friday, 8 December 2017

John Tawell

John Tawell is famous because he was the first murderer caught with the aid of a new invention- the telegraph. John Tawell was born in Norfolk in 1784. Tawell became a Quaker, though he obviously failed to live up to their moral teachings. About 1804 Tawell moved to London. However in 1814 he was convicted of forging a £10 note, which was a capital offence. However the sentence was commuted to transportation. Howell was duly transported to Australia. He was given his freedom in 1820 but he chose to stay in Australia until 1831 when he returned to England. Tawell had 2 children by a woman named Sarah Hart.

John Tawell eventually decided to remove this financial burden by poisoning Sarah. Tawell was suffering from varicose veins and he used prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) as a remedy. He also used it to kill Sarah. On 1 January 1845 he caught the train from London to Slough to see Sarah. That afternoon a neighbour called Mary Ann Ashley heard a scream from Sarah's house. She went to investigate and she saw Tawell leaving the house. Ashley entered Sarah's house and found the woman seriously ill. By the time a doctor arrived Sarah was dead. The police were alerted and Ashley told them she saw a man dressed as a Quaker leave the house. (Quakers then wore distinctive dress). 

A clergyman named Edward Champneys realised that the murderer would try to leave the area as soon as possible. He hurried to Slough railway station where he saw a man in Quaker dress board a train for Paddington, London. The station master was informed and he sent a telegraph message to Paddington. (There was no code for the letter 'Q' at that time so the message said the murderer was dressed in 'Kwaker' garb.

When he arrived at Paddington the police followed Tawell but they did not arrest him till the next day. Tawell went on trial for murder on 12 March 1845 at Aylesbury. He was found guilty and he was sentenced to death. John Tawell was hanged in public in Aylesbury on 28 March 1845. A large crowd went to see the execution.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Henri Landru

Henri Landru was a French murderer sometimes known as Bluebeard after a character in a fairy tale. Henri Landru was born in 1869 in Paris, France. As an adult he spent four years in the army, reaching the rank of sergeant. Afterwards Landru became a fraud but he was not a successful one. He was convicted four times between 1900 and 1908 and served four short prison terms. Henri Landru then turned to murder. He placed adverts in newspapers asking to meet women. When he met them Landru promised to marry them (although in fact he was already married and he had four children). Landru persuaded the unfortunate women to part with their savings or other assets. He then killed them. (It is believed Landru drugged his victims then strangled them. He then cut up the bodies and burned the remains in an oven).


In 1915 Henri Landru met a widow named Mme Cuchet. She had a teenage son. Mother and son soon disappeared. The next victim was another widow. She was named Mme Labord-Line. Landru met her in 1915 and she soon vanished. The same year, 1915 Landru murdered three more widows, named Mme Guillin, Mme Heon and Mme Collomb. During 1916 Landru continued killing women. The first was a young woman named Andrée-Anne Babelay. She was followed by a widow named Mme Buisson. Landru killed another woman in 1917. Mme Jaume disappeared in 1917. In 1918 he killed Mme Pascal. The last victim Of Henri Landru was Mme Marchardier who vanished at the beginning of 1919.

The victim's families were, naturally anxious about their missing relatives. One victim's sister knew where Landru lived and the police were able to arrest him. The police found a list of missing women. On 1 December 1921 Landru was convicted of 11 murders (10 women and a boy) and he was sentenced to death. Henri Landru was guillotined on 25 February 1922.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The Shark Arm Case, Sydney

The Shark Arm Case happened in Sydney, Australia in April 1935. Fishermen caught a 14 foot long live tiger shark. It was put on display in Coogee Aquarium but at about 5 pm on 25 April 1935 (Anzac Day) the shark regurgitated a tattooed human arm. The arm was well preserved and it had a tattoo of two boxers. It had a rope tied around its wrist. A medical examination showed it had been cut off not bitten off. The shark had eaten the arm at least 8 days before. Clearly this was a case of murder not accidental death. But where was the rest of the body?

A man named Edwin Smith recognized the description of the tattoo and told police the arm might belong to his brother James. He had gone missing weeks before. The police were able to obtain fingerprints from the hand and they confirmed that it did belong to James Smith. He was a construction worker and a boxer. He was 40 years old. His wife had reported him missing on 8 April 1935.

Police found out that James Smith had last been seen drinking with a friend called Patrick Brady. Afterwards they went to a cottage hired by Brady. The owner of the cottage said that a mattress and a tin trunk had gone missing. The police thought that Brady murdered James Smith and placed his body in the tin trunk. Perhaps one arm wouldn't fit to he cut it off and tied it to the trunk. He then dumped the body in the sea but a shark swallowed the arm.

The police also found evidence that James Smith had worked for a man named Reginald Holmes. Holmes was a wealthy boat builder but he was also involved in drug smuggling. He admitted Smith had worked for him. However the two men had fallen out and, the police believed, Smith had been blackmailing Holmes. He was killed to silence him.

On 16 May 1935 the police arrested Patrick Brady. Then on 20 May Reginald Holmes was arrested. He now told police that Brady killed Smith. He said Brady brought the severed arm to his house and tried to blackmail him with it, threatening to kill him too if he did not pay a sum of money.

However on 12 June Reginald Holmes was found shot in his car. Without his testimony there was not enough evidence to convict Patrick Brady. He was brought to trial in September 1935 but Mr Justice Jordan directed the jury to acquit him. Patrick Brady was formally acquitted on 12 September 1935. He died in 1965.

Elizabeth Short, The Black Dahlia

Elizabeth Short, known as the Black Dahlia was the victim of an unsolved murder that took place in 1947. She was just 22. Her naked body was found in the morning of Wednesday 15 January 1947 on a vacant building plot in the Leimert Park district of Los Angeles in California. Her body was found by a woman named Betty Bersinger who was walking with her 3 year old daughter.

It was a horrific murder. The body of Elizabeth Short had been cut in half at the waist with a sharp instrument. Her cheeks had been cut to make a grotesque parody of a smile. There were also other lacerations on her body. Elizabeth's arms were raised over her head and bent at the elbows, her legs were apart. The lack of blood at the scene indicated Elizabeth had been killed at another location then dumped on the plot. The killer had also washed the body. No attempt was made to conceal the body. It seems whoever killed her wanted to shock people by leaving the body in plain view.

The autopsy report revealed the cause of death was hemorrhage from lacerations and shock caused by blows to the head and face. Elizabeth was anatomically normal. (She did not have infantile genitalia). She was not pregnant.

From fingerprints detectives identified the dead woman as Elizabeth Short aged 22. She became known as the Black Dahlia but if she was called that before she died or if the nickname was invented afterwards is uncertain. Whenever the name was first used it probably came from a 1946 film called the Blue Dahlia, in which a man is suspected of murdering his wife. Elizabeth dyed her hair black and sometimes wore black clothes. Because of her appearance she was dubbed the Black Dahlia.

The life of Elizabeth Short


Elizabeth or Betty Short was born on 29 July 1924 in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. Elizabeth had four sisters, two older, Virginia and Dorothea and two younger, Eleanora and Muriel. Her parents were Cleo and Phoebe Short. In 1926 the family moved to Medford, Massachusetts and Elizabeth grew up in that town. Her father Cleo Short made miniature golf courses but in 1930 he left his family. Cleo parked his car near a bridge to make it look as if he had killed himself. Phoebe Short was left to raise her daughters alone. They lived in Salem Street. After a few years Cleo Short wrote to Phoebe and asked to be forgiven but she refused. However afterwards Elizabeth wrote to her father.

Elizabeth Short was a pretty girl with blue eyes and brown hair. Family and friends called her Betty. However Elizabeth suffered from asthma so in 1940 she was sent to the warmer climate of Florida for the winter months. She worked as a waitress. Elizabeth returned to Medford in the spring. She went to Florida again in the winter of 1941 and returned to Medford in the spring of 1942.

At the end of 1942 when she was 18 Elizabeth Short moved to California to stay with her father. However they did not get on. Elizabeth quarreled with her father and moved out. In January 1943 Elizabeth got a job as a civilian clerk in Camp Cooke, an army camp 10 miles north of Lompoc. (It is now Vendenberg Air Force Base). She worked there until late August. During that time Beth Short was voted camp cutie. However in September 1943, aged 19 she was arrested for under age drinking in Santa Barbara. Elizabeth was sent back to Medford. In the winter she moved to Miami Beach in Florida. Elizabeth continued to work as a waitress.

Despite her conviction for under age drinking, as an adult Elizabeth did not drink or smoke. She was also a courteous woman who did not swear.

At the end of December 1944 Elizabeth Short met Major Matthew M Gordon in Miami Beach. The couple soon got engaged. Tragically Major Gordon was killed in a plane crash on 10 August 1945 just days before the end of the Second World War.

In July 1946 Elizabeth went to Los Angeles to visit an old boyfriend named Joseph Fickling. However Fickling moved to another state. Elizabeth then stayed in hotels and people's homes, never staying anywhere for very long. Unfortunately being homeless made Elizabeth vulnerable.

In December 1946 Elizabeth Short went to San Diego. On 8 January 1947 a man named Robert Manley (known as 'Red' because of the color of his hair) offered to drive her to Los Angeles. They spent the night in a motel but, Manley said, they did not sleep together. The next day Thursday 9 January 1947 Manley took Elizabeth to Los Angeles bus station where she deposited luggage. He then went with her to the Biltmore Hotel. He left her there at about 6.30 pm.
Unfortunately where Elizabeth went after saying goodbye to him and what she did in the next 6 days is a mystery. At some point Elizabeth met the killer. He was probably a sexual sadist who lured Elizabeth to her death. He probably hated women. That raises the question: did he kill any other women? We will probably never know.
Cleo Short refused to identify the body of his daughter at the morgue. That task was left to her mother Phoebe. (Cleo Short also refused to attend his daughter's funeral).

The Black Dahlia Investigation


A massive investigation began but the killer was never found. As the last person to see Elizabeth Short alive, Red Manley was an obvious suspect. However he passed 2 lie detector tests and he had an alibi. Red Manley died in 1986. There were many other suspects but none could be linked to the murder.
On 24 January 1947 somebody sent a package to the Los Angeles Examiner. It contained Elizabeth Short's birth certificate, social security card, photos, a newspaper clipping about Matt Gordon and an address book belonging not to Elizabeth but to an acquaintance of hers named Mark Hansen. (Some of its pages had been torn out). In the package was a message made up of words cut from newspapers. It said 'Here is (sic) Dahlia's Belongings' and 'Letter to follow'. (These items were soaked in gasoline to remove fingerprints). It seems the killer reveled in his notoriety.
Later somebody calling himself 'The Black Dahlia Avenger' sent several more letters. However these other letters did not contain anything belonging to Elizabeth Short. They may have been hoaxes. Unfortunately many deranged people made false confessions to the murder which wasted a great deal of police time.

Meanwhile On 25 January 1947 the purse and one of the shoes belonging to Elizabeth Short were found in a dumpster several miles from where the body was found. (They were identified as hers by a friend, Robert 'Red' Manley). However they did not bring the police any closer to the killer.

The last detective who worked on the Black Dahlia case, Ralph Asdel died on 31 December 2003. (Ralph Asdel was a 26 year old detective at the time of the murder). Whoever killed Elizabeth Short is now almost certainly dead too and its unlikely we will ever know who he was.
Elizabeth Short was buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California on 25 January 1947. (Elizabeth loved California).

In 1993 a memorial to Elizabeth Short was erected in her home town of Medford.

Monday, 27 November 2017

William Palmer

William Palmer was a notorious poisoner of the mid 19th century. Palmer was born on 6 August 1824 in Rugeley in Staffordshire, England. William was apprenticed to a pharmacist but he was sacked when he was 17 for stealing money. He then trained to be a doctor. In 1846 Palmer began practicing in Rugeley but he was an inveterate gambler.

In October 1847 William Palmer married Anne Thornton. They had 5 children but four of them died in infancy, possibly poisoned by Palmer. Then in May 1850 Palmer murdered a man named Leonard Bladen to who he owed money. By 1854 Palmer was in debt and he insured his wife for a large sum of money. Mrs Palmer died in September 1854. Her death was ascribed to cholera though in reality William poisoned her. William Palmer then took out a life insurance policy on his brother Walter. Predictably Walter Palmer died soon afterwards in August 1855.

Palmer next murdered a man named John Parsons Cook. The unfortunate Mr Cook went to a horse race with Palmer and he won a great deal of money. That, of course did not escape Palmer's attention. John Cook soon fell ill and he died a few days later. Cook's stepfather insisted on a post mortem. No evidence of poison was found in the body. 

However it was found that William Palmer had bought strychnine shortly before the death of Cook and he was arrested for murder on 15 December 1855. It was decided that local feeling made it impossible for Palmer to get a fair trial in the area. So the trial of William Palmer was held in London. The evidence was circumstantial. Nevertheless Palmer was found guilty of murder and he was sentenced to death. William Palmer was hanged in public outside Stafford prison on 14 June 1856.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Mary Blandy

Mary Blandy was born in 1720 at Henley-On-Thames in Oxfordshire. Her father Francis Blandy offered a dowry of £10,000 for anyone who would marry Mary. (A huge fortune in those days). However in reality he did not have so much money. Not surprisingly such a large dowry attracted many suitors. Francis Blandy vetted them and rejected them one by one until Captain William Cranstoun came on the scene. Cranstoun was the son of a Scottish noble. Francis Blandy was keen to marry his daughter to a man from such a background. So Cranstoun moved into the Blandy home. However there was a complication. He was already married. When he found out Francis Blandy told Cranstoun to leave and told Mary to forget him.

However Mary Blandy and Cranstoun wrote to each other. Cranstoun persuaded Mary to give her father powder, which he said would make her father more friendly towards him. In fact the powder was arsenic. Mary put it in her father's tea and soup and he fell ill. Francis Blandy duly died on 14 August 1751. Mary then tried to burn some powder in the fire. However a servant managed to retrieve it. Mary Blandy was arrested but Cranstoun fled to France. Mary went on trial on 3 March 1752. A Dr Anthony Addington convinced the jury that the powder rescued from the fire was indeed arsenic. As a result Mary Blandy was found guilty of murder. She was hanged on 6 April 1752.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Marie Becker

Marie Alexandrine Becker was a female Belgian poisoner. She was born in 1877. She married a man named Charles Becker in 1906. In 1932 Marie Becker met a man named Lambert Bayer and she began an affair with him. Marie Becker then decided to poison her husband. She killed him with digitalis. Becker used his life insurance money to open a dress shop. However she grew bored with Bayer and decided to kill him with the same poison. Bayer died in November 1934.

In July 1935 an old woman named Marie Castadot fell ill and Marie Becker offered to nurse her. The old lady promptly died. Becker then poisoned several elderly customers. However when a friend complained about her husband and said she wished he would die. Becker told her friend that if she really meant that she could supply a powder that would leave no trace. Fortunately in October 1936 the friend contacted the police. They arrested Becker and they found a bottle of digitalis in her purse. The bodies of her victims were exhumed and found to contain the same drug. Marie Becker was convicted of murder but since there was no death sentence in Belgium at that time she was sentenced to life imprisonment. Marie Becker died in jail during the Second World War.