Sunday, June 17, 2012

The "Nain Rouge" from "Legends of Le Détroit" (1884)

To re-write the story of the red dwarf which has terrorized Detroit since its founding would simply be an exercise in cutting and pasting for personal self-aggrandizement. An endeavor which I will most likely partake in at a later date but for the time being I will settle with a republishing of the story as it appeared in the 1884 book Legends of Le Détroit.

I've also included an article about the curious red dwarf by a Border Cities Star (now the Windsor Star) editor, H. L. MacPherson. Written in 1929 it encapsulates the story with a few historical allegories modern to the writing. It's fairly obvious that he borrowed from the 1884 work as the Isabella Stewart illustration is included and the text is fairly similar as well.

Border Cities Star, November 27, 1929
Click here to enlarge

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Mt. Elliott Mad Man

In the realm of the written word the name of John King and Detroit go together like a well-collared bell intoning a distinct language of recognition. But this isn't a story of ambition or about an antiquarian with arms open wide enough to enfold a million books in his vouchsafe warehouse. The Mr. King of this tale jumps off the page and marauds, putting to end any conditions of plot or rejoinders.

Mr. John was a wild man. Not of his own volition but due to some form of loose gravity within the mechanisms of the mind that ran afoul of syncopation and maligned his highs and lows. So he was cast away to the St. Joseph Retreat in Dearborn from his home in the city. Whether he was cured or not he was returned home once more. Thus began his folly.

With a belief in his mind that there was a great lake in the middle of Mt. Elliott Cemetery, which offered the perfect lodging for an outdoorsman, he moved his living space there for a middle summer week in late July of 1906. The humid, hot nights proved his vision a misnomer and he climbed the great trees at night to sleep among the cool confines of the ever-giving limbs.

When unfettered by sleep he jagged along the cemetery perimeter in a jerky stride stopping to throttle a citizen or two before finally being confronted by a peace officer who he also reportedly tossed aside like a niggling bramble branch stretched out to stunt his masculine endeavor.

For several days Detroit's finest officers attempted to capture the elusive urban Tarzan but without reward. He was finally corralled by his kinsfolk and taken back to the Dearborn retreat from whence he came. A few more days residency there did nothing to assuage his mania and after his eventual release he became agitated once more while on the home front.

When attendants from the St. Joseph Retreat were summoned for him he leapt through a window pane upon their arrival to escape their friendly administrations. He was returned to the sanctuary a few days later and did not go on to found the John King bookstore downtown. A far better telling of the story would have been to lie and say that he indeed had. Maybe next time I will be that orator of folktales. This time, I'm afraid, I'm sticking to scant facts of this most unfortunate and amusing madman.


FURTHER READING

Captured In Cemetery; The Detroit Free Press, July 23, 1906

Lunatic Sleeps In Lofty Trees; The Evening Telegraph, August 31, 1906

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Defiling Of Jeremiah Sullivan

Jeremiah R. Sullivan wasn't unlike many tuberculosis patients at the County House in 1881 who were wasting away from the effects of consumption. He took his medicine and partook of the scarce medical advancements afforded to medical practitioners of the time. What differed from other cases was that his impending death would cause a firestorm of media and judicial inquiry and outrage. The punishment wouldn't suit the crime but nary a conviction ever does in the halls of justice.

Whether by argument, accident or ignorance the family of Mr. Sullivan were unaware of his admittance to the hospital. Upon word that he was situated there his son William retrieved him from the facility on January 14, 1881 and brought him home to rest at the residence of his brother-in-law, John O'Reilly, at 10 Williams Drive where a sister would attend to his needs. Also retrieved were three vials of medicine which would later become front and center in an unfolding drama.

Once lodged in a side room of the home the son called for a doctor to attend to his father. Dr. Kirker lived in the area and was brought in to evaluate Sullivan's condition and to provide any care necessary. After checking his patient he determined that the man was taking the wrong medicine and scribbled out his own prescribed drug treatment. With that in hand he'd check back the following evening but Sullivan didn't survive to see the appointment.

Mrs. O'Reilly administered the prescribed dosages at the designated time allotments and made him as comfortable as was possible considering the situation. Around 9 o'clock Saturday evening Mrs. O'Reilly went to check on her brother and found him in a desperate state and soon thereafter he perished. She immediately sought out a patrolman on his nightly beat and summoned him to the home. After checking the body he likewise contacted the nearest physician, Dr. Law, who, after confirming the man's death and surveying the medicine vials on the stand beside the bed advised that a coroner should attend to the matter.

The suspicion was that Mr. Sullivan, 64, had been given the contents of one of the small bottles which was clearly marked as poison. His sister attested to the fact that she had only given him the prescribed medicine and that the other vials were merely his possessions from the stay at the County House that were not disposed of. She also swore that Jeremiah didn't show signs of poisoning and that in his condition he could not have administered the deadly mixture on his own. Apparently the coroner agreed with the findings and marked the death due to natural causes. He was buried the following Monday at Mt. Elliott but not before being properly shaved and dressed for the occasion.

The fresh snow that evening should have served as the christening to a long deserved rest for the sickness riddled body of Jeremiah H. Sullivan but it was merely a blank slate for the fiendish scheme which would shortly transpire and tarnish the sacramental burial lot.

Meanwhile, over at the Hook and Ladder Co. 2 fire station at Hastings and E. Congress, an odd association of two men were wrapping up their plans for a ghoulish endeavor. Richard Butler, a barber, the same one who had earlier shaved the lately deceased Mr. Sullivan, had walked to the fire house to summon ladderman Albert Cronin and notify him that a man's body had recently come from the County House and been buried. It was suspected that the man may have died from poisoning. This was a strange subject for two friends to broach but Butler and Cronin were more than that to one another, they were about to become conspirators and business partners in the art of Resurrection. Though the name might imply it, this was no religious cult or cabal of secret necromancers but rather an unlikely duo soon to be complicit in the act of grave robbing.

Butler was also an acquaintance of Dr. La Ferte from the Michigan Medical College (later the Detroit Medical College and presently part of the Wayne State Medical School). The decade old medical school was like many colleges of its type that practiced anatomy but had little access to corpses for dissection. With the religious convictions of the time being steeped in Biblical prophecy many believers were unwilling to part with their bodies for fear of the coming Rapture. Hence, many medical research facilities were liberal in the acceptance of cadavers, sometimes even resorting to open stealing by faculty and students alike. Many municipalities had no laws against grave-robbing or the act was a mere misdemeanor as the upkeep of burial grounds wasn't as ritualized as it later would become to the point of it being taboo to desecrate a body in modern times. All the same, thieves were careful not to rob the grave of any possessions beside the body sometimes leaving behind jewelry and valuables to avoid felonious charges.

As the practice grew from the late 18th century up to the end of the 19th century more bodies were needed to facilitate the growing sciences of anatomy and medical forensics, among others. Backdoor deals were often made and the result was that grave robbing became a main tool of procuring the desired stiffs. The poor and minority populations suffered the majority of thefts as their graves were least likely to be tended to or guarded but that didn't stop the influx into the general population.

The macabre bandits employed many devices and schemes in their practice to more easily procure their reward. They would scour the obituary listings in newspapers for fresh burials and even hire women to attend funerals to gauge the probability of any problems that might endanger a heist or to even boldly claim bodies from the poorhouse. It is said that some groups even turned to open murder to collect their bounty as the bodies were fresher and the deed was less conspicuous than the laborious task of unearthing a subject.

At the height of the epidemic in the 19th century it became common practice for family members to keep vigil over the grave for a period of a week or so until the process of decomposition made the corpse less desirous for medical dissection. Other means included mortsafes (a heavy locking device which was laid over the grave or the casket itself), watchtowers, tombs and even iron caskets but nothing proved as efficient to curtailing the practice than tougher laws which made the small bounty for such an arduous task riskier to chance.

As Butler explained that he would drop by the station later that night, Cronin attempted to dislodge himself from the grips of the scheme pleading that his wife was ill and that he'd have a difficult time leaving the station without scrutiny if an emergency should arise and his services were needed on a run. Butler finally convinced him and they met up at the planned time. Another man, a hearse driver named Daniel Daly, joined them. Cronin was instructed to go home and retrieve a shovel and the men ventured downtown from their spot on Michigan Avenue and Sixth Street. When they reached the corner of State street and Washington, Butler told the men to wait for him at a nearby saloon while he went to fetch a rig. Once returned they drove the sled along Gratiot until they reached Mount Elliott cemetery, removing the bells from the horse's rigging to avoid detection.

Butler and Daly scaled the cemetery gate while Cronin kept watch of the horse. After an excruciatingly long wait the men reappeared with the body at the fence. First came Butler with the shovel and next Daly with the corpse. They sat Sullivan upright in the sled between the two of them while Cronin rode on the side runner as they drove directly to the college. Once there they rapped at the window of the janitor's residence as they were earlier instructed to do by La Ferte. Janitor Rennie appeared and took possession of the body as was customary during such clandestine deliveries.

However, this wasn't the first time the group had met, save for Daly, and it was later revealed in court that Butler had been in contact with Dr. La Ferte in concern for the need of bodies and it became an unmentionable fact between the men. Whether Cronin and Daly were implicit in the matter would later be left to a jury but in the meantime there was a bounty out for a body and the Ressurectionists had carried the order to completion.

Due to the late hour they hurried back to the proprietor but not before stopping to have a few drinks at Little Tommy's restaurant to quiet their nerves. After fastening the bells back to the rigging they returned the sleigh to the owner at Prospect stables. They hastily retreated from the proprietor only for Butler to quickly return forgetting that he had left the shovel in the sled. This was an important oversight as a worker at the stable would later testify to the fact that the men had left a frozen dirt laden shovel in the cart which also had been sullied by the freshly dug earth at Mt. Elliott. Even though Butler retraced his tracks the impressions left were permanent.

The next morning Mr. Reed, the Superintendent of the breached cemetery, noticed the tracks in the snow along with the appearance that something or somebody had been dragged along by the overnight visitors. He followed the footprints from the gate back to the grave and with the visible evidence of the desecrated box and coffin was certain that somebody had pilfered it and stolen the body. With that knowledge he ventured downtown first to inform the President of the Board of Trustees John Heffron of the developments and then to the police to secure their assistance in tracking down the body for its proper return and burial.

Confident that the body would be found at one of the local medical colleges they sought a warrant from the court and were issued one. With the writ in hand the two men enjoined Roundsman Thompson and the sons of the deceased, William and Patrick Sullivan, in surveying the grounds of the Michigan Medical College.

At the school the received access to the dissection room and there surveyed the bodies of four men during Dr. La Ferte's class. Upon identifying the body of their father the brothers were encouraged by La Ferte to retrieve it for reburial as was their right. A point which the good doctor would use to his advantage in court to show that he was only implicit in the crime by association to the men whom he had supposedly hired to provide legal cadavers for the college.

The other men were not so fortunate in the matter and were later arrested and bound over for trial. Initially the quartet professed no guilt in the affair but at his trial Cronin cracked and confessed not only to the crime but became a witness for the prosecution and spilled the entire matter before the court. While it didn't save his job with the fire department it most likely saved his hide concerning the legal matter of the situation as he apparently was never convicted of the crime.

Butler suffered the worst fate as ringleader of the operation and was sentenced to five years of hard labor at Jackson Prison where he became the obvious choice as the new barber. He maintained his innocence and proffered up that he was targeted due to the fact that a brother of his had previously been convicted of the same charge. A bit of poetic justice was served up to Butler when Governor Jerome reduced his sentence from 5 to 2 years but his successor, Governor Begole, refused to pardon him and he remained in jail pending bond which he couldn't procure.

The other men involved finagled their way out from prosecution, as far as the written word is concerned, and, of course, Dr. La Ferte was cleared of all wrongdoing in the matter and continued on with prestige at the fine institute of higher learning as the others slunk away into ignominious futures as defilers of the dead.

In a sad and telling postscript to the entire matter Roundsman Thompson and Detective Bishop, who both worked the case and helped secure Butler's conviction both filed claims for the reward money offered up by the County Auditors at the time of the incident. Such unethical practices were common for the time and plagued the Detroit police department well into the 20th century and are questionably still present to this day.


FURTHER READING


1881

A Suspicious Death; The Detroit Free Press, January 16, 1881

A Midnight Crime; The Detroit Free Press, January 19, 1881

That Grave Robbery; The Detroit Free Press, January 20, 1881

The Grave Robbing Case; The Detroit Free Press, January 21, 1881

One Hundred Dollars Reward; The Detroit Free Press, January 23, 1881

The Sullivan Grave Robbery; The Detroit Free Press, January 27, 1881

The Sullivan Grave Robbery; The Detroit Free Press, February 22, 1881

Fire Department Notes; The Detroit Free Press, February 24, 1881

Body Snatching; The Detroit Free Press, March 9, 1881

Cronin; The Detroit Free Press, March 12, 1881

A Startling Confession; The Detroit Free Press, May 26, 1881

Convicted; The Detroit Free Press, May 27, 1881

Ghouls; The Detroit Free Press, June 16, 1881

A Ghoul Sentenced; The Detroit Free Press, June 18, 1881

That $50 RewardThe Detroit Free Press, July 23, 1881

An Unprotected Locality; The Detroit Free Press, November 11, 1881


1882

Behind The Bars; The Detroit Free Press, July 9, 1882


1883

Dick Butler; The Detroit Free Press, May 12, 1883

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dying Is Beautiful

The Ann Arbor News, November 11, 1971
Nobody was quite certain where Raille Weinstein and Anita McQueen had come from as they roamed the streets of Ann Arbor in early November of 1971 but one thing was certain: wherever the next destination lay they would attend together, side by side. That it would lead to an excruciatingly "blissful" death for one of the women may or not have been a co-factor in their comings and goings but it would be the unfortunate end result of their travels. For one of them would die of self-immolation by fire for no other reason than dying was beautiful to the young pair.

Where or how their adventure began is most likely lost to posterity but what is known is that a few nights before their communion with fire they stood on a corner near the university campus and stared deeply into each other's eyes, affirming their mutual devotion. When passersby began to worry about the peculiar state of the girls, police were called to check on their mental well-being.

When officers arrived they noted that the women appeared to be in some sort of trance. A notion which would mesh with their shared interest in self-hypnosis, meditation, witchcraft and other occultist beliefs.

On the eve of their undoing they were offered shelter in an apartment shared by an acquaintance they had encountered during their sojourns across the city. It was only for the evening and after a night's sleep the drifters would move on.

On that next day of immolation their behavior had rattled the nerves of the three other young ladies who were occupying the apartment at 517 Division St. While they were frightened by the strange behavior of Weinstein and McQueen they didn't seek to have them removed by force or suggestion though they did go to an adjacent unit to contemplate whether or not to call the police. It would prove a fatal error for all involved.

In the meantime, Weinstein, 26, of Skokie, Illinois and McQueen, 21, of Livonia, Michigan were occupying the kitchen and had apparently wrapped themselves in white gift paper, sat down on the floor in Indian style facing one another and lit the paper afire. An anonymous caller, presumably from inside the housing complex, had discovered the girls actions and phoned the police reporting the fire. The Ann Arbor police likewise informed the fire department and proceeded to send a squad car to the address.

from The Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 10, 1971

Upon entering the residence they could see flames rising in the kitchen area and heard the screams of the girls. After forcefully entering the kitchen alongside firefighters they saw the women ablaze but making no gestures to avoid their affliction. Officers reported that it was then that one of the women stated that "Dying is beautiful." Firefighters placed blankets around the girl's bodies, cut away some of their burning clothing and transported them to University of Michigan Burn Center.

In the ambulance one of the women placed her hand on the other's and was heard to say, "It's nice to die. I feel great." The two were believers in reincarnation and in this moment of truth and extreme pain they seemingly clung to their conviction. Both women suffered extensive burns with Weinstein suffering the worst effects of 40-50% exposure. She would die some six weeks later from her injuries. While McQueen sustained burns to 30% of her body, she recovered.

from The Owosso Argus-Press, November 9, 1971

Oddly enough, the incident was the second of its kind for the Detroit area in less than a week. Robert F. Lucas of Dearborn Heights set himself on fire after a quarrel with his girlfriend to "prove his love" for her. Apparently Lucas's jealousy overcame him and after a physical altercation between himself and his girlfriend Debra Ruth Young, 16, was thwarted by her mother, the young man doused himself with gasoline and ignited a blaze that lit up the sky. He was burned over 80% of his body and likewise died at the Burn Center of the University of Michigan with Ms. Young keeping vigil at his bedside.

from The Lawrence Journal-World, November 17, 1971


FURTHER READING

Fire Is Used To Prove Love; Death LikelyThe Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 8, 1971


Doctors Work To Save Life Of Burned TeenagerThe Owosso Argus-Press, November 9, 1971


2 Women Set Selves Ablaze In Ann Arbor; The Toledo Blade, November 9, 1971

2 Women Set Selves Afire; The Telegraph-Herald, November 10, 1971

Girls Seek Death; The Spokane Daily Chronicle, November 10, 1971

2 Critical After Suicide AttemptThe Bryan Times, November 11, 1971

Two Girls Under Self-Hypnosis Set Each Other Afire; The Ottawa Citizen, November 11, 1971

Two Young Women Set Themselves On Fire; The Herald-Journal, November 11, 1971

Women Set Selves Afire; The Virgin Islands Daily News, November 11, 1971

Attends Funeral; The Lawrence Journal-World, November 17, 1971

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Pat Halley's Premie Pie

In 1973 The Fifth Estate newspaper was on the cusp of turning from a left-wing, anti-war, underground newspaper into a full-blown anti-authoritarian and anarchist serial manifesto. It was founded nearly ten years earlier by 17-year-old Harvey Ovshinsky as a new voice "of the liberal element in Detroit" and became enjoined in the web of dissident rags traversing the country in the Vietnam War era.

Though a liberal enterprise the paper wasn't solely a political mechanism as art, music, fashion and social life figured into the equation of an all-encompassing counter-culture. An off-shoot publication called the Hip Pocket Directory was one such example of the "lifestyle' and offered up a white pages of sorts for like-minded folks to share in socially conscious wares, food and entertainment.

Prem Pal Singh Rawat, on the other hand, was steeped in the old traditions of culture, religion and social caste. He was and remains the Indian Satguru Maharaji who took the reins of his father's "Lordship" at the tender age of 8-years-old upon the previous master's death.

In 1973, at the age of sixteen, he assumed administrative control of the Divine Light Mission and began to shape it towards his personal vision. His leadership wasn't without controversy though as he defied the wishes of his mother and both traveled to the West and married an American. Subsequently he was disowned by the family and his brother was appointed the head of the Indian branch of the movement.

He was met with mixed-reactions of joy, skepticism and mockery by devotees, hippies, the curious and others but his trip abroad was considered a success. It wasn't until he reached Detroit in August of 1973 that it became a three-ringed circus.

The Guru appeared before the Detroit Common Council on August 11th to discuss the motion for granting him ceremonial keys to the city. During the meeting a reporter from the Fifth Estate burst through the doors, gave a yelp and charged toward the beefy apostle, pulling a shaving cream pie from a bottomed out pizza box, which was concealed under a bouquet of flowers that were brought for the Maharaj Ji, and slammed it into the unsuspecting Guru's face and quipped, "I always wanted to throw a pie in God's face." As the lathered mass slithered down the Guru's face onto his suit, the prankster, Pat Halley, 22, ran from the building escaping the grasp of pursuing guards and holy followers.

Afterwards, the prank was largely met with disdain from the public but made Halley both an underground celebrity and a national news story. He condoned his actions calling the guru a "slick businessman" and explaining that as an anti-authoritarian the act was of righteous indignation towards a power figure.

The Guru however was resigned to both forgiveness and hyperbole calling the incident "nothing like the nails through Jesus Christ" and stating that the perpetrator knew not what he was doing. His followers weren't so diplomatic about the matter. After stalking Halley for several days two of the group's followers persuaded a reluctant Halley to grant them a sit-down discussion where they beat the young man causing a skull fracture among other injuries. Two men were arrested in the beating with one later confessing that he was coerced by the group to exact revenge or face deportation, a fate which he realized despite his devotional actions. Halley and the Mission later settled an out-of-court civil suit for roughly $10,000.

For an exhaustive recap of events visit this site.


FURTHER READING

1973

India Guru Faces Up To Pie In The Eye; The Pittsburgh Press, August 8, 1973

Pie In The Guru's Face; The Mount Airy News, August 10, 1973

Man Hurt Whose Pie Hit Guru; The Spokane Daily Chronicle, August 15, 1973

Guru Followers Beat Pie-Tosser; The Pittsburgh Press, August 16, 1973

Followers Of Guru Hold 2 Attackers; The News and Courier, August 18, 1973