The Dastardly Past: The Spoonseller’s Sapphire.
Discovered in Bengal by a seller of wooden spoons, this 135 carat, velvet blue stone was previously known as the Spoonseller’s Sapphire. Over the centuries it passed through many hands, including those of the Ruspoli famiy of Italy, who gave it its new name. in the nineteenth century, it was acquired by the tsar of Russia, and was set in a kind of Russian crown/headdress called a kokoshnik, by Cartier in 1909 for the Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna. It later came into the possession of Queen Marie of Romania, and afterwards her daughter, Ileana, who sold it to “a famous New York jeweler” in 1951. Its current whereabouts are unknown.
The Ruspoli Sapphire was the subject of a research effort described in the journal Gems and Gemology 51 no. 4 (Winter 2015): https://www.gia.edu/gems-gemology/winter-2015-sapphire-ruspoli-sapphire-historical-gemological-discoveries . In this study, the authors unravel the tangled lines of provenance of the Ruspoli sapphire and the Grand Sapphire of France, now housed in the French national museum of natural history in Paris, with which it has traditionally been confused. The article also provides insight into the murky history of famous jewels and how they are so often at the center of mysteries large and small.
The Dastardly Past: the Cuerdale Hoard.
Around May 15 in 1840, some workmen repairing an embankment along the River Ribble in Lancashire discovered a large cache of silver. It contained over 7500 coins, 350 ingots, and assorted fragments of jewelry and other objects, dating from the era of the Vikings. The location of the find was along the main land route between the Irish Sea and York, but scholars remain undecided about the whys and wherefores of this deposit of riches. Most of it has, over time, been acquired by the British Museum, which has published a handsome book, by James Graham-Campbell, on the Cuerdale Hoard.
The Dastardly Past: Just Judges.
On April 10, 1934, the lower left panel of the Ghent Altarpiece of St. Bavon’s Cathedral disappears. The altarpiece, known as The Adoration of the Lamb, was painted by Hubert and Jan van Eyck between 1426 and 1432. The stolen panel depicts the Just Judges, and has never been recovered. In 2001 The Daily Telegraph publishes a piece about the theft and ongoing efforts to find the panel.
The Dastardly Past: George Chapman & Jack the Ripper.
On April 7th 1903, British authorities execute Polish murderer George Chapman, who was responsible for the deaths of three women by poison. Some people also consider Chapman a likely contender for the Whitechapel murders perpetrated by Jack the Ripper over a decade previously. Helena Wojtczak explores this possibility in her book, Jack the Ripper at Last? George Chapman, the Southwark Poisoner (2016), available on Amazon.
In 1920, just a few days before Christmas, stenographer Evelyn Hope was working as usual. The twenty-year-old had a position in an office the sixth floor of the Slaughter Building in downtown Dallas (located on the site now occupied by One Main Place). Accounts vary—she was either walking down a hallway or she was called to her office door—when “an unknown person” threw acid at her, badly burning her face and arms. Who did this to her, and why, was never discovered.
This postcard, from my collection, shows the Slaughter Building on the right-hand side of the street, third from center.
On the second of February in 1922, body of motion picture director William Desmond Taylor is discovered in his home with a gunshot in his back. Police pursue all likely leads in hopes of capturing his murderer. Many of their suspects, in fact, represent some of the most famous silent film personalities of the day. Despite efforts, however, Taylor’s death remains one of the great unsolved mysteries in Hollywood history.
For further reading on the case, see Robert Giroux’s A Deed of Death, available on Amazon.