Despite all the contemporary tales of ingenious upskirt photographers and toilet-cam operators, I don't believe anyone has recently utilized the "free dress comes with home fitting service" routine.
Original article here.
New Year's Eve, 1946 was the occasion of a classic weird crime.
19-year-old Pearl Lusk thought she had been employed to do some detective work by Allen La Rue, whom she had met on the subway. He told her that he was an insurance investigator. Her mission was to track a suspected jewel thief, Olga Trapani, and collect evidence to build a case against her.
Lusk trailed Trapani for a few days, and then La Rue added a new twist to the assignment. He gave her what he described as an "X-ray camera" camouflaged as a gift-wrapped package and instructed her to take a picture of Trapani with it. The resulting photo, he said, would reveal the jewels that Trapani kept pinned inside her dress, around her waist.
Lusk dutifully followed Trapani into the Times Square subway station, pointed the camera at her, and pulled the trigger wire. A shot rang out and Trapani collapsed to the ground.
It turned out that the "X-ray camera" was really a camouflaged sawed-off shotgun. And Trapani was really La Rue's ex-wife, of whom he had grown insanely jealous. La Rue's real name was Alphonse Rocco. He had been stalking his ex-wife for several months.
Lusk was totally clueless about what she had done. As the subway police rushed up after the shooting, she told them, "I just took this woman’s picture and somebody shot her."
Rocco fled to upstate New York, where he died in a shootout with the police several days later.
Trapani survived, but lost her leg. She and Lusk reportedly became friends after the incident.
You can read more about the case at EinsteinsRefrigerator.com
, or the New Yorker
Philadelphia Inquirer - Jan 1, 1947
Washington Court House Record-Herald - Jan 3, 1947
Here's a guy who was caught on caught on camera stealing pigeons while wearing a bucket on his head and a plastic trash bag around his body. Florida, of course.
More details at wsvn.com
Contrary to the delightful ad, alarm did not speak phrases, but merely sounded the horn, as with modern car alarms.
See the actual device here, with explanation.
The crime of choice of 46-year-old Janet Manning of Brooklyn Park, Maryland was dumping raw chicken livers into mailboxes and bookdrops. Usually on a weekend so they would be discovered on a Monday.
Her motive for doing this was never very clear. After apprehending her, thanks to security-camera footage, the police captain said, "There's no clear-cut rhyme or reason for her to be doing what she was doing to these organizations." He added, "She wouldn't tell us why chicken livers."
But it was evidently some kind of act of revenge, in response to perceived offenses. Library officials recalled that she once had a minor argument with them a year before involving her request to have a printout of all the books she had returned, which the library staff told her their computers weren't set up to do. So they offered to write out the list by hand. That, apparently, was enough to trigger her.
On account of her otherwise clean criminal record, she was fined $1000 and placed on a year's probation.
The Annapolis Capital - May 27, 1998
During the early twentieth century, an unusual method of crime enjoyed some popularity — extortionists and blackmailers demanding that payments be delivered via carrier pigeon. The criminals hoped that the pigeons would be untraceable. But as it turned out, the police often (though not always) were able to track the pigeons and capture the bad guys.
The Pittsburgh Press - Sep 11, 1929
Popular Mechanics - Dec 1929
Los Angeles Herald - Jan 2, 1910
The Harrisburg Telegraph - Apr 3, 1929
Shirley Cromartie was working as a housekeeper at President Nixon's Key Biscayne retreat when, in 1971, she was arrested for shoplifting. She admitted to the crime but insisted that it hadn't been her fault. She explained that a mysterious woman wearing a wig had approached her in the store's parking lot, asked her the time, and had then released a "jasmine-like scent" from her left hand. Cromartie immediately fell into a trance, and the woman instructed her to steal four dresses, which Cromartie proceeded to do.
A medical expert testified that he believed Cromartie was telling the truth.
The Philadelphia Inquirer - Oct 23, 1971
An odd story. But what are we to make of it? There's a couple of possible theories:
Ms. Cromartie got caught shoplifting and made up a b.s. story to explain away her actions.
She was totally nuts.
She had an encounter with an extraterrestrial! UFOlogist John Keel, author of The Mothman Prophecies
, advanced this theory. He speculated that the mysterious, wig-wearing woman was actually a "woman in black" (the female counterpart of a "man in black"). He noted that "Women in Black" cases often describe them as wearing wigs, and the aliens are fond of asking people what time it is.
But why would an alien being bother to make a housekeeper shoplift some dresses? Keel speculated
, "perhaps this was not some small demonstration for the benefit of President Nixon, similar to the power failures that seemed to follow President Johnson in 1967. (The lights failed wherever he went ... from Washington to Johnson City, Texas, to Hawaii)."
More info: mysteriousuniverse.org
In October 1916, police arrested Mrs. Nellie Hantz and charged her with committing over 100 burglaries in the Chicago area. Her MO was unusual. When her husband, Carl, left in the morning to attend classes at a school of chemistry, and her 14-year-old daughter was at school, Nellie would sneak out and burglarize homes. She made sure to be home before her husband returned. The press named her the "wife thief" as well as the "matinee thief."
She kept her loot and burglary tools hidden beneath the bedroom mattress, and her husband, upon her arrest, insisted he had no knowledge of her daytime activities. Nellie seconded this: "I've been prowling for eighteen months. I know you've been after me, but it took a long time to catch me, didn't it? I guess I was just born to be a crook. You'll have to lock me up. But it's too bad about Carl. He never suspected."
The burglary equipment police found beneath the mattress included "a revolver, a razor, a jimmy, an electric flash lamp, several files, and an ingenious set of keys, skeleton and otherwise, of her own manufacture."
Despite being caught, Nellie was unrepentant. She declared, "I love to rob places. I'd keep on being a burglar if I had a million, but I am afraid of the dark and I did all my robbing by daylight."
Coffeyville Daily Journal - Dec 6, 1916
Nellie Hantz - via nycmugshots
The Salem News - Oct 28, 1916
Chicago Daily Tribune - Oct 28, 1916
More info here
Back in colonial times, the American legal system occasionally relied upon a curious form of murder investigation known as "Trial by Touch." The book Legal Executions in New England: A Comprehensive Reference
offers this explanation:
It was widely believed in those days that "murdered blood cried for vengeance" just as the blood of Abel was said to have "cried up from the ground." This formed the rationale for a further belief that if a murderer touched the corpse of his victim, that corpse would either bleed or have the "blood come fresh upon it."
That same book offers a number of examples of people found guilty by means of the Trial by Touch. For instance, in 1644 Goodwife Cornish of York, Maine, was accused of killing her husband, whose body was found floating in the York River:
Goodwife Cornish and Edward Johnson [her supposed lover] were both confronted with the decomposed remains of Richard Cornish and compelled to put their hands thereon. As they did so, blood oozed from the dead man's wounds.
Both of the accused were next brought before a council of local officials. The ensuing "trial" was a farce. The prosecution's only evidence was the result of the "Trial by Touch" and hearsay about the woman's character. It was her reputation more than anything else that counted against Goodwife Cornish. She was declared guilty and condemned to death. Edward Johnson was acquitted.
During her "trial" Goodwife Cornish continued to deny all knowledge of the murder. She repeated her admissions of lewd conduct and even named a local official as one of her lovers. Few doubted the story because the man had a reputation of his own. Goodwife Cornish was hanged at York in December of 1644. There the matter ended.
Trial by Touch was referred to by a number of different names, such as "Ordeal by Touch" or "Ordeal of the Bier." The Penny Magazine
) explains this latter name:
The murdered person was placed upon a bier, and the suspected assassin desired to approach and touch the corpse. If blood flowed from the wounds, or the position of the body became changed, the charge of murder was considered as proven. The ordeal of the bier was in frequent use in the sixteenth century, and was even resorted to on one occasion at the commencement of the eighteenth.
I haven't found much info in academic sources about the Trial by Touch. Evidently the custom was widely practiced throughout Europe during the Middle Ages and then brought to America by settlers. And apparently a bleeding corpse wasn't the only indicator of guilt. If the corpse seemed to change color, sweat, or move at all, that would be enough to convict the accused. In The Old Farmer and His Almanack
(1920), GL Kittredge offers the example of the trial of Johan Norkott in England (1628):
On this occasion the minister of the parish, "a very reverend person," testified (and his evidence was corroborated) that when the body was touched by the defendants thirty days after death, "the brow of the dead, which before was of a livid and carrion colour, begun to have a dew or gentle sweat arise on it, which increased by degrees, till the sweat ran down in drops on the face. The brow turned to a lively and fresh colour and the deceased opened one of her eyes and shut it again: And this opening the eye was done three several times. She likewise thrust out the ring or marriage finger three times, and pulled it in again; and the finger dropped blood from it on the grass."
The illustration at the top is by the Hungarian artist Mihály Zichy
(1894). It depicts a scene from a ballad about a woman found guilty, by means of the Ordeal by Touch, of killing her young husband (via Hungarian Art History