Cat Warren on Der Geruch des Todes (The Scent of Death)

Geruch des Todes: Dogs can pick up on the scent of death.

Geruch des Todes: Dogs can pick up on the scent of death. Photo from Pixabay.

Two years ago I interviewed Cat Warren, a cadaver dog handler and author of the New York Times bestselling What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World. She gave my readers advice about whether their dogs might make good cadaver dogs.

Her bestseller has now been translated into German and will appear in October 2017. My German readers can watch out for the title Der Geruch des Todes: Einsätze eines Leichenspürhundes (Kynos Verlag; “The Scent of Death: A Cadaver Dog in Action”). To celebrate the launch of the German book, I’ve posed Cat some new questions to follow up on her fascinating career.

Welcome, Cat Warren!

The German translation of Cat Warren's bestseller: Der Geruch des Todes.

Geruch des Todes (The Scent of Death): Cat Warren’s bestseller will now be available in German. Courtesy of Kynos Verlag.

There are no volunteer cadaver dog handlers in Germany. By law, a cadaver dog handler must be a police officer. For the Germans interested in reading Der Geruch des Todes, could you explain how the American volunteer system works?

It’s mostly about law enforcement budgets here in the United States. The fact is, cadaver dogs aren’t needed every day in the same way a patrol dog is needed every day. One of the founders of the field, Andy Rebmann, started the first cadaver dog program in the late 1970s with the Connecticut State Police. That program has survived up through the present. Other programs spun off from Andy’s founder effect—Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine.  And a couple of large cities, New York and Chicago, have cadaver dogs and handlers.  I’m also seeing a resurgence of law enforcement cadaver dogs across the United States. That’s hugely anecdotal, I know. But several additional law enforcement agencies here in North Carolina have gotten cadaver dogs, just in the past five years.

And a case that got national attention here in the United States in late July had law enforcement cadaver dogs on the scene. In Bucks County, Pennsylvania, two cousins murdered four young men and buried them with a back hoe on a remote country farm. The cadaver dogs were able to pinpoint where three of the victims were buried, 12 ½ feet deep (Here’s a link to what I think is the best story about it: https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/pennsylvania/articles/2017-07-22/finding-bodies-a-well-trained-dog-cant-be-replaced).

Several larger police departments in the United States have cadaver dog and handler teams, and some small ones scattered across the country — especially sheriff departments — partly because their work can tend to be more rural and cadaver dogs can be so helpful in searches in rural areas. But many law enforcement departments depend on volunteers for this function. A good volunteer dog-and-handler team can produce some excellent results. Those relationships between law enforcement and cadaver dog teams are often informal. But if you look at a disaster such as Hurricane Harvey here in the United States, which is still unfolding, you’ll see that cadaver dogs will play an important role in helping recover victims. The majority of those dog teams will be volunteers.

Cat Warren training her cadaver dog, Jaco.

Cat Warren training her cadaver dog, Jaco. Photo courtesy of Ben Salama.

Der Geruch des Todes has several audiences: law enforcement dog handlers, volunteer search and rescue dog handlers, and curious dog owners. What does your book offer to each of them?

I want my book to appeal to a diverse set of readers: that includes not only dog handlers and dog lovers, but people who love science, mystery, and history. To me, what is fascinating about working with dogs goes well beyond the idea of having your best friend at your side. Sure, that’s part of it. I love dogs. I love to be with them. I spend a fair amount of time cuddling Jaco, our current German shepherd, when I want to relax on the couch. But working with scent-detection dogs immediately moves me into the realm of thinking about crime, legal issues, the search environment, the challenges of rigorous training — and even understanding the science behind scent. So the questions that engaged me when I was researching the book took me beyond cold, wet noses and wagging tails.

What’s the typical kind of case you get called out to work on?

At the moment, I’m not deploying a dog. I have a wonderful German shepherd who is in training, and is certified to work, but I want him to have a national certification before I deploy him. It’s important that one be able to prove in court that you have a dependable, consistent, rigorously trained dog. It’s lucky that I love to train, as well as to do actual searches. I think most working dog people do, as that’s how you spend the majority of your time: training.

During the 8 years that I deployed Solo, who is the subject of Der Geruch des Todes, we worked on a mixture of cases, from people who were missing with evidence that it was homicide, to Alzheimer patients, to cases where people suspected of a crime were missing and presumed dead.

Jaco tracking down "den Geruch des Todes."

Jaco tracking down “den Geruch des Todes.” Photo courtesy of Ben Salama.

 

Have you ever felt frightened during a search?

Yes. It’s inevitable. That being said, it’s important to not allow that fear to travel down the leash, where the dog picks up on it. Usually, I was only frightened for myself because the suspect was not yet in custody, and we were working in areas that were remote. Another time, we were working in an area where a farmer threatened to shoot the dogs if he saw them, though we had permission to search in the area. That made the fine hairs on the back of my neck prickle. Often, though, I’ll be worried because I want to make sure my dog isn’t harmed. Sometimes, it’s as simple as searching alongside a busy road, and making sure the dog doesn’t dash into traffic. Or working in an area where there are other physical dangers. Bad stuff can happen quickly on searches. It’s the dog’s job to use his nose, and it’s my job to make sure the area is covered, and the dog is safe while he’s concentrating on following scent.

Thank you Cat Warren, and please give Jaco a hug from me.

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Murder of Ambrose Madison, Grandfather of President James Madison

President James Madison was the grandson of Ambrose Madison

President James Madison, by John Vanderlyn (1775–1852) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A slow, lingering death in 1732 made its mark not only in Virginia criminal history, but presidential history as well. The first documented murder in the Orange County, Virginia region was of the grandfather of a U.S. president. But it may not have been a murder at all. The strange death of Ambrose Madison presents a mystery that you might be able to help solve today.

Strange death of Ambrose Madison

Ambrose Madison, the paternal grandfather of President James Madison, was an early landholder in present-day Orange County. He owned several slaves, and they took the blame when Madison began feeling ill around June or July of 1732. He made out his will on July 31, and on August 27, succumbed to his illness. No records of his birth date still exist, but he was at least 36 years old when he died. James Madison Sr., the president’s father, was just nine years old when his father passed.

The poisoning charge

Shortly before Ambrose Madison’s death, two of his slaves, Turk and Dido, along with a neighbor’s slave, Pompey, were cited for “Suspition of Poysoning.” Because the court records have been lost, we don’t know any details about Madison’s symptoms, the type of poison, or evidence for the slaves’ involvement. If the slaves did indeed poison Ambrose Madison, they didn’t use enough or a type to kill him outright. The substance must have been sufficient to damage his organs enough to lead to his slow demise over a period of a couple of months.

The Virginia court tried and convicted Turk, Dido, and Pompey on September 6. Pompey was executed by hanging the next day; Turk and Dido received a whipping. The court deemed their involvement was insufficient to warrant the death penalty.

Was it murder or not?

Ann L. Miller, an Orange County historian, put this case under a magnifying glass in her book, The Short Life and Strange Death of Ambrose Madison. She examined subsequent cases in which slaves allegedly poisoned their masters.

The other poisoning cases

In the fifteen years following Ambrose Madison’s death, Miller found three other cases in Orange County. On August 19, 1746, a slave named Eve allegedly poisoned the milk of her master, Peter Montague.  He died in December. Eve was convicted and executed.

On August 1, 1748, a slave named Letty allegedly poisoned the “Water, Bread & Meat” of Richard Sims, who died in January after five months’ illness. She was also accused of poisoning fellow slave, Simon, owned by John Grymes, on September 31, 1748, by serving him toxic “Cyder, Water, Bread & Meat.” He died the following April. Letty pleaded not guilty and was acquitted.

The golden thread

Miller points out that all four poisoning cases have similar features: The plantations of the poison victims were all located within eleven miles of each other. All the victims suffered lingering deaths over the period of several months. And the dates of the poisonings were all in summer or early autumn.

Might that point to a botanical cause and natural deaths? Miller raises the question and asks what type of toxic plants grow (or are most potent) in Northern Virginia during those months.

Might white snakeroot have caused the death of Ambrose Madison?

White snakeroot. Sten Porse, Ageratina altissima (2006), Creative Commons.

Milk sickness

The poisonings remind me of the “milk sickness” that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, in Indiana. White snakeroot plants (Ageratina altissima) containing the poison tremetol killed both the cows that consumed them and the people who drank their milk. White snakeroot does grow in Virginia. But milk sickness victims usually die within a couple of weeks, not months.

Might Virginia have another toxic plant that could have caused these deaths? How common is white snakeroot in Orange County? If you have any knowledge of botany or Virginia flora, I’d love to hear your theories.

Literature on point:

Ann L. Miller, The Short Life and Strange Death of Ambrose Madison (Orange, Virginia: Orange County Historical Society, 1995)

Douglas B. Chambers,  Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia  (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi: 2005)

Virginia Botanical Association, “Ageratina altissima,” Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora

Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, vol. 1 (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)

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Coldest Murder Cases Ever Solved

cold cases

Image by Castleski, courtesy of Shutterstock.

What have been the coldest cases ever solved?

A craveonline article by K. Thor Jensen, “The Longest Cold Cases in History that were Eventually Solved” lists several. At the top of the list stands the 1957 murder of Maria Ridulph in Sycamore, Illinois. She disappeared on a winter day and her corpse was found a year later. Investigators exhumed her body in 2011 for DNA testing, and amazingly they found DNA that matched to a former suspect. He was arrested and charged in 2012, 55 years after the murder.

In second place for the coldest cases ever solved comes the double murder of two policemen in 1957. They pulled over a car for running a red light in El Segundo, California. The driver shot them both. Advances in fingerprinting technology enabled law enforcement to identify a suspect in 2002, who pled guilty. Forty-five years had passed between the murders and conviction.

A record-breaking cold case from Germany

The case that’s the subject of my book would come in third place on the craveonline list: 37 years between the murder and solution. And it just might hold the record for the 19th century for the coldest cases, back when murders were even harder to solve. It also became 19th-century Germany’s only murder case solved in the United States outside of a confession.

An unknown assassin gunned down the mayor of Bönnigheim, Germany, in 1835, but without any solid leads, the investigation went cold in 1837. A tip from Washington, DC solved the case in 1872. An immigrant from Bönnigheim wrote it. The German prosecutor was able to close the investigation after a forester found corroborating evidence in the archives.

The American letter

The letter that cracked one of the coldest cases ever solved

Frederick Rupp to the City of Bönnigheim, April 29, 1872. Landesarchiv Baden-Württemberg, Staatsarchiv Ludwigsburg, E319 Bü 146, with permission

Here you get a preview — the first page of the letter and a translation. It’s written in an old German handwriting called Kurrentschrift, so even if you know German, you might find it hard to read. Don’t worry — there are no spoilers here, because the author first named the assassin on the second page. If you want to know how the letter continues, you’ll need to purchase the book.

Washington, D.C. 29 April 1872

To the highly honored, praiseworthy Mayor
And city council in Bönnigheim, District Authority of Besigheim
Kingdom of Württemberg!

Most Honorable Gentlemen!

I consider it my duty to inform you that after many years and some discrete research, I have finally learned who the heinous murderer of our highly esteemed but unfortunate Mayor Rieber was. [Rieber] was, as far as I remember, shot by a heinous murderer in the autumn of 1834 [corrected to 1835], in the night at 9:45 pm, as he came home from his brother’s inn, the Waldhorn, where he had eaten – he lived next to the palace – while he was opening his door. They offered a huge reward for arresting the murderer, but the entire investigation was fruitless, and as far as I can still remember, several upright citizens, who were innocent, as it now appears, came under suspicion. In order to remove that suspicion from those miserable families, I see it as my sacred duty to report everything to you exactly as I discovered it recently by coincidence.

Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee

My book tells the story of amazing German-American case and its connection to Robert E. Lee. It’s publication date is today – September 1, 2017, and it has received some great reviews. Take a look at it here on Amazon.

Praise for Death of an Assassin

Death of an Assassin book cover

Death of an Assassin book cover, courtesy of Kent State University Press.

“Death of Assassin is an entertaining look at very human characters in a world on the edge of radical change.” — Robert Davis, New York Journal of Books

“An engaging piece of history.” — Tim Gebhart

“Death of an Assassin is not only a startling historical discovery but a poignant tale of heroism and redemption. With a marvelous eye for detail, Ann Marie Ackermann has navigated through long-forgotten records on both sides of the Atlantic to unearth a new and complex kind of hero — a brutish, vengeful man who, perhaps out of remorse, was anxious to start a new life and redeem himself in his adopted home. It’s a great story, bolstered by solid research and told by one who is uniquely qualified to bring it to the public.” — Michael W. Kauffman, author of American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies

“Ann Marie Ackermann has marvelously weaved a story of diverse themes into a single fabric of historical research and investigation. Written in a conversational style and drawing the reader into the web of mystery produces a story of high interest and adventure.” — Anthony Waskie, assistant professor, Temple University, author of Philadelphia and the Civil War

“An Edgar-worthy true crime masterpiece of astonishing investigative skill and irresistible narrative flow. I know the term “must read” is overused, but I’m going to use it again — Ann Marie Ackermann’s new book is a must read!” — Burl Barer, NYT-best-selling author of Murder in the Family and Man Overboard

“A page-turner of historical scholarship, Death of an Assassin takes a little known German cold case murder from 1835 and turns it into an intriguing mystery. Using a style reminiscent of Case Closed, author Ann Marie Ackermann puts you in Bonnigheim when the assassin pulls the trigger and later Mexico, where the fleeing assassin engulfs Robert E. Lee in tragedy, long before Lee ever heard the canon near Appomattox Court House.” — Fred Rosen, author of Murdering the President: Alexander Graham Bell and the Race to Save James Garfield

“In her excellent work, Death of an Assassin, Ann Marie Ackermann has penned a fascinating account of a long-ago murder; a murder that should have remained tucked away somewhere in the dark archived files of history, never again to see the light of day. Thankfully for us, however, the author has not only rescued this strange tale from obscurity, but has brought to light a story that begins with the murder in Germany, and ends up in the pre-Civil War America of Robert E. Lee, where the killer begins an eventful new life.

“With a sharp eye for detail, Ackermann painstakingly reconstructs the lives of the participants from long-hidden facts, and then, having breathed life back into them, paints a vivid literary picture throughout the pages of her riveting book. It’s a tale that will pull you in from the very first page.” — Kevin M. Sullivan, author of The Bundy Murders: A Comprehensive History and Custer’s Road to Disaster: The Path to Little Bighorn

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Canine Crime Walks: An Interview with Author Eva Pretscher

This book offers tips for setting up canine crime walks.

Krimiwanderung mit Hunden book cover, courtesy of the Kynos Verlag.

People love crime stories. They also love their dogs. Why not combine the two?

That is exactly what German dog trainer and author Eva Pretscher has done with her new book on canine crime walks. Krimiwanderungen mit Hunden (Kynos Verlag, 2017) will appear at the end of September, but you can learn more and pre-order it at the link above.

Frau Pretscher has developed a series of walks in which dogs and their owners have to work together to solve a fictional crime – a murder mystery, a missing person or animal case, and the like. She sets up scent trails for the dogs and leaves clues for the humans along the trail.

I haven’t seen a more entertaining idea for canine-human activities in a long time.

These canine crime walks have proved so popular in Germany Pretscher is publishing her canine crime walks manual in October. She joins us today to talk about dogs, sleuthing, and having fun. If you prefer to read German, scroll down to the bottom to read the original interview.

Wenn Sie lieber auf Deutsch lesen, finden Sie das ursprünglische Gespräch auf Deutsch ganz unten.

Welcome, Eva Pretscher!

Author Eva Pretscher with her own dog.

Author Eva Pretscher with her own dog. Courtesy of Eva Pretscher.

Why is it good to engage a dog with its sense of smell?

Because it’s the most natural activity and occupation for a dog. A dog has fun sniffing and uses smell to perceive its world – when I look at my dog, he would prefer to sniff uninterrupted on a walk.

Your canine crime walks simultaneously engage the dog’s owner with a murder mystery. How does that work?

Exactly. The people have to solve a case following a short introduction to the story, and then it starts. The dog sniffs out the trail and the clues that are necessary to solving the case and the people have to logically connect them to solve the case. Without the olfactory performance of the dog, it would be hard to find the clues, so the people have to rely on the dog’s talents.

With your book, can a dog owner put together canine crime walks him- or herself?

 Well, not exactly. There should be a third person to set up/plan the canine crime walks. Otherwise the fun factor would get lost, because if I myself would set up the clues, then there would be no challenge in finding them.

The boxed set of canine crime walk clues you'll receive when you purchase Eva Pretscher's book

The boxed set of clues you’ll receive when you purchase Eva Pretscher’s book. Courtsey of the Kynos Verlag.

What kind of murder mysteries do you use? Can you give us an example?

 They are completely different cases. In the book you’ll find instructions and all the material for 10 cases. They are similarly structured. It always starts with a description of the crime; then comes an inspection of the crime scene, and then the relevant clues that solve the case must be found in the vicinity. And there are various additional puzzles (anagrams or questions to consider…) that always fit to that particular case.

 What do you use as an odor to lay the trail for the canine crime walks?

 The simplest solution is liverwurst water – it’s easy to prepare and even “inexperienced” noses can smell the trail and follow it well.

Do the dogs also learn something?

 Well, of course!  🙂 Even just walking in a group and additionally (in spite of the distraction of other people and dogs) focusing on one person and concentrating on a search task is a challenge for many dogs. Because the individual canine crime walks always take place in different terrains/surroundings, environmental experiences offer another canine highlight.

This dog just found a clue!

This dog just found a clue! Courtesy of Eva Pretscher.

If a dog proves to be exceptionally talented, are there opportunities to train it further, e.g. for search and rescue?

That opportunity always exists, but is not paramount and isn’t the goal. Many dogs whose owners have noticed that the dog has fun sniffing and searching come to me in my training courses (man-trailing, scent trails, sniffing hours….) and have even more fun with their dog.

Thank you, Eva Pretscher!

Would you like to see Eva Pretscher’s book translated in English? If so, please comment. I’ll be asking the German publisher to check your reactions and if it’s positive, we just might be able to convince the Germans to put a translation on the English-speaking market.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

Volunteer Cadaver Dog Handlers: Might You and Your Dog Make a Good Detective Dog Team? This is an interview with Cat Warren about her NYT bestselling book, What the Dog Knows, and her feisty cadaver dog, Solo. It will appear on the German market next month, and to celebrate that, I’ll be posting a new interview with her in September. Stay tuned!

Archaeology Dogs: Cadaver Dogs on a 700 BC Site is one of my most popular posts ever. I interviewed one of Europe’s foremost cadaver dog handlers on the new field of dogs in archaeology. Andrea Pintar discusses how far back in time a dog’s nose can go. It will amaze you.

Cadaver Dogs: Aiding Law Enforcement throughout History looks at law enforcement’s first intentional use of a dog to search for a dead body. That dog cracked a serial murder case in early 19th-century Germany.

Dogs and owners both have a blast when they can solve mysteries together.

Dogs and owners both have a blast when they can solve mysteries together. Courtesy of Eva Pretscher.

Gespräch mit Eva Pretscher auf Deutsch

 

Warum ist es gut, einen Hund mit seinem Geruchssinn zu beschäftigen oder spielen zu lassen?

 Weil es die natürlichste Beschäftigung und Auslastung von einem Hund ist. Der Hund hat Spaß am Schnüffeln und nimmt darüber seine Welt wahr- wenn ich mir meinen Hund anschaue, schnüffelt er  unterwegs am Liebsten ununterbrochen.

Ihre Krimiwanderungen beschäftigen gleichzeitig den/die Hundebesitzer/in mit einem Krimirätsel. Wie funktioniert das?

 Genau, die Menschen haben einen Fall zu lösen, nach einer kurzen Einführung in die Story, geht es auch schon los. Der Hund “erschnüffelt” den Weg und die Hinweise die zum Lösen des Falls nötig sind und die Menschen müssen logisch kombinieren um den Fall so zu lösen.

Ohne die Nasenleistung des Hundes wäre es schwer die Hinweise zu finden, somit müssen sich die Menschen auf die Talente des Hundes verlassen.

Mit Ihrem Buch, kann das Herrchen/Frauchen selber eine Krimiwanderung veranstalten?

 Naja, nicht ganz. Also es sollte eine dritte Person die Krimiwanderung vorbereiten / auslegen. Denn ansonsten geht der Spaßfaktor verloren, da es, wenn ich selbst für mich selbst die Hinweise auslege, ja keine wirkliche Herausforderung mehr ist, die Hinweise auch zu finden.

Was für ein Krimirätsel benutzen Sie? Könnten Sie uns ein Beispiel geben?

Es sind ganz unterschiedliche Fälle. In dem Buch findet man die Anleitung und das komplette Zubehör für 10 Fälle. Sie sind ähnlich aufgebaut, es geht immer mit einer Beschreibung der Tat los, dann folgt eine Begehung des Tatorts und dann müssen eben genaue Hinweise in der Umgebung gefunden werden, die sachdienlich sind um den Fall zu lösen. Und zusätzlich gibt es auch verschiedene Rätsel (Buchstabenrätsel, Anagramm, oder auch Denkfragen zum Knobeln,…) – immer passend zu dem jeweiligen Fall.

Was verwenden Sie als Geruchsmittel?

Die einfachste Art ist Leberwurstwasser – das lässt sich leicht herstellen und auch “unerfahrene” Schnüffelnasen riechen die Spur und können ihr gut folgen.

Lernen die Hunde auch etwas dabei?

Na klar 🙂 schon alleine das Laufen in einer Gruppe ist für viele Hunde eine Herausforderung und sich zusätzlich (trotz der Ablenkung von anderen Menschen und Hunden) auf seinen Menschen zu fokusieren und sich auf Suchaufgaben zu konzentrieren.

Da die einzelnen Krimiwanderungen immer in einem anderen Gelände / Umgebung stattfinden, kommen Umwelterfahrungen auch noch hinzu.

Wenn ein Hund wirklich gut abschneidet, gibt es Möglichkeiten, ihn weiter zu trainieren, z.B. für Such- und Rettungsdienste?

Die Möglichkeit gibt es immer, dies steht aber nicht im Vordergrund und ist auch nicht das Ziel. Viele der Hunde, bei denen Frauchen/Herrchen gemerkt haben, der Hund hat Spaß am Schnüffeln und Suchen, kommen zu mir in Beschäftigungskurse (Mantrailen, Fährte, Schnüffelstunden,…) und haben hier weiterhin Spaß mit Ihrem Hund.

Danke, Eva Pretscher!

Möchten Sie mehr wissen? Ein Link zum Buch, Krimiwanderungen mit Hunden (Kynos Verlag, 2017).

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Robert E. Lee’s mystery letter connected to a record-breaking cold case

 

Robert E. Lee's mysterious letter

Detail of Robert E. Lee’s letter. Robert E. Lee to George Washington Custis Lee, 11 Apr. 1847, deButts-Ely family papers. (c) Virginia Historical Society, with permission.

 

A national mystery

The Virginia Historical Society inherited a national mystery in 1981. That’s when it obtained the deButts-Ely family papers. The collection contains Robert E. Lee correspondence, and among it, a surprising letter from the Siege of Veracruz. In that letter, Robert E. Lee praised an unknown hero. But no one suspected that man was an assassin – the perpetrator in a record-breaking German cold case.

Lee at the Siege of Veracruz

General Winfield Scott masterminded the siege in March 1847 as the opening gambit to his campaign in the Mexican-American War. While General Zachary Taylor remained in northern Mexico, far from the capital, Scott planned an amphibious landing near Veracruz. He wanted to capture the Mexican port city and then march inland, following Cortez’s route from centuries before, to sack Mexico City.

The Siege of Veracruz was Robert E. Lee’s first battle. He directed the fire at an onshore naval battery. A German company from Pennsylvania’s first regiment was assigned to defending it. Eight Americans died at the battery before the U.S. won the siege, and one of those deaths made a profound impression on Lee. On April 11, he put his feelings on paper in a letter to his son Custis:

Robert E. Lee’s mystery letter

There was one poor fellow that behaved nobly. His thigh was broke by a cannon ball & he was laid in a trench at the rear of the battery for security, the balls & shells were flying so thick that he could not be borne away. A bush was stuck over him to keep the sun out of his eyes & all that we could give him was occasionally a cup of bad warm water. The men at the guns were hot & thirsty & drank up the water as fast as it could be brought. It was at some distance & the balls swept over the field & at such a furious rate that the officers would not let the men go for water except when they could not do without it. There the poor fellow lay till evening; when they got a litter & was bearing him off, when a shell fell & burst & a fragment killed him. He laid the whole day with the balls & bombs flying over him without uttering a complaint. His sufferings must have been very great, for the battery kept up a constant & brisk firing & the concussion from the 32 [pounders] & Paixhan guns shook the whole ground & must have pained him terribly. I doubt whether all Mexico is worth to us the life of that man.*

This unknown hero has been a discussion point in the literature. Why would Robert E. Lee balance American military objectives against the life of one man and find them lacking?

But no one, until now, has asked who that man was.

Naval battery at the Siege of Veracruz

Naval battery at the Siege of Veracruz, ca. 1848. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division, public domain.

The unknown hero turns out to be a long-sought criminal

A careful comparison of the American casualty list against descriptions of the deaths at the naval battery in primary sources such as logbooks, letters, and a newspaper account from an embedded journalist all point to a German volunteer in the 1st Pennsylvania.

Robert E. Lee couldn’t have known the man’s background. It would have shocked him. The man was the assassin in a record-breaking German cold case – 19th-century Germany’s coldest case ever solved and its only murder ever solved in the USA.

For the first time, Death of an Assassin: The True Story of the German Murderer Who Died Defending Robert E. Lee (Kent State University Press, September 1, 2017) brings these two stories together. It offers American history packaged in international true crime wrapping. You can order the book here on Amazon.

Next week we’ll look at the German case and the letter from America that provided the crucial clue.

Literature on point:

*Robert E. Lee to George Washington Custis Lee, 11 Apr. 1847, deButts-Ely family papers, Virginia Historical Society.

Elizabeth Brown Pryor, Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters (New York: Penguin Books, 2009; discusses the letter on p. 173).

Bernice-Marie Yates, The Perfect Gentleman: The Life and Letters of George Washington Custis Lee, Vol. 1 (Xulon Press, 2003; discusses the letter on pp. 92-94).

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Lincoln’s dog Fido: A Faithful Pet Assassinated Like His Master

Lincoln's dog Fido

Lincoln’s dog Fido (1860); public domain.

Two theories on the popularity of the name “Fido”

Fido.

Do you actually know a dog with that name? It’s so cliché no one names their dog Fido anymore. Fido has instead become a generic name for dogs: “Bring Fido on vacation.” “Is expensive dog food really good for Fido?”

How did Fido become so popular that the name became generic?

Dog lovers and historians have advanced two theories. One is that Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido influenced the name’s popularity, the other that is was the Italian dog Fido in WWII. Which theory is right? We’ll look at both against the backdrop of the popular literature of the day to find a clear winner. You might want to have a box of tissues because both of these stories are sad.

Lincoln’s dog Fido: Assassinated like his master

Articles in both Psychology Today and the American Kennel Club attribute the popularity of the name to Lincoln’s dog Fido.

Pharmacy records in Springfield, Illinois indicate Lincoln had a dog already in 1855. He purchased de-worming medication. That dog was probably “Fido,” a yellow lab mix, of whom a few photographs survive. Lincoln decided not to take Fido with him to the White House and left his dog in the care of a friend while he was gone.

A year after Lincoln’s assassination, Fido also met tragedy. A drunken man was sitting on the curb. Fido jumped up him with his dirty paws. In an intoxicated rage, the man knifed the dog. That’s how Lincoln’s dog Fido met his end. Assassinated like his master, said Johnny Roll, a member of Fido’s adoptive family.

Fido’s reputation as the First Pooch, the first presidential dog ever photographed, and as assassinated pet catapulted the name Fido into enduring popularity.

mMonument to the Italian Fido

Tuscanycalling, Dante Square and monument to the Italian Fido, Wikipedia Creative Commons.

The Italian Fido: Ever faithful

A book on dog names attributes the popularity of Fido to an Italian dog belonging to Carlo Soriano. Soriano rescued the dog and named him Fido (“I am faithful”). Thereafter Fido waited for Soriano’s bus every day to accompany him home from work. One day during WWII, Soriano was killed in an air raid while at work. Fido continued to wait for his master at the bus stop every day – another fourteen years – until the dog’s death. Fido’s faithfulness received worldwide attention. Italy even erected a statue of Fido to commemorate his faithfulness.

So which dog made the name Fido famous?

If you peruse old newspapers, you’ll find dogs named Fido going all the back to the 18th century. Lincoln’s dog Fido wasn’t the first with that name. After Lincoln’s death, however, the name occurs more frequently in online newspaper searches, but it’s hard to tell whether that’s due to increased popularity of the name or the availability of more newspapers for that time period.

"Fido" appears as a generic name in a mock trial in 1906.

“Fido” appears as a generic dog name in a mock trial in 1906. “Administrator’s Notice,” Mexico Missouri Message (Feb. 22, 1906). Public domain.

An 1875 review of the clerks records of registered dog names a good thermometer reading of the popularity their popularity. Fido was tied for the third most popular, preceded only by Jip and Carlo. Another survey of dog licensing records in Bakersfield, CA indicates that Fido had almost completely dropped out of the list by 1900. Only one person named their dog Fido. A Minneapolis paper of 1901, however, indicates that Fido was still a popular name at a dog show.

By 1906, Fido begins to appear as a generic term for dogs. It was used as the name for a fictional dog in a mock trial. And in 1910, a satirical article about dogs appeared by an author named “Fido.”

Fido as a newspaper author

“Fido” is already writing newspaper articles by 1908. Fido, “There’s Nothing Nowadays Like Being a Flossie Little Dog,” The Spokane Press (July 15, 1908). Public domain.

All that indicates that Fido was popular canine name long before the Italian Fido was even born. Hence, it’s Lincoln’s dog Fido, the assassinated pet, to whom we should attribute the enduring popularity of the name.

 Literature on point:

 Administrator’s Notice,” Mexico Missouri Message (Feb. 22, 1906).

Matthew Algeo, Abe and Fido: Lincoln’s Love of Animals and the Touching Story of His Favorite Canine Companion (Chicago Review Press, 2015).

Dog Names: “The Most Popular of the Pack (1875),” Worcester (Mass.) Gazette via the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer (Aug. 24, 1875).

Dorothy Meserve Kuhnhardt, “Lincoln’s Lost Dog,” Life (Feb. 15, 1954).

Man’s Best Friend,” Minneapolis Journal (Dec. 14, 1901).

Laurie Bogart Morrow, The Giant Book of Dog Names (Gallery Books, 2012).

Popular Dog Names in the Early 1900s,” woofreport (April 12, 2017).

Randy Shore, “Names Increasingly Reflect Dogs’ Integration into the Family,” Vancouver Sun (Oct. 189, 2009).

Fido, “There’s Nothing Nowadays Like Being a Flossie Little Dog,” The Spokane Press (July 15, 1908).

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Who Killed Constable Cock? American Civil War Veterans in a British Case

Constable Cock, murder victim.

Constable Cock, murder victim. Courtesy of Angela Buckley, public domain.

It was dark.

The clocks on Manchester’s towers were ticking towards midnight on August 1, 1876 when one of the most sensational crimes of Victorian England occurred. A gibbous moon was setting in the west, but you probably wouldn’t have seen it. The night was clouded and trees overhung the lane as 21-year-old Constable Cock picked his way along his beat.

Heading north on Manchester Road in the village of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Constable Cock overtook a law student, John Massey Simpson, who was heading home. They walked together for awhile. At the intersection of West Point, another policeman, Constable Beanland joined them for a brief chat before Simpson started east along Upper Chorlton Road. He only walked about 150 yards when two shots rang out behind him, following a man’s voice: “Murder, murder! Oh, I’m shot!”

Simpson ran back to find Constable Cock on the ground, blood spurting from his chest, and Beanland standing over him, blowing his whistle to alert other policemen on their beats. Nicholas Cock died before he had a chance to say who killed him.

Thus began one of England’s most spectacular murder cases – famous not only for the cold-blooded killing of a police officer, but for a Perry Mason-like twist that later turned the entire case on its head. Constable Cock has never been forgotten in England. Even today, police officers on

Constable Cock has never been forgotten in England. Even today, police officers on beat in Chorlton-cum-Hardy stop by his grave to pay their respects.

An American Civil War connection

Angela Buckley has just published a book on the Constable Cock case, the second in her Victorian Supersleuth series. I won’t give away the twist – it would spoil the book for you – but can say that one of the surprising aspects for me was the connection to the American Civil War.

Buckley’s book covers two sensational Victorian crimes because one influenced the other. A murder in the Fenian Rising nine years before Constable Cock’s murder changed public sentiment. And that influenced the Constable Cock Case. Instrumental in the Fenian Rising and the murder were two Civil War veterans, Thomas Kelly and Timothy Deasy, who returned to Europe after the war.

Angela Buckley joins us today to talk about the connection between the two cases.

Welcome, Angela!

Angela Buckley, author.

Angela Buckley, with permission.

Colonel Thomas Kelly and Captain Timothy Deasy were both American Civil War veterans, yet they sparked one of the most sensational criminal trials of Victorian Britain. How did that come about?

Following the American Civil War, many members of Irish Republican Brotherhood (also known as the Fenians) returned to their homeland to continue the battle against the British authorities for home rule. Veteran Colonel Thomas J. Kelly was instrumental in planning the Fenian Rising of 1867. When the campaign failed, Colonel Kelly was arrested but later escaped.

Later that year, Kelly was re-arrested in Manchester, along with one of his colleagues, Captain Timothy Deasy. On 18 September, the prisoners were being transported to prison when the police van was attacked by their supporters. Kelly and Deasy were liberated but only after a police officer Sergeant Charles Brett had been shot dead. A massive manhunt followed, which led to the arrest of some 50 Irish men in the city. On 23 November 1867, William Allen, Michael Larkin and Michael O’Brien were hanged for Sergeant Brett’s murder and became known as ‘The Manchester Martyrs’. Colonel Kelly and Captain Deasy fled back to the US.

Colonel Thomas Kelly played an important role in the Fenian Rising.

Colonel Thomas J. Kelly, via Wikipedia, public domain.

Were they ever tried themselves?

 No, Thomas Kelly and Timothy Deasy were never re-captured and both took refuge in the US. Colonel Kelly remained a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood in New York and died in the city in 1908. He is buried with his wife in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx.

What kind of a career did the two have in the Civil War?

Timothy Deasy had migrated from Ireland to America with his family in 1847. In 1861, he enlisted in the 9th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, primarily made up of Irish-Americans. He fought in 32 engagements showing considerable gallantry and leadership. Despite being wounded in the Battle of Spotsylvania, Deasy remained in command of his company. At the end of Civil war, he became a captain in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Thomas Kelly was also a ‘battle-hardened’ veteran of the Civil War. He had emigrated to the US from Ireland in 1851. During the Civil War he served in the 10th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, also an Irish regiment. He was promoted to First Sergeant of C Company in the summer of 1861. Like Deasy, Kelly was badly wounded but continued his service. He attained the rank of captain.

Postage stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Fenian Rising.

Postage stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Fenian Rising. Boris15 / Shutterstock.com, with permission.

How did these two Civil War veterans influence prejudice against the Irish?

The nationalist fervour of both these men was renewed during the American Civil War and, in 1865, they were ready to take arms against the British authorities. This led to a more organised campaign with greater structure and focus. Colonel Kelly took charge of Fenian operations in Manchester and Captain Deasy was stationed in Liverpool. Terror of Irish nationalism and the Fenians was already rife in mainland Britain, and this new campaign sent Victorians of all levels of society into an acute panic, reinforcing their long-held prejudice against the Irish in general.

Your book is about the murder of a Victorian police officer that was sensationalist in its own right. Nevertheless, Kelly’s and Deasy’s actions had a huge influence on the Constable Cock case. How?

Although the murder of Constable Cock took place almost a decade after that of Sergeant Brett, the Fenian uprising in Manchester was still fresh in the minds of the city’s inhabitants. As the prime suspects were three Irish brothers, known locally for their drinking and belligerence, their case was seriously prejudiced by contemporary opinions, despite there being no real proof for such assumptions and only the flimsiest of evidence against them. Furthermore, at that time in Manchester, 25 per cent of convicted criminals were Irish and a third of prisoners in its principal gaol were Catholic. At the Habron brothers’ trial, most of the witnesses for the defence were illiterate Irish co-workers, whose testimonies were discounted.

Lord Justice Lindley presided over the trial for Constable Cock's murder.

Lord Justice Lindley presided over the first trial for Constable Cock’s murder.

A critical piece of evidence in the Constable Cock case dealt with footprint evidence. How advanced were footprint comparisons as a forensic tool in 1876?

By 1876, the identification of suspects through footprint analysis was a fairly common practice used by the British police. However, the methods were still very rudimentary. In this case, the investigating officer, Superintendent James Bent, made impressions with the suspects’ boots next to the footprints near the crime scene and then compared the two – he even had to cover the prints with a cardboard box to preserve them when it started to rain! Despite the absence of any scientific analysis, Superintendent Bent was satisfied that the prints near the spot where Constable Cock was murdered had been made by his prime suspect William Habron. The boot prints were the main evidence on which Habron was tried for murder.

_______________________________________________________

Thank you, Angela!

Who Killed Constable Cock, book cover

Who Killed Constable Cock, book cover, courtesy of Angela Buckley.

Read Angela’s book, Who Killed Constable Cock, to get a completely different view of the evidence.

Literature on point:

Moonrise, Moonset, and Phase Calendar for London, August 1876

August 1876 Moon Phases

Angela Buckley, Who Killed Constable Cock?: A Victorian True Crime Murder Case (Manor Vale Associates, 2017)

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