Strange Times 89: Two Men Crucified

Today we have experimental surgery behind prison walls, a mysterious religious rite in New Mexico, and a blind burglar in upstate New York. Steal some grape juice to celebrate…

March 30, 1921

  • The Berlin police believe the recent string of bombings there may be the work of the “exceptionally clever” anarchist syndicate believed to have arranged the attack on Wall Street last year.

  • A con artist said to have informed on the notorious Mabray Gang is shot dead in a St. Augustine restaurant, and none of the gunmen are caught.

  • The Weather: Fair and warmer today; Thursday cloudy and warmer; fresh south winds.


Some true weird science vibes here, starting with the headline, which takes pains to note that the surgeon is operating only on a brain, not all brains.

OSSINING, March 29.—Dr. William L. Chapman, a noted surgeon, removed a jagged-edged bullet today from the brain of Roman Leondowski, a prisoner in Sing Sing, in the hope of restoring his sanity.

Dr. Chapman, who lives at 552 Lincoln Place, Brooklyn, was so ill himself that he had to be taken from Warden Lawes’s automobile into the prison hospital in a wheeled chair. There he was lifted to a stool, from which he performed the delicate operation.

Last November Dr. Chapman suffered a stroke of apoplexy that left him partly paralyzed. He now has but slight use of his left arm and side.

Warden Lawes reported that Leondowski’s condition was favorable tonight, and surgeons who witnessed the operation believed the patient had a fair chance of recovery. Recovery would mean eventually release from prison.

Eight doctors watched Dr. Chapman perform the operation. The bullet was embedded in the brain two inches below the top of the skull, where it had lodged nearly four years.

A second bullet, embedded at the base of the right ear, in the visual area, was not disturbed, as it was enclosed in tissue, and its removal, it was feared, might leave a scar that would be as disturbing as the bullet.

X-Ray Photos Reveal Bullets

Before operating, Dr. Chapman studied X-ray photographs showing the location of the bullets. He decided the one in the motor area was causing Leondowski’s mental disturbances, consisting of attacks of epilepsy, hallucinations and depression. Doctors believe if Leondowski recovers from the operation his mind again will function as it did before he was shot in Schenectady nearly four years ago.

The operation was performed at Leondowski’s request. Before he was taken into the operating room the last rites of the Catholic Church were administered to the prisoner by the Rev. Father William E. Cashin, the prison chaplain. Leondowski’s mind was clear for several days prior to the operation.

“I’m willing to take a fighting chance,” he said, “for I might as well be dead as to have to go through life this way.…”

Dr. Reed Explains Operation

When Leondowski had been placed under the influence of an anaesthetic, Dr. Chapman made the scalp incision, using only his right hand. Another surgeon then trephined under Dr. Chapman’s direction, removing a section from the top of the skull as large as a silver dollar. Then, said Dr. Reed, explaining the operation, Dr. Chapman opened the dura and cautiously running his finger into the brain, located the bullet in the motor area. Loosening the bullet, he slowly worked it backward about three inches to the inner wall of the skull. Then he slid it upward to the aperture he had made, and lifted it out with forceps. It was rough-edged, rather flattened and was about half an inch in length.

No brain tissue was destroyed in removing the bullet and there was no bleeding. The incision was closed thirty-five minutes after the skull had been pierced.

Dr. Chapman then opened the skull under the right ear to determine just how the second bullet was lodged. When he found it deeply embedded inside the brain tissue, he decided not to disturb it. Leondowski was on the operating table about an hour.

After the operation, Dr. Ross said, Leondowski would be kept in Sing Sing until his condition improved sufficiently to remove him to Dannemora. If the operation had the desired results, Leondowski would be given his freedom. He already had served his sentence for assault, but was being kept in prison because it was feared that his release would prove a danger to society.


Crucifixion, y’all. Don’t do it.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., March 29.—At least two men were crucified in New Mexico on Good Friday. There were probably more, but American visitors at the village of the Penitentes in Northern New Mexico saw the forms of two men tied to huge crosses, on which they suffered for more than half an hour, when they were taken down, bleeding and exhausted. On a lonely hill under a black sky the crosses were outlined against the horizon and the figures hanging there were wound in white sheets.

The men were tied there at the culmination of a week of ceremonies of a fast disappearing religious order that dates back to the days of the conquistadores.

The men are members of the “Hermanos de Luz,” (Brothers of Light), found in little groups throughout New Mexico and other sections settled by the early Spaniards. Eye-witnesses saw not only the actual crucifixion, but other scenes. On Maundy Thursday and throughout Good Friday flagellants paraded in solemn processions, flogging themselves across the back with heavy thorn whips soaked in brine to accentuate the pain. There are reports that in these Holy Week observances of the Brothers of Light men have died on the cross.


“I just wanted to see what was in there,” has got to be the best explanation for burglary that I’ve ever heard. I’ll make note to use it the next time I’m apprehended.

COLD SPRING HARBOR, March 29.—When tracked to his home by Charles Wenzell, fingerprint expert and Deputy Sheriff of Huntington, George Hawxhurst, 27 years old, who has been blind from birth, admitted that he had broken into the homes of William T. Lockwood and Matthew Curley, who live in the heart of this village.

Wenzell had been investigating and was about to give up in despair, when he discovered a peculiarly shaped footprint on a sofa in the Lockwood house. He ascertained that Hawxhurst wore a shoe that seemed to fit the shape, but was told that Hawxhurst, being blind, could not have committed the burglary. Nevertheless, the deputy went to the blind man’s home, he says, and got a confession. He quotes Hawxhurst as saying he, “just wanted to find out what was in the houses.” All he got was a clock and several bottles of grape juice. The young man was not placed under arrest.

Strange Times 87: "You'll Never Get Me Alive!"

Because last week’s premium-only story was one I’d like shared as widely as possible, I’ve decided to extend the 50% off special for another week. Get a year’s subscription for $20 and read all about the horror at Yellow River.

Today brings the dread sign of revenge and the dread specter of a radioactive god. Pull out your lead rosary for…

March 28, 1921

  • Hungary bans the fox-trot, the one-step, and all jazz dances from its dance calls, calling instead for a return to “the old Magyar dances, which had fallen into disuse.”

  • After rejecting several suitors, 16-year-old Dorothy Miller was overjoyed to receive a telegram from an anonymous benefactor offering a $1,000 certified check without asking marriage in return.

  • More details have emerged in the gruesome peonage murders along the Alcovy River, with plantation owner John Williams now suspected of ordering the murder of as many as 40 black farmhands.

  • The Weather: Rain and colder today; cloudy and colder tomorrow; fresh shifting winds.


Just a good old-fashioned, over-the-top, kinda racist mafia story.

The dread sign of revenge that so many Italians know and fear was made by Michael Bartine two years ago when Daniel Bilusco, a grocer at 304 East 108th Street, appeared as complaining witness at Bartine’s trial for a hold-up.

Bartine served his two years in Sing Sing for the job and came out a few days ago. He procrastinated only long enough to arm himself and last night he made his way back to Harlem’s Little Italy, still gay and populous with the waning Easter celebration.

Fortunately for Bilusco, Bartine was drunk. He stepped into the murky little shop where the grocer was serving belated customers, unaware that his sworn enemy was at liberty. At least Bilusco had made no effort to protect himself. Pausing while lifting a can from a shelf to survey, as he supposed, a new patron, Bilusco gazed straight into a swarthy face distorted with hate. His gaze shifted a bit and the wobbling muzzle of a long, blue-barreled pistol met his sight.

If Bartine said anything, Bilusco was too frightened to remember it. All he knew was that the ugly-looking weapon spoke four times and that the bullets spattered so closely about him he thought his calls upon his patron saint must be in vain.

Bartine Eludes Pursuers

After the fourth shot the trigger clicked, the pistol jammed, and Bartine, perhaps in his dazed condition believing he had emptied his weapon, fled from the shop. The grocer, who had dropped to his knees behind the counter, picked himself up, the few customers huddled against the walls jabbered excitedly, and then pell mell into the street went all of them, yelling for the police.

There was no sign of Bartine, but soon Detectives Caputo and Dougherty came from the East 104th Street Station, they heard what had occurred, got a good description of Bartine, and started on a search of Italian haunts throughout Harlem. Their quest took them far in vain, but two hours later, at midnight, they came back near the grocery store, having decided to search the “murder stable” at 108th Street and First Avenue, which became famous in criminal annals during the Baff case.

The two men, expecting no particular trouble, walked into the stable—and almost bumped into Bartine, crouched over the crank of an automobile he was starting.

Bartine, recognizing that the visitors were policemen, cried: “You’ll never get me alive,” set his engine whirling and tried to get into the car.

Neighborhood Joins Fight

Caputo grabbed him and in an instant the two men realized they had a real fight on their hands. Bartine bit and fought and kicked and scratched. They dragged him into the open, and immediately a gang of roughs came crowding from all over the neighborhood. Before the detectives could sound their whistles men had appeared as if by magic on rooftops and in windows. Some opened fire, others hurled stones and brickbats and milk bottles.

Caputo, one hand torn and bleeding from the effects of Bartine’s teeth, clung to his captive with the other, while Dougherty, too hard pressed on all sides to draw his pistol, fanned about with his blackjack, time and again beating off the would-be rescuers just before they had torn the prisoner loose.

Four uniformed men, hearing the shouts and screams of the fracas, shrilled through now and then with the long-drawn notes of police whistles, came running to the aid of the detectives. They got there just in time to club back a crowd that was growing rapidly to the size of a mob and that was becoming so frenzied by its own rage and daring it soon would have been uncontrollable.

Dougherty’s face was scratched and bleeding and his clothes were ripped and torn, and both men bore the marks of some of the better directed missiles, but neither was hurt seriously. Bartine was damaged a bit in the fray, but did not need the services of a physician.

He was locked up in the East 104th Street station on a charge of assault.


I’ve read this three times now and still don’t fully understand it, but I still can’t get over the magnificence of an X-Ray Scientist named Dr. Leray.

PARIS, March 27 (Associated Press).—“The hidden god who does not wish to give up his secrets strikes down men who seek to take them,” said Dr. Adolphe Leray, chief of the X-Ray laboratory in the St. Antoine Hospital, shortly before he died yesterday at Enghien, near Paris.

Dr. Leray was a victim of what he believed to have been a successful effort to find protection from the X-rays, which have caused the slow death of many scientists.

Research in an effort to afford protection to others was begun by Dr. Leray after his hands had become affected through the making of 35,000 radiographs in war work. For this work he was decorated by the French Government with the Legion of Honor. Several of his fingers were amputated during his research work, but he still persisted in it and told those who begged him to desist that it was the hidden god who desired to retain his secrets who struck down those who sought to unravel them.

Strange Times 85: Duelling Proved Nothing & Was Silly

Thank you for indulging me during my five week hiatus—the time proved invaluable both for finishing rewrites on the sequel to Westside, which is already available for preorder (hot damn!), and taking several naps.

As an experiment to see if I can attract a few more subscribers to the full newsletter, I’m running a special this week offering a year’s subscription for just $20. Get it while you can! Or don’t! Those are your options!

Today brings a picky mercenary bride and a brace of furious French deputies. Snap your cane over your rival’s head for…

March 26, 1921

  • An Inwood daycare owner is indicted for cruelty to children after one of her charges accuses her of covering him with a soiled sheet and tying him to a post in the back yard as punishment.

  • Although his convalescence continues happily, Caruso cancels his planned trip to Atlantic City so that he may sail for Italy as early as May. 

  • The Weather: Partly cloudy today; Sunday, Cloudy, with occasional showers; moderate temperature; south winds. 


I am so disappointed that they chose not to quote from the too passionate and extravagant expressions of love.

TRENTON, N.J., March 25.—Dorothy Miller, the sixteen-year-old Trenton girl who has offered to marry any refined, educated white man who will give her mother $1,000 for a vitally important operation, today rejected the Philadelphia young man to whom she wired yesterday that he would do. This suitor, whose name the girl withheld, called on her today, but the interview was short.

“He was too tough,” she said, “and I turned him down. He was impossible.”

The young man told her that he owned a garage and had an income of $600 a month.

Miss Miller today received a letter from a Spanish instructor, but his expressions of love were so passionate and extravagant that she said she did not want to meet him.


Unquestionably, the best detail in this amazing little story is that the Royalist aggressor was dragged away screaming is own name. “Daudet! Daudet! Daudet!”

PARIS, March 25.—“Who struck first?” is the question which a Magistrate is likely to have some difficulty in deciding in his judgment on a fight between the Royalist Deputy, Léon Daudet, and Jacques Fieschi, ex-Colonial administrator, which disturbed the peace of the aristocratic boulevard, St. Germain, yesterday afternoon.

M. Daudet in his paper, L’Action Française, says this morning that the other man assaulted him with his stick. The Republican press, which habitually refers to the Royalist Deputy as “The King’s Jester,” roundly declares that all the witnesses of the affair are agreed that it was M. Daudet who first used his stick and drew blood.

M. Daudet was on his way from his home to the Chamber of Deputies when the encounter took place. His own story is that he saw three men standing on the sidewalk as if waiting for some one, and when he approached one of them, Fieschi, called out: “There’s that miserable Daudet, the public insulter!” The reference was evidently to the Royalist’s habit of attacking him and other political enemies in his newspaper in somewhat unconventional language and with little regard for their feelings.

“At the same time,” writes M. Daudet, “my aggressor dealt a blow with his cane at me from which my hat saved me. I replied vigorously.”

So vigorous, indeed, was his reply that he laid open his opponent’s forehead, and blood flowed freely. A crowd collected while the two continued their furious battle of walking sticks, and it was only after considerable mutual damage had been done that M. Daudet was dragged off, shouting his own name and declaring that the whole affair was an ambush. After their wounds had been attended in a drug store both parties lodged complaints with the local police magistrate.

So violent, according to one account, were the blows which the stout Royalist administered that in the end he broke his cane on his adversary. With M. Fieschi at the time were two men whose names M. Daudet says were Sternberg and Oppenheim. He declares that the affair was the outcome of a speech which he had made at the morning session of the Chamber on the Caillaux affair.

Recently M. Daudet was challenged to a duel by one man whom he had ben attacking, but declined to fight on the ground that duelling proved nothing and was silly. As he has in the past fought several serious duels, his courage, at least, cannot be questioned.

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