The Princess Who Was Murdered by a Moth

The story goes that Princess Caravella of Italy was found dead in her bed, shot through the heart. Her husband was accused of her murder, but during the trial a police investigator convinced the jury that the Princess had actually been killed by a moth that singed its wings on a candle in her room, then fell onto a pistol lying on her bedside table, thereby causing the weapon to fire, shooting her through the heart.

I doubt any part of this story is true. After all, I can't find any historical references to a "Princess Caravella" other than the ones about her strange death. But the story was printed repeatedly in newspapers during the first half of the twentieth, always presented as an odd but true tale.

The earliest account of the story I can find dates to 1895, where it was credited to the New York World. I assume a reporter for the New York World made it up.

Chicago Chronicle - Dec 29, 1895

Here's a slightly shorter version of the story from 1937.

Tunkhannock New Age - Feb 18, 1937

I can't find the story in papers after the 1940s, but it did continue to pop up in books about odd trivia and weird deaths. For instance, below is a version that appeared in the 1985 weird-news book Own Goals by Graham Jones. Note that Jones identified Princess Caravella only as an "Italian wife," making the story seem more contemporary.

     Posted By: Alex - Thu Mar 14, 2024
     Category: Death | Insects and Spiders | Nineteenth Century

It'd be neat if it was true, but it falls apart on several levels.

Picking up the pistol quickly would exert more accelerative force on the trigger than the weight of a moth would, so such a hair trigger could never be handled safely.

According to "Tunkhannock New Age - Feb 18, 1937," the pistol was still in position on the table, pointing at her heart. Didn't they ever hear about recoil? That pistol would have spun and shot itself backwards, off the table, probably hitting a wall. Someone (in the 1950s/60s?) calculated the lightest you could build a 50 caliber and how many shots per minute it had to fire so that, if pointed straight down, it would lift itself off the ground. Both numbers were within what could be manufactured. I also remember a short story about a race which built a rocket with 'engines' that were rapid firing artillery pointed straight down (first contact situation -- they learned planets/societies were ranked according to whether or not they'd put someone into space, so they quickly threw together what they could to get someone the required distance straight up). I'm reasonably sure the numbers worked to make that virtually believable.
Posted by Phideaux on 03/14/24 at 01:46 PM
Wild, ending up just being a TL:DR! Ha
Posted by Jim on 03/14/24 at 05:13 PM
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