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« The Barnes Mystery »

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On the 22nd of October 2010, workmen excavating the concrete in the place between the former Mayfield Cottages and the” Hole in the Wall “pub, came across a human skull. Carbon dating carried out at the University of Edinburgh dated the skull to between 1650 and 1880.  Identification through DNA was impossible but the skull did showcase fracture marks consistent with those of being thrown down the stairs. In addition to that, tests have shown low collagen levels consistent with being boiled.  This discovery was a huge outbreak because 131 years later the’ Barnes mystery’ was finally solved.

You might be wondering what ‘the Barnes Mystery’ is. Well, it’s the dubbing the press chose for the murder of Julia Martha Thomas. The atrocity of the crime made this case amass wide media coverage and it was labeled one of the most notorious crimes in the Victorian period in the United Kingdom.

 This case takes us back to the Victorian era, exactly to 1879. Back then, everyone was obsessed with wealth and status and July Thomas was no exception. In fact, she was a middle-class widow but she has never been gratified with that fact. She wanted to climb the social ladder. That’s why she lathered herself in expensive dresses and jewelry to give the impression of prosperity.

July Thomas was a widow, in her mid-fifties, who lived alone in her 2 Mayfield Cottages. She didn’t really need a housekeeper but she was hoping that by employing one she would have a higher social status. Having inherited her late husband’s wealth, she most definitely had the resources to do as she pleased.

A friend of Mrs. Thomas, whose maid was on sick leave, hired a temporary housekeeper named Kate to fill in to cover the shortage of staff at her property. Once her tasks were cleared, she recommended this housekeeper to Mrs. Thomas and that’s how the latter ended up hiring Kate as her maid.

Kate Webster, born Catherine Lawler in 1849 in Enniscorthy, spent her childhood in the rural areas of Ireland. From an early age, she had a tainted reputation of being a thief and a troublemaker. As she grew up, she found herself living in a poverty-stricken area, with no hope of finding employment. That’s why she moved to England to find a job. However, finding a job wasn’t an easy task so, she reverted back to her old habits and began stealing once again. Ultimately she was caught and she was in and out of prison for theft and larceny.

Mrs. Thomas didn’t know that Catherine was a repeated offender and an ex-convict, even with that, her relationship with Catherine was bad from the get-go and it deteriorated even further as time went on. On one hand, Mrs. Thomas wasn’t the easiest person to work for. She was very critical and obsessed with cleanliness. She would go around inspecting Catherine’s work and point out what she left out or the chores she didn’t complete thoroughly, which left Catherine feeling distasteful. On the other hand, Catherine was extremely temperamental and she had an unpredictable behavior which made Mrs. Thomas utterly terrified of her. Catherine also took the habit of frequenting local bars in the night and she would return late and completely drunk.

Mrs. Thomas couldn’t tolerate her behavior any further so she decided to dismiss her after only a month since she took the job. They agreed that her last day of service would be the 28th of February 1879. That day happened to be a Friday and Catherine knew that she couldn’t find another job on the weekend which meant that she would be rendered homeless. She begged her mistress to let her stay for couple more days, at least until the 2nd of March, so she would at least find somewhere else to stay. On the 2nd of March, which happened to be Sunday, Mrs. Thomas had the habit of going to the church. Catherine was supposed to assist her in getting ready. Then she was expected to pack her belongings and evacuate the premises but she went to the pub instead. Later on, she came back drunk in broad daylight.  Mrs. Thomas was not happy with that and a heated argument broke between the two.

To cool off, Mrs. Thomas left to join the service at the church. Witnesses who saw her there later reported that she came late and that she seemed unsettled and agitated.

When she went back to the cottage, they fought once again. Catherine was blinded by anger. In a fit of rage, she pushed Mrs. Thomas down the stairs. Anxious that her mistress would start screaming, thus alerting the neighbors of the incident that just occurred, Catherine ran down the stairs and strangled Mrs. Thomas until she passed away.

Catherine panicked at first. She didn’t want to go back to prison so she thought of a scheme that would allow her to walk unscathed from this. Mrs. Thomas was known to go away at times and she wouldn’t usually keep in touch with her family and friends when she does. So Catherine planned to keep a facade; she would keep pretending to be Mrs. Thomas’ housekeeper and if anyone grew suspicious of her mistress’s absence she would tell them that Mrs. Thomas was away on one of her trips.

In the meantime, Catherine cut up Mrs. Thomas body parts. She wanted to disfigure the body to the point where it couldn’t be identified if ever found. She proceeded to mutilate the body and disembowel it. Later, she burned some of the body parts and put the rest in a copper pot filled with water to boil them. Once it started to boil, the fat started to separate from the flesh. Catherine, then, separated the fat from the water and put it into jars. As for the body parts, she wrapped them in brown paper.

As of that day, Catherine started going around selling the jars to her neighbors claiming it was pork fat. Every time she got out of the house to run some errands, she would take some of the body parts and she would dispose of them in the Thames River except the head. She buried it in the barns of the pub she used to frequent.

She was also running low on money so she decided to impersonate Mrs. Thomas in order to sell her belongings. She would wear her mistress’s dresses and jewelry and visit tradesmen and brokers trying to sell Mrs. Thomas’s belongings and furniture.

In the meantime, some of the body parts have washed up and upon verification, it was disclosed that they belonged to the same person. Neighbors have also grown suspicious of Catherine’s eerie behavior and of the fact that they haven’t seen Mrs. Thomas in a while. That’s why they reported her to the police. The Police found an ax in the cottage and they found the copper pot that was still covered in fat.  They also found shards of human bones scattered around the house. They have asked around as well and noted people’s wariness of Catherine’s leery conduct.

Catherine fled to Ireland when she knew the police were onto her, but they tracked her down and she was arrested on the 28th of March. At her arrest, she was found wearing Mrs. Thomas’s clothes and she was then brought back to London to be tried for murder.

Catherine pleaded not guilty. Her defense argued that the evidence against her was substantial. They backed up their claims with the fact that Mrs. Thomas’ head hasn’t been found which meant that the body parts couldn’t be confirmed to be those of Mrs. Thomas.

The Trial lasted 6 days and Catherine was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. Catherine tried to appeal her sentence by pleading pregnant. However, after being examined, it was revealed that her claims were false, so they proceeded with her original sentencing.

On the eve of her execution, she confessed and gave away all the details about how things have escalated on that eventful day.

Catherine Webster was hanged on the 28th of July, 1879.

The head wasn’t found back then. It was presumed that maybe it was thrown in the Thames River as well and that it was drifted away by the currents.

The case has garnered so much attention from the public and media. It seemed unfathomable for them that a woman was capable of committing such a heinous crime. The crown prince of Sweden, himself, attended the trial and Madame Tussauds started producing a waxwork of Catherine to be displayed in the chambers of horrors before even the trial has taken place.

Written by: Sarra Barnoussi and Razki Wassim.

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Ghosts in the Mirror

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Deep down the mysterious continent of Asia, laden with centuries upon centuries of legends and stories to tell, lies the land of a thousand dynasties, China. The people of this land are known most for their vast seas of wisdom and spirituality. Their eyes look through the physical and value beauty on the purity of the soul and the mind, as we are going to see in the tears falling from the eyes of Zhong Kui, the King of Ghosts.

Bright minds are the spark of civilization yet no mind can shine brighter than Zhong Kui’s:

The hero of this story was a true genius, had the highest grades in his class, was the favorite of all his teachers, and was the teacher of all his classmates. A man of such talents deserves no less than the highest of honors and positions, and so was his thinking. Zhong Kui chose to apply for the imperial examination, to become an advisor of the king and do his part in the rising of his empire.

People in the imperial palace were astonished by Zhong’s brilliant answers and immediately invited him to assume his new position. The emperor, a pretentious man, all too pompous for the common folk was the type of man that wishes everything to be perfect and all too beautiful. He sat on his golden throne wearing the finest of his silk robes and a crown made of pure jade was resting on his head, waiting for our hero’s presence.

Zhong Kui finally arrived at the doors of the palace and presented himself to the guards who allowed his immediate entry. He could not be happier, but all of his joy sunk to the depths of the earth when he entered the emperor’s courtroom. The king gave the highest shriek when helaid his eyes on Zhong. He felt pure disgust as he looked upon our genius’ misshapen eyes and overgrown ears. He almost puked as he looked at our prodigy’s ragged clothes and dirty hair, and immediately expelled him from the palace vowing to never let something so horrendous sit on his imperial tables.

Zhong Kui wept his eyes dry as he left the presence of the emperor and walked with what he thought was shame until he reached the huge metal doors of the palace. Before leaving, he looked at his reflection on those doors and felt so much anger for the world that birthed him in such a fashion, and with so much rage and sadness building in his heart, he struck his head on the door, once, twice, and thrice, until his blood splattered all over it, and he kept beating on his brow until he fell on the ground dead, another victim of suicide.

Fortunately, his story does not end with his untimely death. As his soul traveled to the underground, it caught the eye of the King of Hell and fascinated by its purity, and sensing the talents of the new arrival. He knew that Zhong Kui was way too special to waste.

He honored him with a greater title than he could ever wish for in the emperor’s palace. He named him King of Ghosts and Hunter of Demons. Zhong was delighted and vowed to do right by his new duty, protecting all humans, including the emperor that caused him nothing but depression.

With plenty to take from between the lines of this tale, we can start with the fact that words are as sharp as swords and they can shred a soul to bits leaving a person broken, never to be repaired. There is no ugly, or hideous, there is only different. 

There are no two humans on this earth that look alike and that’s what makes being human beautiful. It’s okay to have features unlike those you see in the media and pictures of models, for those features are you and nothing is as pretty as your love for yourself. Beauty too can come in so many forms, and to the forces of nature, illustrated in this story by the King of Hell and God of Death, the most natural of all forces, nothing is more important than the beauty of your mind.

Superficiality is killed when the eyes are closed to let the ears hear the magnificent words coming out of your mouth, to understand the purity of your golden ideas, and to feel the true essence of what truly is you beneath the shell that might or might not be attractive by the common definition.

To wrap up the story of a prodigy and his unjust end, I advise each and every one of you to stand in front of a mirror and say that you are beautiful because if you accept it, no sword can scathe your soul. And you are not just beautiful because of what you look like, you are beautiful because of what you feel, because of what you think about when you steer away with your thoughts in public, you are beautiful because of what you love and what you cherish, because of the art that leaks like rainbows from your mind and most importantly, you are beautiful because you wake up and live every day to the fullest despite what the poison you hear from the people in your life.

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