Odds and Ends

Oddtober 2020: Hellebore: The Sacrifice Issue

A couple of weeks ago, a young man who follows me on Instagram recommended a magazine that is dedicated to dark folklore. I want to send him a cookie bouquet or maybe some free healthcare because had he not mentioned Hellebore on his feed, I might not have heard of it at all, let alone found out about it in time to discuss it for Oddtober2020. Living in your own little world has its drawbacks, and basically all the youngsters who follow me on Instagram expose me to all kinds of new media, ensuring I will always have fodder for OTC. The kids are alright and most of the time they have really interesting taste.

Hellebore is a fascinating journal. The magazine’s subtitle is “A Summoning of Ancient Terrors” and so it is.  When I placed an order, only the first two issues were available.  Number one is the “Sacrifice” issue and number two is the “Wild Gods.”  It is a biannual magazine, released at Beltane and Samhain, and since I placed my order, the third installment, the “Malifice” issue became available for pre-order.  I am sort of bummed that I will not be able to get the third magazine in time for this year’s Oddtober because, of the three issues, it is the one most relevant to my specific interests.

But that’s a very small complaint because the first two issues are definitely worth talking about.  But I now know I already have an entry planned for Oddtober 2021.  Just sayin’…

It’s been a while since I wallowed in the occult, and what better time to solve that problem?  Walloween, my friends.

I’m only going to discuss the first volume, the “Sacrifice” edition, this go around but it should be mentioned that both issues are deeply interesting.  At the time of this writing, Hellebore is offering all three in the “Wyrd Sisters” bundle at a reduced price.  Definitely worth the purchase and shipping price, but if you’re in the UK or the US also have a look at the stockists list just in case a book store near you carries the magazine.

As is likely obvious, the “Sacrifice” issue handles the topic of sacrifice and how it manifests throughout history, and in this context history is confined mostly to the British Isles and some Northern European locations.  Among the eight articles in this 68-page magazine are:

  • A look at stone circle sites in the UK and discussion regarding their purpose, which was possibly serving as locations for human sacrifice (Druids enter stage left) and larger, megalith sites, like Stonehenge, were possibly mass cremation sites.
  • An interesting literary discussion about the man who was the inspiration for the creepy and wicked Mr. Abney in M.R. James’ story, “Lost Hearts.”
  • A brief examination of various types of animal sacrifices throughout history.
  • A discussion of the perception of English small towns as places where the old gods and old ways reign supreme and the casual visitor may want to bear that in mind if they find themselves wanting to disparage the rural inhabitants of seemingly backward burgs.  This article, “From His Blood the Crops Would Spring” by Maria J.Perez Cuervo, was deeply interesting to me.  Earlier this week I happened across a channel that is essentially a computer reading some of the creepier threads from 4-chan boards, usually /x/.  I had listened to this video on occult happenings in Yorkshire, including what appeared to be wholesale sacrifice of horses as well as possible child sacrifice.* That level of happenstance generally means I will want to talk a topic to death, so to speak, but I don’t know enough about this topic to hold forth at length. I will definitely be sorting through the references Cuervo used for the article because this was a “worth the price of admission” story.

This journal actually has two articles that are worth buying the magazine for – the Cuervo article above and “The Bodies in the Bog” by John Reppion.  I’m focusing on Reppion’s article because I know a thing or two about “bog bodies” and because I appreciate Reppion’s scholarly attempt to shed light on how some of these people actually died versus the very salacious assertions of human sacrifice offered up with every newly discovered bog body.  What initially looks like a body buried with its limbs severed could very easily be a person whose limbs were cut off by the peat-cutters who discovered the corpse.  What appears to be a garotte may just be a leather necklace that shrank over the centuries.

But Reppion is also willing to cede that many bog bodies are, indeed, the results of human sacrifice, or at the very least capital punishment with a disregard for burial customs.  He specifically mentions the Haraldskaer Woman, found in 1835 in Jutland, Denmark, so well-preserved that she was initially believed to be a recent murder victim (as are many bog bodies, it must be said).  It was believed she was Queen Gunnhild of Norway, who lived between 910-980 AD.  In the Jomsvikinga Saga, it is said that she was the wife of Eric Bloodaxe and was the mother of many subsequent kings, but Harald Bluetooth of Denmark had her drowned in the bog on his estate.  So certain that they had found the body of this historical heroine, the then-king of Denmark and Norway ordered an elaborate burial casket for the bog woman. When subjected to modern testing, it was revealed that the bog woman was definitely not Gunnhild.  The Haraldskaer Woman lived around 500 BC.  And if she lived in 500 BC, during a time when cremation was the preferred burial method, it seems rather likely that there was a significant reason why her body was sunk in a bog, with branches placed atop her limbs to hold her in place.  A faint groove along her neck points in the direction that she was a victim of human sacrifice.

I love stories of bog bodies.  They seem to follow a script.  Manual workers find the corpse as they are digging up or cutting into something, they think it is a murder victim, the academics gather and declare the corpse to be a specific type of bog person, only to have academics gather later and declare all the earlier information null and void. I became interested in bog people when I was in college. I read about one for the first time in a Margaret Atwood story that framed the breakup of a student and the older professor who should have known better around the discovery of a bog body.  The story, called simply “The Bog Man” was the first time I recall knowing about such things, but I also recall that bog people played a big role in some of Seamus Heaney’s poetry. Regardless, it wasn’t science that sparked such an interest, which probably goes without saying.

I have a favorite bog person – which also probably goes without saying because of course I have a favorite – and it’s the Elling Woman.

The Elling Woman likely had blonde hair, but the tanning process in the bogs renders all lighter hair colors a deep, reddish brown.

She was found in Denmark in 1938, and she’s been overshadowed in bog folk-lore by the discovery of the Tollund Man, found in 1950 about 200 feet away from where her body was discovered.  Both bodies were killed by hanging, and the positioning of their bodies indicates they were ritual sacrifice victims rather than people subjected to capital punishment.  Initially, it was believed the Elling Woman was a young man, but a later scan of her pelvis revealed her sex.

This is a recreation of both the braid as well as the cloak the Elling Woman was found wearing. You can find tutorials on YouTube that take you through the process of plaiting your hair up like the Elling Woman.  And yes, I’ve attempted this braid and sort of got it but I suspect I am just not Nordic enough to pull it off. You need to be very tall and in possession of at least one embroidered dress from the set of Midsommar to wear hair like this without looking a bit odd.

You know the world is a fascinating place when you can read about the disturbing enthusiasm a reclusive Texan has for a charming Dutch woman’s recreation of a hairstyle worn by an Iron Age woman hanged for cultural reasons we will likely never know then stuffed into a bog. But mostly, yeah, I selected the bog men article so I could talk about this specific bog woman because I tried to replicate the hairstyle during a long spell of jittery insomnia. Not even close to the worst reason I’ve chosen a topic for this site.

All in all, Hellebore has proven to be a righteous purchase.  In the off-chance my copy of the “Malefice” edition crosses the pond fast enough for me to talk about it for Oddtober2020, I’ll devour it in one sitting and write it up.  Otherwise meet me back here next year.

 

*Beware: Any time missing children are mentioned from anything related to a /chan, you are no more than an Internet inch away from falling down a deep and relentless Q-Anon rabbit hole, which is less a rabbit hole than a gaping chasm in the time-space continuum from which you will not emerge for months, if you’re lucky.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Oddtober 2020: WKCR Interruption and Master Post

I began a discussion about the creepy WKCR broadcast interruption tape last October and I hate to admit that I still haven’t “solved” it.  But I have cleared up a bunch of the names in the video, and still think that I, or anyone else who reads here and takes up the mantle of transcribing the tape, can eventually determine its purpose or its creator. I’ve noticed some incoming links from other sites that analyzed  the tape and realized I never shared what I discovered since I last wrote about the case.  So this will be a master post that has all of my research and I’ll post any new findings in this entry as I find them. If anyone reads this and has information they’d like to share, please comment. I’d love to hear what you think.  Also please feel free to take any of my research and run with it.

My first entry beat down a few of the more unfounded conclusions people had regarding this tape interruption, and in the interests of completion, I’ll pull that data over into this entry.

The lore behind this tape is that in 1994-1996 – the time frame is never clear but is restricted to these years – a kid who enjoyed taping radio shows and listening to them later accidentally recorded a broadcast hijack in a radio program on WKCR radio, the station for Columbia University.  He or she rediscovered this strange recording twenty years later and shared it on 4chan. It’s not as well-known as the bizarre Max Headroom broadcast interruption, but is still discussed on paranormal sites, mystery message boards and similar.

Quick description: In the middle of a radio broadcast, the music was interrupted by a strange recording that began with the sound of breath exhaling and soft feminine moans.  It’s fairly creepy to listen to.

Initially you can hear a bit of chatter and eventually the sound of chatter increases enough in volume that you can tell names and dates of deceased people are being recited, along with names of the deceased’s family members.  Each person’s information ends with a ringing bell.  After the recording ends, there’s a brief moment before the DJ comes back to continue with the show’s format and many people, myself included, think the DJ’s voice is identical to the voice reciting names during the interruption.

Multiple attempts to contact WKCR regarding DJs who worked at the station during this time frame have gone unanswered.  In fact, the station stopped broadcasting this year and I suspect there is little to no chance any time soon of finding someone who has the time to search such records.  Similarly I cannot find anyone who claims to have heard this broadcast interruption as it happened.

My goal has always been to either find out if there is a link between all these names, or if these names could lead us to the person who performed the interruption.  I’ve never felt this was a genuine broadcast interruption.  Either the radio DJ staged this as some sort of avant garde experiment or the tape was created by the person who leaked it with the purpose of passing it off as an interrupted broadcast.  As I listened to the recording over and over (and over and over…), I picked up on some clues the performer seemed to have laid that might lead to her identity or purpose, but I still don’t have the whole of the tape deciphered.

Before I share my research, I want to emphasize that you should not get hung up on the fact that one of these names is of a student who died in the PanAm 103 flight that Libya shot down over Lockerbie.  Also, don’t put too much into the fact that one of these names belonged to a famous physicist who was the brother of the father of the Manhattan Project.  Though I have not figured out every name yet, among those I have I cannot find any links to terrorism, plane crashes, or nuclear physics.  The connection these people share – if they share any connection – I suspect will be the person behind the interruption, a belief bolstered by the fact that the speaker in the interruption specifically states her relationship to some of the people whose names she recites.

I also want to emphasize that the recording has errors in it, either by design or by accident.  If this recording was actually aired between 1994-1996, errors could be chalked up to misremembering dates. It could be deliberate, but I tend to think it wasn’t. If this recording indeed happened more than 20 years ago, it’s not like the woman on the tape could look up information on the Internet.  When you have to rely strictly on memory because Find-a-Grave and Ancestry.com weren’t invented yet, you’re gonna make some mistakes. I also am not wholly sure who the “my friend” or “our friend” portions refer to, the deceased or the name that immediately precedes such statements of relationship.

So join me under the cut and see what I’ve come up with.  And please share anything you think may help or that I’ve overlooked.

Happy Halloween!

Well, I had intended to follow up yesterday’s entry about the WKCR radio broadcast hijack with some new information I found about the names uttered in the chant in the audio clip.  I have, predictably, fallen down a rabbit hole.  Like I think maybe I’ve solved the link between the names but need some more time, or I’ve hit the bottom of an empty rabbit warren and need to dig my way out, probably filled with shame at my hubris.  We’ll see.  Once I know which way it’s going, I’ll post about it.

And that’s kind of a lame way to end Oddtober 2019.  But hey, I’ve written about a lot of weird crap over the years and I seldom do revisiting compilations so I feel like maybe I’ll just link to some of my lesser seen odd/creepy/horrific entries and get back to listening to a weird audio recording that reminds me I have tinnitus every time that bell rings.

But anyway, read away and enjoy your day!

Murder/Serial Killers

The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Deaths

Thirteen Girls

The Postcard Killer: The True Story of J. Frank Hickey

The Paranormal

Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us

How People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It

Aliens

Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens

The Cryptoterrestrials

Horror or Unsettling Fiction

House of Leaves

Drujika, Contessa of Blood

The Cannibal’s Guide to Ethical Living

Ruthless: An Extreme Shock Horror Collection

Necrophilia Variations

Dust

Horror Films

Only Lovers Left Alive

The Bunny Game

Places and Personal Stories

Ben Thompson’s Grave

Slave Cemeteries

The Liberty Hill Witch Grave

Baby Head Cemetery

The Mom Ghost

WKCR Broadcast Interruption, Part One

Hi, if you’re arriving at this entry via a link from others interested in this recording, I’ve done more research on the names and created a “master post” with all the data I’ve collected.  If any of this data is helpful in figuring out the intent of the speaker in the tape, please share.  This is a weird and loose collaborative effort, solving this 4chan mystery, with people building on the research others have done.  It would delight me if anything I’ve done helps figure out the link between all the names in the audio or the person behind the tape.

And if you’re here just to enjoy the weirdness, both entries are hopefully still readable for those who just want to read something fun and creepy and move on to the next unsolved mystery.

No Sympathy for the Incel

Last summer Ann Sterzinger asked me to participate in a podcast with alt.right writer Andy Nowicki in which we discussed incels.  “Incel” is a portmanteau that combines the words “involuntary celibacy.”  Incels, mostly young, alienated men, had (and have) been in the news due to several deadly rampages committed by young men with links to or assumed to be part of incel culture. This conversation took place shortly after the Santa Fe high school shooting, wherein a young man shot and killed ten people.  Sometimes the media got it right – Alek Minassian, the man who ran a van into a crowd in Toronto, was undeniably part of incel culture. The affiliation was far less clear with Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the young man who shot up the high school in Santa Fe, Texas, even though one of his victims was a girl who had refused to be his girlfriend. Either way, both attacks were presented as incel rampages in the press and suddenly all across the Internet people were talking about incels, as each month seemed to bring a new attack committed in the name of incel-ery.

The discussion with Andy dealt more with the macro of incel-ery, the big picture of how it is we’ve ended up with a group of unhappy and often unstable young men who loathe women, successful men, feminism, and the modern world.  I tend to focus on the micro, the individuals who make up movements, so I’m unsure how much I added to the conversation.  I wish I had been more on the ball because Andy Nowicki asked a very good, very humane question that this article is going to attempt to answer.

Andy wanted to know why it is that people find it so easy to mock and deride incels when they share what for them is very real, very tangible pain regarding their role in the modern world.  We laugh at these young men in a way we would not laugh at women who share their own pain.  Though there are a lot of ideas that “incel” covers, the primary issue often boils down to men who are angry or sad that they cannot have the sorts of sexual relationships they prefer with the sorts of women they prefer.

However, when you look at the whole of what fuels this sort of discontent, you see a group of human beings who feel like the modern world has stripped them of all dignity, decent employment prospects, and possible family life.  Plenty focus their anger on the lack of sex that named the subculture but they also speak in depth about humiliations they experienced or perceived when just trying to talk to a woman, apply for a job, speak in class, go to a gym, pay for cigarettes and on and on.

It’s a litany of human misery and it’s interesting that among leftists who decry “toxic masculinity,” those very people find it easy to mock men who report crying when being rejected or rebuffed, who reveal vulnerability when they report their inability to reach basic cultural milestones. It’s a question worth asking – why do we mock these particular men who reveal their weaknesses?

There are several answers to this question.  Among them: chivalry isn’t dead yet and we live in a culture in the West wherein we punish emotional response in men while rewarding it in women.  But it’s curious that many still mock incels even after seeing the harm these disenfranchised young men can do.

Initially, when people see the entitled whining some incels engage in online, people mock them because if you aren’t experiencing youthful angst yourself, reading it wears thin and can seem ridiculous.  But we continue to mock them after seeing incel mass murders because there’s something inherently ridiculous in the idea that anyone would consider sex such a natural human right that they could justify murder in the name of libido.

This is a very long article, tl;dr on a grand scale.  The rest is under the cut.

The Birdman of Leavenworth, a Death Row Proto-Kevorkian

I’m currently working on a new book (new, as in I have an OLD book and you should probably go buy a copy because my publisher deserves money for enduring my head-casery) and as I research I keep finding interesting alleys off the main street of my reading.  So many little snippets that likely won’t have a place in the larger story but are entertaining enough that I want to share them.

My upcoming book will be a look at personal manifestos and their role in shaping particular parts of contemporary culture as well as serving as at times unintentional autobiographies of the people who wrote them.  Less Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto and more Elliot Rodger’s My Twisted World.  Some of the manifestos I am analyzing are quasi-political, like Valerie Solanas’ The SCUM Manifesto or Anders Behring Breivik’s 2083, but most of them are  analyses of the self that also stand as a statement or declaration of social or political aims.  One such manifesto is Carl Panzram’s autobiography, wherein he discusses how he came to be shaped into a multipurpose psychopath and why he felt entitled to engage in the mayhem that saw him imprisoned multiple times and ultimately executed.  As I researched Carl Panzram, I came across Panzram: A Journal of Murder by Thomas E. Gaddis and James O. Long, editors, and an unexpected look at how the politics of the death penalty played out among the condemned.

Before he was The Birdman of Alcatraz, Robert Stroud was The Birdman of Leavenworth (which actually makes more sense as a moniker since he was never permitted to keep birds at Alcatraz).

Seriously, if there’s a bird with Stroud, he was at Leavenworth. Don’t challenge me on this, I’m ready.

The movie about him, starring Burt Lancaster, was before my time and I probably should watch it in due time, but from what I can tell it portrays Stroud in a very sympathetic manner (as does a more recent film about Panzram that stars James Woods).

Yep, that’s the wiener sidekick from House M.D. standing behind Woods/Panzram in the film Killer: A Journal of Murder.

But bear in mind, if Carl Panzram, dream date of late-child murderer Ian Brady, was a one-man-mayhem-machine, Robert Stroud, had he stayed out of prison longer, would have been his peer.  Though he spent decades nursing birds and researching cures for avian diseases at Leavenworth, Stroud was also a pimp and a murderer, and once imprisoned he was the instigator of many fights and eventually killed a prison guard.  That murder landed him on death row at Leavenworth, but his sentence was commuted and he spent 1918 through 1942 in solitary confinement at Leavenworth (which sounds much different than what prisoners experience in solitary in the USA today).  It was in solitary confinement in Leavenworth that Stroud “met” Carl Panzram.

Oh, and in case you were wondering how Stroud ended up in Alcatraz, the Birdman was caught using the equipment a benevolent prison warden gave him for his birds to make alcohol and sell within the prison.  Upon discovery of this side hustle, he was transferred to Alcatraz.

There are so many mug shots of Carl Panzram, under varying names, that it was hard to pick just one. I selected this one because I like that little curl of hair sticking up over his forehead. It’s easy to imagine him as a kid with hair like this, which is sort of awful now that I think about it.

Carl Panzram was a life-long criminal and an utter psychopath whose crimes ranged from audacious financial exploits on oil rigs in Africa to child rape to murder.  A victim of the harsh practices in reform schools and even harsher practices in prison, all attempts to rehabilitate him made him even worse.  He’d been in several prisons before ending up in Leavenworth, often under false names.  Panzram in prison was a man who just wanted to be left alone.  It’s hard to be left alone in prison and Panzram, in Leavenworth, became a pot waiting to boil over.  He reached his limit and started a prison riot when he killed the foreman in the prison laundry.  That earned him the death penalty and he was kept in solitary during his trial and the time during which he was awaiting execution, in the same solitary block as Robert Stroud.

(There’s a funny story about the end of the riot, too.  Or at least it was funny to me.  Panzram beat the prison laundry foreman to death with a pipe and rampaged through the prison with it in his hand.  When he reached a wing that a guard, Red Ballard, locked down anticipating his arrival, Panzram shouted at him to open the door. Ballard, terrified and shaken, said, “I will never let you in with that in your hand.” As if he forgot he was holding it, Panzram tossed the iron bar away and declared that this must be his lucky day.  Ballard called for assistance and, presumably, opened the door.)

During the trial, Panzram was clear that he wanted to be executed.  Many anti-death penalty groups tried to intervene on his behalf and in response Panzram essentially told them to take their do-gooder notions and go fuck themselves.  He was set on execution, not only because he was tired of the misery of prison life, but also in the spirit of telling the state and the penal system that since they created this monster, they needed to kill it.  A sort of slow-motion suicide by cop.

This attitude alarmed Robert Stroud to the point that he intervened. Or at least he tried.  Despite both men being in solitary confinement, there is ample evidence that Stroud and Panzram managed to effect some sort of communication, and that communication focused on one aim: Stroud wanted Panzram to kill himself.

Unsure if that is the actual gallows where Panzram was executed but I found this pic on a site called The Temple of Ghoul and with a name like that I have to think that if anyone has the actual photo, that site does. (http://templeofghoul.blogspot.com/2013/02/carl-panzram-spirit-of-hatred-and.html)

Stroud found himself on Leavenworth’s death row for the same offense as Panzram, for killing a prison employee, but his sentence was commuted to life.  Stroud to the end felt that Panzram’s yearning for execution was a bluff, that he would, like any reasonable man, want to cheat the executioner, even if it meant dying by his own hand.  But Stroud also felt very strongly that the death penalty – either through the state of Kansas or through the federal government – should never be performed on Leavenworth soil.  He even went so far as to give money to a campaign to prevent another solitary inmate from facing the death penalty for murdering a fellow Leavenworth prisoner.  There had been no executions at Leavenworth and Stroud, as well as many other death penalty abolitionists, did not want a death penalty precedent set.  From his isolation cell, Stroud could see the gallows being constructed and it fired his resolve that Panzram should be encouraged to kill himself to avoid being the man who brought the death penalty to Leavenworth.

Interestingly, Stroud managed to get information to Panzram regarding ways to end his life, and Panzram, afraid his death sentence might not be carried out, made a genuine suicide attempt.  From Panzram, A Journal of Murder (228):

Stroud began long disquisitions to the guard Red Ballard, to the orderlies and to Ono Manuel [another inmate] in a clear, loud voice, hoping that the information would reach Panzram.  He talked about how simple and painless it would be to end it all: press two fingers into the groin until the throb of the femoral artery can be felt, work the fingers back and forth until the artery is brought against the skin, and cut it with a long thumbnail or a chip of a razor blade.  Death would come in minutes.  This artery, Stroud explained in loud tones, is the only one which can be easily reached, yet cannot be tied off.  He also spoke of making a paper quill, opening a large vein anywhere, inserting the quill and blowing a bubble or two into the vein.  Or, he added, simple tap water would do it.

Ballard said nothing.  He closed the wooden door to Panzram’s cell and cautioned Stroud to lower his voice.

Red Ballard kept a very close watch on Panzram but he could not prevent the suicide attempt Panzram made on June 20, 1929 (the one year anniversary of beating the laundry foreman to death).  He had hidden a plate of beans he let go bad, making them poisonous.  He ate those beans and then opened a six-inch gash in his leg using a sharpened button.  Had he just slashed his leg he might have succeeded because it was the sound of him vomiting up the tainted beans that alerted the night guard that there was a problem in his cell.

Once the execution date was firmly set and no appeals were made, Stroud was still convinced that Panzram was bluffing, that he really did not want to die at the hands of the state and that he had simply been too incompetent to carry out his prior suicide attempt.  Since Panzram feared that the state might consider him too mentally unwell to execute, which was the impetus behind the attempt, there may have been some truth to the notion that he was inept with fear. Stroud may have been correct on that front because if there had ever been a man who knew how to kill, it was Panzram.  Still, a failed suicide involving bad beans and a button might help the case that Panzram was too mentally ill to execute and surely Panzram knew this.  It seems very likely that Panzram engaged in overkill with his methods of choice rather than failing due to incompetence. As the execution drew closer, Stroud upped his game and Panzram, in the end, showed his genuine intent.

Two weeks before the execution, Stroud saw his opportunity.  He wrote his earlier instructions on a slip of paper, broke a new Gillette blade in two and wrapped the paper around the top halves of the broken blade. Having found an old tube of watercolor gray, he painted the package the same color as the concrete floor.  He then persuaded a new short-term prisoner, who had been made an orderly in the isolation section, to throw the tiny packet into Panzram’s cell the first time the guard, Red Ballard, turned his head.  The orderly agreed […].

The packet was dropped into Panzram’s cell without incident […]. 238-239)

Stroud had some hope that Panzram would use the blades and take his own life because Panzram held onto the blades until two days before his execution, and then turned them over to guard Red Ballard (who really needed to be paid far more than he was for dealing with all he endured during his tenure at Leavenworth).

“Where did you get these?” Ballard demanded.

“None of your damned business,” said Panzram. (239)

Stroud may have been onto something because why else would Panzram have held onto the blades for around ten days, turning them in so close to the execution.  Was he wavering until the end, perhaps mulling over how he wanted to die?  Did the packet with the blades sit unseen on his prison floor for a while, so well camouflaged by Stroud’s watercolor? More likely he wanted insurance in the event the state decided on a last minute pardon and commuted his sentence, one that carried a better chance at success than rotten beans and a shaved-down button. It’s hard to say why Panzram kept the blades for so long, but in the end the state did execute him. He had the option of slashing his wrists or neck or groin but went to the gallows instead.

And of course, the statement Panzram is most famous for occurred on the gallows.  He sneered at his executioner, saying, “Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard.  I could kill a dozen men while you’re screwing around.”

He probably could have, too.  But he didn’t.  Nor did he kill himself.

I admittedly knew very little about Robert Stroud, Birdman of Alcatraz, before I read about Panzram, and what I knew was very fluffy, redemption-oriented sort of quasi-knowledge.  While I could have guessed a man like him would be anti-death penalty, I certainly didn’t anticipate him being so keen on enabling a suicide he considered more ethical in the macro and having more dignity in the micro, nor did I expect him to be so knowledgeable on methods of suicide.  Child of the media that I am, I now have visions of Burt Lancaster encouraging James Woods to commit suicide.

The things you learn when learning about other things…

God Speed, Adam Parfrey

Adam Parfrey died on May 10, 2018, and his death has been a mild devastation to me.  I never met him in the flesh but had some online interactions with him wherein he was both very professional and very kind to me.  I keep wanting to discuss his commitment to freedom of speech and to the dissemination of ideas that were guaranteed to make some readers uncomfortable – given recent societal determination to ban and censor all thought that makes anyone feel uneasy, losing Parfrey seems all the greater a loss.

But if you know who Parfrey was, you already know this.  And if you don’t know who he was, the best way to explain why Adam Parfrey was so important is to just to let you see, quite literally see, why he matters so much to me and to other people dedicated to experiencing strange and frightening ideas, to supporting freedom of speech in public and private realms, to shining light on that which is hidden. I said on social media that creating I Read Odd Books, which eventually morphed into this current site, was in no small part influenced by Adam’s works: his own writing, his work with Amok books, Feral House and Process Media are present throughout OTC.

My site and my own life’s works are a small leaf growing on a twig growing from a branch on the tree Parfrey planted and cultivated.  Almost every non-fiction shelf in my home has at least one title that is in some way associated with Adam Parfrey.  This is just a sample of what I found in five minutes or so, glancing at my shelves.

In this shelf sampling, left to right, top to bottom: The Covert War Against Rock by Alex Constantine, Lords of Chaos by Michael Moynihan, Pure Filth by Peter Sotos and Jamie Gillis, Strange Creations by Donna Kossy, The Gates of Janus, first and second editions, by Ian Brady, Rants by Adam Parfrey and Bob Black, The Carnivals of Life and Death by James Shelby Downard, The Source by Isis Aquarian, American Hardcore by Steven Blush, Shit Magnet by Jim Goad, Technological Slavery by Ted Kazcynski, Psychic Dictatorship in the USA by Alex Constantine, Apocalypse Culture/ Apocalypse Culture II / Cult Rapture, all three edited by Parfrey, and Demons in the Age of Light by Whitney Robinson.

This really is just a sample.  There are likely a dozen more, at least, that I didn’t hone in on in my quick survey of my books.

Despite the clear influence Parfrey has had on my book purchasing habits, it seems a bit mawkish to me to be so upset about the death of a man I never met in the flesh.  But, as I think of it, it becomes clearer why I am so sad.  When I look at various elements of my tastes, I can see Adam Parfrey’s influence, even if it is a circuitous route to get from A to B.  For example, I listened to black metal before Lords of Chaos was published, but the book encouraged me to seek out a few musicians mentioned because I wanted to include them in a book I was working on at the time, a book that became hard to work on after 9/11 and was ultimately abandoned.  Reading that Feral House title led me to an interesting, decade-long correspondence with one of the musicians in the book.  That has happened with other Feral House titles, strange friendships forming after the authors saw my discussions of their work.

Parfrey also indirectly led me to Ulver.  My favorite album of all time is Ulver’s Perdition City.  I only listened to Ulver after reading about them in LoC.  I may have eventually given them a try but Parfrey’s willingness to publish such a book certainly got me there quicker.

I don’t know if I would have a book published were it not for Adam Parfrey.  Of course my book discusses titles from Feral House and Process Media, but my discussions of such works brought me to the attention of my publisher, Nine-Banded Books, in a particularly bizarre and even more circuitous way.  My site attracted an unstable young woman who tried to file false DMCA claims against my original content.  When that was quickly decided in my favor, she also tried to get me in trouble with my then host by claiming I was publishing obscene content, including child pornography.  She flagged my discussions of some books discussing sex, including Jim Goad’s Big Book of Sex, published by Feral House.  One of the authors whose book she mentioned spoke to Chip Smith about what had happened to me and Chip contacted me about it.  That led to a friendship and a decision to publish a brick of a book containing some of the more interesting discussions I wrote.  My book contains several Feral House and Process Media titles: The Covert War Against Rock by Alex Constantine, Strange Creations by Donna Kossy, two passes over The Gates of Janus by Ian Brady (the second reaction clocked in at around 20,000 words), The Carnivals of Life and Death by James Shelby Downard, and Demons in the Age of Light by Whitney Robinson.

Parfrey delivered complex, interesting, creepy, inspiring and fascinating voices to those of us willing to explore roads not familiar to us. He published content he thought needed discussion, knowing full well that doing so would ensure labels that did not describe him accurately would be foisted upon him.  I will always appreciate his courage to publish that which the purveying moral arbiters consider evil in some manner, raising the ire of bluenose prigs and puritans on the left and the right.  I owe him a lot. God speed, Adam.

Halloween 2017: Masks

It’s Halloween, so what better time to talk to you all about the masks or mask-like uses of make-up that annoy, upset or absolutely terrify me.

One of my earliest memories is of a television commercial promoting an Alice Cooper concert in Dallas.  I must have been three or four at the time.  I was absolutely terrified by his appearance, with the heavy eyeliner that appeared to be running down his face, the wild hair, the marks around his mouth that might have been blood for all I knew – our old television was in black and white.

Seriously, fuck this guy.

My parents decided that the best way to help me overcome my fear of this horrible man on the TV was to force me to watch it every time it came on.  My father would prevent me from running from the room when it aired, holding me there and telling me over and over that it was just a television commercial, it was just a man in make-up, that none of it could hurt me.  It didn’t work.  I screamed and cried and still he and my mother persisted, convinced they could reason with a frightened child.  I had similar reactions to KISS, mostly Gene Simmons.

Interestingly, I am not particularly unnerved by clowns.  I look at a clown, and I know it’s some asshole wearing a bunch of make-up and a wig and maybe some stupid clothes.  I know what the intent is behind clown make-up – to delight or terrify.  When I know the intent, it’s hard to be afraid, and that is where my parents, as well meaning as they were at the time, missed the mark.  I didn’t need to know that it was a commercial and couldn’t hurt me.  I needed to know why the man was dressed that way, what his intent was, what he planned to do in that get-up.  And of course I could not express this so young and of course my parents had no idea what was at play in my terror.  Variations of not knowing the reason behind the disguise fuels my adult uneasiness around masks, I think, though surely there are other explanations, from Jungian collective unconsciousness ruling my response to just plain jitters.

There are a lot of explanations as to why it is that people wear masks and costumes at Halloween and I am loath to discuss them because to do so means I have to cover every potential reason going back to early recorded history or someone will show up and leave a very long comment schooling me on Samhain-this and Pope-Boniface-that and how it’s racist for a white woman even to say Dia de los Muertos, let alone discuss the purpose behind sugar skull make-up.  But this is a time of the year that makes a woman who finds the purpose behind masks very important somewhat uneasy.  And perversely, because it makes me uneasy, I expose myself to it in ways that make me even more unnerved.  But I can’t seem to avoid it, and since I can’t stop poking at this canker sore in my psyche, I’ve decided to drag you all down with me.

Halloween 2017: Abandoned Hotel in Corn Hill, Texas

The photos I am going to share in this Halloween 2017 entry are old, in Internet years. I had intended to share some photos I took over the last month depicting some dark Texas history as well as a lovely old cemetery up the road from my house, but I’ve had a significant equipment failure with my camera. I lack the vocabulary to explain what happened but from what I recall from the conversation I had with Mr. OTC, who is sometimes Mr. Tech-Support, a card got corrupted in my camera.

It’s really important to me to have an entry up every weekday in October. So I dug through my archives and found a couple of photo series that have not appeared online as much as some of my other photographs and with them I’ll create some photo essays of some of my interesting Texas crawls.

If you’re not from central Texas and know the name Jarrell, Texas, it is likely because of the massive tornados that struck the town in 1997, creating one of the most devastating natural disasters I’ve ever witnessed personally, being as landlocked as I am. Arguably the fires we get in these parts are worse but generally with fires, people are able to evacuate with some warning. The Jarrell tornados hit fast and with fury and destroyed so thoroughly that at least one family was wiped from the face of the earth. They were shredded in the winds and enough pieces were recovered to be able to legally declare people dead. Sturdy homes and trailers alike were leveled. We tell ourselves that our weather-predicting capabilities are far more sophisticated twenty years later but when a series of over 20 tornadoes is coming your way, there’s only so fast you can move to safety.

In fact, bizarre weather has made it hard to photograph some of the places I want to share here. The Columbus City Cemetery in Columbus, Texas, has some remarkable statues and a couple of pieces of interesting lore. One year massive fires kept me from going out there. This year Hurricane Harvey made a trip impossible. And the last two times I planned to go to a cemetery in Texas where supposedly there is a space alien buried, it snowed. Snow in Texas often borders on catastrophe and it is never particularly pretty more than two hours after it happens because it turns to slush, then into ice, and it’s a muddy, unappealing mess that results in more car crashes (when people like me try to drive on it) than snowmen.

But back to Jarrell, Texas. Years ago, Mr. OTC heard of a ghost town called Corn Hill that had a very interesting cemetery. When I hear “ghost town” I think of an abandoned western Main Street with boarded up shops and peeling clapboard houses. While there are a couple of abandoned buildings still standing, Corn Hill as a town relocated either to New Corn Hill (I am not making this up, I swear, and New Corn Hill boasts my favorite Texas cemetery to date) or was absorbed into Jarrell. The cause for Corn Hill dying is, of course, a railroad being laid a few miles in the wrong direction. At its peak, the town had around 350 citizens, a Mason lodge, a school, a post office, a stage stop and several churches. All that remains of Corn Hill are a few buildings and a cemetery. I will be sharing one of those buildings today and the cemetery tomorrow.

Yeah, didn’t go inside. This looks daunting but it looks even worse from the side.

It’s amazing to me that this old house is still standing even after the tornadoes of 1997. I didn’t know the history of this place when I explored it. All I knew was that it looked interesting and that I have a complicated relationship with no trespassing signs. This building was once the hotel and the residence of John Shaver. Located just off I-35, this hotel and stage stop was built in the late 1870s.

But mostly the appeal of this building is how creepy it seemed initially. I guess plenty of fisherman use the “spike the head on a fence to skin the fish” method of descaling their daily catch but it will never not be creepy to see dead heads on barbed wire outside an abandoned house near dusk.

There is a decided “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” feel to this house.

Halloween 2017: Ben Thompson’s Grave

Ben Thompson doesn’t have the level of posthumous fame as his exploits should have earned.  I think it’s because he didn’t have a catchy nickname.  In the early days of Texas statehood, among impulsive, gun-crazy men with a violent streak, he was first among equals.  But fame is fickle and it’s hard to pin down why some gunslingers are well-remembered and why some become footnotes.  In many regards, outside of Texas history buffs, Ben Thompson is a footnote.

Still, among lovers of Old West or Texas history, some of us do remember Ben Thompson and this is a perfect time of the year to share his story.  He was a soldier and a lawman, but among Texas lawmen during the 1800s, it was not uncommon for lawmen to also be criminals, and Thompson was definitely a criminal, and a violent one at that.  So violent was his life that some people interested in ghosts and the paranormal say the power of his character affects his final resting place.

Ben Thompson was like many of the wild men who made Texas their home – he was a jack of all trades before he found his niche as a gunslinger.  Born in England in 1843, his family emigrated to Texas in 1851.  In his teens, he worked as a printer’s apprentice and in 1859 he went to New Orleans to work as a bookbinder.  It was in New Orleans that the man he was to become showed himself when he killed a man whom he claimed was abusing a woman.  Stabbed him to death.  He was fifteen or sixteen when this happened.

He served in the Civil War, fighting with the Confederates, but the battles he fought didn’t quell his love of guns and rough justice because after he returned to Austin he shot and killed a man during an argument over a mule.  A mule.  Seriously.  And since the mule was technically Army property, Thompson was arrested.  That didn’t slow him down though because he busted out of prison and fled to Mexico where he joined Maximillian’s forces until the good emperor lost the war in 1867.  Clearly a man unable to function outside of conflict, Thompson returned to Austin and promptly shot his brother-in-law for abusing Thompson’s wife.  Oh yeah, Thompson got married during his stint in the Civil War.  The civilizing effects of marriage didn’t really take with him.

So, Thompson was tried and sent to prison in Huntsville, and this time he was unable to break out.  He served two years of his four year sentence until pardoned by President Grant.  Once free he headed up to Abilene, Kansas with his family and opened a prosperous saloon with an old Army buddy, Philip Coe, and seemed to be doing reasonably well.  That changed when Thompson was in a terrible buggy accident that injured him, his son and his wife, who lost an arm.  While Thompson was recovering from the accident, Coe went and got himself shot by Marshal “Wild Bill” Hickok.

By any measure Abilene of the early 1870s was a tough town, and its city marshal – James B. (Wild Bill) Hickok – was up to the challenge of taming its rowdy visitors.  Although there may have been many reasons that Hickok and Philip Coe did not care for each other, it is likely that the basis for their dislike was a woman they both cherished.  Apparently she chose the gambler over the lawman and was going to leave town with Coe – or so she thought.  During the evening of October 5, 1871, Hickok shot Coe, who had been firing his pistol into the evening air on a street in Abilene.  Tragically, in the confusion of the shots taken at Coe, Hickok also shot and killed his deputy. (Texas Cemeteries, Harvey)

After that, Abilene, Kansas was tired of Hickok and all the cattle drivers who passed through, making trouble at the drinking and gambling establishments, so they relieved Hickok of his duty and banned undesirables from entering or remaining in the city.  That included Thompson so he went to Ellsworth, Kansas and began his time as a professional gambler.  Interestingly, it was in Ellsworth that Thompson encountered another name we all remember more than poor Ben:

After the shooting of Coe, Ben Thompson left town for Ellsworth, Kansas, where he met Wyatt Earp in one of the Old West’s classic “in the streets” confrontations.  Looking down the barrel of Earp’s gun, Thompson backed down and soon left Ellsworth for the Texas Panhandle.  There Thompson would meet and, in the ensuing years, form a life-long friendship with Bat Masterson. (Texas Cemeteries, Harvey)

Interestingly, Thompson’s brother shot and killed the Ellsworth, Kansas sheriff and fled.  A couple of years later he stood trial and was acquitted – the Thompson family seemed to be able to avoid the worst penalties for their impulsive and criminal natures, but so did a lot of men during that time.  Rustle some cattle and you’d hang immediately if caught but shoot a sheriff and people could understand how the sheriff may have had it coming.

From 1874 to 1879, Thompson made his living as a professional gambler, traveling around various Texas cities, and of course he got into trouble as he did it.  On Christmas Day, 1876, a fight broke out in the Austin Theater.  Thompson, seeing a friend was causing the commotion, decided to help his friend out and jumped into the fray.  When the theater owner emerged with a rifle and shot at Thompson, Thompson returned fire and killed him in three shots.  It was determined later that Thompson had killed in self-defense.

Looking for quick money in the Colorado silver mines, Thompson went west and while there teamed up with his friend, Bat Masterson, who had assembled a team of hired guns to work for Kansas-based railroads that were embroiled in a right of way dispute with Colorado railroads.  Thompson was well-paid for his efforts so he returned to Austin and opened a gambling saloon that he called the Iron Front Saloon.  Here’s where it gets kind of funny: Ben Thompson was scrupulously honest in the way he ran his gambling tables and earned the respect of Austin citizens as being an honest man, so honest that the citizens in Austin elected him to be city marshal, not once, but twice.  And the hell of it is, he was an honest man.  He just liked shooting people.  So why not have an honest shooter serve in law enforcement?

And it was a pretty good decision – plenty of people thought Ben Thompson was the best marshal Austin ever had.  But rest assured he didn’t stop killing people.  In 1882, Thompson visited the Vaudeville Theater in San Antonio and felt that the card tables at the establishment might not meet his level of scrupulous honesty and shot the theater owner, Jack Harris, to death.  He was indicted for murder and resigned as marshal and it will surprise no one that he was acquitted of murder.  Presumably the theater owner had it coming.  Thompson returned to Austin and was given a hero’s welcome

Now, you and I, if we shot a popular entertainment establishment owner to death, we might be emboldened a bit if we returned home to the 1880s version of a ticker tape parade, but it takes a really bold person to return to the scene of the crime.  Thompson went back to the Vaudeville Theater in 1884.  He and his friend, John King Fisher, one helluva gunslinger in his own right, sauntered into San Antonio like they owned the place and news of their arrival spread quickly.

What happened inside the Vaudeville Theater depends on the sources.  Some say that within minutes of entering the saloon area of the Vaudeville Theater, they were both ambushed and shot from behind.  That’s some cowardly crap right there but, it must be said, that there would have been little chance for anyone to kill him in a straightforward gunfight.  But other sources indicate that perhaps Thompson pushed things too far. He had already run into some of Jack Harris’ business partners inside the Vaudeville Theater, but stayed for the show and pressed his luck in the saloon

Thompson and Fisher had been drinking heavily in the saloon.  Inside, Simms, Foster and three confederates were waiting.  When the subject of the murder of Jack Harris came up, Fisher wanted to leave. But Thompson pushed on, eventually slapping Foster and putting a pistol in the saloon owner’s mouth.  Almost immediately shooting broke the tension and silence of the room.  As the smoke cleared, both Thompson and Fisher lay dead on the floor.  Fisher had never drawn a gun, and Thompson managed but a single shot.  Yet the bodies of the outlaw lawmen had nine and thirteen wounds, respectively.  Ironically, a coroner’s jury in San Antonio ruled the killings self-defense. (Texas Cemeteries, Harvey)

Legends of the ambush grew far outside of the reality of what really happened.  Texas history junkies talk of how it was that Ben Thompson killed six of the men who ambushed him with a single six-shooter and hit them each square like ducks in a carnival shooting game.  The reality is that even in the scenario where he pressed his luck, he barely knew what hit him.  I bet he’d have liked the way his own murder played out in terms of the myths that arose around him.  But no one was ever charged with killing him, and his body was shipped back to Austin.  He’s buried in Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery.

I first heard about Ben Thompson from a ghost hunter.  I don’t hunt for ghosts, but I do like looking into ghost legends, and ghost hunters can be really helpful in finding out interesting stories.  The lady I met told me that it was impossible to take a good photo of Ben Thompson’s gravestone because he hates the stone that was put on his resting place because it isn’t the one he won in a card game, so he makes sure all the photos people take are marred in some manner.

Bear with me, this story has some merit.  The late Charley Eckhardt wrote up a lot of what he knew about some of the better and more interesting Texas legends and he wrote a short article about how it was that Ben Thompson won his tombstone in a card game.  One night a tombstone salesman named Luke Watts played poker at a table at Iron Front Saloon and it just so happened that Ben Thompson was playing that night at that table as well.  Watts tried to sell Ben Thompson a tombstone, but Thompson didn’t seem too interested. But when Watts had lost every penny in his pocket, Thompson’s demeanor changed.

Watts was not as good a poker player as he thought he was, and sometime after midnight he announced that he was cleaned out and was leaving the game. Thompson asked him how much his tombstones were worth. “It depends on what kind it is,” Watts replied.

Thompson said he wanted the best tombstone Watts had. Watts told him he had a fine marble stone that was worth $200. Thompson told him to bring it up and put it in the game. Thompson would accept it in lieu of $200 cash. The game began again and Thompson won the tombstone. Watts suggested that he carve at least Thompson’s name and date of birth on it, but Thompson said no. The stone sat in the poker room in the Iron Front for a few months, until Thompson ordered it moved to the basement.

Not long after this Ben Thompson died in the ambush in San Antonio, but according to Eckhardt his resting place in Oakwood Cemetery lacked a headstone until 1925, and that the tombstone he won remained in the basement of the Iron Front Saloon until it was demolished. Eckhardt wasn’t certain if the stone that was eventually placed on his grave was the stone he won in the card game.

I don’t know one rock from another but the stone that marks Ben Thompson’s resting place does not look like it’s fine marble and I don’t think that anyone was too pressed to rescue a slab of marble from the basement of a saloon marked for demolition.

Oakwood Cemetery is a favorite of mine and many others in the area.  I spent a lot of time there searching for the burial places of the victims of the Servant Girl Annihilator, and while I was there years ago, I remembered that legend the ghost hunter told me and I took a photo of Ben Thompson’s gravestone.

And there you go.  Maybe Ben really is angry about his stone and interferes with good pictures.

Join me under the cut as I behave like the killjoy I so often am.