Thursday, February 6, 2020

Finding Black Sheep in Your Family

In the 1950s Leon Nutes was at his mother-in-law’s New York City apartment when a stranger came knocking. Nutes recalled that the man’s handshake was a firm as steel. “Who is he?” he asked. In a hushed tone, his mother-in-law explained, “He’s a cousin of mine and he just got out of jail.”
     Nutes told of this encounter years later in a phone call to Carl R. Migden, a distant cousin who was researching the family tree. Bronx-born Migden learned that the “jail” was the infamous maximum-security prison Sing Sing. And the cousin released from there was Jacob “Kuppy” Migden, a member of the criminal organization known as Crime, Inc.
Kuppy’s criminal activities—an embarrassment to the family—were a long-held family secret. “It was the most fascinating genealogical research I ever undertook,” says Carl R. Migden, who wrote of the quest to uncover his criminal kinsman’s hidden story for a book entitled A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Black Sheep in Your Family.
In the 165-page paperback, published in 2016, author Migden gives advice about the sources available for research while detailing his own success with the clues and leads from newspapers, hospitals, cemeteries, courthouses, state archives, the Social Security Administration, municipal archives, census, prisons, U.S. Treasury Department, and the FBI.
    In newspapers, for instance, the author found more than 20 articles about Kuppy Migden’s involvement in a first-degree murder case in 1939. An order to assassinate a would-be court witness from testifying in a racketeering case led to mistaken identity and the shooting death of the wrong man. Kuppy unsuccessfully attempted to thwart arrest by having his face surgically altered. When he was apprehended, federal agents found Kuppy had planned to conceal his identity with a falsified birth certificate and other documents.
“I discovered the very interesting and rich details that criminal records can reveal… It put faces and images onto the pages of genealogical notes: precise dates, times, locations, buildings, allegations, and more,” says Kuppy’s cousin-turned-sleuth, Carl R. Migden.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding Black Sheep in Your Family may be ordered online for $15.95 plus shipping from eBay:

Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Mysterious Woman Upstairs

In November 1915 Mary Connor purchased a large two-story home in the small town of Newmarket, New Hampshire. Mary and her sister, Annie, moved there from their farmhouse two miles away. The middle-aged, unmarried sisters were soon joined by a reclusive older woman, a stranger to townsfolk. George Bennett, the sisters’ former neighbor, would often drop by their new house for a visit. As Bennett recalled, “that lady living with them would instantly slip away and disappear upstairs.”
The mysterious lady was sometimes seen—dressed in black—stepping outside the house briefly but only at night. From a second-floor bedroom closet, the mysterious lady had a hidden staircase built that descended to the back of the house. She made a strange, cryptic remark to one of the Connor sisters of her inevitable fear that “one night they will come for me.”
Mail carrier Robert Bennett (brother to the sisters’ former neighbor, George Bennett) knew the name of the mysterious lady living with the Connor sisters, because he delivered letters addressed to her. She was Emma Borden, the estranged sister of Lizzie Borden who was acquitted of the 1892 axe murders of her wealthy father and stepmother in Fall River, Massachusetts. Emma’s New Hampshire residence was nearly 130 miles away from Fall River.
This story, from Frank Spiering’s Lizzie: The Story of Lizzie Borden (New York: Dorsett Press, 1984), pp. 219-222, says Emma moved into the Connors’ home in 1916. However, in Lizzie Borden: Past & Present (Fall River: Al-Zach Press, 1999), pp. 312-313, author Leonard Rebello notes the appearance of Emma’s name in Fall River directories during 1914 to 1918. She then moved to an apartment in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1919. Annie Connor later told a newspaper reporter that Emma moved into her home in 1923.
What caused Emma to relocate to the small New Hampshire town? Why did she live in fear?
While Spiering speculates Emma chose Newmarket because of its remoteness, Rebello’s book (p. 314) points to a 1981 newspaper article in which Louis Fillon recalled that while delivering grain to the Connor house, he learned that Emma Borden was living there. “He was requested by Emma’s lawyer to keep his discovery a secret to prevent Lizzie from finding Emma’s whereabouts and taking her money.” Annie Connor was surprised that Fillon discovered the mysterious lady’s identity.
In Lizzie: The Story of Lizzie Borden (p. 224), Spiering tells of Emma’s being awakened at night after hearing a noise on the first floor. She came down the concealed staircase to investigate but missed her footing and fell, breaking her hip. She died on June 10, 1927, nine days following the death of her sister, Lizzie.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

When walking with Mrs. Fitzpatrick after 9 p.m. could get you arrested

In Stephenville, Texas, in the late 1890s, any man seen walking with Mrs. Mary Fitzpatrick after 9 p.m. could be arrested and fined. Why? Because city penal code made it a misdemeanor for any male over 14 caught strolling the streets or riding in a vehicle with a known prostitute. Mrs. Fitzpatrick was one such character.

In December 1896, six men were arrested for taking night-time strolls with the strumpet.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Lifetime's "The Night Stalker" based on true-crime bestseller

Eddie Ramos and Lou Diamond Phillips 
both play killer Richard Ramirez in The 

Night Stalker, Lifetime's movie version of 

Phillip Caro's bestseller of the same name.
(Photo: copyright 2016 Michael Clifford)
   The Night Stalker, premiering on Lifetime at 8 p.m. (CT), Sunday (June 12), stars Lou Diamond Phillips as Richard Ramirez, the serial killer who terrorized Los Angeles in the mid-1980s. This “real-life” story is not a remake of Nightstalker, the 2002 flick inspired by Ramirez’s crime spree.

  Lifetime’s Night Stalker, based on Phillip Carlo’s bestseller of the same name, opens in June 2013 with a lawyer named Kit (Bellamy Young) visiting Ramirez in San Quintin where he’s been imprisoned for two decades. As Kit leaves the prison, she sees other women are waiting to visit with the convicted killer, too. But she’s not there as one of his fans. Kit meets with the Night Stalker to get a confession; she’s been hired to clear another convict who she believes is serving time for murders committed by Ramirez. 
  Flashbacks retrace Ramirez’s steps in becoming the Night Stalker, but they also reveal disturbing memories from Kit’s past. “You affected my whole life,” she tells him, explaining how their lives paralleled nearly 30 years earlier. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Violent Life and Death of Samantha Olds

    Halloween 2015 marks the 165th birthday of Samantha Olds, one of the victims of an axe-wielding frenzy at a dilapidated Texas farmhouse in 1925.

    Violence had a strange, lifelong grip on her.
    Beautiful and vivacious, Samantha had a penchant for dangerous men, and they were equally drawn to her. Her teenage marriage to Amos Smith ended when he was gunned down in a hit orchestrated by a couple of his gambling partners in Iredell, Texas, in 1875. One of the men, according to The Austin Statesman, “was exceedingly intimate with Smith’s wife.” However, Samantha was never implicated in the crime, whereas the two gamblers and their triggerman were lynched. While awaiting execution, one of the men reportedly said, “This will make seven men who have been killed in quarrels about Mrs. Smith.”
    Soon Amos Smith’s widow was on the prowl for a new husband. She found Bill Olds, who was later arrested for theft, forgery, and murder. The daughters from the first marriage despised Olds for mistreating their mother. Samantha, however, used a gun to keep her husband at bay. She finally abandoned him in Iredell and moved to Waco with family members. “That old lady could shoot better than any man I know,” recalled a longtime Wacoan. “She lived down by the wagon yards and used to shoot up the place right regular—just for the hell of it.”
    Samantha’s legacy as a beacon of brutality passed to her daughter by Bill Olds, Maggie, who was twice widowed with the murders of her second and fourth husbands. Her choice for a fifth husband, F. M. Snow, led to the 1925 gruesome tragedy. She married the woodchopper shortly after the family moved to Erath County from Waco. Samantha’s new son-in-law, whom she called a “no-account,” was a violent ex-convict. Weeks after this unholy union, Samantha, Maggie, and Maggie’s son were butchered by Snow in an uncontrollable fit of rage. 
    No pictures are known to exist of Samantha or Maggie. Curiously, photographs of the fireplace where Snow burned her body show what some say is a woman’s face outlined on the chimney’s bricks.


Monday, July 13, 2015


That's the name of Bill O'Neal's upcoming presentation at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. We'll be there!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Lizzie Borden Brings Her Hatchet to TV

One of America’s most infamous unsolved murders will unfold in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, premiering on Lifetime, January 25 (8 p.m., ET). Golden Globe® and Emmy® Award nominee Christina Ricci takes on the title role, while Stephen McHattie and Sara Botsford portray her father and stepmother. Screen Actors Guild Award® winner Clea DuVall plays older sister Emma. The 2014 movie, however, is not a remake of The Legend of Lizzie Borden, the 1975 made-for-TV movie starring Bewitched actress Elizabeth Montgomery.
On a hot August day in 1892, wealthy Andrew Borden and his wife, Abby, were the victims of a hatching-swinging killer in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. Borden’s daughter Lizzie, an unmarried Sunday school teacher, was charged with committing the double homicide, but at the sensational trial that followed, the accused murderess was found not guilty. The gruesome story, a crime writer’s dream come true, has spawned countless books, many with different perspectives and theories which set out to prove or disprove Lizzie’s guilt.
Lizzie Borden Took an Ax ­captures the tension and resentment in the Borden household, but viewers can expect the movie will take creative license with the facts. Five-foot-three Abby Borden was “very well nourished and very fleshy,” at least according to the autopsy. That hardly describes Sara Botsford, the outstanding yet oft-overlooked Canadian actress who portrays Lizzie’s stepmother.
Christina Ricci had already turned 33 when it was announced she would play Lizzie Borden, making her closer in age to her character than Elizabeth Montgomery, who was 41 when she depicted the 32-year-old accused murderess. Although it’s hard to imagine the 2014 movie—or any other incarnation—eclipsing The Legend of Lizzie Borden, Lifetime’s Lizzie Borden Took an Ax sports a fine cast and a script from Mod Squad screenwriter Stephen Kay. 

Christina Ricci stars in Lifetime's fact-based movie, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax
(Photo Courtesy of Lifetime. Copyright 2014)