Ireland’s big mystery – the Vanishing Triangle

Just outside Dublin lies a place known to locals as the ‘Vanishing Triangle’. One of Ireland’s eeriest mysteries, it’s where eight women suddenly and inexplicably vanished in the 90s, never to be seen or heard from again…

Annie McCarrick. Eva Brennan. Imelda Keenan. Jo Jo Dollard. Ciara Breen. Fiona Pender. Fiona Sinnott. Deirdre Jacob. Most of these women were in their late teens or 20s; at 39, Eva Brennan was the oldest. Between 1993 and 1998, all of them disappeared leaving no clues or evidence as to their fates. Despite extensive media campaigns and large-scale searches by the Irish police, none have ever been found. One of the most curious elements is that all the disappearances occurred within an 80-mile radius of Dublin that forms a geographical triangle.

Annie McCarrick went missing on 26th March 1993. The last confirmed sightings of her had her running errands at her local bank and supermarket that morning. An unconfirmed sighting placed her in Johnny Fox’s pub in Glencullen in the evening with an unknown man. This man was never found.

 

Annie McCarrick

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Did the ‘Candy Lady’ abduct and murder children in Texas?

In the early 1900s, in a small rural county in Texas, a missing child was finally found — in a ditch, eyes gouged out with a fork, pockets stuffed with sweets. An unsolved mystery at the time, locals today believe the perpetrator was none other than the mysterious ‘Candy Lady’…

Over the course of a ten-year period near the turn of the 20th century, a number of children went missing. The story spread that the Candy Lady was responsible, luring children to her home with sweets and murdering them.

It was revealed that several children in the area were waking up to find sweets on their window sills. Fearing that their parents might try and stop whoever—or whatever—was leaving the candy, they initially told no one.

After a child had been receiving candy for a while, notes would start appearing, tucked into the sweet wrappers. These notes enticed the children to come and play, and were signed “The Candy Lady”.

As children started going missing, those who’d received and eaten sweets from the Candy Lady finally confessed it to their parents.

Then a farmer found a sweet wrapper at the edge of one of his fields. Opening the wrapper he found a child’s teeth, black, rotten and bloody. The police investigated and that’s when they found the missing boy with the candy-filled pockets and gouged-out eyes.

To this day locals say that if a child goes missing, it’s because the Candy Lady got them. They say she lures them away with sweets and punishes them by pulling out their teeth and stabbing them with forks.

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Karen Silkwood: How to silence a whistleblower and get away with it

Remember Erin Brockovich? She’s the file clerk who famously uncovered evidence that a huge Californian gas and electric company was poisoning people. Karen Silkwood’s story is similar, but the big difference is that Erin Brockovich’s story had a happy ending and Karen Silkwood’s… didn’t.

Karen Silkwood was hired to work for the powerful Kerr-McGee Cimarron Fuel Fabrication Site plant in Crescent, Oklahoma in 1972, where she made plutonium pellets for nuclear reactor fuel rods. There she met her boyfriend, co-worker Drew Stephens, who expressed concerns about working conditions at the plant, putting health and safety on Silkwood’s radar.

Just 3 months into her employment, she joined the local Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union and took part in a strike at Kerr-McGee calling for better wages and safer working conditions. After the strike ended, she was elected to the union’s bargaining committee — the first woman at Kerr-McGee to achieve such a position — and was charged with investigating health and safety issues.

In 1974, Silkwood found numerous violations of health and safety regulations, including faulty fuel rods, exposure of workers to contamination, improper storage of samples, falsified inspection records, and more than 40 pounds of missing plutonium.

That’s when strange things started happening.

Was somebody poisoning Karen Silkwood?

On November 5th 1974, Silkwood performed a routine self-check and discovered that her body contained nearly 400 times the legal limit of plutonium. She was decontaminated at the plant and sent home with a testing kit. The following morning, she again tested positive for plutonium and was given a more intensive decontamination. But on November 7th, dangerous levels of plutonium were found in her lungs, and following an inspection, plutonium traces were found all over her home.

Questions arose over how she’d been contaminated. She believed Kerr-McGee was poisoning her because of her whistle-blowing efforts, while Kerr-McGee accused her of poisoning herself to add fuel to her accusations. What’s disturbing is that the soluble plutonium in her body came from an area of the plant she hadn’t been in for 4 months…

The meeting that didn’t happen

Silkwood decided it was time to go public with her evidence and contacted David Burnham, a journalist at the New York Times. On November 13th 1974, witnesses said Silkwood left a union meeting at the Hub Cafe in Crescent with a binder and a packet of documents and headed for Oklahoma City for her meeting with Burnham.

She didn’t make it.

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“If anything happens to me, investigate.” British UFO expert Max Spiers sent this creepy warning, days before his death

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An ever-deepening mystery surrounds the death of ufologist and conspiracy theorist Max Spiers, who was found dead while preparing to expose politicians and celebrities linked to a global conspiracy…

In July 2016, a 39-year-old UFO researcher, conspiracy theorist and father of two, Max Spiers, was found dead on a friend’s sofa in Warsaw, Poland. Originally from Canterbury, England, Spiers was due to speak at a conference in Warsaw that month, where it’s believed he was set to lift the lid on a global black magic conspiracy and a paedophile ring inside the US Army.

Just days before his death, Spiers sent a text to his mother, Vanessa Bates, saying, “Your boy’s in trouble. If anything happens to me, investigate.”

His mother, an English teacher, told newspapers, “I think Max had been digging in some dark places and I fear somebody wanted him dead.”

Polish authorities concluded that Spiers had died from natural causes, despite no post-mortem examination being carried out. After Spiers’ body was returned to the UK, British doctors at Margate QUQM Hospital in Kent did a post-mortem but were still unable to determine how he died. To this day, Spiers’ cause of death remains a mystery.

However, an inquest into Spiers’ death, which opened at Canterbury Coroners’ Court in December 2016, has added some disturbing clues to the mix. The inquest is ongoing, but it’s already been revealed that Spiers was puking up a mysterious black liquid shortly before his death. (Makes me think of the black oil—that nasty alien virus in The X Files!)

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Witches, phantom dogs and pitchfork killers… Welcome to Meon Hill

witches

This week I’m getting in the spirit of Halloween by investigating the mysterious Meon Hill, on the edge of the Cotswolds in Warwickshire. It’s a place of Satanic legends, phantom black dog sightings, alleged witches and shadowy pitchfork-wielding killers. Anyone fancy pitching a tent there on October 31st?

Meon Hill is nestled between the sleepy Cotswold villages of Mickleton, Upper Quinton and Lower Quinton. An 8th century legend says that it was actually formed by the Devil. Frustrated by the growth of Christianity, the Devil chucked a large clod of earth at the recently built Evesham Abbey, intending to destroy it. However, the bishop spotted him and prayed for the clod of earth to miss its target. It did, landing and forming Meon Hill.

Another legend from Celtic Welsh folklore says that Meon Hill is haunted by the phantom dogs of Arawn, king of the ‘otherworld’. For centuries, numerous sightings of stray black dogs have been reported in the area. Black dogs are said to be nocturnal apparitions, bringers of death and agents of the Devil (think the Rottweilers guarding Antichrist Damien Thorn in The Omen).

But it’s what happened on 14th February 1945 — Valentine’s Day of all days—that really put Meon Hill on the map. This is when 74-year-old Lower Quinton farm labourer Charles Walton was murdered on its slopes.

Walton’s murder was brutal, gruesome and unusual. He was killed with his own instruments. His head was smashed in with his walking stick. His throat was cut with the trouncing hook he’d been using to trim hedges, which was found buried in his neck. And he was impaled and pinned to the ground with his own pitchfork.

There was a conspicuous further detail: a cross-shaped symbol was carved into his chest.

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“She is not my mummy.” Madeleine McCann spotted in Amsterdam

Madeleine McCann, aged 3, and how she might have looked aged 9

Madeleine McCann, aged 3, and how she might have looked aged 9

In May 2007, Madeleine McCann disappeared. A few days later, Dutch shop assistant Anna Stam had a disquieting conversation with a little English girl called “Maddie”, who came into her shop and claimed the woman she was with had snatched her…

On 3rd May 2007, the still unexplained disappearance of Madeleine McCann sparked the same kind of obsessive media coverage as Princess Diana’s death. The 3-year-old was on holiday in Portugal with her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, and her two younger siblings, and vanished from their apartment while the parents dined at a nearby restaurant with friends. The apartment was unlocked, but the McCanns checked on the children throughout the evening. Then Kate McCann discovered at 10pm that little Maddie was gone from her bed.

Initially the Portuguese police believed Madeleine had been abducted. However, after misinterpreting a British DNA analysis of the McCanns’ holiday apartment, they came to believe that Madeleine had died in the apartment, so suspicions fell on the parents. It was said that Madeleine had died in an accident, and Kate and Gerry McCann had covered up the incident by getting rid of the body. Even though the McCanns have now been exonerated of any involvement in Maddie’s disappearance, some conspiracy theorists continue to point the finger at the parents.

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Was Queen Victoria behind the Jack the Ripper murders?

Queen_Victoria_by_BassanoBetween August and November 1888, Jack the Ripper struck Whitechapel and brutally killed five prostitutes. Was he a lone nutjob? Or was he part of an elaborate conspiracy involving the police, the Prime Minister and Queen Victoria?

Sounds nuts, doesn’t it. But this is the conspiracy theory that’s at the centre of the Johnny Depp-starring 2001 movie From Hell (and the graphic novel it’s based on). And it originates in a 1976 book by Stephen Knight called Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution.

The secret marriage of Prince Albert Victor

The story goes that Queen Victoria’s grandson, Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, met and fell in love with Annie Elizabeth Crook, a working class Catholic girl who was one of the models for famous painter Walter Sickert. They married in a secret ceremony where the witnesses were Walter Sickert and Annie’s friend Mary Jane Kelly (who later became the fifth and final victim of Jack the Ripper). Prince Albert Victor and Annie Crook had a daughter together – Alice Crook – who was an heir to the British throne.

Prince Albert Victor

Prince Albert Victor

In 1888, Queen Victoria and Prime Minister Robert Cecil discovered Prince Albert Victor’s secret. Not only was the prince’s secret marriage to a working class girl scandalous for the Royal Family, but the heir produced by the marriage was Catholic, and Catholics were forbidden from the throne.

Basically, this needed sorting.

So Queen Victoria and the Prime Minister ordered the kidnapping of Annie and Alice. A raid of Annie’s apartment on Cleveland Street, London, was arranged, and Annie was placed into the custody of Sir William Gull, Queen Victoria’s physician. He certified her as insane, with some versions of the story contending that Queen Victoria instructed Gull to make her insane by impairing her brain functions, so she could never reveal the secret.

However, Alice Crook was not in the apartment when it was raided. She was being looked after by Mary Jane Kelly, who – along with her prostitute friends Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes – decided to blackmail the government.

Sir William Gull - the Ripper?

Sir William Gull – the Ripper?

At this point Queen Victoria, the Prime Minister and his fellow Freemasons, including senior London Met Police officers, are said to have conspired to put an end to the scandal once and for all. They decided to stage the murders of Mary Jane Kelly and her friends and retrieve Alice. Sir William Gull was given the task of murdering the women. With the assistance of coachman and accomplice John Netley, Gull became Jack the Ripper. And he clearly got a taste for murder and mutilation. The final victim was Mary Jane Kelly herself; she was basically torn to bits, her face carved off and her internal organs spread around her bedroom.

Still, Gull never got his hands on Alice, and it’s said that she lived well into old age and became Walter Sickert’s mistress.

All seems quite sensational, but could any of it be true?

The evidence for the conspiracy

There were already theories that Jack the Ripper might’ve been a physician or a surgeon because of the anatomical knowledge he displayed when he committed the murders. But the story I’ve detailed above pretty much all came from one man – Joseph Gorman, aka Joseph Sickert and allegedly the son of Walter Sickert and Alice. He was told the story about the secret royal baby, the conspiracy and Sir William Gull being the Ripper by his parents. Joseph Gorman revealed all of this as part of a BBC documentary series on Jack the Ripper in 1973.

Stephen Knight, when he heard about all this, conducted his own investigation and found a number of facts and coincidences supporting Gorman’s claims. Among these were the following:

  • It’s a fact that Annie Elizabeth Crook was institutionalised.
  • There really was a man called John Netley.
  • A woman named Elizabeth Cook – who Knight thought might be “Annie Elizabeth Crook” misspelt – did live on Cleveland Street.
  • Both Prince Albert Victor’s mother and Alice Crook were deaf. An inherited disability?
  • Knight identified similarities between the Ripper murders and alleged Masonic ritual killings, supporting the claim that Freemasons were involved in the conspiracy.
  • Clairvoyant Robert James Lees claimed to have identified Jack the Ripper using his psychic powers; his description of the Ripper matched Sir William Gull.

While none of it was concrete, it was enough to convince Knight that Gorman’s story was true. He believed that the lack of any tangible evidence was because of the government cover-up and the police destroying evidence. This led to him publishing Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution.

After this, Sir William Gull became one of the prime Ripper suspects.

Nail in the coffin

While it’s a truly fascinating tale, most modern historians reject the royal conspiracy theory, and with it, the idea of Sir William Gull being the Ripper. Why? It’s because, regardless of the coincidences, the main source of this conspiracy theory is Joseph Gorman. And Gorman retracted his story in 1978, telling The Sunday Times, “It was a hoax. I made it all up. It was a whopping fib.”

So that’s that then!

The mystery persists. I wonder if we’ll ever know the true identity of this infamous killer…

Next week: Queen Elizabeth I was a man!

Before the Princes in the Tower, there was the ‘Duke in the Castle’

Prince Arthur and his guard, Hubert de Burgh

Prince Arthur and his guard, Hubert de Burgh

We’re all familiar with the story of the Princes in the Tower, when 12-year-old Edward V and his 10-year-old brother Richard disappeared without trace in the Tower of London in 1483. But do you know the story of 16-year-old Prince Arthur, Duke of Brittany – the ‘Duke in the Castle’?

Arthur, Duke of Brittany and Earl of Richmond, was grandson to Henry II of England, nephew to King Richard I (aka the Lionheart) and King John, and heir to the throne of England. In 1203, he was incarcerated at Rouen Castle by John – aged just 16 – and was never seen again. Arthur’s is one of the earliest unexplained disappearances on record.

Arthur versus John: the build-up to his disappearance

The man who eventually became King John is probably best known today as ‘Prince John’, Richard the Lionheart’s younger brother and the main antagonist in stories and legends about Robin Hood. Historians generally regard him in a negative light; he had a reputation for cruelty and spitefulness, and John Gillingham describes him as “one of the worst kings to ever rule England”. While Richard the Lionheart was away fighting in the Third Crusade, Prince John was left in charge of England and led a rebellion, trying to seize power for himself. He ultimately failed when his brother returned to England and John’s forces surrendered.

Robin Hood stories usually take place during King Richard’s absence and Prince John’s ‘rule’ in his stead, and show him oppressing and persecuting the people of England to the extent that Robin Hood has to step in. Such is the case in Disney’s Robin Hood, in which he is portrayed as wicked, cowardly and jealous of his brother, and is mocked by the people as the ‘Phony King of England’.

The Disney version of Prince John, Arthur's suspected killer

The Disney version of Prince John, Arthur’s suspected killer

It’s unsurprising, then, that the blame for whatever happened to 16-year-old Arthur of Brittany tends to get laid at the feet of John. When Richard died in 1199, the throne of England had two possible heirs: John and Arthur. Arthur was named heir by Richard in 1190, but Richard changed his mind on his deathbed – believing Arthur to be too young – and made John his heir instead (having forgiven him for his rebellion during the Crusades).

The problem was, support for the two heirs was divided. The bulk of the English and Norman nobility supported John’s claim, while the French nobility and the French king supported Arthur’s. War broke out between John and Arthur, and in August 1202, John took Arthur by surprise, capturing him and imprisoning him in the Chateau de Falaise in Normandy. The following year, Arthur was transferred to Rouen Castle – and subsequently vanished in April 1203.

Rouen Castle - where Prince Arthur was last seen

Rouen Castle – where Prince Arthur was last seen

Did John kill Arthur?

John certainly had a motive. Arthur was his rival for the throne, and removing him would undermine the French movement that was supporting him. Modern historians generally believe he was murdered by John.

Contemporaneous chronicler Ralph of Coggeshall stated that John ordered two of his servants to blind and castrate Arthur while he was under the guard of Hubert de Burgh at the Chateau de Falaise – but Hubert de Burgh refused to let it happen. This is our first piece of evidence that John was trying to harm Arthur.

Evidence that he actually murdered him comes from the annals of Margam Abbey. These say that John – while drunk and possessed by the Devil – slew Arthur with his own hand while he was imprisoned in Rouen Castle, and dumped his body in the River Seine. However, the origin of this story is unclear – it might just have been anti-John propaganda.

An 18th century depiction of Arthur's murder by John

An 18th century depiction of Arthur’s murder by John

William Shakespeare has John ordering Hubert de Burgh to kill Arthur in his play, The Life and Death of King John. De Burgh can’t bring himself to do it, and Arthur ends up killing himself by jumping from the castle walls in an escape attempt. But the chronicles Shakespeare used as his sources were written hundreds of years after Arthur’s disappearance.

Another account has courtier William de Broase’s wife, Maud de Braose, personally and directly accusing King John of murdering Arthur, several years after his disappearance. Apparently John reacted to this by imprisoning Maud and her eldest son in Corfe Castle, Dorset, and starving them to death.

Her husband, William de Broase, meanwhile escaped to France. He allegedly published a statement on what really happened to Arthur – but no copy has been found.

I suspect that Arthur was killed by the ruthless John. Still, this missing statement by William de Broase raises questions. Perhaps Arthur escaped and went into hiding. Perhaps John exiled him to some isolated place in secret. Unless the statement surfaces, or other historical evidence is found, Arthur’s disappearance will officially remain one of England’s big medieval mysteries…

Next week: Are snuff films real?