Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Ten Lost Tribes, a Champagne bottle, and Taiwan?

In a way, this story starts at the end, with the death of our main character.

When George Psalmanazar died on 3rd May 1763, he left behind a manuscript which was published the next year and revealed his true nature – but not his name.  The book, “Memoirs of ****, Commonly Known by the Name of George Psalmanazar” gives many fact about his life and plenty of clues, but George will forever remain unknown.

An engraving of Psalmanazar late in his life

The exact year of his birth is not known, though most agree it may probably have been 1679.  George revealed that he was born into a Catholic family in the South of France (possibly Languedoc), educated at a Franciscan school and a Jesuit academy.  He claims he was soon celebrated as a linguistic genius, excelling in a number of languages.

George entered university to study theology, but soon grew disenchanted with academia, dropping out at the age of 15.  He took to tutoring and claims one of his students’ mothers tried to seduce him, but he soon failed at this profession and at age 16 he was wearing rags and begging for food.

He forged a passport and stole a pilgrim’s cloak and staff, thus providing him with his first alias “a young student in theology of Irish extract who had left the country for the sake of religion and was now on a pilgrimage to Rome”.  He soon realised that many people were familiar with Ireland and he was unable to keep pretense,  He decided then to seek his father in Germany.

Finding his father as impoverished as himself, George then decided on his next alias, “a Japanese converted to Christianity”, and despite the appearances of a typical Caucasian he was able to pull this trick off by eating raw meat spiced with cardamom and sleeping while sitting upright in a chair.

George soon enlisted in the army of the Duke of Mecklenburg, but had now changed his alias to that of an unconverted Japanese named Salmanazar.  He’d chosen the same Salmanazar from the Bible, after the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser, who deported the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.  The name is also used for 9 litre bottles of Champagne.

In 1702 he reached Amsterdam and met a Scottish priest named William Innes, who seems to have seen through his charade, but instead of uncovering this impostor, Innes persuaded him to take it to even greater heights.  Innes wrote to the Anglican Bishop of London, claiming that George had come from Formosa (which was lesser known than Japan) and that he had converted him to Protestant Christianity and named him George Psalmanazar, the name he stayed with for the next 60 years.  The bishop commanded that they come to London at once and so it was that the two of them arrived in 1703.

Members of Formosan society

For a few short years George was the toast of English society, meeting many academics, and publishing a book called “An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, an Island subject to the Emperor of Japan” which sold out in English and was translated into other languages.

In it he claimed he was abducted by Jesuits and taken to France, which endeared him to the English because of their suspicion of Catholics and Jesuits.  When he was often challenged because of information brought back by Jesuits he was able to prevail because of this religious distrust.

In his book, it looks like George borrowed from stories he heard about the Inca and Aztec, and he made some basic mistakes like the fact Formosa belonged to China, not Japan, and when he claimed that 18,000 boys were sacrificed each year (which would have resulted in a population decrease).

His descriptions of society and customs enthralled people, from the fact that criminals were hanged upside down and killed by having arrows fired into them, to the polygamous society that allowed men to eat their wives for infidelity.

Yet more cool dudes from Formosa

George also included descriptions of the alphabet and language of Formosa, which he’d made up completely, but were so convincing that examples were still being used by grammarians many decades later.

However, it didn’t take too long for the hoax to be uncovered, and by 1706 George accepted that the whole thing was a hoax, yet refused to reveal his identity.

George did display a great intelligence and for the next few years he became part of the infamous “Grub Street”, editing several works and contributing articles to a number of publications.  One of the works he contributed to anonymously, “A Complete System of Geography”, allowed George to write about the real conditions of Formosa, pointedly refuting various claims he made in his earlier publication.

In later life George shunned fame, and seems to have gained a respect among his fellow writers and people who lived nearby.  Samuel Johnson wrote “Psalmanazar’s piety, penitence, and virtue exceeded almost what we read as wonderful in the lives of the saints” and noted that everyone, including children, showed him respect.

When he died, no one knew his real name, date of birth or even where he really came from.  He requested that he be buried in an obscure corner without ceremony, in the cheapest manner possible and without a lid or covering so that the earth can cover him all around.

For a while this man was one of the most famous men in the 18th century, yet we never really knew who he was.


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Posted by on Sunday 18th September 2011 in History, People


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The Durable Mike Malloy

Real life sometimes rivals fiction, and the story of Michael Malloy (1873-1933) rivals most.

The story starts in early 1932 in New York, at the height of prohibition, when four men formed what was to be called The Murder Trust.  The men were Anthony Marino, owner of a local speakeasy, his bartender Joseph Murphy, local undertaker Francis Pasqua, and fruit vendor Daniel Kreisberg.  They would later recruit taxi driver Harry Green.

At a time when many people were looking for some easy money, they decided to murder Marino’s girlfriend, Betty Carlsen, after insuring her life for $800 (about $13k in 2011).  It was a very simple idea.  They got her drunk, took her to her room, stripped her naked, laid her out in her bed and poured cold water over her.  They then left her windows open and returned the next morning to find her dead from what the coroner declared was pneumonia compounded by alcoholism.  Their plan seemed to work perfectly.

During this time Malloy was a local homeless man who had originally come from Ireland and had been a firefighter at one time.  He was 60 and well past his prime and had become an alcoholic.  For a while he’d earned some money by occasionally sweeping floors, and this was enough to pay for some lodgings and drinks at Marino’s speakeasy, but as money dwindled he would hang around trying to cadge drinks from one of the other regulars.

So it was that when the Murder Trust looked to make some more money they saw Michael Malloy as an easy target.

Marino told Malloy that because of a price war with other bars, he would let him have free credit, allowing him to drink throughout the day and night. Malloy was so happy to get free drinks (and a free lunch) that he didn’t suspect a thing and even signed what he thought was a petition for Marino to be elected for local office, but turned out to be life insurance forms for $3,576 (a little over $60k in 2011).  He was even allowed to sleep at the back of the bar to let him stay as long as he needs.

They figured this broken old man will drink himself to death very soon, but he returned each night and it started costing them too much.

It was then that Murphy, having previously practiced chemistry, suggested lacing Malloy’s drinks with antifreeze.  After a few shots of whiskey Malloy didn’t notice when his drinks were substituted with antifreeze and soon passed out.  Pasqua the undertaker felt for his heart beat and declared it was so weak he was bound to be dead by morning.  Three hours later Malloy woke up, dusted himself off and apologised for passing out, then asked for another drink!  For the next few nights they plied him with ever greater amounts of antifreeze, but Malloy came back each day.

Not only were they losing a lot of money on the alcohol they plied him with, now they’d also spent a small fortune on antifreeze.

They changed the drinks to turpentine, and then horse liniment which was laced with rat poison.  Each night Malloy would pass out and return the next day thirsty for more.  He seemed to like these new cocktails.

Pasqua then remembered burying a man who ate some raw oysters with some whiskey.  To make sure it worked they left some oysters out to go off, then soaked them in antifreeze and gave this free lunch to Malloy.  Not only didn’t it kill Malloy, but he came back the next day hoping for some more delicious free lunch.

Murphy decided to attack this problem from two ends.  He left a can of sardines out until they smelled really foul and spoiled, spread them on a sandwich, added rat poison, sprinkled on carpet tacks and even shavings from the sardine can itself, and this was all washed down with antifreeze.  They figured if poison couldn’t kill Malloy, he’d get a stomach hemorrhage.

Sure enough, Malloy turned up the next day for more drinks and perhaps some more free lunch.

By now it was winter, and New York was gripped by freezing weather several degrees below zero.  To save money on more poison and the various ingredients they’d been feeding Malloy, the squad plied him with enough alcohol until he passed out, they then recruited Harry Green to help take him to Claremont Park, where they laid him down in the snow, stripped his shirt off, then poured five gallons of water on him and left him to freeze to death.

The next day Pasqua turned up with a heavy head cold from the previous night’s exposure, but Malloy turned up looking none the worse and wearing a new suit.  It turned out the police found him and turned him over to a welfare charity who gave him some new clothes.

By now they’d spent a small fortune on antifreeze, turpentine, horse liniment, rat poison, oysters, sardines, carpet tacks, and not forgetting enough whiskey to fill a swimming pool.  They needed professional advice.

They asked a professional killer, “Tough Tony” Bastone, for advice and he told to stop wasting time with poisons and just murder him physically.

And so, having gotten Malloy drunk (and presumably wondering where his delicious lunch was), they took him in Green’s taxi to Pelham Parkway, stood him up in the middle of the road and backed the taxi up.  As they launched the car at Malloy he inadvertently stumbled out of the way, so they bundled him in and took him to Gun Hill Road.  Green backed the taxi up and launched it at Malloy, reaching 45mph and WHAM!  Malloy was sent flying by the impact and seemed out for the count.  To make sure they even ran him over (better be sure…)

The guys returned to the bar and waited for the news that Malloy had been found dead.  As the days passed there was no news, nothing in the obituaries, none of the local morgues and hospitals had heard of him and it seemed he disappeared altogether.

As they needed a body they picked another bum, Joe Murray, got him drunk, stuffed his pockets with IDs identifying him as Malloy, and ran him down in the taxi.  It seems that even adopting the name of Malloy gives you super strength because Murray survived and spent two months in hospital.

Then, three weeks after leaving Malloy’s broken body on the road he turned up in the bar apologising for being away.  It seems he got knocked down and sustained a fractured skull, concussion and a broken shoulder, so he’d been unable to give his name when he was taken to hospital.  He was fine now though, and guess what?  He was thirsty.

At Bastone’s advice they decided not to play any more games.  They got him drunk, took him to the back and placed a hose in his mouth, with the other end connected to the gas.  Perhaps Malloy felt sorry for them, who knows, but this time he finally succumbed and was declared dead the next morning.  The gang paid a local doctor, Frank Manzella, to pronounce death from pneumonia and it seemed they finally achieved their result.

However, the ghost of Mike Malloy could not rest.  Murphy was in jail for a separate charge when one of the insurance companies tried to contact him to hand over the payout, they got suspicious and contacted the police.  Then there was a hitman who told his friends the gang had tried to hire him to snuff Malloy out, but his fee was too high.  It didn’t help that Green hadn’t been paid and was complaining about to anyone who’d listen and as police started to investigate they found out about Betty Carlsen.  Malloy’s body was exhumed and the true nature of his death came out, the gang, including Green and Manzella, were arrested and charged with murder.

During the trial the men claimed the whole scheme had been Bastone’s idea, and that he’d forced them to carry out the deed, and as Bastone had been killed not long after Malloy he couldn’t testify against them.  This didn’t wash with the jury and all six were found guilty.

For their parts Green and Manzella were sent to prison.  In June 1934, at the infamous Sing Sing prison, Marino, Pasqua and Kreisberg were electrocuted, with Murphy sharing their fate a month later.

As for Malloy, he was reburied and rumour has it his body is still as indestructible as ever.

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Posted by on Tuesday 13th September 2011 in Crime, People


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