400-year-old witchcraft trial resumes in Germany
Katharina Henot suffered her fiery fate in Cologne in 1627 after being found guilty of practicing black magic. Arrested, and tortured to such an extent that the right-handed woman had to scrawl her last letter of defence with her left hand, she was eventually paraded through the city in an open cart before being tied to a stake and burnt.
Now the panel on the city council whose predecessors found her guilty of witchcraft hundreds of years ago will review the evidence. It is suspected that Henot, head of the city's post office, fell foul of a deadly game of political intrigue orchestrated by her rivals and detractors.
The fact that Henot's name has a chance of exoneration is due largely to the efforts of Hartmut Hegeler, an evangelical pastor and religious education teacher, who has championed the woman's cause in Cologne.
"We were taking about the witch trials in class and my students asked me if whether the judgment against Henot had ever been cancelled, and the answer was 'no'," said Mr Hegeler.
"Katharina had her own reputation in high esteem; she would want to have it cleared."
Between 1500 and 1782 at least 25,000 Germans, mostly women but also some men and children, were executed for witchcraft. Many were made scapegoats for natural disasters or faced accusations because of personal vendettas or just because they failed to fit in with the people around them.
In one of the most infamous cases, a three-month burst of bloodletting in the small town of Oberkirchen in 1630 claimed the lives of 58, including those of two children, as accusations of witchcraft spread like wildfire.
Now across Germany towns and villages are beginning to rehabilitate the names of the executed in an attempt to bring a belated form of justice. - telegraph
Serial killer John Wayne Gacy had accomplices, lawyers say
Nearly two decades after Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy was executed for torturing, raping and murdering 33 men and boys in the 1970s, two lawyers say they’ve unearthed evidence that indicates he didn’t act alone in some of the slayings.
Criminal defense attorneys Robert Stephenson and Steven Becker, who are partners in a Chicago law practice, said they re-examined the circumstances surrounding the disappearances of some of the victims. Their conclusion: the so-called “Killer Clown” had at least three accomplices.
The Chicago Sun-Times and WGN-TV first reported on the lawyers’ claims on Thursday and Friday.
“There is significant evidence out there that suggests that not only did John Wayne Gacy not operate alone, he may not have been involved in some of the murders, and the fact that he was largely a copycat killer,” Stephenson told WGN.
Stephenson and Becker on Friday presented their findings to Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart plus a lead investigator and a former prosecutor in the decades-old case.
Dart described the meeting as "very fruitful."
"They raised valid questions," Dart told msnbc.com in a telephone interview. "I definitely would not dismiss what they have said. It’s not out of left field. Its' well thought out."
The sheriff said investigators will follow up on the information and, if it proves solid, will try to locate the potential accomplices -- two of whom are believed to be still alive. The case has had so many twists and loose ends – seven Gacy victims remain unidentified, for example – that Dart is keeping an open mind.
"Have we ruled out that someone would have helped Gacy in one or more of the murders? No," the sheriff said.
Stephenson said he and Becker started looking into the Gacy case last year at the request of a mother who questioned the finding that her son, Michael Marino, was one of the bodies found on Gacy's property. A dentist who made the original body IDs re-examined X-rays and said he’s certain the victim was Marino, according to the Sun-Times.
The investigation into Marino's death led the lawyers to a flurry of leads and new information from other sources.
Stephenson estimates he and his law partner have voluntarily spent up to 30 percent of their work time over last six to eight months on the case -- without compensation.
“It’s one of those things, when you start meeting with family members and you start talking to them, knowing how important it is to them to have their questions resolved, you just feel compelled to do it,” Stephenson told msnbc.com on Friday.
"We've turned what we’ve had to the proper authorities. I’m sure they will take their time and look at it and do what is appropriate," he added.
Stephenson and Becker told the Sun-Times they found anomalies in the cases of victims Russell Nelson of Minneapolis and Robert Gilroy and John Mowery of Chicago. The three young men disappeared in 1977 and were among 29 victims found buried on Gacy’s property – most in the crawlspace of his home - in unincorporated Norwood Park Township outside Chicago in 1978. The remains of four other victims were dumped in a nearby river.
Gacy, a building contractor who performed as an amateur clown at fundraising events and children’s parties, was tried in Chicago in 1980 and convicted of 33 murders. He was executed in 1994.
Did Gacy have help?
Stephenson and Becker say a review of Gacy’s travel and work records and other court documents indicates he was out of town when Nelson and Gilroy disappeared.
New technology might answer who Gacy's remaining unidentified victims are. NBC's Stephanie Gosk Reports.
Gilroy vanished on Sept. 15, 1977, between 5 p.m., when he talked to his girlfriend by telephone, and 6 p.m., when he failed to show up at a bus stop for a trip to an equestrian-riding class, the lawyers told the Sun-Times and WGN. But a copy of a plane ticket shows Gacy flew to Pittsburgh on Sept. 12 and didn’t return to Chicago until the night of Sept. 16, the lawyers say.
Nelson went missing on Oct. 19, 1977. A friend told police Nelson vanished that evening while they were outside a disco bar in Chicago. But Nelson’s mother said the friend later gave her a different account and also repeatedly asked her for money to help find him.
Stephenson told the Sun-Times he doesn’t believe Gacy could have snatched the 21-year-old Nelson from the street without the friend seeing anything.
A few months before Nelson disappeared, Gacy did some work at a drug store just blocks from where Nelson’s friend lived, Becker and Stephenson said. And Nelson’s mother said the friend offered Nelson’s two brothers a job with Gacy.
Some have speculated the friend, who according to the lawyers is still alive and living in another state, may have been involved in Nelson’s disappearance.
“I don’t know that [the friend] was involved,” Stephenson told the Sun-Times. “But I know that he wasn’t telling the truth here.”
“I think it tells us that John Wayne Gacy was using other individuals to procure young boys over state lines,” Becker told WGN.
Mowery, 19, was last seen alive at 10 p.m. on Sept. 25, 1977, leaving his mother’s house after dinner. He was scheduled to work the next morning, Stephenson told the Sun-Times.
Contractor records show Gacy was at a job in Michigan at 6 a.m. on Sept. 26, 1977, and was in Michigan until Sept. 30, 1977, Stephenson said.
Stephenson told the newspaper he doubts Gacy would have the time to abduct, torture and kill Mowery in the narrow time frame between Mowery’s disappearance and Gacy heading to work in Michigan.
Stephenson said other evidence suggests Gacy had accomplices, too.
Gacy was known for using a rope and board to strangle his victims, but autopsies on Gilroy and Nelson showed they died from asphyxiation due to suffocation rather than strangulation, WGN reported.
And, according to the Sun-Times:
After he was arrested in 1978, Gacy told officers: “Who else do you have in the station? There are others involved.” He was asked, “Directly or indirectly?” and responded, “Directly. They participated.” He was asked, “Who are they?” and responded, “My associates.”
Also, Gacy told police he got the idea of putting his victims on a “torture board” from Elmer Wayne Henley, a Texas serial killer. Henley was an accomplice of Dean Corll, who killed at least 28 boys and young men. Henley killed Corll and is now serving a life sentence.
“Gacy was a copycat,” Stephenson told the newspaper. “And he was copycatting a killer who used accomplices.”
Stephenson told msnbc.com: "I think I can say, from our information to this point, we believe there are at least three accomplices."
One of them was the "friend" of Nelson; Stephenson wouldn't say who the other two were.
Sheriff Dart, who also declined to release the names, said one of the possible accomplices is believed to be dead. He said investigators will interview the other two if follow-up work indicates they could have been involved in some of the Gacy killings.
"There have been countless leads that have come in -- some of them obviously not valid from the get-go, others ones much more so. So here we have leads that are valid to be run out. This would be in a much higher category of leads," he said of the lawyers' information.
Terry Sullivan, who was on the Gacy prosecution team as a state’s attorney and who wrote a book, Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murdersabout the case, says he wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out Gacy had help in committing his crimes.
“I felt from the beginning that there may be loose ends. It was such a huge case, especially at the time,” Sullivan told WGN.
But Gacy’s defense lawyer, Sam Amirante, doesn’t buy the accomplice theory.
“Nothing as far as killing or recruiting … we thought about it, but we just never saw any evidence,” he told WGN.
Amirante said Gacy confessed to everything early on, and only after years in prison did he begin to change his story.
That's a point a former prosecutor on the case also raised, Dart said: "Gacy was trying everything he could to avoid being executed. If there was an accomplice or accomplices …he would have brought it out at that point to save his own skin.”
Stephenson contends Gacy did claim to have accomplices shortly after his arrest.
All parties agree the Gacy case has been anything from ordinary.
Dart estimates it'll take a month or two to fully investigate the new information.
As for victims' families, the reaction has been mixed.
"We've been in contact with many, many victims' family members over the past six months. None of them were really surprised by what was announced last night," Stephenson told msnbc.com. "Some of them don’t want to talk about it and revisit old wounds. Others do, and those that do have provided really valuable information."
Meanwhile, seven victims of Gacy remain unnamed. In December, the Cook County sheriff’s office announced that it had identified, through DNA testing, an eighth previously unidentified victim: 19-year-old William Bundy, a Chicago resident who disappeared in 1976. The sheriff also told four families that DNA tests ruled out their missing relatives as among Gacy's victims. - usnews
Grab your official 'Phantoms and Monsters' gear!
'Brown Mountain Lights' remain a mystery
No matter how they try, scientists ranging from paranormal investigators to serious physicists are unable to unlock the mystery of the Brown Mountain Lights in Burke County.
“Artists and scientists alike have congregated around this phenomena,” said Joshua P. Warren, Asheville native turned paranormal investigator who spoke before a crowd of 120 Saturday at city hall at a symposium on the Brown Mountain Lights.
The Brown Mountain Lights, which can be seen from several vantage points along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Brown Mountain Overlook on North Carolina Highway 181, have been explained as a series of orange-like orbs by those who claim to have seen them.
Stories surrounding the lights range from Indian legends about former slaves to UFO and U.S. military activity.
“The thing that makes the Brown Mountain Lights so great is that it is a blank slate upon which you can project your imagination, your dreams, your visions,” said Warren, who has made guest appearances on the National Geographic and Discovery channels, among others.
One theory Warren posited to the audience that may explain the phenomena is that water flowing through Brown Mountain causes the land to act as a capacitor, a natural conductor of electricity. Tannic acid that runs through the water may create a significant charge that releases light.
Warren said the best time to view the lights is possibly during November when leaves are off the trees and there is a dramatic change in temperature from day time to night time.
However, Dan Caton, professor of physics at Appalachian State University, stated there is no proof that visiting Brown Mountain at a certain time of year will make the lights more visible. He also disputed Warren’s science and said that there simply has not been enough recorded, scientific data to determine either the origin of the lights or why they occur.
Despite absence of scientific explanation surrounding the lights, audience members attended the event with photos and stories of their own to share.
Burke County Director of Tourism, Ed Phillips, said his office gets so many questions from the public about the lights he thought bringing in two experts who know about them might help generate some answers.
“My job is to find unique things about Burke County and promote them, and this certainly qualifies as one,” he said. “They’re real. Thousands and thousands of people have seen them. And there is something creating these lights.”
The lights are described as balls of light that move at various speeds. The first published account of the lights appeared in 1913 in the Charlotte Daily Observer and chronicles the Morganton Fishing Club’s sightings.
Explanations include headlights from locomotives and cars, moonshiners signaling each other, phosphorescence from decaying stumps and logs, radium emanations and chemical reactions. Others believe the lights are similar to St. Elmo’s Fire — an electrical phenomenon — or the Andes light of South America.
The U.S. Geological Survey has twice undertaken an investigation of the lights. The first investigation in 1913 concluded the lights were reflections from locomotive headlights.
In 1922, the second USGS investigation concluded the lights were caused by the spontaneous combustion of marsh gasses. The mountains create a basin-like area and air, of different temperatures and densities, move into the basin creating a unstable conditions and the lights. - monganton
"Monsignors' mutiny" revealed by Vatican leaks
Call it Conspiracy City. Call it Scandal City. Call it Leak City. These days the holy city has been in the news for anything but holy reasons.
"It is a total mess," said one high-ranking Vatican official who spoke, like all others, on the condition of anonymity.
The Machiavellian maneuvering and machinations that have come to light in the Vatican recently are worthy of a novel about a sinister power struggle at a medieval court.
Senior church officials interviewed this month said almost daily embarrassments that have put the Vatican on the defensive could force Pope Benedict to act to clean up the image of its administration - at a time when the church faces a deeper crisis of authority and relevance in the wider world.
Some of those sources said the outcome of a power struggle inside the Holy See may even have a longer-term effect, on the choice of the man to succeed Benedict when he dies.
From leaked letters by an archbishop who was transferred after he blew the whistle on what he saw as a web of corruption and cronyism, to a leaked poison pen memo which puts a number of cardinals in a bad light, to new suspicions about its bank, Vatican spokesmen have had their work cut out responding.
The flurry of leaks has come at an embarrassing time - just before a usually joyful ceremony this week known as a consistory, when Benedict will admit more prelates into the College of Cardinals, the exclusive men's club that will one day pick the next Roman Catholic leader from among their own ranks.
"This consistory will be taking place in an atmosphere that is certainly not very glorious or exalting," said one bishop with direct knowledge of Vatican affairs.
The sources agreed that the leaks were part of an internal campaign - a sort of "mutiny of the monsignors" - against the pope's right-hand man, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Bertone, 77, has a reputation as a heavy-handed administrator and power-broker whose style has alienated many in the Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the central administration of the 1.3 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church.
He came to the job, traditionally occupied by a career diplomat, in 2006 with no experience of working in the church's diplomatic corps, which manages its international relations. Benedict chose him, rather, because he had worked under the future pontiff, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in the Vatican's powerful doctrinal office.
"It's all aimed at Bertone," said a monsignor in a key Vatican department who sympathizes with the secretary of state and who sees the leakers as determined to oust him. "It's very clear that they want to get rid of Bertone."
Vatican sources say the rebels have the tacit backing of a former secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, an influential power-broker in his own right and a veteran diplomat who served under the late Pope John Paul II for 15 years.
"The diplomatic wing feels that they are the rightful owners of the Vatican," the monsignor who favors Bertone said.
Sodano and Bertone are not mutual admirers, to put it mildly. Neither has commented publicly on the reports.
The Vatican has been no stranger to controversy in recent years, when uproar over its handling of child sex abuse charges has hampered the church's efforts to stem the erosion of congregations and priestly recruitment in the developed world.
But the latest image crisis could not be closer to home.
It began last month when an Italian television investigative show broadcast private letters to Bertone and the pope from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former deputy governor of the Vatican City and currently the Vatican ambassador in Washington.
The letters, which the Vatican has confirmed are authentic, showed that Vigano was transferred after he exposed what he argued was a web of corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to contractors at inflated prices.
As deputy governor of the Vatican City for two years from 2009 to 2011, Vigano was the number two official in a department responsible for maintaining the tiny city-state's gardens, buildings, streets, museums and other infrastructure, which are managed separately from the Italian capital which surrounds it.
In one letter, Vigano writes of a smear campaign against him by other Vatican officials who were upset that he had taken drastic steps to clean up the purchasing procedures and begged to stay in the job to finish what he had started.
Bertone responded by removing Vigano from his position three years before the end of his tenure and sending him to the United States, despite his strong resistance.
Other leaks center on the Vatican bank, just as it is trying to put behind it past scandals - including the collapse 30 years ago of Banco Ambrosiano, which entangled it in lurid allegations about money-laundering, freemasons, mafiosi and the mysterious death of Ambrosiano chairman Roberto Calvi - "God's banker."
Today, the Vatican bank, formally known at the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), is aiming to comply fully with international norms and has applied for the Vatican's inclusion on the European Commission's approved "white list" of states that meet EU standards for total financial transparency.
Bertone was instrumental in putting the bank's current executives in place and any lingering suspicion about it reflects badly on him. The Commission will decide in June and failure to make the list would be an embarrassment for Bertone.
Last week, an Italian newspaper that has published some of the leaks ran a bizarre internal Vatican memo that involved one cardinal complaining about another cardinal who spoke about a possible assassination attempt against the pope within 12 months and openly speculated on who the next pope should be.
Bertone's detractors say he has packed the Curia with Italian friends. Some see an attempt to influence the election of the next pope and increase the chances that the papacy returns to Italy after two successive non-Italian popes who have broken what had been an Italian monopoly for over 450 years.
Seven of the 18 new "cardinal electors" -- those aged under 80 eligible to elect a pope -- at this Saturday's consistory are Italian. Six of those work for Bertone in the Curia.
Bertone, as chief administrator, had a key role in advising the pope on the appointments, which raised eyebrows because of the high number of Italian bureaucrats among them.
"There is widespread malaise and delusion about Bertone inside the Curia. It is full of complaints," said the bishop who has close knowledge of Vatican affairs.
"Bertone has had a very brash method of running the Vatican and putting his friends in high places. People could not take it any more and said 'enough' and that is why I think these leaks are coming out now to make him look bad," he said.
Leaked confidential cables sent to the State Department by the U.S. embassy to the Vatican depicted him as a "yes man" with no diplomatic experience or linguistic skills and the 2009 cable suggests that the pope is protected from bad news.
"There is also the question of who, if anyone, brings dissenting views to the pope's attention," read the cable, published by WikiLeaks.
The Vatican sources said some cardinals asked the pope to replace Bertone because of administrative lapses, including the failure to warn the pope that a renegade bishop re-admitted to the Church in 2009 was a well-known Holocaust denier.
But they said the pope, at 84 and increasingly showing the signs of his age, is not eager to break in a new right-hand man.
"It's so complicated and the pope is so helpless," said the monsignor.
The bishop said: "The pope is very isolated. He lives in his own world and some say the information he receives is filtered. He is interested in his books and his sermons but he is not very interested in government." - yahoo