History is full of strange crimes, crazed criminals, and skilled impostors. Listverse has covered many of these odd historical events and personages, from the lesbian nun scandal, to the woman who posed as the Maid of Norway and was burned alive for her efforts, to the mass murderer who claimed to have sodomized more than 1000 men. But here are ten incredibly bizarre historical crimes that very few people have heard of: Welcome to the twisted world of the criminals who have been lost in history.
10The Escaped Convict Who Became a False Princess
In 1771, a royal maid named Sarah Wilson was sentenced to death for stealing royal jewelry and a tiny portrait of Queen Charlotte, along with one of the Queen’s dresses. Wilson’s mistress stepped in on her behalf, and narrowly escaping execution, Wilson was transported to America on a prison ship and promptly sold to a wealthy plantation owner. Wilson did not take well to slavery and escaped shortly after arriving at her new workplace.
Somehow (nobody can explain this) she was still in possession of the jewels, the dress, and the portrait she had initially stolen. Using these items as proof, Wilson claimed to be Princess Susanna Caroline Matilda, sister to Queen Charlotte. “Princess Susanna” claimed she had been exiled to America after an undisclosed scandal. For two years the false princess lived in luxury, wanting for nothing, as wealthy colonial families (the gentlemen especially) showered her with gifts in the hopes of winning royal favor.
Eventually, the guy she had been sold to figured out who the false princess really was. He offered a reward for her return, and she was promptly marched back to his plantation at gunpoint.
One would think her story would end there, but two years later Wilson swapped identities with another woman and escaped again. She fled northwards and eventually married a British army officer. Wilson was never convicted for being an impostor, and, in 1774, it was remarked in a Rhode Island paper that Sarah Wilson “is the most surprising genius of the female sex that was ever obliged to visit America.’’
9When Margaret ‘’Bill’’ Allen Was in a Funny Mood
In 1906, Margaret Allen was born, the twentieth of twenty-two children. From a young age, Margaret shunned dresses and refused to do “female chores,” preferring to shovel coal and do household repairs. By 1935, Margaret was telling friends that she had been to hospital to have a delicate operation that ‘’turned her from a woman to a man’’ (this is highly unlikely). These days Margaret would be recognized as a transgender person and could seek support, but back then she was considered little more than an oddity. She called herself Bill, wore men’s clothes, and worked as a bus conductor before she was fired for whacking people over the back of the head if they did not find a seat fast enough.
On August 24, 1948, Margaret committed a crime that still baffles many today, as no one can work out exactly what her motivation was. An eccentric elderly neighbor, who allegedly was extremely annoying, knocked on Margaret’s door asking to borrow a cup of sugar. Margaret let the old woman inside, then battered her to death with a coal hammer.
Margaret was eventually arrested and confessed to the murder, saying that on the spur of the moment she grabbed the hammer and hit the old woman with it, more than once. “I was in one of my funny moods,’’ was the only real explanation she could give.
Margaret ‘’Bill’’ Allen was sentenced to death. She was forced to wear a dress when she was executed by hanging on January 12, 1949.
8The Woman Who Wore the Clothes of the Girls Her Husband Murdered
In 1861, Marie Pichon accepted an offer of work from a kindly-seeming man who led her into the woods as darkness fell, then attempted to strangle her. Marie managed to escape, and after a terrifying chase through the woods to a nearby village, she was able to identify Martin Dumollard to authorities by the large swelling over his lip.
Dumollard’s property was searched, and two bodies were found in varying stages of decomposition. Piles of female clothing were found inside the property, many garments containing bloodstains. Mrs. Dumollard had been wearing many of the clothes despite knowing they belonged to murdered women, and the amount of clothing found far exceeded the number of bodies the police were able to uncover.
Dumollard was eventually found guilty of six murders, including a case where a female corpse had been found in the woods near his house in 1855. The woman had been brutally assaulted before death, and her corpse had been subjected to ‘’gross outrage.’’ It was also concluded that one of the victims had been buried alive as she had died with her fingers digging into the soil above her, which is how her corpse was found when she was unearthed. All the dead were women who had been led to Dumollard’s property with the promise of work.
Dumollard was executed by guillotine in 1862. His fate was kinder than that of his father, who had been torn apart by galloping horses as punishment for his part in a plot to kill the King of Austria. Mrs. Dumollard was sentenced to 20 years in prison and hard labor for her complicity in Dumollard’s crimes.
7The Butcher of Berlin
Karl Grossman already had a long criminal history of violence, bestiality, and child molestation by the time he rented a filthy apartment in the slums of Berlin in the 1920s. Neighbors often heard screaming coming from his rooms, but this sort of thing was so common that no one thought to contact police. He had an unusually high amount of female visitors, and the ones that survived later claimed he subjected them to all kinds of sexual violence after they returned to his apartment with the promise of work.
Suspicions were not raised until more than 20 dismembered bodies were discovered in nearby waterways, and police declared they had a serial killer on the loose. Authorities were alerted the next time the screaming started in Grossman’s rooms, and in August 1921 the police busted his door open to find him standing over the bound corpse of a woman he had just killed. Evidence of at least two more murders that happened in only the past few weeks was also found in his apartment. He was suspected of at least 23 murders but hanged himself on July 5, 1922, before he could be executed.
Grossman was given the title “The Butcher of Berlin” as a result of the bizarre rumors surrounding his crimes. He spent much his time in Berlin’s Silesian train station, which is where he picked up many of the women he would take back to his apartment to sexually abuse and murder. Some sources claim that he sold hot dogs to hungry travelers at the station, and that he seemed to have a copious supply of meat, despite the food shortages in Berlin at the time. It has been speculated that the meat he sold to travelers was cut from the women he murdered, many of whom were travelers themselves that he met while plying his wares.
6The Woman Who Helped Her Husband Chop off His Own Leg
In her late teens, a foundling named Martha Lowenstein inherited a wealthy estate from Moritz Fritsch, who had taken her in as his ward (and lover) the year before. The inheritance money was not enough to sustain the extravagant lifestyle of Martha and her new husband Emil Marek, with whom she had been having an affair since before Fritsch had died.
Once the inheritance was gone, the couple became desperate for more money. In an epic attempt at fooling an insurance company out of a large sum of money, the couple tried to cut off Emil’s leg . . . but they could not quite detach it completely. Insurers did not believe the story that Emil had an accident while chopping wood, as doctors found that the almost-severed limb had been hacked three times. The leg had to be amputated and to add insult to injury, the couple were charged with insurance fraud, and Martha was jailed for four months for trying to bribe a nurse during the investigation.
After Martha’s release from prison, people developed the unfortunate habit of dying around her. She was later imprisoned for yet another insurance fraud, and it was then that the son of one of Martha’s deceased lodgers called for an investigation. His mother’s body was exhumed, along with the bodies of the now deceased Emil, Martha and Emil’s daughter, and Martha’s aunt. A rare metallic poison called thallium was found in all the corpses. Martha’s son was also found to be dying of thallium poisoning and was rushed to hospital.
Martha insisted she was innocent but was found guilty after a chemist revealed she had regularly purchased thallium at his store. Martha was executed by guillotine on December 6, 1938.
5The Necrophile Who Wanted to Be Handsome
From 1971 to 1972, police had been investigating a series of bizarre crimes in which corpses had been exhumed from their graves and “interfered with.” The five corpses showed evidence of being bitten and gnawed, some had been mutilated and cut, and in the case of the females, it was clear that sexual activity had been attempted.
Then on May 6, 1972, a young couple were shot dead in their car. The corpse of the female showed evidence that the murderer had been trying to drink her blood, and had attempted posthumous sexual activity. Later, another woman was shot, and the same posthumous rituals were carried out on her corpse. Then a mortuary worker was shot when he surprised a man kissing the corpse of a fifteen-year-old girl.
The mortuary worker survived and eventually identified Kuno Hofmann as the man who shot him. Hofmann confessed to the bizarre graveyard crimes and the three more recent murders. The necrophile had to explain his motivations through a translator as he had been abused so severely as a child that he was left deaf and mute. He had spent nine of his 41 years in prison and finally turned to the occult in hopes of finding a better life for himself.
After studying books on Satanism and witchcraft, he had become convinced that by performing certain rituals on the dead, he could become handsome and popular. When exhuming corpses from graves had failed, he decided the bodies must need to be fresh for his rituals to succeed. He turned to murder in the hopes of attaining the elusive handsomeness he dreamed of. His plans failed, however, and Kuno Hofmann was confined to an asylum for life.
4The Preacher Who Ordered Her Followers to Crucify Her
Margaretta Peter was fiercely religious, and she spent three years in her 20s wandering Switzerland preaching the word of God. By age 29 when she settled back down in her family home, she had gathered a small but loyal congregation about her, which included many of her immediate family members.
Soon after she returned home, in 1823, Margaretta became convinced the devil was living in the rafters of their house. Claiming herself to be the Messiah, she declared battle against Satan. Margaretta and her followers began to smash up the house with farm implements, then at Margaretta’s command, they turned the implements on each other.
The insane preacher then proclaimed that she herself must be sacrificed, but her sister Elizabeth volunteered to die in Margaretta’s place. Margaretta and her loyal followers then beat Elizabeth to death, eventually crushing her skull. The madness did not end there, as Margaretta then demanded she be crucified, believing she must suffer and die to save the souls of the damned. Her loyal flock tore up floorboards and arranged them in a cross which Margaretta laid down upon. They drove nails through her hands, feet, elbows, and breasts as Margaretta loudly proclaimed she would rise again in three days. On her command, they then crushed her skull with a hammer.
Believing both Margaretta and Elizabeth would be resurrected, the flock waited with the bodies as they began to rot. Police eventually arrived, and the entire congregation was arrested and jailed. The house was condemned and torn down, and the land was declared unfit to build on ever again. The only account that remains of this event was obtained directly from the trial records at the time and eyewitness accounts.
Elizabeth and Margaretta did not return from the dead.
3The Nun Who Ate Her Secret Lover’s Excrement
When she was 13, Marianna de Leyva’s wealthy father forced her into the Santa Margherita convent in Monza. She took well to the pious life initially, changing her name to Virginia and becoming a teacher and role-model to the younger girls. In her twenties, however, things changed. Sister Virginia fell in love with a wealthy young nobleman called Gian Paolo Osio who had a terrible reputation as a womanizer, and there were even rumors he had killed people. Virginia and Osio’s sexual liaisons were carried out in her rooms in the convent. In the years that their secret affair lasted, Virginia birthed two children. The first baby was a stillborn boy, the second, a daughter, Osio officially recognized as his own illegitimate offspring.
The love affair was a rocky one, and Virginia often became depressed and even suicidal, plagued with guilt about the unholy affair. In the hopes of turning her lust to repulsion, she turned to the magical art of Coprophagia: Eating Osio’s feces. Some sources claim she drank the superstitious remedy in tea, and some claim she ate her lover’s excrement dried and sprinkled over liver and onions.
Whatever her method, the bizarre medicine failed to quell her lust, and, in 1606, a disgruntled novice threatened to expose the scandalous affair. Osio killed and beheaded the girl, burying her body in the monastery chicken coop. Virginia then helped him make a hole in the monastery wall to make it appear as though the girl had escaped. However, rumors continued to spread, and to cover his tracks, Osio killed multiple people including some of Virginia’s friends, the apothecary who had supplied Virginia with abortifacients, and the blacksmith who had supplied Osio with duplicate keys to the monastery. Virginia appears to have been complicit in all the murders, desperate to keep the scandal a secret.
In the ensuing investigation into the murders and the affair, multiple people were tortured, including Virginia and Osio. Osio was condemned to death but escaped, only to be killed later by a friend. Virginia was sentenced to life in solitary confinement, bricked up in a four feet by nine feet (1.2 m x 2.7 m) room, in the “convent” of S. Valeria (which was seen by many as more of a prison). Fourteen years later, Virginia was considered reformed and released from her cell. She became a sort of Mother Teresa figure to novices at the convent, many of them prostitutes seeking salvation.
2From Crazed Acid Torturer to Medical Missionary
Dr. Geza de Kaplany was a freedom fighter in the Hungarian revolution before he fled the war and eventually settled in America. The doctor had impeccable credentials, he had taught anesthesiology at Yale and was licensed to practice medicine in four American states.
De Kaplany, 36, was working as a respected anesthetist when he married Hajna Pillar, a beautiful 25-year-old showgirl who left her job to be with him. The couple had been married for just five weeks when police were called to their apartment on August 28, 1962.
Responding officers found that de Kaplany had turned the couple’s apartment into an acid torture chamber. Hajna had been bound with electrical wire and bathed in nitric acid from her genitals to her hairline, with particular attention paid to her vagina, breasts, and eyes. The doctor had cut her breasts before pouring acid into the wounds. After three hours of torturing her, he called the police. Hajna suffered third-degree corrosive burns to 60 percent of her body, and emergency medics burned their hands on her skin as they tried to move her.
What provoked this brutal attack? Hajna had inquired about a modeling job against her husband’s wishes, and he had heard rumors that she was unfaithful. He decided to destroy her beauty so no man would ever look at her again. It took 33 days for Hajna to die an agonizing death in hospital, as her skin turned to leather and fell off her body.
The doctor was sentenced to life in prison, but his story does not end there. Thirteen years later, de Kaplany was released from prison on parole, and that same day, he flew to Taiwan to begin work as a medical missionary. In 2002, Mercury News reporters tracked de Kaplany down to where he was living with a new wife in Germany. Now 70, he had become a German citizen; so he could not be extradited to America and charged for his numerous parole violations over the decades. “I have done one mistake in my life. I paid enough for it.” That was all he would say.
1The Kindly, Caring Midwife Who Brutally Tortured Her Serving Girl to Death
In the mid-1760s, the overseers of a London parish appointed Elizabeth Brownrigg as the official midwife for destitute women. Everyone who knew her considered her very kind, considerate, and caring. So it came as a great shock when a baker’s apprentice looked into the Brownrigg’s back yard and saw a girl that he later described as ‘’in a very deplorable, bloody, shocking condition.’’ The girl was 14-year-old Mary Clifford, taken in as an apprentice by the Brownriggs from a local workhouse.
The baker’s apprentice, William Clipson, told his mistress what he had seen and they went to the authorities. The Brownriggs were eventually taken into custody after they handed over two girls, Mary Mitchell and Mary Clifford. Clifford had been beaten so badly her mouth was swollen open and could not close, and her neck was so swollen that it extended out as far as her chin. She had scars, slices, and open sores from the soles of her feet to the top of her head. Many of her wounds were in a state of mortification from neglect. Clifford died of her injuries almost a week later, and in the trial that followed, the horrors the girls had both faced were revealed.
For months on end, the girls had been subjected to brutal, prolonged torture at the hands of Elizabeth Brownrigg. Suspended from hooks in the ceiling, they had been stripped naked, and beaten and whipped for hours on end. They were starved, forced to sleep in the freezing coal cellar, and often forced to work naked while enduring repeated beatings and humiliations. At one point, Clifford tried to seek help and had her tongue sliced open in two places in punishment.
Another girl named Mary Jones had escaped months earlier after she had been subjected, for hours daily, to a form of water-boarding torture. By the time she escaped she was blind in one eye, emaciated, and covered in cuts and bruises. She had begged authorities to rescue Mitchell, but nothing was done, and soon after Jones’s escape, Mary Clifford was taken into the Brownrigg’s home.
Mr. Brownrigg and their 18-year-old son were both found guilty of abusing Sarah Mitchell. They were sentenced to six months in prison and fined one shilling each. Elizabeth Brownrigg was found guilty of the torture-murder of Mary Clifford. She was executed by hanging on September 14, 1767.