Many find it difficult to believe society’s fascination of the “murder mystery” is actually centuries old. Long before Agatha Christie or even Edgar Allan Poe, people were compelled to follow the latest murders or the most difficult mysteries.
In Nineteenth Century London, many social groups regularly gathered to discuss popular murders. One popular group was called “The Society of Connoisseurs in Murder” as reported in Blackwood’s Magazine. These primitive armchair detectives frequently gathered to weigh evidences and sort through the suspects.
This group in particular followed crimes they believed to have some kind of artistic merit. They rated the most titillating crimes as such:
- William I of Orange- Known as “William the Silent” today, he was assassinated by Balthasar Gérard in 1584. Gérard, a Frenchman, was tortured beyond comprehension for the murder. Orange was the first head of state to be assassinated by a handgun.
- Henry IV of France- Assassinated in 1610 by François Ravaillac. Ravaillac stabbed him to death.
- Duke of Buckingham- George Villars, the First Duke of Buckingham, was stabbed to death by John Felton in 1627.
- Gustavus Adolphus II- This King of Sweden died at the Battle of Lützen in 1632. It was a major battle during the Thirty Years’ War. The most unusual aspect is the way his body was found. He became separated from his group during the fight and was believed to have disappeared. His horse was found long before his body. Several shots had killed him, but his body was partially stripped when found.
- Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein- Bohemian (the Czech Republic today) soldier and politician who fought during the Thirty Years’ War. He was slandered as being a traitor and assassinated in 1634.
There was also a trend in Europe during the Seventeenth Century to murder philosophers. Nicholas Malebranché was believed to be one such victim. He fell ill while visiting friends and began wasting away. Those who believe he was poisoned suspected a man named Bishop Berkeley.
Other murderers that have been typically forgotten by history (I will be adding much more information on each later):
John Rosbeck- This English highwayman not only robbed his victims, but also tortured them. The authorities captured him and he spent 18 months in shackles, but even when tortured, he confessed nothing. The authorities were unable to agree on what was to be done, so he was released. Unfortunately, as soon as he was free, he robbed again and returned to his career in murder. He was executed the second time he was caught.
Holland Musician- An old man in Holland was regarded for his skill with the violin. He traveled widely over the countryside, offering his services for weddings and special occasions. For reasons lost to time, he fell under suspicion. He left bodies where he went, but it’s uncertain as to precisely what alerted authorities. He was arrested and confessed to 34 murders. No motive or reason for the killing was ever known.
Milanese Cannibal- This woman of Milan was considered just another individual until her crimes were discovered. She lured children into her home and there, she killed, cured and ate them.
The Tailor of Chalons– There are several places in France that “Chalons” can refer to. The obscurity was intentional. This serial killer was a tailor until his basement was discovered in 1598. Skeletal remains of his victims were found by the barrel below his shop. He was charged and during trial, the presiding judge ordered his name stricken from all records. He was burned at the stake along with anything identifying him and the written records of the court proceedings. The judge declared him too evil to allow his name to be known.
There are some killers who obviously had some kind of medical or mental illness. These were regarded as “killers” although none was actually known to murder any person.
Berlin Soldier- This soldier lost his wife while he was away and he grieved for her continually. Once a month, he suffered violent convulsions and the urge to kill anyone in sight. He begged the authorities to chain him up for several days, until the urge left him.
Haina- A man living in Haina, near Hesse, Germany, had the urge to physically attack others. The urge scared him so badly he begged the authorities to confine him until it left.