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.