An comedy show in which two friends discuss a weekly mystery.
Had moved from Birmingham to Rochdale in November, with her long-term boyfriend Joey Kavanagh.
Her family described the relationship as “strained” at times.
She spent the summer of 1994 with her sister in Rochdale, saying that she had left Joey (who was still living in Birmingham at the time) and was trying to hide from him. Sister said that she was acting strangely, like she was scared of something. A few weeks later she moved back to Birmingham with him.
31 years old in 1994 when the crime took place.
Mother of two who, according to family, “lived for her children.”
On December 22nd, she returned to Birmingham to gather some belongings and their benefits book from her old house.
Stayed overnight at at her sister’s house, then went to the house the following morning, December 23rd.
Shortly before noon, after she’d been in the apartment for ten minutes, there was a knock on the door.
Two black men, in their early thirties, overweight, wearing brown leather baseball hats and black leather coats.
Tracey believed they spoke in a foreign language, and police believe this was probably some sort of Caribbean accent.
Police believe that the two men snatched her, blindfolded her, and tossed her into the back of a yellow Mark II Ford escort packed outside.
This was considered a distinctive car.
Taken 70 miles away to a Christchurch in the village of Eaton in Cheshire about five hours later.
She was doused in gasoline and then set on fire on the church steps.
Found by a passerby and her attackers were gone.
She was taken to the hospital.
Had suffered 90-95% burns.
She survived long enough to tell detectives what happened to her.
She died in the early hours of Christmas Eve.
Detectives spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day interviewing family members.
Apparently, there was a witness walking by Tracey’s home as the two men were forcing her into the car, but police have never been able to track him down.
In 1995, a Birmingham man was charged with conspiracy to commit murder.
Case was dropped due to insufficient evidence.
It seems police were able to find very little information regarding the case other than what Tracey was able to tell them.
The case was featured on Crimewatch in 2010 and 2012 after advances in forensic technology gave detectives a DNA profile of the killer.
Detectives gathered and followed up 100 tips after the 2010 broadcast, but none of them were particularly helpful.
There is still a 30,000 pound reward for details leading to a conviction.
Habitual drug user
Admitted he owed people money at the time of Tracey’s death.
Abductors allegedly asked, “Where’s Joey?”
Reddit user suggest they were Yardies (British term for Jamaican expatriates) whose gangs are known for drug trafficking and gang violence in the United Kingdom.
There was a large influx of Jamaican immigration to Britain in the 1980s, which led to a rise in gang violence committed by Jamaican immigrants.
There is active Yardie gang activity in Birmingham, although to a lesser extent than in many other large British cities.
Perhaps Joey owed someone money and they went to attack him, but took her instead.
Has maintained that he was not the cause of the murder and didn’t know anyone who would do something so brutal to her.
Could they have gone to the wrong house?
Could she have merely misunderstood what happened due to trauma?
If there was a prejudice against Yardies, perhaps?
I don’t know.
I can’t make up my own theories.
This is stupid.
I hate this podcast.
Just kidding, I love it.
27 year old news anchor in Mason City Iowa in 1995
Graduated from St. Cloud State University
Became the Iowa City bureau chief for KGAN in Cedar Rapids then was a reporter for KSAX in Alexandria Minnesota
Finally became the morning news anchor for KIMT in Mason City Iowa
Jodi lived 5 minutes from the studio and would often have to walk to work very early in the morning.
June 27th 1995
Showed up late to work
Her producer called her at 4AM asking where she was
When she didn’t show up her producer called again at 5 AM
Producer filled Jodi’s role then called police at 7 AM
No sign of Jodi
Inside of apartment looked normal
Signs of struggle near her brand new (June 13th) red Mazda Miada
Bent key suggests she was attacked while unlocking her car
Struggle stretch out over the entire parking lot
Police found Jodi’s keys, a pair of her shoes, her jewelry, a can of hairspray, and a blow drier
Also found an unidentified hand print
A neighbor reported seeing a white van with its lights on parked in Jodi’s lot
At least 3 neighbors reported hearing a woman scream around the time Jodi disappeared
Jodi’s apartment was next to a park that police believe someone could have hidden out in
Jodi had told several people she was afraid of something and that she was being stalked
One of the largest manhunts in Iowa history was launched
Over 100 officers were either tracking down leads and interviewing people
Everyone who knew Jodi was questioned even those who hadn’t seen her for years
Searches turned up nothing
Participated in a golf tournament with Jodi the day before
Threw a birthday party for her on June 11th
She went back to his house after to watch the tape from her party
They didn’t have a romantic relationship but friends reported John wanted one
Passed lie detector
The Huisentruit family hired a private investigator from Minnesota and flew to Los Angeles to meet with 3 prominent psychics
The search continued for over a year
In June of 2008 Jodi’s personal journal was mailed to the Mason City Globe Gazette
Journal largely about her career goals
Final 3 entries June 11th, 13th, and 25th all mention John Vansice
Ourang Medan was a Dutch merchant freighter.
Name means “Man from Medan” in either Malay or Indonesian.
Medan is the largest city on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which at the time was still a Dutch colony.
Because of this, it is believed that the ship came from Sumatra.
In June of 1947, or maybe February 1948, the ship was sailing from a small, unidentified Chinese port to Costa Rica, perhaps with the intent of avoiding authorities.
Two American ships navigating the Strait of Malacca between Sumatra and Malaysia picked up distress calls from the Ourang Medan.
Received morse code message: “SOS from Ourang Medan. We float. All officers including the Captain, dead in chartroom and on the bridge. Probably whole of crew dead.” There were a few meaningless dots and dashes and then: “I die.” Nothing else after that.
The two ships used the assistance of a British and Dutch listening posts in the area to triangulate the coordinates of the Ourang Medan.
The Silver Star went to lend aid to the ship.
It took several hours to find the ship.
Once it was found, there didn’t seem to be any sign of a crew.
Communication efforts failed.
Found it undamaged.
The crew of the Silver Star boarded the Ourang Medan.
Littered with corpses, including a dog.
Bodies were on their backs with their faces upturned; mouths and eyes open and with horror-stricken faces, perhaps screaming.
Arms seemed to be fighting off some unseen threat.
No visible signs of injuries.
The captain was found on the bridge, bridge officers found in wheelhouse and chart room.
Radio operator was found at his station.
Engineering crew were found at their stations.
The outdoor temperature was around 100 degrees, and yet the search party found the ship to be rather cold.
When the search party returned to the Silver Star, they decided to tow the Ourang Medan for salvage.
Soon after tethering the tow rope, smoke was seen billowing from below decks.
A fire broke out in the number four cargo hold.
Boarding parties were forced to evacuate.
Just after the tow rope was cut, the ship exploded so forcefully it jumped out of the water, and then sank.
No further investigation could be conducted.
While there were rumors of the incident shared among salty dogs, there were no official reports until May of 1952, although this report was an official US Coast Guard report.
Many accounts of the story differ quite a bit.
There isn’t any great or reliable documentation of the event.
Ourang Medan was never registered and isn’t found in any record of seafaring vessels.
Officially, the ship didn’t exist and there is a lot of speculation about whether it was a real ship or not.
Just because the name was not registered doesn’t mean the ship’s name couldn’t have been unofficially changed and repainted or something.
The Silver Star was a real ship, though perhaps by the time of the incident (sometime in 1947) it had been acquired by the Grace Line shipping company and renamed the “Santa Juana.”
No mention of this incident in the Silver Star’s logbook.
No crew members of the Silver Star have ever come forward with the story.
Could have just been made up ghost story, or a story that started as one strange incident that snowballed as it was told over and over again, perhaps like stories of the Flying Dutchman.
Ship could have been purposely un-registered because of nefarious intentions.
One source states that there was potassium cyanide and nitroglycerin on board the ship, which are highly combustible.
To sail with these items would be highly negligent.
Would explain the explosion however.
This event took place just a few years after the end of World War II, so many have thought that this ship could have had something to do with the war, specifically with Unit 731.
Unit 731 was founded in 1932 by a Japanese bacteriologist named Shiro Ishii.
The intention was to create horrendous biological and chemical weapons for use by the Japanese military to decimate Japan’s enemies.
The biological experiments run by Unit 731 on prisoners of war are considered some of the worst war crimes in human history.
After the war, American General Douglas MacArthur covertly granted immunity to Unit 731, so long as they shared their research with the US government.
It is thought that perhaps the US government commissioned a seemingly non-existent ship to safely and securely transport these materials.
Taking a plane would have been out of the question, as a plane crash with such materials would have had devastating effects.
It’s suggested that sea water entered the ship’s hold and reacted with the cargo, causing poisonous gases to be released, which suffocated the crew. An increase in the amount of salt water could have reacted with the nitroglycerin would have caused the explosion.
If the US government was in fact behind this, it makes sense to expunge all record of such a ship, particularly in light of the Geneva Convention and its restrictions on the use of biochemical weapons in warfare.
A UFO came upon the ship, killed the entire crew, and fled.
Explains the mysteriousness of the deaths, and the reason it appears as if crew members were fighting off an unseen attacker.
Doesn’t explain why the ship exploded or why this was just an isolated incident.
Boiler room fire
An unobserved fire or other such problem in the ship’s boiler system could have caused the incident.
A lot of ships at this time ran on coal for propulsion.
Burning coal pumps out a lot of carbon monoxide, which could have leaked up, suffocating the crew members.
Suffocation is a torturous way to die, so it could explain the tortured looks on the faces of the crew.
The boiler room fire then could have ignited the fuel and caused the eventual explosion.
Perhaps the crew was asphyxiated by clouds of methane bubbles that came up from a fissure on the seafloor.
This does not explain the explosion.
Facts and timeline
Corrie McKeague was/is a 23 year old royal air force gunner stationed at RAF Honington in Suffolk, England.
On September 23rd 2016 Corrie went out with friends in the nearby town of Burrie St. Edmunds (about 10 miles away)
He drove his car and intended to leave it overnight
Around 1am he was kicked out of Flex
Doorman said he was friendly
1:15-1:30 he was at Mama Mia getting take out
He took a 2 hour nap in a doorway nearby
He was seen at 3:25 am turning down an alleyway
He was never seen leaving the alley
Two entrances both would have caught him on camera. No way to leave without being seen
His phone (Nokia Lumia) traveled 12 miles to Barton Mills later in the morning. It took 28 minutes and couldn’t have been on foot.
His phone died or was damaged around 8 am
Between 3:00am and 5:00 am 39 people were captured on the same camera that last saw Corrie
Corrie not reported until September 26th
Reported by RAF
January 2017 the back of phone found near last known phone location
No way to conclusively link
Bins in the alley
Truck reported only having 33lbs (15kg). Corrie weighed 200
Truck was searched and nothing was found
Massive search is launched
Woods along path he would have walked home
February 2017 family announce 50,000 reward
March 1 2017 a 26 year old man was arrested for attempting to pervert the course of justice
Charges dropped on March 7th
Same press conference police revealed garbage truck mistake
Had actually been carrying 220 lbs
Redoubled landfill search
June- “Items from the right time”
July- Search ended. 6,500 tons out of 20,000+
Spent over 1,000,000
September- Police released CCTV footage
October- Police start new landfill search
Corrie’s girlfriend was pregnant
Neither knew when he went missing
Corrie ran away
Corrie was abducted
CCTV footage not thoroughly reviewed after 8
Access to building in alley
Corrie was in the dumpster
Dropped something and went in after it
The boys, the parents, the setting, etc.
The brothers’ good relationship
Zach home sick and sleeping upstairs, Ron in Chicago, Sue at work
3:05--Greg gets off bus
3:09--first phone call from Erin.
3:10--Greg gets home; immediately attacked
3:15--second phone call from Erin, Zach wakes up, hears scuffle, goes downstairs, finds Greg.
3:17--Zach calls 911
3:24--EMS and police arrive
Zach taken to hospital; sweatshirt, socks, bloody towel from finger collected as evidence.
Bloody footprints go out and come back inside
Mound found outside with gloves and knife
The case for Zach
The case against Zach.
Theories for third-party attacker?
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this Willy, but we are inching closer and closer to a full year of doing this podcast, which is the greatest mystery of them all. I went back and listened to one of our earlier episodes recently and realized just how much we have devolved. Back in the early days of the show, we were a borderline good podcast with just enough humor sprinkled onto our true crime to set us apart. Now, we’re basically the mystery podcast version of “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” only to more accurate it would be “Whose Turn to Write the Script Is It Anyway”, where everything’s made up and the mysteries don’t matter.
Anyway, the reason I bring up the early days of the show is because today’s episode is going to be a bit retro. Today we’ll be covering a good old fashioned missing person, like we used to do, back when times were simpler. I wanted to find a super interesting disappearance and usually the most interesting ones are missing children, because those cases are so tragic and gut-wrenching. However, now that I have a child, I couldn’t bring myself to do the story of a missing child, so we’re going to talk about a missing adult. Well, technically he’s an adult, but biologically he’s still an adolescent because biological adolescence lasts until you’re 23 or 24. Bam. You learn something new everyday.
In 2006, Jesse Ross was a nineteen-year-old sophomore communications major at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, over in your neck of the woods. He was a paid radio personality on a popular Kansas City radio station called 95.7 The Vibe. Willy, have you listened to 95.7 The Vibe?
In late November of 2006, the week before Thanksgiving, Jesse and thirteen other UMKC students traveled to Chicago, Illinois for a Model UN Conference along with 1000 other college students from around the country. The problem with our show is that we’re constantly dealing with victims of tragedy, so it’s totally inappropriate for me to do things like BEEEEP BEEEEP BEEEEP NERD ALERT NERD ALERT neeeeehROOOOOOOWWWWWWwwwwww neeeeeehROOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWwwwwww NERD ALERT NERD ALERT BEEEEP BEEEP BEEEP.
On the drive to Chicago, Jesse commented to his peers about how he wanted to deliver some of his music to bars and radio stations in Chicago so that he could be discovered, which is a very sad detail considering the fact that his story is being covered on MysteriYES. Here’s another sad detail: on November 20th, Jesse called his mother to tell her that he was having a great time at the Model UN Conference (nerd alert) and promised to call her the next day once he and his fellow students had loaded up in their vans for the drive home.
That night, Jesse and a school friend named Ralph Parker attended a dance thrown by the conference organizers at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers, where the conference was being held. After that, he and Ralph went to a party at a hotel room where alcohol was served. According to Ralph, Jesse had done some drinking, but in no way did he seem to be intoxicated. Around 1 am, an emergency meeting of the Model UN Security Council was called at the same hotel, and Ralph and Jesse were in attendance because (nerd alert).
At around 2:30 am, after 90 minutes of meeting in the middle of the night for a fake security council at a conference that was ending in the morning, the diligent Model UN Security Council took a 30 minute recess. At that time, Jesse left the meeting room. There is surveillance footage of Jesse from the hotel lobby walking toward the main doors but did not exit through the main doors. It has been suggested that he went out a side staff door that was frequently used by conference attendees. Jesse was wearing a white t-shirt, jeans, and a green jacket. However, there is some dissension about whether Jesse was actually caught on security cameras leaving. One report I read said that there is no footage of him leaving, only of him entering earlier in the evening. The only image I’ve found has a timestamp that looks like it says 12:46 am, which would have been about fifteen minutes before the emergency meeting began. I really don’t know which report is accurate, but I wish they could clear it up because it really affects the way I think about the case. If indeed the security footage did show Jesse leaving the hotel, it is the last trace of Jesse Ross that exists.
When Jesse didn’t return for the conclusion of the Model UN Security Council Meeting, Ralph assumed that Jesse went back to their hotel room and fell asleep. The walk back to their hotel--the Four Points by Sheraton--would have been about ten minutes. It was well-lit and heavily surveyed by security cameras, and yet none of them recorded Jesse. I’ve never been to this part of Chicago, but everything I’ve read online suggest that pretty much every square foot of this area is covered by security cameras, and so it is baffling why Jesse was never recorded outside of the hotel lobby. To me, this is part of what makes this case so interesting. There is no proof that Jesse ever left the hotel, but surely there’s no way he’s still in the hotel.
Later that night/super early morning when the emergency meeting wrapped up, Ralph returned to the hotel room he shared with Jesse. He mistook a small pile of clothes on Jesse’s bed to the thin kid’s sleeping form and went to sleep himself. It wasn’t until the next morning that Ralph realized that Jesse wasn’t in his bed. Ralph assumed that Jesse was a player and slept in another room, so he ever-so-kindly (or perhaps suspiciously?) packed up Jesse’s suitcase and met up with the rest of the group, as they were heading back to Kansas City that morning.
When Jesse didn’t show up with the rest of the group after some time, the group’s chaperone alerted the conference organizers that they were missing a student.The organizers asked around to see if they could locate him, and when they couldn’t they called hotel security. A missing persons report was filed at 4 pm, and then the chaperone called Jesse’s parents to let them know their son was missing. Meanwhile, the other students from the UMKC group headed back, while the chaperone stayed behind to help police with the search.
Jesse’s parents hoped that there was some sort of mixup and that Jesse had returned home with students from another university. However, after that first day came and went without hearing anything from Jesse, this theory seemed less and less likely until it seemed all but impossible, particularly when they realized that there had been no activity from Jesse’s cell phone or bank accounts since before he had vanished.
Jesse’s parents flew to Chicago to meet with the local police, and would later make multiple other trips to hang posters and pass out fliers. The posters stated that Jesse was a white male, 5’10, 140 pounds, with very short red hair, blue eyes, freckles, and glasses.
Now, even though Jesse was technically an adult being age 19, his case was given high priority due to the fact that he was visiting from out of town and was relatively unfamiliar with the area. However, the Chicago police had difficulty conducting their investigation for a number of reasons. The primary reason the investigation was so difficult was that most of the potential witnesses--the other students at the conference--had left Chicago before the missing persons report was even filed. Also, there was no crime scene to investigate and no physical evidence to gather. On top of that, the report came in two days before Thanksgiving, a time of year when absolutely no one wants to come in to work.
The case did draw a great deal of media attention, and as a result, investigators received hundreds of tips in the first few months after the disappearance, but nothing of any substance was turned up. The Kansas City police helped to interview some of Jesse’s fellow classmates who had also gone on the trip, but because they were teenagers or very young adults who’d been drinking alcohol in a fun, new city, they aren’t able to provide much information other than “theories and presumptions.”
The hotel where the conference was being held was right along the Chicago River, and apparently if Jesse had gone out the side door everyone claimed, he would have walked right out onto an esplanade right along the river. As a result, Chicago police’s primary theory was that there had been no foul play and he had merely accidentally drowned in the river--even though there is a four-foot security barrier along the pedestrian walkway. Police divers searched the Chicago River for any sign of Jesse Ross’s body, but they didn’t find anything.
Let’s talk about some theories, and first let’s get into the theory that Jesse chose to disappear on purpose, either by killing himself or running away to start a new life. It does seem like many times when adults disappear, it is done intentionally, however I don’t think that’s the case with Jesse. After all, if you’re going to kill yourself or run away, waiting until a thirty-minute break in a Model UN Security Council late-night emergency meeting is a really bizarro time to do it. His parents also highly doubt this theory, given that he had called earlier that day describing how much fun he was having, and that he had recently gotten the promotion to on-air personality at 95.7 The Vibe, which was a dream come true for him. By now, we should all know that people who are going to kill themselves don’t always show outward signs that this is what they’re planning, but if we’re looking at the circumstances with Jesse here, I find this very unlikely.
The next theory is the police’s theory that he either accidentally or purposely ended up in the Chicago River and drowned. After all, the river is right outside the door Jesse apparently went out, so it’s possible that he wanted to go outside during the break to appreciate the pleasant view of the river. Had he done so, perhaps he somehow fell into the river and wasn’t able to cry out for anyone to help, it being the middle of the night and there likely not being very many people around. However if this is the case, why wasn’t he captured on the security cameras that were apparently all over the place? And if there was a four-foot tall security barrier, how or why did he get over that barrier so that he was in a position to fall in? And if he did fall in, how come searches of the area turned up nothing? (Well, this is pretty easy, actually. Can you imagine having to search a body of water like that and be expected to find a single human body?)
Then there’s the various foul play theories. While police haven’t found any evidence to suggest that Jesse met with foul play, I don’t think that we--as a comedy mystery podcast--should rule it out. The first foul play theory is that one of the other nerds--er, I mean, aspiring young professionals--at the Model UN Security Council late-night emergency meeting followed him out of the building and killed him, perhaps by throwing him into the river. A few questions though. First, and primarily, why? Second, were there no witnesses? Third, was there no security footage? This one is just silly.
Another foul play theory is that he met with foul play while going to a bar to promote his music. I couldn’t tell if this was a confirmed fact, but there’s some rumor that he had declared that he was going to try promoting his music that night. Maybe he either got lost on his way, stumbled on a shady character, went home with a shady person, whatever. My problem with this theory is that it was already 2:30 am, and apparently downtown Chicago is not a city that never sleeps and so most bars were probably already closed. Plus, he was nineteen, so where could he have gone anyway?
The next foul play theory is that perhaps he was headed back to his hotel to go to sleep and got lost or took a wrong turn and stumbled upon a shady character or saw something he shouldn’t have seen and was killed and disposed of. I guess this could be possible, but apparently the downtown Chicago area is a relatively safe, quiet area with little crime, and is thus less likely to have much shady business going on between the two hotels. Plus, it was the last night of the conference. He should have been familiar with the route between the two hotels by then. And then there’s the pesky business of him not ending up on any of the CCTV footage that was between the two hotels.
So Willy, what theory are you choosing?
I don’t think that Jesse is still alive, and if I had to guess what happened to him, I would say he most likely fell into the Chicago River and drowned. It doesn’t make sense for him to have killed himself or run away, and if he met with foul play then how come his body was never found and what actually happened to him? There’s obvious problems with this theory, such as no security footage and the security barrier that should have protected him from falling in, but if someone were to put a gun to my head, I would say he’s probably in the Chicago River. Well, his body has probably decomposed so he could actually be all over the place by now. That was inappropriate.
This may be a short one Zach. This isn’t a very complicated or detailed mystery so we’re really going to have to stretch this one out. Perhaps we should read some scary stories, or take a couple random online quizzes, or maybe I should just list a few ways to kill time before actually getting into it. Look at that I managed to add an extra ____ to the podcast! This will stick it to our podcast publishers who pay us by the minute. In fact I imagine a conversation between a podcast publisher and us would go a little something like this…..
Willy (publisher): You boys have something great. You’re gonna be huge! Stick with me kids and we’ll make it all the way to the top!
Zach: Well I’m glad to hear that famed podcast producer and multi-media mogul Jonathan Shapiro.
Willy: There’s just one thing we need to change…
Zach: *gulp* uh oh…
Willy: I need you boys to kill of that officer pomples character.
Zach: No way!
Willy (as Willy): Yeah! He’s the greatest friend I’ve ever had!
Zach: Yeah! He once gave me his only working kidney, and I didn’t even need it! He just handed it to me in a paper bag!
Willy (producer): Look kids, he just doesn’t have enough sex appeal. He’s soft. A good boy who never breaks the rules.
Officer Pomples enters the room like a cool guy. He pulls out a personal vaporizer and take a cheeky rip releasing tendrils of smoke from his succulent lips.
Officer Pomples: You boys rang?
Zach & Willy: It’s officer pomples!
Officer Pomples: Look here boys, you don’t need to be represented by this bozo. He won’t appreciate you like I do. Here *officer pomples hands Zach and Willy a small piece of paper* the proof is in the pudding.
Zach: Wow! It’s a recipe for Officer Pomple’s famous chili pudding and the first ingredient says, “2 cups of love for Willy and Zach”!
Willy: You do love us after all!
Officer Pomples: You got it boys. Now I gotta get out of here. There’s some wicked sick grinding I need to do on my dope BMX bike. Catch you on the flippity flip.
Officer Pomples floats out of the room; arms reaching toward the heavens. For a moment you hear a chorus of angels singing before you realize it is just Officer Pomples slowly saying the word “radical” as he fades into the distance.
Zach & Willy: Thanks Officer Pomples!
Willy and Zach look back to Jonathon Shapiro. His head has exploded. Willy and Zach look at each other as a look of horror is shared between them. Police sirens can be heard in the background.
Now let’s get to the mystery.
This week we’re going back to one of our mainstays here on MysteriYes, Australia! Zach what’s your favorite city in Australia! Haha good one Zach, mine is Melbourne too. For this Mystery we’re going all the way back to May of 1960 where we’ll find a man named Sam Borg in Melbourne, Australia. Sam runs a Maltese cafe in Northern Melbourne which has a certain reputation for illegal gambling. Toward the end of the month in 1960 Sam stops showing up for work. In fact nobody has seen him for several days. Because he disappeared so suddenly one of his friends decides to stop by his place to check on him but when he got there he discovered Sam’s house was bolted shut. The friend called the police and they had to use a ladder to climb in through a window. When they entered the house they discovered Borg’s body in his guest room. He was wearing his pajamas and was wrapped in sheets. There were rags covering his head and one of his belts had been used to keep the sheets wrapped around him. He had sustained quite a bit of damage to his head and had been dead for at least a few days. After further investigation, it was determined that someone had used a chair leg to beat him to death. The most bizarre thing about the murder is that the guest room he was found in had been board up…. From the inside. Who killed Sam had climbed through a skylight, killed him, and left through the same window. A loaded gun and quite a bit of cash was found in Sam’s bedroom and police believe the killer made off with ~$1,000. Police interviewed 40+ people but no arrests were ever made.
Well that was short. Hmmmm. I guess we have time for one more.
We’re going further back in time and practically all the way around the world for one of the most unsettling cases we’ve ever done here on MysteriYES. We’re going back to May 4th 1932 to Stockholm Sweden. HEY ZACH MAKE UP SOME STUFF TO SAY ABOUT SWEDEN BUT DON’T MAKE IT TOO OFFENSIVE!
Haha good one Zach. On May 4th 1932 the body of Lilly Lindestrom, a 32 year old prostitute was found in her apartment in the Atlas area of Stockholm. On that day police broke into her apartment and discovered that she had been dead for 2-3 days before they got there. She was completely naked, lying facedown on her bed. She was killed by blunt force trauma to her head. Some form of sexual activity had taken place because (ask Zach if I should say this) investigator found a condom that had been left in her anus. As police investigated the scene they discovered a bloody gravy ladle. Now Zach you’re probably thinking to yourself, “gee that’s a weird weapon to blugeon someone to death with”. Well you’re right, but the ladle wasn’t used to kill Lilly. Instead the killer had used it to drain and then drink nearly all of the blood in her body. Unfortunately this is where the story ends because after a lengthy investigation every lead the police had went cold and the murder remains unsolved.
Today’s episode is a bit of a bummer, because today we’ll be discussing our first ever disaster here on the show. That’s right, Willy, a lot of people are going to die, and a lot more are going to be physically and mentally traumatized for the rest of their lives. The question, really, is: Can a purer form of comedy be found?
The event we will be talking about today is the Charfield Railway Disaster, which is something I had never heard of until I started researching it, but which is apparently still a big deal in England where it took place. And while, yes, we are definitely going to have plenty of laughs along the way today, this is a sad story because there is a lot of carnage that just didn't need to happen. There was no malicious intent that caused this to happen, just negligence and human error. It kind of reminds me of the Hillsborough disaster. Did you see that 30 for 30, Willy? Man, nothing sucked the life out of me more than that documentary. The Hillsborough disaster took place at a soccer game where too many fans were allowed into the game, they got trapped and trampled, and 96 people died and hundreds more were injured. Again, there was no malice here. Just a lot of people who wanted to go to a soccer game, and some well-intentioned but sorely mistaken crowd control people who wanted to expedite the process of getting them into the game. Death for no reason. Oh, that's a good band name.
Now that's enough of the philosophizing, so plug in your record player and put in your vinyl copy of Lin Manuel Miranda’s “MyHISTORY Theme” because today we’re taking it back in time, all the way to October 13, 1928. We’re in the tiny little village of Charfield, Gloucestershire, England. The time is 4:28 am. It’s a somewhat foggy night, but all is calm and sleepy...for now. However, little do these provincial little villagers all tucked asleep in their beds know, something horrific is about to happen.
There’s a train approaching the village of Charfield at a rate of 60 miles per hour. It’s a night mail train operated by the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway, and it’s traveling from Leeds to Bristol. On board the night mail train, the fifty-some passengers are nearly all asleep.
Meanwhile, at Charfield, a 51-wagon goods train was shunting onto a side track to make room for the more important night mail train. Because of this, Henry Button, who was the signalman at Charfield, flashed a red signal to the night mail train, which should have stopped the night mail train until the goods train was clear of the tracks. However, perhaps because of the patchy fog or perhaps because of sleepy eyes or mere negligence, the driver of the night mail train, a man named Henry Aldington, and his fireman Frank Want read the red signal as green and continued to barrel their way toward Charfield.
At the Charfield station, when it became clear that the night mail train had misread the signal, the driver of the goods train tried desperately to move his train off the line. Similarly, when Aldington saw that the goods train was still on the line, he tried to slam on the brakes. Unfortunately, neither driver’s efforts were enough, and the night mail train collided into the goods train. If the night mail train had been just ten seconds later, it would have passed by the goods train safely, and Charfield, Gloucestershire, England would have remained an insignificant little village. However, luck and history can be cruel puppeteers.
The goods train was driven off the line and slammed into another goods train. The mail train partially derailed, sending several carriages and the engine off the track while the rest of the train wedged together with the goods train. The impact of the crash was so great that a passenger on the night mail train named James Gaston was thrown through the roof of his compartment. He was found by villagers a few minutes later. He was seriously injured and died later in the hospital.
Now, the collision was bad enough. However, the night mail train was an older train that was still lit by gas instead of by electricity--which at that time was becoming the norm for train lights. There were gas cylinders hung beneath the front coaches, and these ignited on impact, causing the crash to explode into flames. To make things worse, the gas pipes fractured and were set ablaze by ashes from the firebox, which caused the fire to rage even further.
Within twenty minutes, the flames were twenty feet to forty feet high and could be seen from miles away. Villagers from Charfield, railwaymen, and escaped passengers worked frantically to free those passengers who were still trapped in the wreckage. Some of these passengers had limbs that were trapped, and they desperately begged rescuers to saw off their limbs to save them from the raging fire. The nearby Railway Tavern was turned into a first-aid station where more than thirty people were treated for minor injuries, while eleven seriously injured people were rushed to the Bristol Hospital about twenty miles away.
It took five hours for the fire engines from Gloucester, Bristol, and Stroud to get the flames under control, and when this task was completed, the far grimmer task of recovering the bodies began. When all was said and done, sixteen people died in this disaster. Some reports say there were fifteen, but we’re going to go with sixteen to make the episode more sensational to our morbid, death-obsessed listeners.
Relatives of the deceased traveled to Charfield--a village whose name became a wonderfully savage pun--in order to identify their loved ones. Some of the bodies were so badly burned that they could only be identified by belongings that had survived the blaze, such as rings, watches, cigarette cases, or distinctive articles of clothing. Many family members agreed on a mass grave that was paid for by the railway station. A memorial for victims of the crash is still in Charfield to this day.
Now, Aldington, the driver of the night mail train, was blamed for the crash, since he had driven past a red light and crashed into the goods train. It was confirmed by the signalman’s records that the signal had definitely been red for danger, and Aldington claimed that the evening was foggy, which made it difficult for him to see the correct color of the light.
At an inquest into the crash, a jury found that the signalman at Charfield was not at fault in the crash, and that his signals and apparatus were in good working order. Instead, they turned the blame on the negligence of Aldington for passing through a red signal. The Coroner interpreted the guilty verdict as manslaughter, but Aldington would later be discharged without consequence.
Now, Willy, you and our listeners might be saying, “This is all well and good, who doesn’t love a good disaster where many people die and many more people are traumatized, but where is the mystery? This is MysteriYES after all! Where’s my mystery?” Well, you’re just going to have to hold your horses, because...what’s that? There’s something coming hurtling toward us at 60 miles per hour and it didn’t see the red light signal! It’s going to crash into us! What is it? Oh no! It’s an ad read! RUUUUN!
So, there are actually a couple of intriguing mysteries that came about as a result of the deadly Charfield railway disaster, starting with two charred bodies that were never identified. The bodies were of two children, whose bodies were so badly burnt that their sexes couldn’t be identified, although based on witness statements, they are believed to be a boy and girl, perhaps brother and sister. One report I read said that they were found huddled in each other’s arms in a third-class carriage, but I only saw that once. Some reports say that parts of a school uniform were found bearing the phrase “Luce Magistra,” which is the motto of Queen Ethelburga’s school near York, but the school has always denied any connection to the children. The report also said that a brand new pair of boys’ shoes was found, as well as part of a sock embroidered with the initials CSSS.
One witness reported that he saw two children on the train before the crash, and said that they were both well-dressed. Another witness stated that the boy looked ten and the girl looked a little younger. The train’s ticket collector stated that he had seen a boy about age twelve and a girl about age six or eight together on the train. A fireman reported that he had seen a boy and a girl talking to a guard at a stop in Birmingham, however the guard died in the crash so he wasn’t able to provide any additional information. Consistent among all of the witness statements was the report that they were never seen with an adult who seemed to be in charge of them.
The problem, though, is that no one knew who the children were, and no one ever came forward to claim them, despite the nationwide coverage of the disaster. No missing children who might fit the description of the children found in the wreckage were reported to the police that we know of either. For all intents and purposes, no one knew who these children were, so they were buried in the mass grave with a memorial that simply read “two unknown.” We’ll talk a little bit more about theories regarding who these children are here in a little bit, but first, let’s get a little bit spooky.
Starting in 1929, a year after the crash, a woman dressed in a big, long, flowing black robe began to regularly visit the grave marked for the “two unknown” children who died in the crash. She was described as frail and elderly-looking and always dressed in black. She would arrive at the memorial by limousine a few times a year, put flowers on the grave, weep, and pray. Many speculated that she knew something about the crash that no one else did, and may have even known who the dead children were. However, one day either in the late 50s or 60s, the media tried to approach the woman, but she fled in her limousine and never visited the memorial again.
So, who were the two children who died in the crash? Well, first, let’s not assume that they’re children, or even human, or even existed. There is a theory that the two bodies were not actually the bodies of children, but actually the bodies of two very small adult horse jockeys, which is an adorable thought, but it then begs the question, who are these two tiny grown-ups?
Another theory is that these bodies were not the bodies of humans at all, but rather those of ventriloquist dummies. What’s the evidence for this? Well, there isn’t any. This is just a suggestion that some people expressed to local newspapers. Now, Willy, if I'm ever found dead, I want you to forcefully and consistently,deny that my corpse is human and that I am just a 6’3” ventriloquist dummy.
Then of course there’s the fake news theory, that the bodies of the two children were just a hoax created by the local media to make the accident appear even more tragic, which, you know, that’s cool. Whatever. That just makes me think of the idiots who think Sandy Hook was a hoax and I don't feel like getting angry right now.
In 1937, a young woman from London claimed that the bodies were those of her two young brothers, but for some unknown reason this claim was never followed up on, and there’s some question whether the claim actually even happened. I don’t really buy this theory, because she claims that both bodies were boys’ bodies, even though all the witness statements say that it was a boy and a girl on the train.
There’s also the theory that the children were living in England for their education, while their parents lived elsewhere in the British Empire, such as India. This, apparently, was a pretty common practice during this time, because, you know, who needs parents anyway? My problem with this theory is that someone, whether parent or guardian or school provider or nanny, would have like had to have given permission for them to get on that train in the first place, and should have come forward when they found out that the train had crashed and the children were not counted among the survivors. We can chalk this up to “a different time”, I guess, but come on. If you've got kids and you think they might have been incinerated in a horrendous railway fire, you should follow up on that.
The final theory is that these children were orphans who had no family to claim them. However, if they were orphans, how did they afford a train ticket? Where were they going? Where were they living before they got on the train? Perhaps they were put on the train by an ambivalent family member who hoped to never see them again, and didn’t really care that they died in the fire.
So, Willy, what do you think? Who were these children? Why weren’t they ever claimed? And who was the lady who came to visit their graves? Did she know them? Was she a family member? If so, why didn't she publicly,name them?
I tend to think that they were orphans, or perhaps at least indigent children whose family didn't have the means to claim them or provide them a proper burial. Or maybe, as awful as this sounds, their family was somewhat relieved that they had died in the crash because there were fewer mouths to feed. I don't really know. I'm also not convinced that the woman in black knew the children. Part of me wonders if she was a survivor of the crash who had survivor’s guilt, and she went to honor those who had died, particularly two unknown children.
I have just one little spooky postscript to tack on here before we wrap up today. Locals have said that in the intervening years since the disaster, there have been strange sightings of ghost children standing hand-in-hand and staring down at the railroad tracks. Legend has it that they are the children who died in the crash, and they are just waiting to be identified so that they can finally sleep the sleep of death in peace.
Have you ever heard of the Greek sport of Pankration? It’s basically the ancient version of mma. There weren’t any rules other than beat up your opponent. In 564 BC Arrhichion of Phigalia was competing in the Olympic Pankration tournament. In fact he was in the final but in the final he wasn’t doing so well because his opponent had him in a stranglehold. Zach you’re experience in the martial arts are you not? What would you do if someone had you in a stranglehold? That’s right you would start kicking them. So that’s what achie did. Archie kicked and kicked his opponent and kicked him so hard that his opponent had to show the sign of defeat to the referees but as he made this sign he was in such pain and exerting so much effort that he also broke archie’s neck. So archie died but he was also proclaimed the winner posthumously.
In 1919 there was an event known as The Great Molasses Flood. The Boston’s North End neighborhood a large molasses storage tank burst which sent a wave of molasses rushing through the streets of Boston at a blazing 35 mph killing 21 people and injuring 150 more in the process. If you ask someone from the North End they’ll tell you that on hot summer days you can still smell the molasses.
Zach as one of your oldest friends I know exactly how you want to go in your old age. I have your signed and sealed will right here in front of me and I have some bad news. You’ve already been beaten to the punch. You were beaten by Charles II of Navarre (or Charles the Bad) who was suffering from illness in his old age in 1387. As a wealthy French lord he of course had the greatest of medical council and was ordered by his physician to be tightly sewn into a linen sheet soaked in distilled spirits. Probably to get schwasted through osmosis. Well I don’t know if his physician was aware but distilled alcohol is very flammable and in 1387 there was no electric lighting. So of course this very flammable sheet caught on fire and Charles died of his injuries. It’s ok though because many people considered this to be God’s judgment upon their king.
*bum bum* (Insert SVU theme here) We got ourselves a legal death here. No not an assisted suicide but a death in the courtroom. Clement Vallandigham was an Ohio lawyer and politician in 1871. Ol’ Clem took on a murder case probably from a single mother or a streetwise kid who was just a victim of circumstances. Clem was getting ready for the knockout punch, the old Mattlock moment. He was demonstrating to the courtroom who the victim might have actually shot himself while in drawing a gone and standing up at the same time. Unfortunately he got a little too carried away with his Perry Mason moment because he accidentally shot himself in the courtroom. The defendant was found innocent but Clemmy Clem Clem died of his wounds.
Let’s go back to ancient Greece for a quick one. Empedocies was a Greek philosopher whose work has been credited as one of the originators of the theory of the 4 elements. So he basically created The Last Airbender. Well Empedocies wasn’t a firebender because to prove he was a god he decided to leap in Mount Etna which was an active volcano.
Let’s fast forward to 1131 to the streets of Gay Paris. Can you smell the fresh bread or perhaps you can even taste the fine French wine. Oh look here comes Crown Prince Philip! What a sight to behold! Oh. Oh no. His horse just tripped over a black pig that was running out of a dung heap and he died.
We’re spending too much time in the distant past. Let’s do something a little more recent. Denver Lee St. Clair died of asphyxiation after receiving an atomic wedgie. He had been knocked out by his stepson during a fight and had his torn underwear pulled over his head and stretched around his neck. His stepson pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 30 years in jail.
Just last year (and this one is tragic) a seven year old girl died an elephant struck her with a stone thrown from its enclosure at a zoo in Morocco.
This is getting a little too real. We need to jump back in time and remove ourselves from the humanity of these stories. Let’s go back to 1993 hopefully that will be far enough. In 1993 48 year old Garry Hoy fell to his death after throwing himself against a window on the 24th floor of a building in an attempt to prove to a group of visitors that the glass was unbreakable. The glass did not break but instead popped out of the window frame and Hoy fell to his death.
Zach you’re a tennis fan are you not? Well so was Dick Wertheim. Ol’ Dickie was an tennis linesman and in 1983 he was struck by a wicked serve from Stefan Edberg that hit him in the groin. Dick dick dick dick dick had been sitting in a chain at the center line when the blow knocked him backwards. He fell out of the chair and onto the hard court surface, striking his head.
Maybe we should go back a bit further. In 1771 Adolf Frederick the king of Sweden died of digestion problems after he consumed a meal of lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring, and chamagne, topped off with 14 servings of his favorite desert in a bowl of hot milk.
In 2011 Joes Luis Ochoa died after being stabbed in the leg at an illegal cockfight in California. He was stabbed by one of the birds that had a knife-like spur strapped to its leg.
Finally in 2017 a podcaster producer known only as silent Jeff died under mysterious circumstances. He was working on the podcast MysteriYES and was known for his silence. He was invited to end the show in the very famous and well known MysteriYES fashion. Silent Jeff was then struck by a falling coconut despite being indoors and in the state of Kansas which has no indigenous coconut producing trees.
Today we’re going to take a trip up north to visit our Canadian neighbors, but then we’re going to hang a tight left and travel back west back to land of the free, and the home of the brave. That’s right, Willy, we are going to visit the vast, untamed state of Alaska, so put on your parka and your ski pants and an extra pair of socks.
You didn’t notice it, but while we were traveling to Alaska, we also went back in time to October 16, 1972. As you may have figured out by all the airplanes around us, we are in the Anchorage Airport. Do you see that Cessna 310 right there? Let’s go ahead and climb aboard. But we need to be quiet, because there are some important people on board and we don’t want to disturb them. Specifically, there’s House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, Representative Nick Begich, Russell Brown who is Representative Begich’s aide, and our bush pilot for today’s flight, Don Jonz.
Now, hold onto your butt, Willy, because we’re going to be flying several hundred miles from Anchorage to Juneau for a campaign fundraiser for Representative Begich. The plane’s about to take off, but, you know, now that I think about it, I’ve got a bad feeling about this flight, so let’s go ahead and get off, okay?
Let’s fast forward a few days. You and I are hanging out in our hotel, you know, maybe eating our breakfast of Cookie Crisp and Alaska-shaped waffles in our matching PJs, when your eye catches a local newspaper headline, which says something about the House Majority Leader going missing during a flight from Anchorage to Juneau. Phew! It’s a good thing we got off that plane, but it’s still such a bummer that they went missing missing like that. I bet you there’s going to be a 39 day long search as a result of the high profile of the disappeared persons. I bet you even 400 aircraft and dozens of boats will be involved in the search effort too. But, unfortunately, I also bet you that absolutely no evidence, no matter how great or small, will ever be found of any of the men or the plane they were flying in.
Some conspiracy theorists are going to suggest that the plane crash was purposely orchestrated and covered up because of Hale Boggs’ membership on the Warren Commission and his strong doubts about the Commission’s single-bullet theory in its investigation into the JFK assassination. However, the Cessna 310 that you and I nearly died in is not the only airplane to go missing in Alaska. No, not by a long shot.
See, there is an area in Alaska known as the Alaska Triangle where many planes have disappeared or crashed for no apparent reason, and where unusually high numbers of tourists and locals go missing every year. In fact, since 1988, over 16,000 people have vanished from that area and have never been seen or heard from again. The Alaska Triangle encompasses a very large section of the state stretching from the southeast near Juneau and Yakutat, up to the Barrow mountain range to the north, and over to Anchorage in the middle of the state. This area includes large areas of unexplored wilderness, including forests, mountains, and desolate tundra.
There are a few theories to explain what in the heck is going on up there in Alaska, and of course, the first of them comes to us from the field of cryptozoology. The indigenous tribe called the Tlingit included in their mythology stories about shape-shifting creatures known as the Kushtaka, which is loosely translated as “land otter man,” since they can assume either the form of a human or an otter. Apparently these creatures are cruel creatures who lure people to their doom, particularly people who are lost or hapless. In some legends, the Kushtaka will imitate the cries of a baby or the screams of a woman to lure victims to a nearby river, where it will then either kill the person by tearing them to shreds or turn them into another Kushtaka. We’re in luck, though, because legend has it that the Kushtaka can be warded off with human urine.
Apparently the area of the Alaska Triangle is deeply connected to legends of the Kushtaka, so the theory is that these demonic creatures are responsible for the disappearances up there. Although, to be fair, I have a hard time figuring out how a creature that shape-shifts between an otter and a human is able to rip airplanes out of the sky, but I better not blaspheme the Kushtaka or else one of them might come after me.
The next theory is a super fringe-scientific one that I didn’t really understand but that I’m going to talk about as if I really know what it’s about. This next theory was suggested by an American researcher and cryptozoologist named Ivan T. Sanderson, and his theory is that the Alaska Triangle is what is known as a vile vortex.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, Willy: “What is the goshdarn heckity-heck is a vile vortex?” Well, luckily for you, I’ve got a half-assed explanation of what vile vortices are. Vile vortices are geographical areas around the world that supposedly exhibit extreme electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic anomalies, which some people believe are electromagnetic currents. The most famous example of a vile vortex is the Bermuda Triangle, but there are also many other alleged vile vortices all over the world. Some suggest that places like Stonehenge, Easter Island, and the Egyptian pyramids all lie on vile vortices, and that these monuments were built there as a result.
These vile vortices supposedly cause many strange phenomena. They affect humans physically, mentally, and emotionally by causing visions, demonstrating miraculous powers of healing, and spurts of creativity and profound epiphanies. Many people even believe that they can access their higher selves at these vile vortices. However, on top of self-actualization, these vile vortices also cause disorientation, confusion, and both visual and audial hallucinations. The vortices also purportedly cause electrical instrumentation to malfunction. Some people believe that these vortices are doorways into spiritual dimensions or gateways to other realms.
So what’s the support for this theory? Well, Alaska is heavily concentrated with magnetic anomalies which greatly disrupt compasses, so much so that compasses can be up to thirty degrees off. Also, some search and rescue workers who have worked in the area have reported audio hallucinations sounding like a swarm of bees, as well as unusual disorientation or lightheadedness. However, let’s be honest, there actually is no real evidence for the existence of vile vortices, and the theory has been met with a great deal of skepticism throughout the years.
The last theory that we’re going to discuss today is the theory put forth by the Alaskan authorities to explain the multitude of disappearances in the Alaska Triangle. I’ve got to be honest, though, this one isn’t nearly as fun, but it is our solemn duty to talk about it. The Alaskan government has actually hacked our computer screens with live video of our parents who have been kidnapped and tied up. The King of Alaska himself is holding a bottle of ketchup and is threatening to spray our lovely parents with it if we even act like we won’t talk about the theory put forth by the Alaskan authorities.
So, Alaska has more people reported missing each year than any other state in the United States, and the rate at which people go missing is twice the national average. On top of that, Alaska also has the highest number of missing people who are never found. BING BING BING: STAT OF THE DAY: in 2007, nearly 3,000 of the state’s 670,000 people went missing, and if you’re keeping track at home, that means that four out of every thousand people in Alaska went missing that year. So I guess if you’re a thrillseeker looking for a new adventure, I guess you should just go to Alaska and wait to vanish without a trace, leaving your family desperate for answers about what happened to their dearly departed loved one.
Now, why do the Alaskan authorities think so many people go missing, particularly in the Alaska Triangle, where the vast majority of disappearances occur? Well, the Alaska Triangle includes gigantic areas of remote wilderness that is almost completely unmarred by human existence, comprising more than half of the nation’s federally designated wilderness. This harsh landscape boasts cruel weather, hazardous terrain, ferocious wild animals, and about 100 active volcanoes. Many tourists go into the wilderness completely unprepared to camp or hike in such conditions, which leads to them becoming lost, encountering some danger they weren’t expecting, or being killed by a wild animal or the elements. This area is so vast, inaccessible, and wild that trying to find someone who is lost in the area is nearly impossible, particularly when unpredictable weather patterns limit the amount of time that searchers can spend looking for the missing.
So that’s the mystery of the Alaska Triangle. Any particular theory you like, Willy?
Rachel you are a musician aren’t you? You’re also a regular listener of MysteriYES right? So you’re well aware of the MyHISTORY jingle that friend of the podcast Lin Manuel Miranda wrote for us right? Well you better bust it out because this week we’re going all the way back to 1836! We’re going back to the Jackson administration this week. Or rather I should say all the way back to the William IV administration because this week we’re also making the trans atlantic trip to Scotland.
In Edinburgh 1836 we’ll find five young boys hunting for rabbits and exploring the woods of Holyrood Park (which may or may not have been a park at the time). As they approach the area around Arthur’s Seat (a gorgeous hill with fantastic views of Scotland’s capital) they came across a small cave cut into the hill. I say it was a cave but it was more of an alcove. A strange little divet in the side of the hill. Like any adventurous kids they decided to see what was inside. Rachel at this point would you like to guess what they found?
That’s exactly right! Inside were 17 miniature coffins each filled with their own super creepy doll made out of wood and cloth which were carved, painted, and dressed to look like people. If you would like to see these dolls I’d suggest googling Burke & Hare Murder Dolls.
The dolls were split into 3 levels. One was placed on the top of a display/alter, eight were placed in the middle, and 8 more were places around the bottom. The descriptions of the dolls are a little murky after that because the boys that found them did the single most logical thing you could possibly do when you stumble upon a creepy alter surrounded by coffins filled with terrifying dolls. They started throwing them at each other. This resulted in 9 of the original 17 dolls being either lost or broken. I’ve heard some people claim that there were dolls in the shapes of both men and women but the only dolls that remain all seem to be in the shape of men. The dolls closer to the ground had decayed a fair bit but the dolls that were placed higher up had not.
That’s pretty much the mystery this week Rachel. What are these weird dolls? Why were they place in a weird cave alter? Why were they in coffins? Why would anyone make them?
The first thing that comes to mind is probably witchcraft. Maybe the person who made them was trying to cast a death spell by creating effigies of people they wanted to see dead. This is definitely seems like something that a lot of people would assume was witchcraft in 1836. It’s possible that is why these dolls were created. It’s certainly a possibility, but there isn’t any evidence to prove it nor is there a specific spell or ritual that would match these dolls.
Another theory is that these dolls are related to an infamous series of murders known as the West Port Murders.
In the early 19th century Edinburgh was a hotbed for the study of human anatomy. Many of the scientists living in Edinburgh at the time pioneered our understanding of the human body and helped it develop into a modern science. However, to properly conduct their research these people needed a lot of bodies. At the time the only corpses the law would allow them to dissect were, people who died in prison, suicide victims, and the bodies of abandoned children and orphans. Because of this the demand for corpses far outweighed the supply and a black market for exhumed cadavers was formed.
At the time disturbing a grave was a crime as was stealing the property of the deceased but stealing the body itself was not a crime because it didn’t legally belong to anyone. Prices for stolen corpses shot up to close to $1,300 in modern American dollars. By the 1820s people became aware of the practice and started to guard against it. Guards were hired to watch graveyards, watchtowers were built in cemeteries, large stone slabs were laid over graves until the body had decayed past the point of use for scientists. This higher level of protection led a critical shortage of corpses for anatomists which led two men William Burke and William Hare to a terrible solution.
When we left off we were talking about William Burke and William Hare. These two enterprising entrepreneurs decided the solution to the cadaver shortage was not to rob graves but to simply create more bodies.
They started with a sitcom like problem. Hare had a man die while staying at his house so he turned to his old pal Burke for advice. In a stroke of genius Burke suggested that they should sell the body to Dr. Robert Knox so that he could dissect it in his class. They were payed slightly below the going rate at just over 7 pounds but this sparked a terrible idea. Together they started to search for living people who wouldn’t be missed and when they found a target they would invite them back home for a drink. Once their victim was drunk enough Burke would smother or strangle them to death. The two would then take the body to Dr. Knox. In total they murder 17 people including a 12 year old mentally handicapped boy named Jamie, and the daughter of a victim who came looking for her mother who they had previously murdered. In total they killed 16 people over a period of 10 months.
Eventually the two were caught and arrested. Authorities at the time decided that it would be easier to convict just one of them so Hare was turned crown’s witness on Burke. Burke was sentenced to death and executed on my birthday December 28th, 1829. They then performed a public dissection of his body, and put his skeleton on display in a museum. Oh and they also reportedly bound books in his skin.
Hare became incredibly famous and hated across the country. Some people say he was thrown into a pit of lime, blinded, and forced to spend the rest of his life as a beggar but I can’t find a source to confirm this.
By now you’ve probably forgotten what I was talking about to begin with but the diversion was necessary I mean they’re called the Burke & Hare Murder Dolls. The connection is this, if you include the man who died of natural cause there were 17 bodies involved with the West Port murders. If you remember there were 17 dolls originally found at the alter. They were also divided into two groups of 8 and one by itself. Perhaps they separated the one that died of natural causes.
It’s possible that either Burke or Hare made these dolls as they were killing their victims. It’s absolutely impossible to diagnose someone after their death but I do think it’s safe to say these men suffered from some form of mental illness. People have suggested that these dolls were some kind of fantasy or way to relive the killings. Perhaps it was remorse, a small way to atone for the terrible thing they were doing.
Perhaps it wasn’t even Burke or Hare. Maybe someone had their own gross fantasy after hearing about the murder. There were also plenty of people at the time who believe that if a body was not properly buried their soul could not enter heaven. Perhaps it was a way for someone to help the victims.
Maybe the number of dolls was simply a coincidence. There were plenty of other things that could have been killing people at the time. Scarlet fever, typhoid, and a ton of other infectious diseases were running rampant across Britain. Maybe the dolls were made to commemorate lost loved ones.
Ultimately there’s no way of knowing why these dolls were made or by whom.
Summer is winding down Zach. The weather is getting cooler and the kids are going back to school. Here in America football season has started and the leaves are starting their yearly transition from green to orange, brown and yellow. I can practically smell the pumpkin spice lattes now tickling my nostrils with its cinnamon aroma. I personally love fall. I like wearing a light jacket and sipping on a warm cider while walking along sidewalks covered in fallen leaves, but we need to hold off for one more week. Rather than dive headlong into fall we need to grasp onto the dying embers of summer because this week we’re going to the beach! Grab your boogy board and put on your mankini it’s nothing but sun and fun today.
Zach, as an aficionado of both old timey swimsuits and international beaches I’m assuming you know exactly where we’re going this week. That’s right we’re going to Somerton beach just outside Adelaide, Australia in 1948. It’s a lovely december morning around 6:30 in the morning and despite cold war tensions the mood is optimistic in Australia. Take a stroll along the beach with me Zach. Oh wow there’s a seagull! Wowie wowie wowzers there’s a….. And look over there it’s a man reclining on the beach. Wait a second. That guy looks a little strange… Wait he’s not reclining at all! He’s dead!
Who is this guy? Let’s take a look. He’s a white man in very nice clothes but none of his clothes have any tags. There’s an unlit cigar behind his ear and a half smoke one resting on his shoulder. Zach you’re a cigar expert. Can you tell me where that one is from? England that’s right and they definitely don’t sell this kind in Australia. Quick let’s check his pockets for identification (and any extra cash). There’s a pack of cigarettes in here, but the cigarettes in the box don’t match the brand on the box. This is a pretty normal thing actually, a lot of people buy a box of expensive cigarettes then refill it with inexpensive ones to seem like their smoking more expensive cigarettes. Wait, this is weird the cigarettes here are more expensive the the ones that originally came in the box. Let’s keep searching. Don’t forget to check his fob pocket! Wait, what’s this? It’s a scrap of paper… It says Taman Shud thank God I speak arabic and just happen to know that means “finished or ended”. Oh man look at this, his shoes are really really clean. This is getting too weird. We better call the police (insert hilarious bit where we call the police here that leads into the autopsy).
When police conduct their autopsy on this man they discover this man is in peak physical condition. He looks like some kind of athlete but probably not a laborer because his hands don’t have any calluses or marks. There’s a partially digested pasty in his stomach, his spleen was 3 times too big, and there was congestion in his brain and stomach that suggest that he may have been poisoned but when his blooded no poison could be found.
Despite his clothing having no tags his jacket appeared to have been made in America. Let’s send his fingerprints and dental records over there for identification. (Wait a couple weeks) Well nothing came up.
Wait, hold on, it appears that a staff member at the Adelaide railway station has discovered a brown suitcase with its label removed. Perhaps this belonged to the man! The case was check into the station cloakroom after 11:00 AM on November 30th. Inside there’s a red checked dressing gown, a size seven red felt pair of slippers, four pairs of underpants, pyjamas, shaving items, a light brown pair of trousers with sand in the cuffs, an electrician’s screwdriver, a table knife cut down into a short sharp instrument, a pair of scissors with sharpened points, a small square of zinc thought to have been used as a protective sheath for the knife and scissors, and a stencilling brush. Also found in the suitcase is a thread card of Barbour brand orange waxed thread of “an unusual type” not available in Australia and was the same type of thread used to repair a pocket of the dead man’s pants. Just like on the man all tags had been removed from the clothing but the police found the name “T. Keane” on a tie, “Keane” on a laundry bag and “Kean” (without the last e) on a singlet along with three dry-cleaning marks. While it may seem strange that these tags were not removed, they are the only tags that couldn’t be taken off without damaging the clothing.
There were no spare socks and no correspondence in the case even thought the police found pencils and unused letterforms. A search of all English-speaking countries concluded there was no T. Keane missing and police weren’t able to track down the dry-cleaning marks.
Police check incoming train records and believe the man arrived at the station by overnight train from either Melbourne, Sydney or Port Augusta. They think he may have showered and shaved the the city baths before returning to the train station to purchase a ticket for the 10:50 a.m. train to Henley Beach, which, for whatever reason, he missed or chose not to catch. He immediately check his suitcase at the station cloak room before leaving the station and catching a city bus to Glenelg.
There’s not really any more evidence. I guess this is a cold case. (A hilarious quirky character walks up) “Do you remember that piece of paper that said ‘Taman Shud’? We’ve managed to figure out that it came from a rare edition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam a collection of persian poems.” The police conducted a countrywide search for this book and we’re lucky enough to find someone with this book. Someone (who was never publically identified) came forward and reported finding a copy of this book in the back seat of his car around the same time and place that the body was found. When police inspected the book they found the piece of paper had been torn out of the book. On the inside back cover of the book, detectives identified indentations from handwriting. These included a telephone number, an unidentified number, and a text that resembled a coded message. The code has never been decrypted but has been confirmed to be some kind of code. It’s only 4 lines and isn’t long enough to be efficiently cracked and is probably a one time pad which is effectively impossible to break.
The phone number was an unlisted number that belonged to a nurse and single mother (perhaps now married woman) named Jessica Ellen Thompson who lived less than a kilometer from where the body was found. When police when to question Jessica she told them the book had once belonged to her but three years ago she had given it to a lieutenant named Alfred Boxall at the Clifton Gardens hotel in Sydney because the two were in love. Keep in mind this was during WWII so the couple was quickly separated. Eventually Jessica moved out of Sydney and got married. She hadn’t heard from him since except when she received a letter a few years later and Jessica replied telling him she was married. Another important event happened shortly before the body was found. An unidentified man came to the door of Jessica’s neighbor and asked about her. This would suggest perhaps Alfie was the unidentified body but the neighbor was never able to positively identify the body. It’s worth noting that the ticket the unidentified man bought was for the station closest to Jessica’s house.
When the police showed a picture of the man to Jessica she claimed to have no idea who he was, but, according to the detectives who interviewed her, she appeared visibly shaken as if she was about to faint. Jessica was given another chance to identify the body when investigators showed her a plastic cast of the man’s head. Again she claimed to not know the man, but, according to investigator Jessica looked at the once then looked away and would not look at it again. Despite not being able to prove it I think we have a pretty good theory here Zach. We know Alfred Boxall had this book in his possession, the body had a scrap of paper from the same very rare book with Jessica’s phone number imprinted on it, a mysterious stranger had come looking for her around the time the man died, everything seems to point to this being the body of Alfred Boxall.
This makes sense. Alfred had been a soldier in world war two he could be involved in some kind of espionage that would explain the code and it’s possible he took his own life for whatever reason. This case seemed to be solved until July of 1049 was found alive and well in Sydney, Australia. Even stranger Alfred still had his copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and the last page was still in tact. Despite their suspicions no concrete link could be established between Jessica and the unknown man and eventually the case went cold.
In January 1949, two people identified the body as 63 year old former wood cutter Robert Walsh. A third person also viewed the body, initially could not identify it, but an hour later contacted the police to claim it was Walsh saying his hair color had changed which threw him off. Walsh had gone to buy sheep in Queensland but failed to return at Christmas as he originally had planned. The man in the photos certainly doesn’t appear to be 63 years old and while his body was consistent with the physique of a woodcutter, his hands indicated he had not cut wood for at least 18 months. While this initially seemed promising, one of the people who had positively identified him retracted their statement after noticing the absence of a particular scar on the body.
By early February 1949 there had been eight different positive identification of the body, including two men who thought the body was a friend of theirs, and other who thought it was a missing station worker, a worker on a steamship, or a Swedish man.
Don’t you dare giggle Zach. A seaman by the name of Tommy Reade from the SS Cycle, which was in port at the time of the man’s death, was thought to be the dead man, but after some of his shipmates viewed the body at the morgue, they stated it was definitely not him. By November of 1953 police announced they had received the 251st solution to the identity of the body from the public but the only clue of any value was the clothing the man wore.
There have been several more recent developments. In 2011 an Adelaide woman contacted authorities about an identification card she had found in her father’s possessions. The card was issued to an H. C. Reynolds during World War I as a form of identification for foreign soldiers fighting with the Americans. The card said H. C. Reynolds was 18, British and contained a photograph of a man who looked very similar to the missing man. Experts found that there were similarities in the nose, lips, and eyes but most convincingly their ears were described as a “very good” match and a unique identifier was found, a mole on the cheek that was the same shape and in the same position in both photographs. When searches were conducted by the US National Archives, the UK National Archives and the Australian War Memorial Research Centre no record of an H. C. Reynolds could be found.
Jessica Ellen Thompson died in 2007 and in November of 2013 her relatives gave interviews to Australia’s 60 Minutes. Jessica’s daughter Kate said that her mother said she had lied to the police and did in fact know the identity of the Somerton Man and that his identity was also “known to a level higher than the police force”. Jessica’s daughter suggested that her mother and the Somerton Man were in fact spies. She claimed her mother taught English to migrants, was a communist sympathiser, and could speak Russian but would not tell her daughter where or why she had learned it.
Do you remember that Jessica Ellen Thompson had a son? His name was Robin Thompson and even though he died in 2009 his widow and daughter were interviewed for the same 60 Minutes piece. In the piece they suggested that Robin was in fact the son of the Somerton Man. This provided a way to prove his identity through DNA testing. However, when the man’s body was exhumed any usable DNA evidence had been destroyed during the embalming process. In addition the suitcase found at the train station was destroyed 1986 and the man’s copy of The Rubaiyat was lost sometime in the 1950s.
Two more details that are of interest. There are actually two very similar cases.
In June of 1956- three years before the death of the Somerton Man- a 34 year old Singaporean man named George Marshall was found dead in Ashton Park in Sydney. He had an open copy of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam on his chest. His death is believed to be a suicide by poisoning and occurred two months before Jessica gave Alf Boxall the inscribed copy of the Rubaiyat. An inquest was held for Joseph Marshall on August 15th where Gwenneth Dorothy Graham testified. Her body was found dead 13 days later face down, naked, in a bath, with her wrists slit.
On June 6th 1949 the body a two-year-old Clive Mangnoson was found in a sack in the sand hills near Largs Bay only a few miles from Somerton. Lying next to him was his unconscious father, Keith Waldemar Mangnoson. The body was found by a local who claimed they had seen the location in a dream. The father was taken to a hospital in a very weak condition, suffering from exposure. After a medical examination he was transferred to a mental hospital.
The two of them had been missing for four days and police believed the boy had been dead for twenty four hours when his body was found. The coroner could not determine the cause of the boy’s death but it was not believed to be of natural causes. Following the incident the boy’s mother reported having been threatened by a masked man, who, while driving a battered cream car, almost ran her down outside her home. She state that, “the car stopped and a man with a khaki handkerchief over his face told her to ‘keep away from the police or else.’” Mrs. Mangnoson believed that it was related to her husband’s attempt to identify the Somerton Man. He claimed the man was in fact a former coworker named Carl Thompsen. Authorities also claim to have received threatening phone calls telling them not to “stick their nose into the Mangnoson affair”. Police believed the calls to be a hoax along with the man with the handkerchief. After being interview by the police Mrs. Mangnoson collapsed and required medical treatment.
What do you think Zach? Who was the Somerton Man? Was he a spy who was actually murdered by his fellow spy Jessica Ellen Thompson? Was he a former woodcutter in his 60s? Was he even murdered?
I don’t want to take the show too far down but we have a bit of a downer for this week’s mystery. I thought to myself, “we’ve been having far too many romps in the proverbial hay. We need to go back to our roots. We need a tragic story that will inevitably lead to us making a horrendously offensive joke after which we’ll be sentenced to podcast prison and Zach you won’t do well in podcast prison. Roman Mars will hold you down while Terry Gross stabs you with a shiz made from the handle of an NPR coffee mug. I won’t do much better. Sure I’ll blend in with the “comedy podcast” crowd for a bit but at some point we’ll be having some kind of prison improv contest and I won’t be able to finish the hoedown we’re doing and the McElroy brothers will take turns pounding my face in with a haunted doll. And don’t get me started on what the gang from “My Dad Wrote a Porno” are going to do to us! (just bleep it out bro) With that in mind, let’s get started.
For this week’s mystery we’re taking it back in time to 1957. Good old 1957, Wham-O had just produced the first frisbee, Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock” is broadcasting across the country, and the Ku Klux Klan is running rampant in the Jim Crow south. However, this week we’re not talking about the racist atrocities of the era (much like white America at the time) instead we’re discussing a tragic mystery that happened in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia Pennsylvania.
It’s February 1956, average temperatures had been below freezing all month but the weather had remained mostly dry. No snow had accumulated in quite some time. Here in the rather secluded area a young man is checking his traps for muskrats. As he wanders along woods off Susquehanna Road he comes to a sunken cardboard box. It lying on the side and the boy has to tilt his head to read the words “up furniture” written on the side. He abandons his muskrat poaching for a second to inspect the box. He pokes his head inside and he immediately regrets it.
Inside the box is the naked body of a young boy between 3 and 7 years old. The young man who made the discovery runs away but doesn’t immediately report what he saw. Why you may ask? That’s all part of the mystery! (Just kidding his muskrat traps were illegal and he didn’t want to get in trouble). A few days pass before a college student is driving though the same area. While driving he spots a rabbit caught in the underbrush. He stops his car in hopes of trapping the animal but instead stumbles upon the same rectangular box. This time the discovery is reported to the police, but not until the following day.
When police arrived on the scene they found the body of a severely malnourished young boy. He was naked but wrapped in a plaid blanket. The blanket was produced either in Quebec or North Carolina but couldn’t be definitively traced. The boys hair had been recently cut and whoever had done it was quite messy with clumps of hair clinging to his body. This lead investigators to believe that the boy’s hair was cut either immediately before or immediately after his death. The boy had surgical scars on his ankle and groin as well as an L-shaped scar under his chin. There was a dark, brown residue which indicated the boy had vomited shortly before he died there were also indications that at least part of the boy had been submerged in water for quite some time before his death. The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head which was evident in the multiple bruises he had sustained. Due to the relatively cold and dry weather the body was relatively well preserved and officials estimate the boy could have been there anywhere from 2 days to 3 weeks.
Police were initially very optimistic that the case would be resolved quickly. Obviously someone would report a missing boy but no such reports came in. The box he was found in was from J.C. Penney and originally contained a bassinet. Police were lucky enough to discover that the box was one of 12 sold from a J.C. Penney location in Darby, Pennsylvania but all of the bassinets were traced back to their owners with no suspects identified. The case quickly became a media sensation. Pictures of the boy’s face were widely published in an attempt to identify him. The crime scene was searched by over 270 police academy recruits who discovered a child’s blue corduroy cap, a child’s scarf, and a handkerchief, the Philadelphia Inquirer printed 400,000 flyers with the boy's face which were included in every gas bill in Philadelphia, the police even distributed pictures of the boy fully dressed and in a seated position in hopes that a more life like posture would help identify him. Despite these efforts, however, no one came forward to identify the body.
So, Zach, who is the boy in the box?
There are a couple theories that have surface throughout the years. The first is that the boy was from a local foster home located a mere 1.5 miles from where the body was found. A man named Remington Bristow was an employee of the examiners office that performed an autopsy on the boy. Remington desperately wanted to solve the case and what do you do when want to solve a case? Come one Zach, I know you know. I know you know that I’m not telling the truth…
That’s right! You hire a psychic and that’s exactly what Remington did. When the psychic was brought into the Philly she led Remington directly to this foster home. Now leaning as hard as possible into this Harriet the Spy fantasy of his, Remington went undercover at an estate sale at the foster home. There he discovered a bassinet similar to the one sold at J.C. Penney and blankets hanging on the clothesline that were similar to the one wrapped around the boys body. From this Remington came up with a theory. He decided the boy belonged to the stepdaughter of the man who ran the foster home and they must have disposed of the young boy after a tragic accident so the stepdaughter wouldn’t be revealed as an unwed mother.
Much like every child’s detective book when this evidence was brought to the police they weren’t able to find any definitive links between the boy and the foster family. So Remington had to take matters into his own hands. In the dead of night he grabbed his trusty slingshot and snuck into the house and poured chocolate syrup all over the residents while they slept. Justice served! Unfortunately this turned out to be another example of rampant vigilantism because a DNA test conducted in 1998 showed that the stepdaughter was not the boy’s mother but she was the new wife of her former step father...
Despite this mystery happening over 60 years ago there are still new developments (well relatively new). In February of 2002 a woman identified only as “M” came to the police. M claimed that the boy was named Jonathan and her mother had bought him from his birth parents in 1954. According to M Jonathan was physically and sexually abused for two and a half years until he was killed. According to M her mother flew into a fit of rage one day after Jonathan had vomited in the bathtub. She slammed Jonathan to the floor and killed him then forcibly cut his long hair.
M and her mother then went to dump Jonathan’s body but as they were pulling the body from the trunk of their car a man drove by and asked if they needed help. The man eventually drove off. This detail is important because it was corroborated with a confidential testimony given by a male witness in 1956 who said that the body had been placed in a box previously discarded at the scene. Mental illness
Forensic artist Frank Bender developed a theory that the victim may have been raised as a girl. The child's unprofessional haircut, which appeared to have been performed in haste, was the basis for the scenario, as well as the appearance of the eyebrows having been styled. Bender later released a sketch of the unidentified child with long hair, reflecting the strands found on the body.
Following the 59th anniversary of the discovery of the boy's body in 2016, two writers, one from Los Angeles, California (Jim Hoffmann) the other from New York, New York (Louis Romano) explained that they believed they had discovered a potential identity from Memphis, Tennessee and requested that DNA be compared between the family members and the child. The lead was originally discovered by a Philadelphia man (who introduced Romano and Hoffmann to each other) and then developed and presented, with the help of Hoffmann, to the Philadelphia Police Department and the Vidocq Society in early 2013. In December 2013, Romano became aware of the lead and agreed to help the man from Philadelphia and Hoffmann to personally obtain the DNA from this particular family member in January 2014 - which was sent quickly to the Philadelphia Police Department. Local authorities confirmed that they would investigate the lead, yet they stated that they would need to do more research on the circumstances surrounding the link to Memphis before comparing DNA.