Harry Thaw & The Very Public Murder

An estimated 1,000 witnesses. A jealous but wealthy husband. An equally wealthy man of society who has a propensity for taking young lovers.

Two plus two equals … not guilty.

There has always been a belief in two justice systems in America – one for the wealthy and well-connected, and one for everyone else. But you know what happens when two wealthy families are on opposite ends of a murder?

That depends, we suppose. In 1907-08, riches didn’t control the mind, and the mind proved to be a powerful defense.

It’s famously known as the “trial of the century” by American media at the time, as well-known architect Stanford White was shot and killed at the outdoor rooftop theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and coal and railroad heir Harry K. Thaw was put on trial for the very public murder in front of nearly 1,000 people who were watching a performance at the theater at the time of the shooting.

The setup is that Thaw had a lovely young wife named Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, who was a “supermodel” of the day, being featured on the covers of every major magazine in the country.  Thaw learned that her bride had been involved with the noted lothario Mr. White prior to the marriage, and Thaw became quite jealous of, and obsessed with, Mr. White. There was a report that White had raped Mrs. Thaw, but that was not definitively corroborated.

Thaw was charged with the June 1906, murder, and went on trial in January 1907 in what was called the “trial of the century.” Thaw claimed an insanity defense, saying that he shot White in a fit of jealous rage over the previous relationship. After much deliberation, including evidence that suggested that Thaw was not temporarily insane but had a history of mental instability that was consistent throughout his family, the jury was hopelessly deadlocked in deciding whether Thaw committed murder, as several on the jury were convinced of the insanity defense.

After that hung trial, Thaw was re-tried a year later, in January 1908, and much of the same media circus followed along. Thaw remained in jail during this time, and maintained his insanity defense, despite all the witnesses to the shooting who all corroborated the story seeing Thaw shoot White in cold-blood leading to this death.

The second trial went much the way of the first, with Thaw’s defense team presenting him as a man mentally disturbed and especially triggered by the relationship of the woman he loved with a man who was the toast of New York society at the time.  With the second jury, a verdict did come back – and Thaw was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

But instead of being freed, he was declared criminally insane and was sent to a mental institution until he was released in 1924, 16 years later.

Of course, there would be a couple more “trials of the century,” in the 20th century, but it is said that the Harry Thaw murder trial signaled the “end” of what was called the Gilded Age in America.  It was known as one of the first great celebrity trials in America, and it was one of the early successful insanity defenses.

The Genesis Of The Term “Bobbit”

If social media existed in the early 1990s, this would have been a viral meme.

And a term would be in the current Urban Dictionary and would be used thousands of times, maybe even in contexts that don’t fit – but might be scary.

In the 1990s, it was about “Don’t get Bobbitted.” Or it was, “Before you go all Bobbitt on him …”

Guns are considered dangerous weapons, but not kitchen knives in the hands of a crossed woman?

You’d want the gun, if there was a chance that woman was as ticked off as Lorena Bobbitt. She became a verb in the English vernacular.

For those not in the know, Lorena Bobbitt was the husband of John Wayne Bobbitt in 1993, who infamously sliced off her husband’s – um, membership – while he slept in their home in Manassas, Virginia. Lorena had enough of John’s abuse, including a claim that he had raped her earlier that night while he was drunk.

After verbal, physical, emotional and sexual abuse through most of their marriage, Lorena finally had enough. She waited for John to fall asleep, then she went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and cut off the entirety of John’s membership and took off in her car with it, finally throwing it into a nearby field.

A short time later, Lorena came to her sense and called 9-1-1, and authorities searched for the appendage and put John through more than 9 hours of surgery to re-attach it. John later appeared in an adult movie in an effort to prove that his membership was still functioning.

The trial in 1994 was a media circus and a ratings bonanza unlike any seen to that point (until the O.J. Simpson murder trial a year later), as many were glued to the reports about the details of the incident and the backstory. Lorena’s defense brought forth many witnesses to John’s character and his abusive nature toward Lorena, showing justification and a self-defense angle to what she did.

Lorena was found not guilty due to insanity, but she was put in the national media for weeks as a poster woman for victims of spousal abuse, and in some circles hailed as a hero or stepping up in favor for abuse victims who often don’t have a voice.

One of the legal issues that came to the fore as a result of the trial was the topic of spousal rape, whether it was a thing and the penalties for such a charge. There was a quick push across the country for spousal rape to be added to criminal codes as a charge related to, but separate from, domestic and sexual abuse.

For a while there, men were much more tentative around women who seemed weak but had an inners strength and passionate emotion that could drive them to do such an act. Men who seemed dominant suddenly were perceived as being equalized by a crossed woman and a kitchen utensil.

And it went to show how powerful the “fight or flight” instinct can be, even in those who are perceived as being too weak to have their own voice.

And it made some men afraid of going into their kitchens for a while.

Sandy Drummond Has Scotland Perplexed

Even a TV documentary couldn’t help.

One of the more frustrating cold cases in Scotland’s long history has been deemed so “unsolvable,” that even a television documentary series that highlighted this case, didn’t generate enough new leads to break the case open.

Nearly 15 years after the documentary aired, and more than 25 years since the act took place, the murder of 33-year-old Sandy Drummond is as mysterious as ever.

Drummond, a laborer, was found dead in June 1991, on a farm road just outside his cottage home in the village of Boorhills in Scotland, and investigators have reviewed the case several times over the years with no successful prosecution of a suspect.

There was a claim made by an investigative reporter in the UK a few years ago that he had seen some investigative notes about the case and noted that the police did have a suspect in mind, but by the time they went to him to question and/or arrest him, the person was already dead – also murdered, it turned out. That event changed the direction of the investigation, in that the murder suggested that there may have been accomplices to the murder, or that this suspect was an accomplice of the actual murderer.

Drummond was found strangled, oddly just a few days after he reportedly withdrew all his money from the bank and quit his job. There is no evidence of this being a robbery or mugging gone bad but the timeline was certainly curious.

In 2003, a TV documentary series was created to highlight some of the most prominent unsolved cases in Scotland, and the Drummond case was one that had an entire episode of the series devoted to it. While some leads were generated from airing the details of the case, nothing concrete came of them, and it faded back into obscurity.

But then, about 10 years later, as forensics have evolved at an ever-increasing pace, Fife Police in Scotland began a full review of the case, taking another look at the evidence and facts. With that scrutiny, they were hopeful to use more advanced forensics – such as being able to establish DNA from small skin or blood samples even 20 years old and somewhat decomposed –

The investigative reporter stated that in his research of the facts, the forensics seemed to indicate that Drummond was killed by some “ju-jitsu stranglehold,” claiming the the injuries suffered were consistent with some kind of martial-arts move. These usually do not use hands, which means forensic evidence like hand prints, fingerprints and dirt or blood under the nails would be reasonably ineffective according to the website.

As we are writing about this being an unsolved mystery even 10 years after a review, probably tells you that the Sandy Drummond murder remains high on the list of the most mysterious unsolved crimes currently on the books, one of the bigger mysteries in recent history – now moving ahead of Al Capone’s vault. So maybe the Fife Police should finally send Geraldo Rivera a thank- you card.

Too bad that won’t solve the mystery that is so mysterious, even massive public awareness didn’t solve it.

The Serial Killer Sergei Ryakhovsky

At least nineteen people died at the hands of a skilled serial killer in Moscow between 1988 and 1993. His name was Sergei Ryakhovsky, and he would eventually be caught, tried, and convicted for his crimes. He was slammed with a life sentence for the string of murders, and died of untreated tuberculosis at the age of 42 while he was serving his time. Some would say it wasn’t nearly enough of a punishment for what he did, and others would agree.

He was likely addicted to the adrenaline rush provided by sexual encounters, himself claiming “an irresistible desire for intimacy with a woman.” Age was apparently just a number for Ryakhovsky, as he repeatedly tried to rape elderly women before he was sent to prison for four years after a “hooliganism” conviction. It’s sort of a light charge for attempted rape, as hooliganism is more of a catch-all in Russia and other parts of the world for immoral behavior that most don’t approve of. While technically accurate, hooliganism is not a stiff charge.

Ryakhovsky discovered his love for killing in 1988, when he murdered a gay man on the outskirts of Moscow. He went on a quick killing spree that same year, killing three more gay men. When asked why, he suggested that he wanted to cleanse society of homosexual abominations and prostitutes.

It turned out that it wasn’t so important who they were.

He murdered men, elderly women, and teenagers before he was caught–and they’re just the ones we know about for certain. The murders became progressively more brutal as time went on. Most of his killing was done by stabbing, but he also liked to strangle victims to death with just his bare hands. Sometimes he used a bit of rope. He mutilated many of their bodies, sometimes performing sexual acts on the corpses to gratify himself. Mostly the mutilation involved the genitalia of the victims.

He started mutilating victims in other ways toward the end of his run. One elderly man was decapitated and had his leg cut off the next day. An elderly woman was eviscerated with some sort of firework or other pyrotechnic device. His second-to-last victim was only sixteen years old, but Ryakhovsky wasn’t any nicer to children. He hanged the young boy, then disemboweled and decapitated him.

When detectives were examining one of the crime scenes, they came upon a shack. Inside the shack was an unused noose. They decided that the killer must be readying another victim for hanging, and so they lay in wait. When Ryakhovsky stumbled into the shack, they arrested him. When asked why he did not resist, he suggested that he was afraid of their weapons. That’s the mind of a killer for you.

While he initially confessed to the murders and explained in grisly detail, he was eventually diagnosed with a biological malfunction that led to his necrophiliac impulses. Even so, he was deemed competent to stand trial, and went on to do so. He discovered his recent diagnosis at this time, and stopped cooperating with the legal system. He recanted his previous confessions, but at this point it didn’t matter.

He was to die by firing squad after being sentenced to death in 1995, but Russia began the process of ending the death penalty before it was carried out. Instead, this cold-blooded killer received life in prison.

Scotland’s Overtoun Bridge And A Rash Of Dog Suicides

You probably wouldn’t think that man’s best friend was ever feeling so depressed that he might want to take the big plunge, but dog suicide is apparently a thing–whether they intentionally trip and fall or not. In West Dunbartonshire, Scotland lies a quaint little bridge designed by H.E. Milner. It’s popular not because of its beautiful architecture, though. The bridge has, for whatever reason, led to a number of dogs falling to their deaths. The international media, naturally, has taken a keen liking to this bridge and the phenomenon of dog suicide it seemingly perpetuates.

You might come to think that dozens of poor pooches are leaping to their graves every year, but the number is closer to one annually. Still terrible, but things could always be much worse. While that isn’t so high when you compare the number of human jumpers at other famous bridges across the globe, it’s still worth noting when considering a somewhat less depressed animal–like the canine.

After jumping, there is a fifty-foot drop to the waterfalls below. Researchers have since put a lot of thought into discovering why exactly these dogs are so attracted to the grim reaper and have found some interest factual tidbits that may or may not be related. First, dogs almost always jump from the same side of the bridge. Second, they usually do it when the weather is clear (granted, maybe people just tend to be more likely to take their dogs for a walk when it’s nice out–correlation does not necessarily equal causation, but you’ve probably heard that all before). Third, the dogs all have long snouts.

Animal experts aren’t doing much better when trying to find a reasonable explanation. David Sexton decided to focus on the factors of sight, sound, and smell when investigating but decided to go with the latter factor when mice and mink were discovered underneath the bridge. He eventually concluded that the dogs were probably attracted to mink urine, but a resident hunter says no. According to him, there are no mink under the bridge and never have been. How they were discovered when they’ve never been there is a question for later. In any case, it does seem likely that the dogs who have leaped to their deaths from the edge of the bridge likely smelled something they liked. Dogs see with their noses, and when you like what you see, you go for it. Right?

Sadly, strangeness surrounding the Overtoun bridge isn’t limited to dog suicide. In 1994, a man tossed his only two-week-old son off the bridge because, hey, that’s what you do when you think your just-born kid is the devil personified. The son was killed, but when the man tried to commit suicide the same way, he failed, later trying again in a more old-fashioned wrist slashing. He survived.

Eventually, a sign was put up warning dog owners of the potential dangers of the wonderfully aromatic Overtoun bridge. Please, if you visit the famous bridge, do keep your dogs leashed. If you think your children are possessed by Satan, on the other hand, you should probably just take them to church and say a quick prayer.

What Is The Dyatlov Incident?

Nine hikers died on February 2, 1959 in the Ural Mountains–but no one knows why. After a lengthy investigation, researchers on the case concluded only that an “unknown compelling force” led to their deaths. The details of the case only get weirder from there on out, but first and foremost, know this: these weren’t first-timers. The nine hikers were experienced, and they knew what they were doing.

So what did the scene look like when the nine hikers were found?

First, they did not all succumb to death in the same way. While most died of hypothermia, three died of physical wounds, and those wounds only lead to more questions. One of the dead hikers had cranial damage. Another had no obvious trauma to the skull, but suffered brain damage. A third female hiker seemed to have had her eyes and tongue ripped out. One had a crushed chest. On top of these strange injuries, one must consider the circumstances under which they fled from the relative comfort of their tents. It was snowing heavily at the time, and temperatures were well below zero. Experienced hikers would have known to stay indoors.

Did a yeti attack take place?

It sounds absurd, but some theorize an animal attack may be the most likely explanation. Others believe that the military had a part in the nine deaths. There are other possibilities. A fierce avalanche could explain some circumstances of the scene, while infrasound-induced panic could explain others. No matter what one concludes, the mystery simply cannot be neatly unpacked and wrapped with only the evidence we have right now.

Here’s what we do know.

When they fled the tent, they were either in socks or barefoot. Investigators believe the tent had been cut open from the inside, although when they arrived on the scene the tent was partly on the ground and covered from snowfall. That’s not too surprising since the attack likely happened before February 12, when the group expected to be back, and rescuers only descended on the camp on February 26.

Two bodies were found at the edge of a nearby forest, in only their underwear. Before they succumbed to nature’s wrath, they had managed to keep a small fire going. Three more bodies were discovered in between the camp and the forest, at varying intervals. The other four were not located for months. Nature had dumped four meters of snow over their bodies. They had managed to make it 75 meters farther than the first two who died at the edge of the forest.

Take it for what it’s worth, but a different set of hikers fifty kilometers away saw orange spheres in the skies where the Dyatlov incident took place. These same spheres were reported being seen nearby during February and March of the same year. These weren’t just crazy-people sightings, either. Both the military and meteorology services operating in the region confirmed the strange phenomenon. Whether it has anything to do with the Dyatlov incident is of course a big fat unknown.

What did happen? We don’t know, and probably never will. All current theories seem to have been disproved. While someone might initially say to themselves, “it was obviously drugs,” that wasn’t the case either. Nothing like that was found in the remains of the tent, not even a drop of alcohol. The group even refused to smoke cigarettes while on their hike. This mystery is one for the record books.

Should We Take Another Look At the Rosenberg Espionage Trial?

The conspiracy surrounding the Rosenbergs wasn’t simple. Only a few weeks after the Korean War broke out, arrests were made on the grounds that Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg conspired to commit espionage. That was the charge, but the reality was less murky: the couple was tried, convicted, and eventually executed three years later after allegedly providing the recipe for an atomic bomb to one of America’s greatest rivals, the USSR.

The funny thing about a conspiracy charge is this: no one has to prove beyond any doubt that you did something wrong in court. So how exactly was the couple tried and found guilty when the punishment would be death for treason? Easy. The government found witnesses who would testify to the wrongdoing of the defendants. Who, though, would know of such wrongdoing? Ethel’s brother and his wife, as it turns out. The government charged them both with conspiracy to commit espionage as well, and then allowed the couple to testify against the Rosenbergs in exchange for a softer sentence.

We know now that the U.S. had evidence that Julius ran errands as a courier for the Soviets, and also helped them recruit. Did the Rosenbergs give plans to build the atom bomb, jet propulsion engines, sonar, and radar to the USSR? Many believe they did, while others believe they did not. They were certainly guilty of conspiracy, but to what extent–and why did that matter so little at the time in the court of public opinion?

This case is important because it aids in several important discussions regarding something we’re supposed to believe in as Americans: that is, you’re innocent until proven guilty. The Rosenberg case told us exactly how these types of important, publicized cases should not play out. Although the government had a treasure trove of evidence that was not declassified until the USSR collapsed, almost no direct, tangible evidence linking the couple to any wrongdoing was made public during the trial and subsequent execution, causing a great number of people to defend the integrity of the couple.

Their children, for example, maintained the couple’s innocence until the files were declassified. Even then, they believed that the files pointed a finger more at Julius and less at his wife.

The trial also forced us to reconsider how to best employ the death penalty in any circumstance. Some might contend that Ethel’s role in the apparent espionage, however small or large it may have been, should not have required a lethal response maybe just a few less days at the beach. There are a great number of historians who contend that neither she nor her husband was deserving. There are others who adamantly suppose that the couple would never have been tried at all, had it not been for the rampant paranoia that plagued communities and social orders during the Cold War.

Today, the death penalty is still controversial–here in the U.S. anyway. The Rosenberg trial begs the question: is the death penalty ever really necessary? Is it truly a humane response to criminal activity if there is even a sliver of doubt concerning a person’s guilt or innocence? These are questions we will undoubtedly continue to ask ourselves in the foreseeable future. Maybe we should continue to analyze the Rosenberg espionage trial for that reason alone.

No Longer A Fresh-Bruin Case

If this had happened during the days of Robert Stack and Unsolved Mysteries, we might have a resolution this particular case. After all, the UCLA campus is a large campus with lots of people, and it’s in one of the largest cities in the world other than New York, so there are potentially hundreds or thousands of witnesses to any one person’s activities.

And yet, 18 years later, a disappearance case has gone completely cold and the victim is presumed dead, even without a body.

Bruinland has been able to keep quiet the case of one of its freshman students, who disappeared from his dorm room in the early-morning hours of a day in December 1999 following a dorm party. And yes, we mean disappeared in that his wallet, keys, and shoes were left behind in his dorm room, untouched.

After a night of partying and playing some video games (this was the late 1990s, so it was not the video games we’re used to) with a friend, Michael Negrete gave a couple high-fives, entered his dorm room at about 4 a. m. and was not seen or heard from again.

It was as if he walked right into a Sliders wormhole and didn’t have the remote to get back from the alternate universe.

Negrete was on a music scholarship, a good student and had no history of anything like depression, drugs or gambling. All reports were that he was well-adjusted and friendly. His roommate made the missing person report that morning, and a police dog was able to track Negrete’s scent to a bus station a few miles away – which was curious since he had no keys to drive a car and had no shoes to be able to walk very far. The trail went cold there.

There was a report of a white male in his mid-30s who was in Negrete’s dormitory the night of the party, who was reportedly wearing a shiny gray jacket. There should have been a general curiosity about a man in his 30s in a college dorm during a party wearing a jacket that could easily have been from the 1970s. However, police investigators were never able to find him, despite a piece of surveillance video that seemed to capture him, and a composite sketch by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office that was distributed.

What is even more mysterious is that in the last 17 years, there has been no activity on any bank accounts and there has not been contact from Michael to his family or friends. And yet, so far nobody has turned up. And there has been no physical evidence, zero witnesses, no DNA, nothing on security cameras, and he disappeared from a dorm room in a dorm building with hundreds of college students.

It’s hard to imagine college students all being drunk and/or asleep at the same time. Someone had to have heard, seen, smelled or know something. And yet we are here almost two decades later with just as many questions as before as to the whereabouts of Michael Negrete.

The Blair Bewitching Project?

Blair Adams was an … um, interesting guy. If only we knew much more about him.

There are some rather unusual, freaky, unexplainable crimes that have been committed over the years, and Blair Adams’ case is one that is about as mysterious as they come – especially the way he died and the fact that the case has gone cold.

Was Blair Adams paranoid? Or did the person he thought was following him, find him and did exactly what he thought would happen? Or was this some rather random, bad-karma situation in the old Confederacy?

The real mystery was Blair Adams’ death, though the events leading up to it were quite mysterious in themselves – we have nothing to go on since the primary witness to his behavior is him – and he’s not with us anymore.

Adams was found in a parking lot a half-mile from a hotel in which was supposedly staying – though he hadn’t checked in yet – in Knoxville, Tenn.  The autopsy revealed that he died because of a punch to the gut so powerful that it ruptured his internal organs.

Adams, a Canadian, got to Knoxville through a drive from Seattle – though he bought a plane ticket to Washington D.C. while in Seattle. He got into Seattle through the Canadian border, though it was his second attempt, as he was turned away the first time when he arrived at the border crossing with a briefcase full of money and no other bags and whatever possessions he could stuff in his pockets.

He had cleaned out his bank accounts and his safe-deposit box in Canada prior to this journey, claiming that he needed to leave Canada because he thought someone was trying to kill him. After being turned away the first time, he went back home.

The next day, he quit his job and asked a friend to smuggle him into America, but only after he had bought a plane ticket to Germany but changed his mind. When his friend decided that being caught as a human smuggler was not her idea of fun, she refused to help him. Out of desperation, Adams got a rental car and was successful in crossing the U.S. border a second time, and then he committed to moving on from Seattle.

He drove to Tennessee – not sure why exactly, other than it wasn’t a straight-line trip, which means he was behaving as if he was being followed – and entered a gas station in Knoxville. There, witnesses said he told the attendant that he couldn’t start his car. Turned out that he had the wrong keys, but the car was able to be driven to that gas station. He hitchhiked to a hotel and paid for a room but never went to it. He immediately left the hotel upon paying the money, and then his dead body was found hours later in that parking lot a half-mile away – with his pants removed.

As far as we know, that is all we know about Adams’ death, and this was more than 20 years ago. Was he mentally disturbed and wound up with a self-fulfilling prophecy? It seems we may never know

The Trial of Galileo Galilei

Galileo was born in 1564 and lived to the ripe old age of 77, when he died in 1642. That’s pretty good, under the circumstances. Today he is famous for having hypothesized many of the scientific principles and realities that we take for granted–such as the super silly notion that the planets revolve around the sun instead of around the earth (the former concept is known as heliocentrism, and the incorrect latter concept known as geocentrism). Although he was eventually proven partially correct, the scientific minds of the time period were compelled in a large part by religion. Heliocentrism contradicted Scripture. If you contradict God, then you’re considered a heretic, and so to trial he went.

Galileo quickly discovered much in astronomy that led to controversy. During the time period, there weren’t many who could force people to question their place in the cosmos, but Galileo was such a man. He discovered mountainous terrain on the moon and satellites revolving around Jupiter. He discovered sunspots and the phases of Venus. He discovered nebulae, even though he couldn’t begin to conceive what they were. Although his newly-founded views of the universe were frowned upon, he persisted.

The Roman Catholic Church had already lended its support to scientists and astronomers such as Aristotle and Ptolemy, and so the rift had begun. Although Jesuits first disagreed with Galileo’s findings, they eventually concluded the same after observing the phenomena for themselves. Many of those who refused to accept Galileo’s contributions to the field of astronomy purportedly never even bothered to look through a telescope in order to see for themselves. Then again, we experience a lot of the same type of skeptics today in even more important areas of science.

Certain high-ranking members of the Catholic church were called upon to offer their opinions on the Galileo problem. One decided that heliocentrism needn’t remain an issue as long as it was considered only in theory or hypothesis, and not in reality. When Galileo would not relent to those who disputed his findings, he was asked to provide conclusions based on physics and mathematics. He initially refused, but eventually provided a number of such conclusions. The church refused to listen to his reasoning.

An inquisition was formed on February 19, 1616 in order to discuss the reality of a heliocentric view of the universe. When this viewpoint was determined to be theologically absurd, he was ordered to essentially cease and desist, or else stronger measures would be forced upon him.

After a long period of back and forth between supporters and opponents, he was eventually ordered to stand trial in 1633. He was found guilty of heresy on June 22 of the same year. At first he was sentenced to imprisonment, but this was changed to house arrest. He died at home in Italy. As a result of the proceedings, many of his publications were banned for a time.

Galileo’s observation of heliocentrism suggested the sun was the center of the universe, which we now know to be untrue. It’s simply the center of one solar system in a single galaxy within the massive observable universe we know about today.