The Strange Case of the Red Painted Woman
St. Radegund Incident Accounts
It was with barely suppressed excitement that Leica and I accompanied the two members of the sterner sex on this mission. Of course we had had some adventurous experiences in the past, Leica in particular, but this would be our first true verification operation. Alas the thick fog meant that we took longer to reach Whitechapel High Street than intended. However at last we arrived and could dismount from the hackney cab into St. Radegund’s Road. The damp fog was chilly and we were all glad of out thick garments. It was so dense here, that even though the road was gas lit, one could hardly see across it. The shops on the right side were in darkness as we strode towards our goal. Two figures were lurking in a doorway “Looking for a diverting time Sirs? Ooh, Lawks!” said a female voice, breaking off when she saw Leica and myself behind the two gentlemen. She hauled her companion out and away round the corner past the Queens Head, into Mire Lane. Of course nobody in our party spoke. One is trained not to take notice of such things but undoubtedly these were two ladies of the night! I then remembered Mrs Elbow of the corner shop, saying that this was not a safe area for respectable women at night! I noticed that Mr Helping had his mallet in his hand and the Professor had his hand in his derringer pocket. Leica took her glittering dagger from its sheath and I pulled my crossbow from its bag and tucked it, half-concealed into my skirt. Lights were on in the Queens Head public house but our attention was drawn to four figures coming from Bogey Lane, three men and a young teenage girl. They seemed respectably dressed but we huddled close together in case they posed any threat. We crossed Mire Lane and carried on down the right side of St. Radegund Road, whilst the party of four followed keeping to the left. They halted and we heard a gasp from them but our attention was now drawn to the main gate of the graveyard, one of whose leaves stood ajar. We filed through into its gloomy murkiness. It was too dark to read my watch but I realised that it must be close to or even past the witching hour of midnight! Then Horror of Horrors we saw it! A most hideous apparition of a glowing woman floating in front of us! I stood rooted to the spot and so did Mr Helping. The apparition wore a flowing grey gown whilst its skin had a greenish tinge. It spoke not but its eyes glared at us in the most unnerving manner. Professor Learning drew his derringer and shot the apparition clean through its heart, assuming it had one. It was the most tremendous bang in the quietness of the night. The apparition turned and sped away across the greensward. I reflected that even with a silver bullet, gunfire was not the correct remedy for dealing with apparitions. The Professor knew that but he, like all of us, was taken by surprise. He did not fire his second barrel. Since each bullet had around five shillings worth of silver in it that was wise.
As if were not distracted enough a stern voice called from behind us, “You there, why have you discharged that firearm? Halt in the name of the law! I am a police officer!”
Whilst the Professor still stared after the apparition, we turned to face this new if more mundane threat. He shone a bulls-eye lantern at us. “Who are you people?”
With Mr Helping and myself still shaken, it fell to Leica to explain that we were the Occult Verification Society, come to investigate reports of occult happenings in St. Radegunds. She said that we had seen an apparition and Professor Learning had fired at it. She asked for him to identify himself and he produced a police warrant card. He was an Inspector Harold Hastings. Meanwhile the quartet who had been following us joined up. The Inspector obviously knew them, for he immediately ordered two of them to search for the apparition, whilst telling us to stay with him. Off course I knew that they were wasting their time, as it would be off into the Ether where living humankind cannot dwell. The Inspector drew out his notebook and began to take our names and addresses. Presently the two strange men returned empty handed, plus a police constable come from the direction of the church. At this moment the girl broke away from the third man in the stranger’s party, and ran back out of the graveyard gate. The third man gave chase but his master called out “Let her go Reginald!”
‘Reginald’ came back “I nearly had her Master! She went in the Pawnshop over the road. It must be open even at this late hour!”
His master responded “Yes I think we will go there now. I intended to look in there and this appears to be a most opportune time.” Then he and his two companions headed out of the graveyard. The Inspector then ordered the constable to check the hut at the corner of the graveyard. On his return her reported that it was open. Within were gardening tools and a straw paliass laid on the floor!
“Someone must be dossing down in there.” Commented the Inspector, by which I guess he meant sleeping there.
“The caretaker perhaps?” hazarded Mr Helping but I had other thoughts. Surely any caretaker employed by the Church would live in a Christian habitation. A homeless tramp it could be, but another possibility, connected with Miss Gimlet’s press letter, could not but occur! Professor Learning was still pondering over the apparition. “It was ghost and I should have used the holy water. The question is who was it? Ghosts are believed to have the appearance and wear of the garb that they died in. Her hair and gown were grey so it cannot have been the bride Cicely Turner. Her tattered gown would not have been suitable for a wedding guest, of whom many died with the bride. I think she was too ugly to be Fancy Thatte, given her profession. I suspect that she may have been an ancient plague victim?”
I suggested, “Yet the plague pits are beyond the wall in the cricket ground Professor! We may never know who it was for graveyards conceal many tragic tales. She was certainly no Chinese, that I can confirm!” Actually, as I later confided to Leica, I believed that it must the Ripper victim Fancy Thatte. The apparition’s bosom was bared and no respectable ghost would do that!
* * *
The Police Inspector indicated that we were free to go whilst he and his constable sped after Percival and his Master. We headed along the main path towards the church our nerves tingling with excitement. After being shot at we could not really expect the apparition would return but we were in hopes of seeing other manifestations. After all the earlier commotion’s the chill silence was unnerving. The church building loomed up ahead just as we heard the distant clopping of hooves to the right. This was followed by the ‘swee’ of a rusty gate hinge being opened. However, Mr Helping opened the great bronze door and we entered to gloomy interior of the church. To the left were steps leading down into a blacker darkness. To the right was a font which checking found to be bone dry. We proceeded on to the altar. I commented on the fact that whilst the window embrasures and most of the floor were grimy, the altar and the floor around it were clean. At that moment figures climbed noisily in, through the glass-less window appetures. We all grasped our weapons and Mr Helping demanded “Who are you?”
“I ask you the same question for this is a very strange time to be visiting a ruined church in the middle of the night! My name is Sherlock Holmes and these are my assistants.”
“My name is Ronald Helping and this is Professor Able Learning, we are members of the Occult Verification Society here on a mission. I am afraid you name means nothing to me so please state your purpose!”
“I am here hoping to prevent a dastardly deed which some cultists have been planning for this place. I am quite a well known private detective.”
“Very well known!” exclaimed one of his companions.
“It is true Mr Helping.” I informed him, “Mr Sherlock Holmes is famous for solving several mysterious criminal cases. I have read about him several times in the Ladies Monthly Journal.
“We also hope to treat with the doers of ghastly deeds! Occult beings in fact!” proclaimed Leica belligerently. “We feel your presence may be a handicap!”
Truth to tell with eight of us now milling about in the building, I thought we had no chance of seeing any supernatural phenomena and so it turned out. I examined a life-sized recumbent effigy and realised that although in 15th century armour, it was in fact a woman! Its bosom and long hair revealed that. It was covered in the grime found elsewhere, so any tomb under it had not been visited recently. A name plaque beneath the figure had been deliberately chipped away. I decided that I would research this effigy later. We then all went down into the steps to the crypt where most of the men were searching for secret passage entrances. Two straw palliasses lay on the floor and Mr Sherlock Holmes declared that they had been used recently. The floor and all walls having been searched we were at something of a loss when the sound of a shot rang out. It seemed to come from the direction of the Graveyard main gate. Near where the professor had fired in fact! Everyone stood still listening a moment and then there was another shot. As one we all herded up out of the church and headed towards the main gate. We found that the shots had been fired by Mr Earnest Steadyman, Percival’s Master who had helped the Inspector earlier. He had been stabbed and was being bandaged by one of his companions. His assailant had been handcuffed and was in the custody of Inspector Hastings. Mr Sherlock Holmes explained that this was one of the cultists he had spoken about and indeed he was wearing the most peculiar clothes. Just in front of the gate was a funeral van where Percival had just rescued the intended lady victim of the cultists. Apparently there had been two more who had escaped. I realised that the fog had cleared somewhat. In the light of the street lamp I looked at my watch and found that it was twenty-five past two! “I think we have had enough excitement for the night ladies?” Said Mr Helping. In the light of the street lamp I looked at my watch and found that it was twenty-five past two! “Yes Sir I am ready for my bed.” I responded and Leica agreed. Thus it was that I saw my very first genuine apparition! I regretted that we had no chance to converse with it even though it did not appear to be respectable. Professor Learning has come up with half a dozen possibilities of whom it might have been. I contacted Madam Hsing Song the proprietor of the Chinese Laundry. A most refined Chinese. She assured me that as far as she knew there were no Chinese vampires in the London area which is rather a pity. I also asked around about the effigy in the ruined church. Mrs Elbow and some others I spoke to asserted that it was that of Saint Radegund herself. Since St. Radegund died at Poitier in 587, long before plate armour I thought this unlikely. I carried out more serious research at the Church Commissioner’s Records Office. To the alarm of the Librarian I established that the statue was in fact Lady Elaine Fotheringhay a fact which they were supposed to keep secret! It seems that she was Henry V's mistress who went on his campaign disguised as her cousin Sir Percival Fotheringhay. Henry had very strict Army regulations, which in theory banned women from accompanying the army. Elaine distinguished herself fighting at Harfleur and Agincourt and became something of a heroine amongst the army. Henry gave her three manors, one of them situated near St. Radegund. She died ‘of a fever’ in 1417 when the effigy was commissioned. Henry returned to France and took Falaise and Rouen and eventually force the Treaty of Troyes. Since this led to him marrying Catherine of France all talk of poor Elaine was suppressed. When in Henry VI’s reign the French used the witch Joan of Arc to fight against us, our churchmen expunged from the records as best they could any reference to our having had a similar fighting female.
At the next meeting of the Occult Verification Society we decided that following the success of the mission we would return again to St. Radegunds when the Professor’s Tarot cards advised it.
* * *
* * *
On the evening of Saturday 31st October 1890 I proceeded to call at the Bogey Lane Police Station. There they had taken into custody Mr Morgan Blight 27, by his own word a docker resident at 17 Portland Street Millwall. He had attempted to pass a forged half-crown piece on the Bartender at the Queens Head Public House. Three further forged half crowns were found upon his person. He claimed that he had won them all, betting on a game of billiards at the Bellevue Billiard Saloon. Those premises being then closed I ordered Sergeant Warren to keep him in custody, pending inquiries upon the morrow. I then took PC Wilkins out on patrol.
“Gorblimey it aint improved none!” he commented as we sallied out into the fog. I reproved him for using language unbefitting our service. We headed east then turning left into St. Radegund Road. A mastiff appeared and growled threateningly at us. I was looking to see if there was a licence attached to its collar, when a threatening wave of PC Wilkins’ truncheon set it on its way. We proceeded on to the main gate of the graveyard. In duty bound PC Wilkins shook the gates to see if they were securely locked. To our surprise the padlock opened and one leaf of the gate swung open. “It is normally always locked sir, even in the day time. Unless there is a funeral of course!”
“Well constable, I want you to go in and check for any activity around the ruined church.”
“What by myself Sir?”
“You are surely not afraid Constable? I shall remain here keeping watch for any miscreants sneaking in or out. A blast on your whistle will bring me to your assistance should you need any.”
“Very well Sir.” I then proceeded a few further paces away from the gate opposite a street lamp. This was so as to stand on some of the plentiful rubbish, which enabled me to watch into the graveyard. Shortly down the road came a woman pushing a pram, which so late at night, seemed a strange proceeding that I stopped her. She said people called her Silly Susan so she came out at night on purpose so that people would not make fun of her! She had only a doll in the pram so I allowed her to proceed on her way.
After five minutes or so, four figures came from the north and entered the graveyard. Some noise came from beyond where they had come from and the numbers being rather large for me to deal with I Maintained a watching brief. Then came a shot and I saw the flash of a discharge from a weapon in the graveyard. I immediately ran in through the gate and accosted the party of four. “You there, why have you discharged that firearm? Halt in the name of the law! I am a police officer. Who are you people?” One of them had a small pistol in his hand which he put away on my instruction. A woman holding a large dagger replied that they were members of the ‘Occult Verification Society’ come to check reports of strange doings around the old church. She said that they had just seen an ‘apparition’ which had led to them firing at it. On my showing my warrant card they agreed to give their names and addresses.
Miss Leica Badamaru a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire of a Romanian family, resident at 10 Porchester Gardens Bayswater. Miss Cordelia Higginbottom of 18 Porchester Gardens Bayswater. Mr Ronald Helping a gentleman of independent means 8 Newnham Terrace Lambeth. Professor Able Learning of 15 Elvaston Place Kensington.
Whilst beginning this, Mr Earnest Steadyman of Citizens Concern arrived with two associates, come to investigate the shot. I sent him with another to investigate the alleged apparition. I was resuming obtaining the names and addresses, when a girl whom the remaining Citizen’s Concern man had been restraining, broke free and ran back out of the gate. He gave chase, also running out of the graveyard but Mr Steadyman then returning called out to let her go! Steadyman reported that he and his companion had found nothing in the darkness. PC Wilkins returned at that moment, also having been attracted by the shot. I ordered him to check the Gravedigger’s hut, which lies near the south-west corner.
The Citizen’s concern man then returned reporting that he had nearly caught the girl but she had darted into Grolzman’s Pawnshop. Steadyman said that he was intending to call on the pawnshop and that this seemed an opportune time to do it. He then led his two supporters out of the graveyard. PC Wilkins then returned to say that the gravediggers hut was empty but not locked. Within were gardening tools and a straw paliass. I thought some tramp might be using it to sleep in. Whilst the Occult Verification Society debated on the type and identity of their ‘apparition’, PC Wilkins reported on his activities. He was proceeded along the main path to the church when a woman jumped out in front of him from behind a tree. Coated in some luminous paint she was obviously trying to frighten him. He asked her what she thought she was doing there and she admitted she had been paid to scare people away from the graveyard. She said that her name was Mad Maeve ‘because I come here when the moon is full’! He let her go but thinking about it, Wilkins said he thought he recognised her as one Maeve Fowler. She was a one-time harlot that he had once arrested for public indecency some years ago. He then reached the church and was about to look in one of the pane-less windows when he heard the shot. He at once ran back to join me. I now had to decide what to do next. The Occult Verification Society appeared to be a bunch of harmless cranks. If I tried to stop them ‘verifying’ they would sneak back as soon as I was out of sight. I had no real grounds for arresting them and did not want to accompany them. Having my doubts about any untoward activities taking place at the Church, I felt it safe to let them go there. Their presence would be a deterrent to any such activities anyway. I felt it important to follow Mr Steadyman to the Pawnshop. If he thought Grolzmann was up to no good he was probably right!
* * *
Constable Wilkins and I went out of the gate to find Steadyman and his two associates waiting at the door of the pawnshop. A light glimmered within. They asked my permission to force an entry but in fact the door opened to touch. Mr Isiah Grolzmann was sitting at his counter and asked us what we wanted to buy! Even at one in the morning he was open! I said I have had a report that a silver pocket watch, was received by you?
“Silver Pocket watches? Have a look! Of course most are only silver plated.” and he opened a drawer and produced at least a dozen. Mr Steadyman said that he had received and resold the watch of Mr Benjamin Holiday which had been stolen from him.
“But how was I to know that the watch had been stolen? Even though the name of a person is inscribed on it does not mean that it has not been honestly passed on. I blame the laxness of the police myself. They have allowed Whitechapel to be infested with thieves!” Whereupon I searched him! In his pocket were a silver pocket watch, two jewelled rings and a garnet necklace. These items were on his open ledger with the very small prices he had paid for them.
“I believe that girl Lizzie Brewster brought those to you?” accused Mr Steadyman.
“The girl merely came through trying to escape from some thugs that were chasing her.”
“Brewster eh! Perhaps she is the daughter of Bill Brewster the burglar?” I therefore took these items in charge giving him a receipt for them pending further investigation. We looked at the back of the watch but it had no inscription on it. Mr Steadyman then said that Mr Holiday’s watch had been pawned by Mr Timothy Fowler the Sexton. He now proposed to visit him to investigate the matter. Grolzmann wishing to be rid of us told us Fowler lived next door. I stayed to have a quick look at the goods on display in the shop. When I went out, Steadyman said that they had had no reply to their knocking and asked permission to force the door. Since he was investigating a crime and there have been many accusations made against Mr Fowler I acceded to this request on condition that he pay for any damage done to the door. I accompanied him into the house where he found an account’s ledger and a locked cash box. I thought it proper to take possession of these and left a receipt for them for Mr Fowler. I intended to have them examined in company with the Vicar of St. Botolph’s Church. Back out in the road PC Wilkins accosted Mr John Palette who was too obviously trying to sneak past us. Wilkins told me this man was suspected of living on the immoral earnings of local harlots. So I ordered Wilkins to take him to the Police Station for holding pending inquiries.
Wilkins reported later that nearing the corner they were surprised by an apparition of a ghostly man springing up over the graveyard wall. Palette took the opportunity to make a run for it but hampered as he was by his handcuffs, Wilkins soon caught him. Wilkins claimed that this act was an admission of guilt but unfortunately there were no witnesses. The next day Palette denied seeing any apparition and running away so we had to release him with a caution.
With Mr Steadyman I moved southwards and were commenting on the smell of a dead dog lying beside the wall, when a black van arrived from High Wall lane.
“Very late for a funeral?” commented Mr Steadyman, which it was! I stopped the driver and asked him where he was going. He answered in a public school accent, that he was going to the Queens Head public house to pick up a body. This sounded rather unlikely to me so I allowed Mr Steadyman’s butler Percival to hold the pair of horses whilst he and Mr Timothy Swagger went to search the van. The driver said that in the back were only coffins and his two assistants! His loud manner led me to suspect that he was warning his assistants of something. There then came confused shouting from the back of the van and when I looked in that direction the driver jumped off from the driving board and ran northwards. Behind I heard Steady man exclaim that he had been stabbed so drawing my revolver I went to his assistance. He was on the ground but managed to fire twice at his assailant. The shots stampeded the team out of Mr Percival’s grasp and the van sped up the road with its rear doors open. Mr Swagger had been fighting with another man who then ran away. With his assistance I overpowered the knifeman and handcuffed him. Mr Swagger then bound up Mr Steadyman’s chest stab wound whilst I did likewise to the bullet wound to the knifeman’s right arm. A passer by Mr Brummel bravely stopped the runaway van. He held them whilst Mr Percival searched the back of the van. In it he found bound and gagged Mrs Felicity Hazelmere who had been abducted the previous afternoon. Also in the van was a set of cultist’s red and black vestments and a sack. The sack contained a jar of red dye, a flask of chloroform, some rags, six black candles in simple holders and a red stained paintbrush.
We were then joined by the private Detective Sherlock Holmes and his publicist Dr Watson. The latter having being medically trained gave further treatment to Mr Steadyman and the knifeman. They were followed by the Occult Verification people, who at my suggestion, went away again. Mr Holmes claimed to know the background to the abduction saying that it was the work of an over moralist organisation called the SFVC. He said that they would have brought some red dye with them, as was indeed the case. He claimed that this dye was made from berries made from the Pseudomulberris Aztecus tree, and stolen from the Thrallbourne Estate. He said that five other women had been mistreated and stained with the red dye at the ruined church and that two had committed suicide as a result. The wounded prisoner then admitted that this was true and that he wished to obtain the benefits of giving Queen’s evidence. His name is Mr Lionel Lessing. He said those with him had been Mr Reginald Hazelmere and Mr Hubert Hare. Mr Hazelmere was the husband of the abducted woman whom he wished to divorce and it had been he who led the project. He had been the driver of the van. Mr Lessing himself had made a deal with the Sexton Timothy Fowler to use the Church without interference. He had known him from when he and the others had attended the nearby Lord Knowe’s Gentlemen’s Finishing School. Apparently it was an unofficial tradition of the boys to hold orgies in the ruined church!
As in the report we had to let Mr John Palette go this time. Also freed was Mr Morgan, as it appeared that he had been playing billiards as he had said. The opponent who paid up with the forged half crowns was thought to be a boy from Lord Knowe’s school called ‘Junior’. The jewellery we had confiscated had been stolen from a house in Spittalfields on the night 29th and 30th. When we searched Bill Brewster’s home later other heavier pieces stolen at the same time were found. He eventually received a five-year prison sentence. Next morning we called with a warrant to search Isiah Grolzmann’s shop and found such a large amount of stolen property that he too was awarded three years for receiving. Amongst other things was a box containing 11 forged half crowns, with two of them dated 1886! It is my belief that Grolzmann was purchasing them for pence expecting to pass them on later. When we opened Timothy Fowler’s cash box in the presence of the Vicar of St. Botolph’s it was obvious that the large sum contained could not have been obtained solely from his wages. An investigation revealed various dishonest practises with regard to the managing of the graveyard for which he was sacked and received one years imprisonment for fraud. I have to say that the four hours or so activity that night required more paperwork than at any other time during my service. In fact I applied to obtain a part time clerk to assist me in my duties but the application was of course refused.
* * *
* * *
Holmes left me in that evil smelling den to confer with the slant eyed Madame. After a while one did not notice the smell and the gyrations of the fan dancer on the stage began to interest me. The shrill whine of the flute off stage and the slow artistic movements of the girl clad in yellow and black Chines garb had a mesmerising effect. In truth when Holmes at last returned and gripped my shoulder, I was loth to go. However he hauled me back out into the fogs of Bogey Lane. He expected to find Eric, his Baker Street irregular there but there was no sign of him. Holmes thought he might be hiding in the graveyard and asked me to give him a bunk up so that he could look over the wall. It was in this less than respectable position that three men, who were escorting a young teenage girl, accosted us. One of them asked us what we were doing and who we were? They thought we might be grave robbers or more likely grave stone robbers! They were a Citizen’s Concern patrol, one of the vigilante organisations set up by Albert Lusk, due to the Jack the Ripper murders. Sherlock Holmes at length persuaded them of his identity. Their leader Mr Steadyman was somewhat scornful, rating Holmes as something of an easy problem glory hunter. However they let us go and headed east along Bogey Lane. Holmes decided to ask Madam Hsing Song if she knew what had happened to Eric. The Chinese at the door made us pay tuppence a second time but Holmes would not let me back in to see the show. I had to listen to an exchange of polite insincerity’s between him and the Madame. She then admitted that her men had captured Eric because he was behaving suspiciously in front of her premises. She apologised that she had no idea he was an employee of his. Eric gave an account of his spying activities circling around the graveyard. The police had taken a man into the Police Station and he had passed two sets of the harlots that infest this part of London. The main graveyard gate was locked. There were lights in two of the public houses, a café, the pawnshop and the roofer’s depot. Otherwise it was quiet. He had been thinking of going round again, when two Chinese men had crept up on felt slippers and grabbed him. Holmes then led us East in the direction the Citizen’s concern had taken. A man appeared out of the fog. “Who are you and what are you doing out here at this time of night?” Holmes asked him
“I might well ask you the same question Sir!” retorted the man and with a shifty look he carried on past us. In truth he was dressed respectably enough but Holmes muttered about the degeneracy of modern manners. Further along Bogey Lane, we had just passed the police station when the ever sharp-eyed Holmes, bent to retrieve something from the pavement. It was a golden sovereign! In truth after all my times with him I have never got used to his colossal good luck, of which this was but a minor example. I was just congratulating him on his good fortune when a shot rang out!
“That’s in the graveyard Guvnor!” declared Eric.
“Should we clamber over the wall?” I asked but Holmes declared that we were so close to the corner of St. Radegund Road, that we might as well carry on, on the pavement. But we were delayed by meeting Mr Gabriel Read, a private detective who was known to Holmes. In fact he is a fellow member of the Diogenes Club. He readily agreed to accompany us in our mission. Further on, the main gate into the graveyard was open and we could hear a jumble of voices a little way in it.
“It sounds like a crowd in there!” Commented Holmes. “Come, we will head on round to the side gate. It is to that, that I have the key.”
So we carried on only to be shortly assailed by a strong smell of putrefaction. Amongst the rubbish collected along the graveyard wall, was a very dead dog!
High Wall Lane was completely unlit as we were enveloped again in the chill fog. Even so Holmes spotted yet another coin on the pavement although this time it was only a half-crown piece. “1882! It will be a forgery Watson, mark my words. See it has been malformed by someone throwing it away!” But he still pocketed it. Then we met a well to do looking man ‘looking for friendly night ladies’! Holmes told him that in truth we had met none. Actually Eric’s report had mentioned some but I forbore to remind Holmes of that fact. Just as we reached the side gate a black van appeared close to us on the right side of the lane. “Where are you going at this time of night?” demanded Holmes.
“Undertaker going to collect a body.” Replied the driver cracking his whip to speed up his pair a little.
“I have grave suspicions about that vehicle Watson but we do not have lawful powers to stop it. Never mind, let us check out the church.” And he opened the squealing gate to allow us admission.
Dim flickering lights were to be seen from the windows of the ruined church. “We will rush them through the windows for they have no glass in them!” declared Holmes so that is what we did.
Four figures, two of them ladies faced us bearing weapons.
“Who are you?” demanded one of the men.
Holmes snapped back, “I ask you the same question, for this is a very strange time to be visiting a ruined church in the middle of the night! My name is Sherlock Holmes and these are my assistants.”
“My name is Ronald Helping and this is Professor Able Learning, we are members of the Occult Verification Society here on a mission. I am afraid you name means nothing to me so please state your purpose!” answered the man.
“I am here hoping to prevent a dastardly deed which some cultists have been planning for this place. I am quite a well known private detective.”
“Very well known!” exclaimed Mr Gabriel Read.
“It is true Mr Helping.” Said one of the ladies, “Mr Sherlock Holmes is famous for solving several mysterious criminal cases. I have read about him several times in the Ladies Monthly Journal.
“We also hope to treat with the doers of ghastly deeds! Occult beings in fact!” proclaimed the second Lady. “We feel your presence may be a handicap!”
Ignoring this rudeness we set to examining the building. Holmes thought there might be a secret passage leading from the crypt but we could find none. Down there lay two straw palliasses, which in Holmes opinion had been used recently. I thought that the gentleman met in the lane had been unfortunate in his timing. Doubtless Holmes was storing away in mind trivial details which would be of use later but really I could find nothing of any relevance. Then the sound of a shot rang out. It seemed to come from the direction of the Graveyard main gate. We stood still listening a moment and then there was another shot! As one we went out of the church and headed towards the main gate. There was the black van with its pair of Suffolk Punches being held by a stranger with another untying a woman bound and gagged in the back of the van. I wondered if that might be Miss Edna Gimlet of the newspaper article but Holmes scornfully dismissed the suggestion. We found out that the shots had been fired by a Mr Earnest Steadyman, who had been stabbed by a man wielding a dagger! Police Inspector Hastings had arrested his attacker and had roughly bandaged the gunshot wound in his arm. Steadyman had a more serious wound in his chest, which I re-bandaged with a treated dressing. I then did the same for the wounded prisoner. Holmes told the Inspector “This abduction has been done by an extreme moralist organisation called the SFVC. On their persons or in the van will be found chloroform and some of the red dye they use to stain their victims. It is made from the berries stolen from the one and only Pseudomulberris Aztecus tree in England. Lord Thrallbourne has hired me to detect the thieves and you have one of them there, Inspector! Five other women have been thus mistreated, two of whom committed suicide as a result.”
“Damn you, you seem to know everything!” exclaimed the prisoner. “Inspector, I wish to turn Queens evidence in this matter. If you agree I can give you full information?”
The Inspector asked Holmes for his opinion. He replied that to get the full facts and the names of all those concerned could take a lot of legwork!
“I agree subject to my superiors co-operation. We shall ask for leniency in sentencing for you if you tell us all you know.”
The prisoner started “I am Lionel Lessing of independent means. Reggie Hazelmere talked Hubert Hare and I into this scheme but I did not think it would turn out so bad! We had been together at the Lord Knowe Finishing School you see, so we knew this area. Reggie wanted to divorce his wife so he could marry her cousin. The problem was that if he did he could kiss goodbye to their Aunt Constance’s fortune when she died. He thought up the scheme so as to make divorcing Felicity the sensible thing to do. He invented the ‘Scorching Flames of Virtue Court’ (SFVC). A Miss Charity Fothergood gave him the names of hosts of persons of proven immorality. He picked the female ones easiest to abduct and bring to the ruined church for the branding ceremony. Felicity was as boringly respectable as it is possible to be, so he thought this was the only way he could blacken her name with Aunt Constance. Reggie obtained the chloroform and Hubert Hare hired the van. I arranged the use of the church with Grim Tim the Sexton. He said that he would ensure no one interfered with our ceremonies. I had had dealings with him when we ran orgies from Lord Knowe’s Finishing School. He used to supply the women for them.”
Lessing then gave the addresses of the persons he had named and was taken to the cells. Holmes and I then made our way back to Baker Street, where we put up Eric for what little remained of the very busy night.
Reginald Hazelmere was given a fifteen-year prison sentence and obtained his divorce with the full consent of Aunt Constance. His two accomplices and the Sexton were also jailed. Mrs Hazelmere made a donation of twenty pounds to the Citizen’s Concern organisation for their part in rescuing her. Lord Thrallbourne paid Holmes the hundred pounds, of which I received my usual quarter share. And so another case was satisfactorily closed.
* * *
* * *
Following receipt of information from Miss Edna Gimlet, I determined to take a patrol out to the St. Radegund’s Graveyard area. Many other reports of crime have come from the area and prime suspects are the Sexton Timothy Fowler and even more so Grolzmann the pawnshop owner. The story of Gimlet’s nephew seeing a shining ghost woman, I took to be a trick to keep people away. The question was why? Whether the alleged bloodstains seen in the church were really significant we might now find out. Mr Swagger thought it might be evidence that Jack the Ripper was still active, though now disposing of the bodies.
The patrol comprised Mr Timothy Swagger, my Butler Reginald and myself. Due to the fog we arrived somewhat later than originally intended, entering the area via the Grim Way. As we went a girl ran past overtaking us. I ordered her to stop and she did so. I asked her what she was doing out at this time of night? She answered that she was carrying a message to Abel Wells the landlord of the Oak Beams public house. A verbal message she said. Her name was Lizzie Brewster and her father had sent her as he worked at nights himself. I was suspicious of her and decided that since we were heading that way, we would accompany her. She did not appear very grateful!
We carried on round the corner into Bogey Lane, where we at once observed two men acting in a very suspicious manner. One was holding up the other so as to see over the wall into the St. Radegund’s Graveyard.
“Grave robbers?” suggested Mr Swagger but I thought that unlikely, as there is no market for cadavers nowadays. Possibly robbers of tombstones but even that was not really feasible. It turned out that they were a private detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr Watson. You may have read of some of his claimed feats in the popular newspapers. He claimed to be searching for another assistant, so that we left them proceeding further into the fog, with Reginald guarding the girl.
The next encounter was with a bearded man who growled something inaudible at us and went past. We were going along St. Radegund’s Road when we received a fright that brought us to a halt. Ahead lay what looked like woman’s body beside the wall. Mr Swagger went forward and to our great relief discovered that it was just a pile of rags and other rubbish. We threw it over the wall so other people might not suffer the same ordeal. Then there was the sound of a shot not far away within the graveyard. A figure ahead of us rushed in through the gate and we followed.
We found that it was Inspector Harold Hastings of the Whitechapel police, with four civilians. The inspector pointing, asked us to search for an ‘apparition’ that the four people had claimed to have seen. Leaving Reginald to guard the girl, Swagger and I went into the darkness but found nothing. As we came back the girl broke away and ran out of the graveyard gate. Reginald pursued her but I called out to him to let her go. She had slowed us down and I had begun to regret bringing her. Reginald came back saying that she had gone into Grolzmann’s pawnshop. Realising that it must be open and that we might catch him out, I led the other two onwards to give him a call.
* * *
We reached the door of the shop and could see a dim light from inside when Percival said, “Do you think it wise to force our way in with the police just behind us Sir?”
I looked behind and there was Inspector Hastings coming out of the graveyard. “Excuse me Inspector may we have your permission to force an entry into this thieves den?”
“Try the door first, Grolzmann stays open at odd times!”
Sure enough the door was open and we charged in. The Inspector asked Grolzmann about a stolen watch. The pawnbroker replied that he had no means of knowing whether an item had been stolen or not. The Inspector searched him a found an unmarked silver watch, two jewelled rings and a necklace in his pocket. I suspected that he had just received these from the girl who had run away from us. They were the latest items listed in his ledger. But he claimed that the girl had merely run through trying to escape from us! He confirmed the report that Mr Timothy Fowler the Sexton had pawned Mr Benjamin Holiday’s watch. I said I wished to confront Mr Fowler over the matter. Grolzmann replied. “Well he lives next door!” So I led Mr Swagger and Percival out.
Despite heavy knocking on the Sexton door there was no response so I asked the Inspector for leave to force entry. He did so on condition that we paid for any damage to the door. The house was deserted but we found an accounts ledger and a cash box. The Inspector took these, leaving a receipt in their place.
Back outside Hasting’s constable arrested a suspicious looking man and took him away off towards the Bogey Lane Police Station. Then a black van appeared coming round the corner from High Wall Lane.
“Very late for a funeral?” I said realising it was a suspicious occurrence. So the inspector halted it and questioned the driver. At my signal Percival took hold of the horses heads whilst Swagger and I went to the doors at the rear of the van. They flew open and two men in red and black robes attacked us. I received a dagger stab in the chest but managed to fire two shots from my revolver. One hit my assailant in his knife arm and Swagger and the Inspector managed to overcome and handcuff him. Mr Swagger patched up my wound as his opponent had run off as had the van’s driver. The shots had stampeded the horses but a passing private citizen brought them to a halt. Percival found a lady bound and gagged in the back, whom he freed. Then Mr Sherlock Holmes reappeared claiming to know about this apparent abduction. He said that the lady was going to have red dye poured over her. Dye that belonged to Lord Thrallbourne! His assistant Dr Watson re-bandaged my wound and I confess I was in considerable pain. Mr Swagger and Percival escorted me to the nearby Church Medical Mission and the patrol was over.
The captured knifeman turned Queen’s evidence shopping his colleagues. They all got long prison sentences. Next day the police raided Grolzmann’s shop and found such quantities of stolen goods that he was convicted and jailed. His cousin took over the shop so I do not think we are much better off. The very large sum of money in Fowler’s cash box convinced the St. Botolph’s Parish Council that the evil rumours concerning him had an element of truth. They sacked him and had him tried for fraud for which he was jailed. Let us hope that his replacement as Sexton is more law abiding. The lady we had rescued sent we of Citizen’s Concerns twenty pounds for our efforts. It is good to know our efforts to help protect the public good are thus appreciated!
* * *
* * *
This game originated when I was tempted into buying some Blue Moon Miniatures, ‘Things that go Bump in the night’ figures. Having painted up quite a few I eventually felt duty bound to make use of them. My mind ran round the scenarios that the figure manufacturer had used and worked out a plan whereby many could be called together. My brother and his wife gave me a Warhammer 40,000 ‘Basilica Administratum’ which although having far too many skulls and lacking the apse any Basilica should have, looked useful. I thought I would need a ruined church large enough to have a crypt underneath it. This ‘structure’ gave me a door and enough intact and ruined windows, which coupled with Felt Board segments, could make a decent ruined church. In fact I think there are enough bits left for a castle hall and another ruin in the box. Some of the figures were of a Jack the Ripper set, so ideas gravitated around a ruined church in Whitechapel. Further background inspiration came from Martin Fido’s '‘The Chronicle of Crime' and Jeremy Paxman’s TV programmes on Art in the Victorian age.
Once the church was done, it took me three weeks or around 150 hours to prepare the game. My World War II and American Gangster set ups provided a substantial number of suitable buildings and the pavemented road sections. The stone walls around the graveyard have been used mainly in my Morval Earth sagas. However I felt the need to construct a cricket pavilion, the funeral van, a Public house, two shops and two houses. All the latter being made with card covered with brick paper. For the graveyard a large number of vault covers, and gravestones were needed. In the central area I had a grassed area with the small flush stones used for vertical burials. (Cheaper & take up less space and so used in cities where space is at a premium. They are quick to make and one can easily stand figures on such areas.) A visit to a local shop provided the Cyprus Trees, box hedges and the very low stone walls. Since the action was to be in dense fog, I decided to make a set of flags to indicate the positions of player’s parties, without revealing to the other players what they were.
The next item to be needed was a set of suitable rules and thus ‘Slim’s Victorian Gothic Rules’ were born. The basis of these came from my ‘Broken Wheel’ American Wild West rules. They were heavily influenced by the earlier ‘Morval Earth Fantasy’ and ‘Hoodsville American Gangster’ sets. As a Games Master creating role-playing stories, I have a hankering to create ones that whilst interesting and exciting, do not result in the deaths of too many of my created characters. This is not easy but I think this scenario is a reasonable attempt. Working on the mechanics of the game I decided to produce a set of chance encounter cards especially designed for it. Many of these had forerunners in Morval Earth city actions and the Peppercorn Election Module. I even went to the trouble of laminating them and making a card tray to hold them. A card was to be drawn whenever player characters crossed yellow lines drawn on the Umpires Plan. With hindsight a few more lines would be desirable. The game was delayed two wargames nights because players could not come due to shift patterns but finally the opportunity arrived. My set up catered for the regular occurrence of two of the players arriving half an hour before the others. They both had questioning phases to complete, which they did. Then the third player arrived and the game started in earnest. Infuriatingly the fourth player did not arrive at all! Three weeks of preparation put at risk! In fact he was unable to come due to being witness to a serious traffic accident. But it meant that I had to manage his party as well as run the game. Thus I was unable to make notes of events, missed things and rushed the game on more than I should. It also meant that I did not take photographs, although with there being so few figures involved, it was possible to re-enact incidents for that purpose.
Part of the story involved the arrival of the funeral van on the table, which would start up a sequence of events. Drawing one of the cards with a star on it would trigger this. In my haste in fact, I missed the first such one and then it seemed overlong before another arrived. The next mishap concerned the main gate to the graveyard, which as Eric’s report revealed should have been locked. However in a moment of confusion I threw a dice when the police checked it and a one indicated that it must be open. The padlock having been tested several times each night by the police must have broken open! This meant fewer chance cards being drawn and also that characters got into the churchyard earlier and easier than they should have done! However quite a lot of interesting things occurred on the first evening’s play. The professors shot got a short range hit with a nine but fortunately for Mad Maeve Fowler the apparition the effect dice merited not even a flesh wound. The Professor was very close to being a murderer but of course all the OVS believed that they had seen an otherworld apparition.
On the second evening of play all the players arrived so I could hand over control of the Occult Verification Society. It was a pity that circumstances led to their part being less active. The arrival of Sherlock Holmes’ party at the graveyards side gate just as the abductors van meant that instead of taking the victim in to the church it carried on, meaning to do a circuit first. Thus both Holmes and the OVS found an empty church. Law abiding inhibitions prevented Citizen’s Concerns from catching Grolzmann red handed receiving stolen goods from Lizzie Brewster. The stopping and searching of the abductor’s van resolved the action in a satisfactory manner with Sherlock Holmes be able to show off his superior knowledge of the whole story.
I now have other projected actions to work on but ideas are stirring. It may be that there could be a return to St. Radegunds one of these days!
* * *
The background story to the St. Radegund’s affair
Gentlemen of modestly independent means Reginald Hazelmere, Hubert Hare and Lionel Lessing all went to Lord Knowe’s Finishing school for gentlemen near St. Radegunds five years ago. Thus they got to know the locality and its seedy secrets. They had sampled their services and maintained contacts with the leading rogues involved. Each year the students would hold an illicit drunken orgy in the ruined church of St Radegund at midnight. Going around the churchyard at night was a traditional ‘dare’ for new students and sundry fake ghosts were impersonated.
Reginald married Felicity Starch three years ago hoping to inherit her Aunt Constance Starch’s fortune in due course. They remained childless and soon found that they had little in common. Living at Forest Hill, Felicity was forced to make do with a single cook/housekeeper. She had a small circle of female friends mainly interested in embroidery, cooking and horticulture. Reginald however kept in with his more outrageous bachelor friends. They, using as their inspiration the 17th century ‘Hellfire Club’ called themselves the Faustian Brotherhood. This carried out cruel pranks on any they did not like and held drunken orgies in unpleasant localities. One of these was the ruined St. Radegund Church Crypt. They knew that most recent hauntings, were run by Grim Tim the Sexton, with a view to deterring any interference in his harlots using the graveyard shed or the crypt. Reginald has now become besotted with Miss Grace Starch, Felicity’s cousin. In fact Aunt Constance’s fortune was expected to be shared between Felicity and Grace, when she died. What he would like to do is to divorce Felicity and marry Grace. However divorce is currently regarded as a most scandalous proceeding. (The Women’s Guilds barred membership to divorcees even for innocent parties.) Aunt Constance would be appalled and would very likely leave all her money to Grace in such a case. To obtain a divorce, Reginald decides that he must get Felicity implicated in ‘scandalous going’s on’. Since Felicity is respectable to the point of boredom this will not be easy! However with his fellow Faustian Brotherhood friends he cooks up a scheme to achieve it. They invent the ‘Scorching Flames of Virtue Court’ (SFVC). They contact a Miss Charity Fothergood, who goes round bearing a banner marked, England Repent for your Immorality spells Doom! She is only too ready to provide them with the names and offences of people guilty of immorality, scores of them! The theory is that the SFVC abducts women (No interest shown in the much larger numbers of men listed by Miss Fothergood) of publicly known immorality from several parts of London. These will be taken to the St. Radegund church in the dark and subjected to a pseudo-religious service of stigmatising, which will leave their faces and upper body’s stained an almost indelible bright red. The plan is for five women to be treated thus at around one a week before the main objective, Mrs Felicity Hazelmere. Playing on the no smoke without fire basis, Reginald will tell Aunt Constance that to maintain his respectability, he feels he has no sue for a divorce from Felicity. Her consent gained he will, after a discreet interval, marry Grace. Thus he will hope to gain all Constance’s fortune rather than only half.
Calendar of Events:
Saturday 8th August Reginald Hazelmere, Hubert Hare and Lionel Lessing concoct the scheme, Reginald having stayed near Thrallbourne some years ago. This was with Peregrine Wotherspoon another friend from the Lord Knowe’s Finishing School. Wednesday 12th August Reginald buys some chloroform from Paget Cholmondly the dentist brother of Percival Cholmondly, who also attended the Finishing School.
Saturday 15th August They announce the formation of the ‘Scorching Flames of Virtue Court’ (SFVC) and solicit information from Miss Charity Fothergood.
Tuesday 18th August Hubert Hare arranges to hire a horse drawn funeral attendee’s box carriage as and when needed in Holborn. Lionel copies a key to the Graveyard side gate from Miss Maeve Fowler an old orgy acquaintance.
Sunday 23rd August the three of them harvest the Thrallbourne Mulberry.
29th August Lionel makes a deal with Grim Tim Fowler the Sexton.
5th September Abduction (1) of harlot Miss Griselda Staines from Leicester Square area. Taken to St Radegund’s for mystic sentencing and face staining. Consternation amongst pimps and colleagues in the Leicester Square area. (Griselda out of action for four months.) Minor news story in local paper.
19th September Abduction (2) of Mrs Fenella Hardinge of Kensington, a notorious divorcee living with lover and who goes to ‘hide in the country’! London newspapers.
3rd October Abduction (3) of Miss Morwena Burell Chelsea courtesan. Shunned by her clientele she gasses herself 8th October. London newspapers.
10th October Abduction (4) of Mrs Dorothea Jackson/King bigamist. Kentish Town.
13th October Times prints Miss Edna Gimlet’s letter.
24th October Abduction (5) of Miss Britt Paling Soho harlot. Found drowned in the Thames 28th October. London newspapers.
25th October brother Mycroft brings the scarlet women story to Sherlock Holmes.
26th October Sherlock visits Lord Thrallbourne. Is offered £100 to find the identity of the mulberry crop thieves. Discovers that sulphuric acid will remove the stain from hard surfaces.
31st October Abduction (6) of Mrs Felicity Hazelmere!
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