A Taste for the Macabre

I have a confession. I am an unapologetic and voracious consumer of mystery and crime television.

It doesn’t even have to be well written. From Law and Order and CSI to Bones and Criminal IntentFirst 48Forensic Files, British mysteries, period pieces, fiction, nonfiction, or Longmire-style murder in the wilds of Wyoming, if there is a body, you have my attention.

If I could be any fictional character right now, I would pick the glamorous Miss Fisher.


And one of my favorite books is Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, which among other things, details the murders of H.H. Holmes—the man who built the famous World’s Fair Hotel with secret passages and gas chambers to torture and murder his hapless victims.

On more occasions than I like to admit, my husband has come home to me watching documentaries on body farms and serial killers…and yet he still thinks it’s safe to sleep in the house.

On introspective days, I ponder why I have such a disturbing fascination with the macabre. Maybe it started in childhood when I graduated from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie. Or I could blame my mom for writing mystery and suspense. (Therapists say it’s always the parents, right?)

I think perhaps the explanation has something to do with my need to understand the whys of things, and no matter how much I try to understand the most cruel and sociopathic specimens of humanity, I don’t ever quite feel satisfied with the why. In other words, I can regurgitate whatever analysis that a criminal psychologist or other “expert” spouts off—the “reason” behind the crime—but I don’t “get it” on a deeper level. I can’t put myself in the head of a serial killer and feel why they had to do what they did. Or what brings an ordinary person to act out in extreme violence.

I am pretty sure that’s a good thing. And I am sure my husband agrees with me. But it doesn’t stop me from indulging in this unsettling hobby.

So, when I was doing my research for my blog post, “Desperately Seeking Ola—A Landman’s Tale,” I stumbled upon some photos I had forgotten about. While I perused microfiche from the Palestine (Texas) Harold Press circa 1936 looking for an obituary, I also noticed several other stories I found fascinating, mostly murderous and criminal in nature (though not all). So I snapped a few photos of stories that caught my attention while I was there and then promptly forgot about them until last week.

Sometimes what fascinated me about the story was the difference in reporting then vs. now, the word choice, the level of description (a world without TVs), or the details that “date” the story that would never happen now—an attending physician who also baptizes a baby or the brazen lack of sympathy for a woman who was robbed because of her profession.

But I also was struck by how universal some of the themes remain whether it’s 1930 or 2015—tragedy, betrayal, murder, heartbreak. It’s easy to look around at the madness around us and think we are much worse off than we were 50 years ago, but is that actually true?

A few years back I stumbled across the Twitter account for a Nigerian writer, Teju Cole, who also found himself drawn to newspaper stories of crimes and deaths, or “Small Fates” as he called them, and started to tweet little micro stories inspired by these newspaper reports.

Here is an example: “With a razor blade, Sikiru, of Ijebu Ode, who was tired of life, separated himself from his male organ. But death eluded him.”

I visited his account recently and found that he hasn’t kept up with the project lately, but a good selection are written about in the New Yorker  for those interested.

So this has been a very long intro to explain a few old newspaper clippings of death and crime and a little lagniappe that I saved by chance and wanted to share. Enjoy.

And if my husband calls you tonight and asks for a couch to sleep on, take pity on him.



Elkton, MD (AP) – An application for a marriage license at the courthouse went smoothly until the clerk, George Ellery, asked the prospective bridegroom:

“Now, will you raise your right hand and swear that the information in this license application is true.”

“I won’t swear,” replied Robert K. Worrell of Moorestown, NJ, “ntil she gets that gun out of her bag.”

That touched off a commotion and Sheriff Edgar Startt would up arresting Angeline Sailer, 47, of Burlington, NJ.

The reluctant bridegroom, a 68-year-old retired seaman, told the sheriff Mrs. Sailer had come to his house with a gun Monday and forced him to accompany her to Elkton to get married.

“You’re going to marry me or I’m going to kill you,” he quoted her…


Allentown, PA (AP) – The despondent and bitter widow of a Peruvian diplomat admitted to police Monday night that she killer her five children by giving them a potent concoction of 74 sleeping tablets, sugar and orange juice under the pretense it was a cough medicine.

“The only regret I have is that I didn’t die,” 41-year-old Ruth Mae Urdanivia told authorities calmly. She also drank some of the mixture, cut her wrists and turned on gas jets in efforts to take her own life.
“They’re better off now with their father,” Mrs. Urdanivia added. “They won’t have to live in a pig sty or eat inferior food. I’m tired, tired of begging. No one helps a widow.”…



Moscow (AP) – The Soviet Union’s Lunik 11 crashed on the moon Sept. 11 with a force that sent dust and gas clouds billowing up 300 to 500 miles, Soviet scientist estimated today.

The rocket must have hit the moon at a speed of at least one and a half miles per second, said the scientists, Dr. Stanyukovich and O. Diaskeveskeya.



Dallas (AP) – A 6-year-old Palmer boy, J.L. Forrester, whose mother says she shot him Tuesday while trying to kill a cat, died here early today.

The mother, Pauline Forrester, 32, told Ellis County deputies she was shooting at a cat with a pistol inside her house and that one of her bullets struck her son while he was standing outside a window.


Gypsy Rose Lee is a professional dancer who dresses in a way to make clothes scarcely noticeable at all, in order to attract others to her performances. She had worn an array of jewels that attracted thugs who took them away from her. These she had worn to please herself, but now, this attractive young dancer is much displeased, indeed she is very unhappy at this Christmas time.


Taylor, Tex (AP) – Five doll-size caskets carry the Hannan quintuplets to their separate graves today.

Atop each tiny white coffin, a miniature spray of white flowers has a ribbon giving the name: Deborah Lynn, Janet Lee, Karen Denise, Melissa Jane, Suzanne Kay.

The one-in-42-million births occurred Tuesday at Lackland Air Force Base Hospital in San Antonio to 1st Lt. and Mrs. Charles G. Hannan. Four died Tuesday night and the last died early Wednesday. Doctors said the babies—three months premature—were not sufficiently developed to survive.

The quints were baptized by one of the attending physicians.

A rosary service was held Thursday night after the bodies were brought from San Antonio.

The caskets, each about two feet long, were in a row on a long platform about 26 inches high. The platform was draped in maroon velvet. Behind the caskets stood a large cross.

A Catholic priest said the rosary and the response was given by friends and relatives.

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