Wonders and mysteries will never cease. Nobody knows how the two Irish friends turned from respectable construction workers to lodgers, to body snatchers and later to cold-blooded killers…
But that is the tale connected to the Burke and Hare murder dolls.
The story of William Hare and his fellow murderous Irishman by the same first name, William Burke began late in the 1820’s.
The two had separately moved to Scotland in search of a better life before ending up in Edinburgh where they met and struck a friendship.
As fate would have it, Hare had an old “roomer” called Donald who died of natural causes. This was the beginning of Burke and Hare’s journey to the dark side!
After the burial, the pair raided the cemetery and stole Donald’s corpse.
Hare and Burke had received news about the shortage of dead bodies at the local university and there was one professor in particular who was in charge of appropriating the dead bodies for the institution for use in anatomy classes.
His name was Dr. Knox.
The two lodgers now turned grave thieves thought the 7 pounds that Dr. Knox was offering for a single dead body was just too good an opportunity to pass.
And with fewer lodgers dying of natural causes, the two decided that they would have to start killing people so as to deliver more bodies for Dr. Knox; who many still believe was well aware of the pair’s serial killing activities as the main source of all the bodies he’d been buying.
He, however, was never charged with anything connected to the murders committed by the two greedy friends.
They killed and sold a total of 17 dead bodies to the “good” doctor.
The two continued killing old prostitutes and homeless old men until Burke made a fatal mistake and a dead body belonging to one of his lodgers was discovered under his bed by another tenant who turned them in to the police.
The Mystery of the Murder Dolls
Things were soon to take a sudden mysterious turn a decade later when 17 wooden “murder dolls” were accidentally discovered by a young boy hunting for rabbits in a cave.
The small carved effigies, each stuffed in a miniature coffin, measure 4 inches each and 8 of them are still on display at the National Museum of Scotland.
Although their origin is not fully known, there have been many speculations as to where they might have come from.
At first, the dolls were associated with witchcraft or some ritualistic cult items. But later someone made the connection between the 17 murders committed by Hare and Burke and the 17 wooden dolls.
Some people believe that this was an act of remorse by one of the killers or people close to the pair who knew of their killing spree.
The only people assumed to have had knowledge of the murders include Hare’s mistress Margaret, Burke’s wife Helen, Dr. Knox, and the doctor’s brother who usually helped in receiving the bodies from the two serial killers.
The only theory that makes any sense is that someone close to these two killers made the dolls as a way of giving the victims some sort of a respectable send-off.
An Eye for An Eye: Brutal Justice
As the story goes, Hare ratted out his friend to save his own skin! He decided to cooperate with the police and implicate his friend. Hare was later released but he just disappeared was never heard from again.
So what happened to Burke?
He was found guilty of all 17 murders and sentenced to death. He was hanged in 1829 but his body was not released to his family for a burial.
Instead, it was given to the same University to be torn apart for human anatomy classes.
It is rumored that his skin was removed and used to make wallets. The rest of his body was also stripped off in separate pieces and his skeleton has been kept at the University to-date.
DNA Testing: In Search of an Elusive Connection
Numerous people and organizations have come forward trying to connect the dolls to Burke through various DNA tests.
The truth, however, is that none of these tests have ever given any conclusive results and we’re afraid the mystery of the Burke and Hare murder dolls might never be uncovered.
Professionals say that DNA testing is no longer viable since the dolls have been handled by so many hands throughout history. They were in fact privately owned by a collector before the Museum bought them.
Are the dolls connected the murder victims? Did Burke carve them? Did Hare’s guilt for the murders and selling out his friend drive him to carve the effigies as a sign of remorse? The truth is still out there…
The winter of 1872 saw the worst Atlantic storms since records began. Gales and tempests ravaged the ocean making perilous transatlantic voyages even more hazardous.
Ship after ship foundered and was lost upon cruel, unforgiving seas.
Common sense advised that it was safer to stay in port til spring but in the years when trade between continents depended entirely upon shipping, there was no room for the faint hearted.
When the brigantine the Mary Celeste slipped out of New York harbor on November 7th, its captain, his family and his crew knew they were in for a stormy voyage.
What they didn’t know is that they were to become part of one of the most famous enigmas in shipping history.
A month later their ship would be discovered crew-less and abandoned thousands of miles away. Deserted without explanation, the ghostly sailing ship appeared to give no clue to the fate of its human occupants.
In the years that have followed many have attempted to solve this enduring puzzle, to offer the Mary Celeste theory that best fits the meagre facts.
To this day however, there is no consensus between those who seek to offer an explanation.
As for the Mary Celeste, she was cruelly scuttled some years later for her insurance value.
Will we ever know what happened that fateful winter’s day or did the Mary Celeste take the secret of this baffling mystery with her to her own watery grave?
The Voyage of 1872
In 1872 the brigantine Mary Celeste owned by a consortium headed by the businessmen James. H. Winchester underwent a major refit and expansion.
Built in 1860 and originally named the Amazon she was nearing the end of her working life when her investors decided to pay for a major refit.
Her cargo space was increased, a new deck was added and the cabin space was expanded to make room for a new captain and his family.
The newly appointed captain, Benjamin Spooner Briggs was also an investor in the consortium.
An experienced and much respected sea captain, Briggs was reputedly conscientious and methodical in everything he did.
On the 5th November 1872 the Marie Celeste left port to sail to Genoa, Italy . On board was Captain Briggs, his wife and infant child and seven crewmen.
Their cargo was industrial alcohol. Stored safely in the hold, the captain must have been confident that his volatile cargo was no threat to his crew and family.
Immediately after leaving New York, Marie Celeste met a storm and holed up at Staten Island for two days.
Was this an omen of what was to come on this fateful journey?
We will never know.
What we do know is that the Mary Celeste truly began her journey across the Atlantic Ocean on the 7th November 1872.
The Marie Celeste was spotted at various points on her voyage and recorded in the log books of those ships who saw her.
On the 7th December 1872 she was sighted for a final time by another merchant ship the Dei Gratia. Witnessed sailing erratically near the Azores, the Marie Celeste appeared to be out of control.
At first Captain David Moorhouse of the Dei Gratia was reluctant to approach the ailing ship, fearing piracy.
Eventually though, he sent a party of men led by one of his officers Oliver Deveau, to recover the stricken vessel and investigate what happened.
What Oliver Deveau discovered as he boarded the stricken Mary Celeste was to inspire a mystery that many believe still remains unsolved.
No living creature was discovered upon the Mary Celeste.
Climbing on board Deveau first noted that the top decks were awash with water, yet there was no evidence of flooding below.
Further investigation discovered that while two minor hatches were open the main hatch to the hold was secured.
One of the ships pumps was dismantled on deck as if it was being serviced or repaired. The sounding rod which was used to measure flooding in the pumps was also found on the deck.
When Deveau sounded the pumps himself, he discovered there was less than 4 feet of water, not enough to abandon ship.
Inside the cabins, the floors were drenched with water yet items such as Mrs. Briggs’ harmonium were bone dry and undamaged.
The mouldy breakfast of a small child, lay uneaten on a table indicating that the abandonment of the ship was a hurried affair that took place in the morning time.
Inspecting the cargo hold, the Dei Gratia search party discovered all of the barrels of alcohol were intact and there was enough food and water to feed the captain, his crew and family for six months.
Deveau also discovered during his search that significant items were missing. The single lifeboat was gone as was the peak halyard, the longest rope on the ship.
Puzzlingly, working charts were found on board but not the ship’s papers or navigational tools including the chronometer.
The ship’s clock and compass were both found broken. The captain’s log, possibly one of the most important items on a ship was found in Captain Brigg’s cabin, meticulously filled in, the very least expected from a good captain.
The last entry in the log was recorded 10 days before the ship was seen aimlessly floating on the sea.
It was highly likely that the crew-less ghost ship had drifted hundreds of miles across the Atlantic before being discovered.
Assuming the crew were dead and with little other choice, the British registered Dei Gratia crew sailed the Mary Celeste into the nearest British port, Gibraltar, and claimed salvage.
Immediately, they became the prime suspects for the murder of the Marie Celeste’s crew and passengers.
Investigated by Frederick Solly Flood, a man convinced that foul play had occurred, the Dei Gratia and its captain came under intense scrutiny.
Eventually, their own ship’s log and the fact that no evidence of foul play could be discovered on board, meant that the Dei Gratia crew were cleared of any wrongdoing.
Reluctantly, Solly Flood accepted that natural causes were the probable reason for the abandonment of the Mary Celeste.
The ship was allowed to continue her journey to the port of Genoa in Italy with her cargo of alcohol. Interestingly, the disappointed De Gratia crew were only to receive one sixth of the salvage value of the Mary Celeste.
Suspicion was to hang over them for many years.
The story of the Mary Celeste may have been consigned to history if it was not for the author Conan Doyle, writer of the Sherlock Holmes books.
Some twelve years later, he used the essence of the mystery to write an entirely fictional version of events.
Although his work was fictional, the intrigue surrounding the Mary Celeste caught the public’s interest and a hundred theories of what happened to the stricken vessel during its fateful journey, were born.
The Crew of the Dei Gratia
The crew of the Dei Gratia were the first and most obvious suspects in the strange case of the Mary Celeste. They profited from the salvage of the Mary Celeste and could have easily murdered the crew and family on board without any witnesses.
Investigations proved however, that they left the port of New York sometime after the Mary Celeste and sailed north of the Azores while the Mary Celeste sailed south.
Careful calculations proved that the captain of the Dei Gratia was telling the truth when he said that they did not encounter the Mary Celeste until the 7th of December, 10 days after the last entry in her log.
Despite detailed searches for blood, no evidence of foul play was found on board.
The Mary Celeste was carrying a valuable cargo of alcohol on her voyage. This was a time when piracy was still rife on the Atlantic Ocean.
Piracy was ruled out when valuables and the cargo on the Mary Celeste were discovered untouched. Had pirates hijacked the ship they would have had ten days to clear the ship of its cargo and valuables.
Some people have put forward the theory that the flour on board the Marie Celeste was poisoned with an hallucinogenic called Ergot fungus.
Consumed in large amounts it could have caused someone on board to go mad and murder the others.
The theory seems unlikely until you consider that the same fungus was probably the cause of the events that led to the Salem witch hunts.
In the case of the Mary Celeste, the theory falls flat though. There were no signs of violence on board and the crew of the Dei Gratia showed no ill effects when they consumed the same flour.
When it was initially examined by the crew of the Dei Gratia, the cargo of the Mary Celeste appeared to be intact. However, when it eventually reached Genoa nine of the sealed barrels of alcohol were empty.
Immediately suspicions grew that one or more crew of the Mary Celeste had drunk the industrial strength alcohol and in a drunken rampage had killed everyone else on board.
Once again this was discounted because there were no signs of violence on board. Intriguingly the empty barrels were to give rise to another popular theory some years later.
Mutiny on Board
One of the most astonishing Mary Celeste theories arose during the years between the two world wars in the twentieth century.
Captain Briggs had written of his satisfaction with his crew at the beginning of his voyage and there is nothing to suggest that they were anything other than honest and good men.
Three of the men however, were German.
During the twentieth century the theory gathered support that they were responsible for the murder of everyone on board the Mary Celeste, before escaping in the only available lifeboat.
The fact the belongings of two of the men were not on board added fuel to the fire.
Once again the theory can be discounted because of the lack of evidence of violence on board. Sadly, it also transpired that the two unfortunate men whose belongings were missing, had nothing other than the clothes they stood up in.
They had lost everything when their previous ship had sunk and were merely trying to work their passage home.
Tsunami, Sea Quakes and Water Spouts
Many scientists have sought an explanation for the mystery of the Mary Celeste in the natural world, citing the number of natural phenomena that have occurred in this area as a possible solution.
However, any such event would have caused massive disturbance on board ship. The crew and family would be unlikely to abandon the safety of a large ship for a small lifeboat, had such a phenomena occurred.
If the disturbance was so great that they were washed overboard why was nothing else on the ship disturbed?
Plates and dishes remained on their shelves and even a small bottle of oil stood carefully balanced on Mrs. Briggs’ sewing machine.
Explosion in the Hold
The cargo in the hold of the Mary Celeste was certainly an unstable and volatile substance, industrial alcohol. When the ship finally docked at Genoa nine of the sealed barrels were found to be empty.
One popular theory purports that the alcohol leaked from the barrels, releasing violent fumes which blew open the two hatches to the hold.
Concerned that the ship was about to blow up the captain did the unthinkable. He crowded the crew and his family into the one lifeboat and using the peak halyard tied the lifeboat to the stern of the ship hoping to climb back on board when it was safe.
Unfortunately, the rope at some point snapped and was left trailing in the water behind the ship.
The lifeboat and its occupants were left unable to climb back on board and died of hunger and thirst as they drifted out to sea.
This theory certainly seems to be a valid theory until the physical evidence is carefully scrutinized.
The nine barrels had indeed leaked. Mistakenly manufactured from porous red rather than white oak, they would have been indistinguishable with the naked eye.
However, scientific investigation has proven that they would have leaked slowly. There was unlikely to be a massive build-up of gas that eventually ignited and blew off the hatches leading to the hold.
If this had been the case the smell of alcohol would still be detectable ten days later when the crew of the Dei Gratia came on board.
No smell was ever reported by the crew of the Dei Gratia who examined the barrels. The main hatch to the hold was still intact and sealed and had not blown off.
The two hatches that had been removed merely provided access to equipment and sails and did not lead to the cargo.
At the end of his career, still plagued by the mystery of the Mary Celeste, the original examiner Frederick Solly Flood re-examined the evidence again and recorded his new findings.
He could not accept that an experienced captain would abandon ship without a valid reason. Finally, convinced that foul play had not occurred he concluded that there may have been a catastrophic failure of equipment that led Briggs to mistakenly believe his ship was about to sink.
This theory has been examined by shipping experts over the years. The sounding rod was found on deck and one of the ship’s pumps had clearly been examined.
During that period in history the sounding rod was covered in ash and dipped into the pump to measure how high the water level was. The previous cargo of the Mary Celeste was coal and she had recently undergone a refit which would have generated a lot of sawdust.
Had her bilges become clogged with silt and other residue, giving a false reading?
It is possible but doesn’t explain why ten days later Oliver Deveau used the same rod in the same pump and decided the water level was safe.
Another very plausible theory is that Captain Briggs realized that he was many miles off course. Sighting the island of Santa Maria, he would have realized that the one chronometer on board, one that he had hired for the voyage, was inaccurate.
Analysis of his log book demonstrates that it was almost eight minutes off. It seems feasible that he may have tried to head to Santa Maria in the lifeboat to get the chronometer repaired or to pick up a new one.
Why then did he take his whole crew, his wife and his baby in a tiny lifeboat when they would have been safer on board? And why before he left did he destroy both the compass and the ship’s clock?
At its closest point the Mary Celeste was just a few miles away from the island, the weather would have been good and there was no reason for the small boat to sink.
Curses, aliens, sea monsters and the Bermuda Triangle, just some of the many theories that have been put forward to explain the enigma of the Mary Celeste.
Many may scoff at these suggestions but the truth is that if it cannot be discounted then it is still a possibility. The Mary Celeste theory that best fits the physical evidence is probably the most likely explanation.
The problem is that there is very little physical evidence and so many theories.
The only facts that we know for sure is that an experienced sea captain, his crew and his family, did the unthinkable and abandoned the safety of their vessel for a tiny lifeboat on a November day in 1872.
Lost forever like the Mary Celeste herself, we will probably never know the reason why.
Bavaria 1921 and the end of a long cold winter. Who could possibly know then, that a small farm seventy kilometres from Munich and close to the small hamlet of Kaifeck, was about to provide Germany with one of its most enduring mysteries?
Almost a century later and the events of Friday 31st March still baffle amateur sleuths and paranormal investigators.
The Hintercaifeck mystery remains unsolved, posing far more questions than answers. Intriguing and puzzling, it provides the German police with a most frustrating cold case.
Hintercaifeck Farm was a small farm a short distance from the hamlet of Kaifeck. Backing onto a forest, the farm was relatively isolated.
Although it was small, the farm was successful and the occupants, although not rich, were certainly comfortably off.
The owner of the farm Andreas Gruber, lived there with his wife Cazilla, his widowed daughter ViktoriaGabriel and her children Cazilla who was 7 and Josef 2.
On the 31st March, Maria Baumgarten, a very unlucky lady, arrived to replace the Grubers’ maid who had left six months before. The cast of this mystery was complete and the scene was set for a very gruesome murder to take place.
Murder in The Barn
Sometime during the evening of Friday 31st March, the first two victims of this shocking crime, Viktoria Gabriel and her daughter Cazilla, were lured into the barn of the farm and attacked.
Possibly returning a cow to its stall and still wearing their day clothes, they entered the barn and met their deaths. Both mother and child had been partially strangled before being attacked with a pick axe.
The poor child did not die immediately and was found clutching clumps of her own hair which she had pulled out herself.
Sometime later that evening Andreas Gruber and his wife Cazilla entered the barn in their night clothes and were also killed. Their attacker then entered the house and murdered the small child Josef and the maid Maria, as they slept in their beds.
One of the most fascinating aspects to this case is the strange series of events which preceded the murders. The Grubers had been without a maid for six months before the unfortunate Maria arrived to meet her fate.
The previous maid had fled, convinced that Hintercaifeck Farm was haunted by a malevolent spirit who moved around the attic. Clearly nobody had warned the unfortunate Maria before she took up the post.
A few days before the murders Andreas Gruber had been disturbed by footsteps in the snow outside his home. The footsteps emerged from the nearby forest and led to his door, they then ended abruptly.
There were no visitors to the farm and the footprints did not belong to any of the occupants. A search of the farm revealed nothing. That evening Gruber heard noises from the attic above, again a search revealed nothing.
Over the next few days attempts were made to break into a shed on the property, a strange newspaper was found in the doorway of the house and a set of keys to the farm disappeared. Gruber was concerned enough to discuss it with his neighbors.
By the 4th April 1921, the absence of the family was raising concern and a group of neighbors arrived at the farm to investigate. What they discovered adds another bizarre twist to this story.
The animals on the farm had been tended to and were well fed, despite almost five days passing since the murders. There was food on the table in the house and a fire had been lit.
The murderer clearly felt confident enough to stay around for a few days, without being discovered. The bodies in the barn had been neatly stacked and covered with hay, Maria the maid was covered with a sheet and the toddler Josef, with one of his mother’s skirts.
Over 100 people were interviewed by Munich police determined to crack the case and solve the murder. Robbery was clearly not a motive as jewelry and coins were found in the house and would have been easily discovered.
Eventually, frustrated by the lack of progress, the police took the decision to decapitate the bodies of the poor victims, sending their heads to Munich to be examined by clairvoyants for clues.
They could offer no answers. The cold case was reopened in 1996 by police and again in 2007.
The final conclusion was that the original investigative techniques were too primitive and that too much time had passed to solve the case. They did state though that there was a prime suspect for the murders, but refused to release the name out of defence to the suspect’s family.
Viktoria Gabriel was widowed almost seven years before the murders took place, yet she had a two year old son, Josef. Viktoria was insistent that the father of her son was a local man Lorenz Schlittenbauer.
He denied that he was the father of the child and in turn accused Andreas Gruber of incest with his daughter. Viktoria was in the process of suing Schlittenbauer for alimony when she was murdered.
Was this Schlittenbauer’s way of avoiding alimony?
One of the first neighbors to discover the bodies, others remarked at his coldness when seeing them for the first time. Indeed, he busied himself feeding the animals and preparing himself food while they waited for the police to arrive.
Another theory suggests that Viktoria’s husband was not killed during the First World War as previously thought and incensed to discover she had a child by another man, resorted to murder.
Although there is no grave for Karl Gabriel, other soldiers testified that they had seen him die on the battle field.
Viktoria had drawn her life savings out of the bank a few weeks earlier and borrowed a sum of money from a friend in order to buy a farm. She later left this sum of money in the confessional of the local church, clearly her plans had changed.
Falling asleep in school one day, the child Cazilla told her teacher that she was tired because her mother had run sobbing into the forest the night before and the family had been up late searching for her.
Had Viktoria begun a secret relationship that had gone wrong?
Was it coincidence that Maria Baumgarten arrived on the very day of the murders?
The Grubers had found it difficult to fill the post. Did Maria take the post because she was in trouble desperately trying to escape from someone or something who discovered her destination?
Or is there indeed a supernatural explanation for the murders of this poor family. Was the Gruber’s first maid correct when she said the farm was haunted by a malevolent spirit?
The Hintercaifeck mystery is unlikely to be solved today. Lovers, husbands or the supernatural , you decide. One thing is for sure though, almost a century has passed and the answers lie hidden in the dim and distant past .