British judges and their love affair with judicial wigs
It ’s always been a paradox to me: Why do members of two of the most respected professions – the clergy and the judiciary – have such an absurd dress code? Even the men perform their duties wearing a floor-length dress.
I scratch my head even more over “court dress” in the United Kingdom. Judges and barristers there go beyond one step further and don wigs. These judicial wigs are not fashionable toupees to cover a bald head. A British high court judge wears a full bottomed wig that makes him or her look, if not like the comic hero Underdog, at least like a beagle.
So why do judges routinely plunk down a thousand pounds or more to buy wigs of woven horsehair just to spruce up their noggins? It’s all history and tradition, respect and recognition, dignity and decorum.
Insects infest the judicial wigs in 19th century India
It should come as no surprise, then, that the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in Madras, India, insisted the justices there wear the wigs they knew back home in Great Britain. Sir Thomas Andrew Lumisden Strange (1756-1841) served as Chief Justice in Madras from 1800 to 1817 and had a bulk order of judicial wigs shipped in from England. But thanks to some six-legged critters, Strange’s judicial wig rule didn’t last very long.
On the way to India, reported the 1828 issue of The New Monthly Magazine, some of these creatures amused themselves by infesting the Chief Justice’s wig.
These cockroaches ate a large hole through the wig, so that one of Justice Strange’s ears poked out ridiculously when he put it on. While the rest of the court tried to suppress its laughter, Justice Strange readjusted his wig so his ear wouldn’t stick out. He had to pull it so far to the side that his other ear stuck out.
Sir Henry Gwillim, another justice known as an “irascible Welshman,” then donned his wig. An observer present that day in court, who recalled the court dress in Madras as “absurd” and “intolerable,” especially for the climate, noted that Sir Gwillim was the only justice who maintained composure in his horsehair crown.
Sir Benjamin Sullivan, a third justice, placed one of the judicial wigs on his head, only discover that a bunch of these creatures had staked out the real estate first.
An immense host of mosquitoes had bedded down in the labyrinths of Sullivan’s wig. They began swarming and buzzing as soon as he put it on. Justice Sullivan “snatched it off in a sudden fit of indignation, and threw it, with an oath that was somewhat extra-judicial, into the middle of the court,” the observer wrote.
Two other justices followed suit and the wigs landed on a pile in the floor. It was one of those rare instances in which hilarity – and insects – briefly ruled the courtroom. The justices roared in laughter. The observer wrote that it took quite a while for the court to regain its composure. “No attempt was made to inflict the same nuisance on the barristers,” he wrote.
The story even made international news. A German criminal justice journal reported the incident.
As far as I know, that was the end of judicial wigs in India.
Would it be too much to hope that the rest of the world’s bewigged judiciary follow suit? But you will excuse me until next week, while I take the time to remove some of these from my bonnet.
Do you think British judges and barristers should wear judiciary wigs? Are the outdated? Or a worthy tradition? And do they make sense in a tropical climate?
Literature on point:
“Society in India, No. II,” New Monthly Magazine, Part 1. 327-340 (1828) [quotes]
“Die richterlichen Perücken,” Annalen der deutschen und ausländischen Criminal-Rechtspflege 159-160 (1828)
Animal Thieves in Germany
Not another shoe gone! Where two sneakers had been sitting on the back patio the night before, now there was only one.
In 2009, the people of Föhren, Germany were scratching their heads about a spate of strange thefts. Germans customarily wear house shoes inside their homes. And when they come inside from the back door, they often leave their street and garden shoes outside.
But somebody was taking them overnight.
Smelly sneakers, muddy hiking boots, rubber garden boots, slippers, steel-capped leather workmen’s boots, and even flipflops: they were all disappearing, one shoe at a time. The older the shoes were, the more likely they were to go missing. Nobody calls the police about a missing old tennis shoe. But after 120 shoes vanished, the residents of this small town of barely 3,000 had a mystery on its hands. Who would want old smelly shoes? Were some kids playing a prank?
Nobody thought of animal thieves.
It was a forester, not the police, who solved the crime spree. Deep in the woods, underground. He discovered a fox den with a trove of 86 shoes, and 32 more shoes in a nearby quarry. The shoes had teeth marks all over them. They had made great chewing toys for the fox kits. Scientists even had an explanation. Sweat is salty, and the foxes may have found licking those old shoes a good source of dietary salt. That’s why the old shoes were the most popular.
You can view a photo of the fox’s shoe collection here.
The town collected the shoes and tried to return the footwear to its rightful owners, but that didn’t stop Imelda Marcos – as the townsfolk now nicknamed the vixen – from striking again. Föhren had to learn to keep its shoes inside. Imelda is now legend in Germany. But do other countries have stories of animal thieves?
Paris sure does.
Animal Thief in France
One of its cases even made it into a 19th century true crime anthology. The theft occurred in November 1827. Only a month before, on October 19, thieves had stolen the diamonds of one of France’s popular actresses, Mademoiselle Mars, in one of the most famous diamond heists of history. The thieves were caught two weeks later, so that left people scratching their heads when Paris experienced yet another diamond heist on November 11. Had they caught the right thief? Or was there a ring of jewelry thieves out there nobody knew about?
Madam Aymar, who owned a library reading room, noticed at 3 pm on Sunday, November 11, that her diamonds were gone. Missing were a pair of earrings, a solitaire, and two diamond belt buckles. Aymar’s daughter reassured her she had last seen them sitting on the furniture and swore she didn’t take them. Nobody else but a messenger and two children had visited the room during the critical time period, and Madam Aymar was sure none of them had taken her precious stones.
She had no idea who took them. And she didn’t think of animal thieves right away.
After several hours of fruitless searching, it occurred to her that she’d seen the hunting dog of one of her patrons wander into the reading room. That dog had a reputation for eating everything in sight. The librarian shared her concern with her patron and asked him if he would lend her his hunting dog. She would give it laxatives, and, for the lack of a better way to put it, continue her investigation.
What kind of canine laxatives did Paris have in 1827? Madame Aymar fed the dog rotten hay, along with lots of food to get the digestive system moving. Her therapy had the desired result, but it took the poor dog four days to pass a chestnut shell. When the librarian pried it open, there were all her diamonds.
The great canine diamond heist was most certainly, according to the anthology, the talk of all Paris.
Do you know of any cases involving animal thieves?
Literature on point:
Hitzig, ed., “Der Hund als Dieb,” Annalen der deutschen und ausländischen Criminal-Rechts-Pflege, vol. 2 (Berlin: Ferdinand Dümmler, 1828) 113-114.
“Imelda Strikes Again: Thieving Fox Amasses 120 Shoes,” Spiegel Online (June 10, 2009).Read More
A missing hunter
When a man doesn’t come home from a hunting trip, it can mean a lot of things. Maybe he’s just late. Maybe he really didn’t go hunting, is doing something he isn’t supposed to, and just lied about it. Maybe he’s lying somewhere out there in the wilderness, injured and in need of help. Or maybe it’s even worse. He could be murdered.
As the hours tick by and he still doesn’t come home, family members at home slip into whirlpools of anxiety. When they search for him and can’t find him, their fear deepens. Is there any torture worse than not knowing?
One wife in 19th century Seville experienced the same situation, but the case is even stranger because the pet dog knew exactly what happened. He had witnessed his master’s murder. But how can a dog communicate that fact to his human family?
It’s an unusual case in which a dog solves a murder. But it actually happened. This is case in which a dog attempted to communicate what he knew and actually succeeded. It was reported in a 19th century German true crime anthology, and I’ve translated and abridged it for you.
The dog knows….
Juan, a butcher in Seville, had the habit of going hunting every Saturday with his godfather and trusted friend, Marquez, and staying out until Monday. They left together as usual on a Saturday in November, but on Monday, only Juan came back. When Marquez’s wife asked him where her husband was, he said they had separated during the hunt and he thought Marquez was already home. “He must be coming back any time now,” he reassured her.
The day passed without Marquez’s return, but towards the evening, his dog, “Como tu,” who accompanied him everywhere, came home alone. “Como tu, where is your master?” asked Marquez’s wife. The dog became very agitated, and by grabbing her dress with his teeth, tried to pull her out of the house.
At first the wife paid no attention to the dog’s behavior. She thought her husband might be socializing with some of his hunting friends and decided pay them a visit to check on him. While she was dressing, Como tu continually tried to drag her to the door.
She went to Juan’s house, but Como tu, who was usually friendly with Juan, sprang for his throat. The wife had to pull Como tu off. Juan protested that Como tu must have rabies and should be shot, but she resisted him and went to the police station. Como tu was quiet at the police station, but became aggressive as soon as he heard Juan’s voice. The police commissioner thought Juan might have abused Como tu. She told the police her story and included the dog’s behavior.
On Wednesday, she took Como tu out for a walk in the area where her husband had gone hunting to see what she could find. They came to a cliff over a river where people customarily threw dead animals and all sorts of garbage from Seville. Forcefully grabbing her dress, the dog tried to pull her forward. He howled and then tried to pull her to the edge of the cliff. Because the bottom of the cliff was heaped with garbage and stank, she pulled back, and despite Como tu’s efforts, quickly returned home. As they passed Juan’s butcher shop, Como tu jumped up on a table and again tried to attack Juan.
A police officer finally understands dogspeak
Marquez’s wife now returned to the police station to find out if the police had discovered anything about her husband while she was gone. She told an officer what had happened with the dog. The police officer didn’t say anything, but the following morning, he went to the cliff with four pall bearers. When they arrived, they noticed people at the bottom. One of them was Juan. They were trying to pull the blood-smeared clothing off a human body. The men were arrested.
The police removed the body. It was Marquez. They found entry wounds from a full load of shot in Marquez’s face and on the left side of the head. The back of the head had been smashed, probably by the butt of a shotgun. The two men with Juan testified he had offered them a handsome reward for helping him remove the body and throwing it in a river.
Juan was charged with Marquez’s murder and confessed in court. He had killed his godfather over a fight about a partridge both had claimed to have shot. Both hunters had loaded their shotguns, and as the fight intensified, both threatened each other. Juan aimed at Marquez and fired just to disable him, but angry and slightly drunk, he finished the job by cracking him on the head with the shotgun butt.
The court found no evidence of premeditation and some evidence to support self defense. It sentenced Juan to five years punishment in the galleys. The other two men were sentenced to six months in prison.
A dog solves a murder
Como tu had been there and witnessed the murder, and the amazing thing was that he was able to communicate that and lead people to his dead master. He even indicated a suspect. The annals of history record at least one case in which a dog solved a murder.
Do you know of any cases in which a dog helped solve a crime? Has your dog ever been able to communicate something to you?
Literature on point:
Hitzig, “Ein Hund verräth den Mörder seines Herrn,”Annalen der deutschen und ausländischen Kriminal-Rechtspflege, Heft 4 (Berlin: Fernidand Dümmler, 1828) 93- 96.Read More
A scorpion sting in the night
Pain wrenched me out of my sleep. It was around 2:00 am in the old stone house we were renting in an alpine Italian village, and my left knee burned with such intensity that sleep was out of the question. The whole knee hurt, it was slightly swollen, and moving it to various positions gave me no relief. In the dark, I rummaged through my nightstand drawer, found some pain gel, and slapped it on. And in half an hour, the pain disappeared again, never to return.
It didn’t make sense. I hadn’t injured my knee that day. And arthritis doesn’t come on with a pain level from zero to a hundred overnight and then disappear just as fast. I had no idea what happened to me.
It was a couple of days later that I first thought of the scorpions. It was too late to check for the pinpoint prick where the stinger entered the skin, but I think that’s what happened to me.
We had found several scorpions in the house, inch-long little black creatures we handled like spiders, catching them in paper and setting them outdoors. A quick Google search confirmed that the Italian species is toxic but not deadly. They like to come into houses in August and most scorpions stings occur in that month (my misadventure was on September 2). The pain feels like a bee or wasp sting – a good description of what I experienced – accompanied by swelling, and often disappears within an hour. And scorpions love warm, moist places like bedding and shoes.
Animals as weapons as a TV and movie trope
My Italian scorpion encounters got me wondering about a popular trope in crime films: animals as weapons. A typical movie assassin trains a poisonous animal and drops it into a the victim’s home or hotel room to do the assassin’s job for him. Remember the snake stalking James Bond in his bathroom in Live and Let Die? Or the probe droid that let killer centipedes in Padmé Amidala’s room in the second Star Wars film? For me, the most memorable scene from the Get Smart series was when someone let a killer tarantula into Maxwell’s room. He killed it by turning over a glass full of horseradish on top of the spider and suffocating it.
Another James Bond movie features a scorpion as a murder weapon. An assassin dropped a deadly scorpion down the back of someone’s shirt in Diamonds are Forever. All those examples made me wonder: Has anyone really used a scorpion as a murder weapon? Are there any court cases involving animals as murder weapons?
Animals as weapons in real cases
I’ve found only one book suggesting the possibility of a scorpion as a murder weapon, and that was in the case of Pope John Paul I’s mysterious death. The lethal sting of a Golden Scorpion, an Asian species, can cause a sudden death that would look like the pope’s. But even the author dismisses the possibility as unlikely.
In reality, scorpions, spiders and snakes make lousy murder weapons. Any assassin who lets an animal into a room can’t be assured it will actually attack. It might just crawl off into another room or out a window. Exotic and toxic pets have to be registered in many countries, making them easier for the police to track than a garrote or a knife. And if the killer really wants to play it safe, he or she would have to catch the animal after the murder and remove it from the crime scene so that law enforcement won’t suspect it. The image of assassins running around the pope’s bedroom, at night, trying to recapture a lethal scorpion without anyone in the Papal Palace noticing it is too ridiculous to be plausible.
But there are cases of killers using animals as weapons. Criminal justice instructor Carmen M. Cusack includes a chapter on animals as weapons in her book, Animals and Criminal Justice. Although an animal is more likely to be used as a weapon in war or in self defense – guard dogs are an example – she does list cases in which people used animals to assault another person.
Dogs are the most frequently used animal weapons. A New York Times article points out that courts are increasingly likely to uphold a conviction for assault with a deadly weapon if a dog attacks someone or the owner orders it to attack.
But Cusack does list one case of a snake as a weapon. The defendant didn’t let it into his girlfriend’s room, James Bond-style. Instead, he beat his girlfriend with his pet python while she sat in the bathtub. The girlfriend survived, bruised, but the snake died. And the man did face charges.
Which of these animals would scare you the most if it snuck into your room?
Can you add any more examples of exotic animals as weapons, either from fiction or real life?
Literature on point
Carmen M. Cusack, Animals and Criminal Justice (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2015).
Lucien Gregoire, Murder by the Grace of God (Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2013) 249-251.
David Goodman, “Instruments of Danger in Weapons Case Were Dogs, Authorities Say,” New York Times, October 6, 2013.
Associated Press, “Police: Massachusetts man used pet python to attack woman,” Fox News, November 3, 2012.Read More