A history lesson, or: The 500-year-old case of a missing royal

I hadn’t realized until now that they never found King Richard III of England’s body after his gory death at the Battle of Bosworth Field — though it’s something I ought to have known, since I did know historians were fighting over just how deformed he was, a question that could be settled easily if we had his remains.

Well, it appears we have them now. Archaeologists found the skeleton of a man with a twisted spine and a nasty wound in the skull buried at a car park in Leicester, beneath the floor of a 500-year-old church:

[Archaeologists] Foxhall and Appleby point out that they have nothing but circumstantial evidence – but say it is “very, very strong circumstantial evidence”.

“We have a grown man, buried in a position of great honour near the altar in the church but without much in the way of ceremony, with a twisted spine and a terrible battle injury – he didn’t get that walking home drunk from the pub,” says Appleby.

The Telegraph has published a report, albeit unconfirmed, that DNA has proven the remains were Richard III’s and he will buried with the ceremony befitting a king, possibly at Leicester Cathedral. Though the official announcement hasn’t been made yet, if this guy ISN’T Richard I’d be very surprised.

This is a very exciting find for history buffs like me, comparable to when they found the bodies of the missing Anastasia and Alexei Romanov after 90 years. Except Richard’s been gone for a lot longer — since the 1400s.

I admit I don’t know an awful lot about the guy. I do know he’s a very controversial figure in English history. He was definitely a usurper and had his nephews, the rightful heirs to the throne, declared illegitimate and locked up in the Tower of London. Richard III was appointed their Lord Protector after the death of their father, but it seems he didn’t do a good job protecting them: the two boys, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, vanished mysteriously around 1483 and were presumed murdered. A lot of people believe it was on Richard’s orders. He certainly had a great deal to gain from their deaths, and I think it’s telling that when, in his lifetime, when people accused him of being a child murderer, he didn’t produce the Princes alive to prove them wrong. If he was truly innocent, that seems like the most logical thing he could have done.

But there’s no conclusive evidence one way or another. Royal pretenders kept popping up for quite some time, claiming to be one or the other of the missing boys. In the 1670s they found the bodies of two boys about the right age buried in the Tower, but I don’t think it was ever officially confirmed that they were the Princes.

Anyway, Richard III has been hated ever since and the image most people have of him is an evil, deformed hunchbacked man. His reign lasted only two years before he was killed in battle, his naked body slung on the back of a horse and carried ignominiously away. I’ve read that he was an able administrator and had other talents, and might have redeemed himself somewhat if his reign had been longer and given people a chance to forget about the whole Princes in the Tower thing. There are a couple of historical groups that are trying to rehabilitate his reputation. These societies argue, among other things, that the Princes in the Tower were probably killed by Richard’s successor, Henry VII (who married the Princes’ sister Elizabeth), or Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.

Assuming he did killed the Princes (and I think he probably did), Richard III was hardly the first or the last person who would slaughter his way through the line of succession in order to assume the throne. Cleopatra, for example, had her half-sister Arsinoë murdered because she got in the way, and Arsinoë may have been as young as 15 at the time.

So, well, finding Richard III’s body is an archaeologist’s wet dream and it’s quite a Christmas present for me as well. Carry on.

I finally updated

For the first time in nearly two weeks. I suck, I know. I wasn’t even busy. Just kind of chilling out, hanging around with Michael and his parents (I spent two days and two nights in a row at their house, one of which was without Michael), and reading. I’ll try to update more in the future.

The new MP of the week is Rosario Pacheco-Flores, age 28, missing from Phoenix since 2008. She vanished with her boyfriend, 30-year-old Luis Villafana. Foul play is suspected but I’ve got nothing beyond that.

(Aside: A curious thing about the name Rosario — and also the name Consuelo — most of the time in Spanish, female names end in an A, but not in those cases. I don’t know why they aren’t Rosaria and Consuela. Rosario in Italian is male, sez Nameberry. Consuela and Rosaria aren’t even listed on the site.)

The last MP of the week (which was, of course, two weeks ago *hangs head in shame*) was Ka Ming Kwan, a 39-year-old man who vanished fishing off the west end of the Golden Gate Bridge back in 1981. Pretty easy to surmise what happened to him.

And I have a new Executed Today entry: Israel Lipski, hung for murder in London in 1887. It was a strange case — the victim was killed by being forced to swallow nitric acid — and it was controversial and notorious in its time but almost forgotten now. I love writing about those kinds of cases.

Back to work

I spent last week, and the week before that, sulking. Then the computer went up in smoke and I got a new one and had to set it up and everything. (Oh, and play the old Oregon Trail game that I just rediscovered.) But I promise you, I will update today. And get back on to regular updates again. Pinky swear.

And, in the meantime, some international MP news:

They’ve opened up a mobster’s tomb looking for the remains of Emanuela Orlandi, a teenager who was kidnapped from the Vatican City in 1981. (The mobster was killed in 1990.) Her disappearance is all spooky and mysterious: “Various theories have tied the presumed kidnapping to intrigue involving the Italian secret services, organized crime, even the attempt to assassinate John Paul II — or possibly all three.” Though what organized crime, the Italian secret service, etc., would want with a fifteen-year-old girl is a mystery to me.

A dumbass travel agency used a photo of Madeleine McCann in an ad. Of course her parents are appalled and everyone else wonders how these people could be so tasteless. More to the point, I wonder why on earth the ad people thought this would be appealing to potential customers. “Go to Europe! Visit beautiful resorts where children get kidnapped!”

They found Gerald Twibey, a man who disappeared from a British mental hospital in 1985. Actually, they found him back in 1985 in the River Colne, but he’s been unidentified all this time and lying in a pauper’s grave. Now (although the DNA tests were inconclusive) they’re pretty sure the dead body is Gerald, sure enough to return the remains to his family. Some funeral home did the service for no charge. Nice of them.

A body found in Fox Lake in Ontario Nova Scotia, Canada has been identified as Ray Peter O’Connell, a 32-year-old who had been missing for almost eight years. The cause of death hasn’t been determined but it isn’t being treated as suspicious.

George Chapman (and a roundup)

I’ve taken a bit of a break from Charley-related work, but here’s another ET entry for you: George Chapman, a serial killer in turn-of-the-century Britain who might have been Jack the Ripper.

I have written 70 guest entries for that blog thus far since I discovered it nearly two years ago. Of those, 24 have yet to run. I’ll keep writing them for as long as the Headsman maintains the blog, for I find it a most engrossing diversion from my usual topics of research. A breakdown (which may not be entirely accurate):

19 Holocaust entries
9 World War II related entries that weren’t from the Holocaust
16 executions of multiple people at once
27 executions for murder (that is, 27 entries; I don’t count more if more than one person was executed)
11 mass or serial killers
3 executions for nonfatal sex crimes
11 executions of minors
9 executions for treason
7 wrongful executions (that is, either the guy was probably innocent or the trial was grossly unfair)
11 executions in the United Kingdom
12 executions in the USA (counting colonial America)
6 entries where the person did not actually die
15 borderline “executions” (many people would call plain ol’ murder)
25 books I have read because of the blog (either for research or because they were mentioned in the entries)
6 books I plan to read because of the blog

I will also note that, in a list of the good things that came out of my encounter with Rollo (and there are a few; there’s rarely an event so terrible that at least SOME good doesn’t come from it), my work on Executed Today is one of them. On the first anniversary of the attack, I was feeling very bad and desperately pawing through the internet trying to find some distraction, and found that blog, and the rest is history. Given my interests in true crime and history, I probably would have found it anyway eventually, but I found it at a most opportune time. It was a terrific distraction from my depression and unease.

So. Yeah.

My first Executed Today entry of 2012

There will be several ET entries by me this month, five in all I think. This is the first: Louisa Masset, hanged on January 9, 1900 for the brutal murder of her three-year-old illegitimate son. It was apparently premeditated and it was horrific: she beat him with a brick in a train station bathroom, then suffocated him.

The author John J. Eddleston, in whose book I first read about Louisa, lists her in another book he wrote about wrongful executions. That is, he suggests she may have been innocent. Not having read this particular book, I’m not sure why he thinks this. The evidence, though circumstantial, seems conclusive enough.