Plot E

I have visited many American military cemeteries over the years, and I have always found them to be beautiful and humbling places. They are quiet and dignified edens wherein lie the honored dead who have defended the nation.

There is one cemetery, though, that doesn’t quite live up to this archetype.

Plot E of the Oise-Aisne American cemetery in northern France.

Go ahead and look. You won’t find it listed on the Veterans Administration website, nor any of the literature provided by the cemetery. Maps will show Plots A, B, C, and D only, those containing 6012 American dead from WWI. Google Earth will just show an expanse of green. It’s like it doesn’t exist, which is exactly what its creators intended.

But it’s very much there, and serves a necessary if somewhat unsavory purpose.

Plot E is where American servicemen are buried who were executed – by firing squad or hanging – for capital crimes committed in the European theatre during or shortly after WWII. Some of the victims were children. Many were women. Most are forgotten by the modern age, though at least one – Sir Eric Teichman, killed on his ancestral estate confronting two U.S. soldiers poaching on the land – was a prominent member of society who still has his own Wikipedia page.

Those capital crimes once included aggravated rape, murder, and desertion, though currently none interred in Plot E are deserters. More on that in a moment.

Plot E

Plot E

Plot E is located 100 meters from the main cemetery, and contains the remains of 94 servicemen. It is across a small road and deliberately hidden from view by a tall border of hedgerows that surrounds the 90′ x 50′ oval space. Because of the dense shrubbery, and the fact that there is no path nor gate, the only access to the area is through the back door of the cemetery superintendent’s office… and this is highly discouraged. There are no gravestones, nor any plaques with names – the graves are designated by white index-card sized stone markers with stark black numbers, in four rows, and all facing away from the recognized burial ground nearby. Plot E has been described by one cemetery employee as a “house of shame” and “the perfect anti-memorial,” esp as the original intent was that none of the individual remains were ever to be identifiable by name (it was only after a Freedom of Information lawsuit in 2009 that a list of grave numbers and occupants was released to the public). No U.S. flag is allowed to fly there, although there is a single small granite cross to one side. Nevertheless, it is maintained, with grass being cut and hedges trimmed, perhaps more for the aesthetic sensibilities of the superintendent than due to any niceties afforded the deceased.



Originally, the 98 condemned by the U.S. Army following general courts martial were buried near the sites of their executions, which took place at locations as far-flung as England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and Algeria. In 1949, however, it was decided to relocate all such remains to a single venue; that site is described by the Graves Registration as being for “the dishonored dead,” since, according to protocol, all had been dishonorably discharged from the service just prior to execution.

For reasons unclear, two of those executed during the 1940s never were sent to Plot E. Two others were buried there but later exhumed and returned to the United States. One of those was Private Alex F. Miranda, who came back to the U.S. in 1990, though details of the transfer were never made public.

The second was the former occupant of Row 3, #65, Private Eddie Slovik, the only man executed during WWII for desertion. His later became a cause celebre, as other soldiers deserted during the war, but Eisenhower decided to make a sole example of the rough street kid from Detroit on 31 January 1945. His remains were finally returned to the U.S. on order of President Reagan in 1987, and rest today at Woodmere Cemetery in the city of his birth, next to the grave of his wife.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

The Axeman

It’s easy to believe, in this epoch awash in social media with 24/7 coverage of everything, that the world is a far more messed-up place than back in “the good ol’ days.” While certainly our capacity for destruction has increased – high capacity magazines, bio-terror, nuclear proliferation – I offer that man’s basic instability (read: cruelty, sociopathy, violence) likely has not changed very much.

As evidence, I further offer the story of an American serial killer who, despite having a body count comparable to Jack the Ripper’s and being much closer to those of us in the U.S. than is Whitechapel, seems to have been largely forgotten by history.

I offer you The Axeman.

This murderer was active in New Orleans and neighboring Gretna at the end of WWI, and only for a period of about 18 months. A considerable public panic arose, and like most serial killers, he left as abruptly as he came.

His first known victims were Joseph and Catherine Maggio, owners of a grocery store and bar who were attacked while they slept in their apartment over their business on the evening of 22 May 1918. The killer broke into the house and slashed both of the victims’ necks, and then proceeded to bludgeon both with the dull side of a heavy axe blade. Catherine was killed on the spot, while Joseph lived long enough to give details to his brother, who found him, before expiring himself. Nothing valuable – including cash in plain sight – had been stolen. Police found the killer’s bloody clothing in another room of the apartment, as he apparently changed into clean clothes before fleeing the crime site; they also found his bloody straight razor tossed carelessly on the neighbor’s front lawn. That straight razor was determined to belong to Andrew Maggio, the same brother who found the victims, and who owned a barber shop down the street. Police focused on him as the perpetrator when he said he had been at his adjoining apartment and, though drunk, had heard nothing of the attack. Only much later, and sober, did he claim to detect “a strange groaning noise,” and going to investigate, found the bodies. Andrew told police that he had seen a strange man lurking around the block prior to the crime, and the straight razor notwithstanding, as police had nothing more with which to charge Andrew, he was released.

The next two victims were Louis Besumer, another grocer, and his mistress, Harriet Lowe, who were found early on the morning of 27 June 1918 by a bakery delivery truck, lying in pools of their own blood in the back of the store, both with slash and bludgeon wounds. Once again, nothing of value had been taken. The police arrested a new employee, but without any evidence, released him shortly thereafter. The media turned to their attention to the fact that Lowe, as she regained consciousness, accused Besumer of being a German spy who had attacked her, and sure enough, a search of the store uncovered letters written in strange tongues (turns out to have been Russian and Yiddish). Lowe died after botched surgery, and Besumer was charged with her murder once he recovered. Police, though, were unable to explain how he sustained his own injuries. He was acquitted after a ten minute jury deliberation.

And there were more victims. At least eight more. Elsie Schneider, discovered grievously wounded by her husband returning from work. Joseph Romano, an elderly pensioner found by his nieces with his head gashed and a bloody axe in the backyard. Charles and Rosie Cortimiglia and their infant daughter, all sustaining skull fractures, leading to the child’s death and lifelong disabilities for the parents. Steve Boca, another targeted grocer who sustained severe brain damage from his assault. Sarah Laumann, a single teen living alone who was gored and amnestic after her attack. Mike Pepitone, killed by the axe-wielding intruder as his wife and children were elsewhere in the home.

The city panicked. Axes were found at the crime scenes. Neighbors were arrested but released without evidence. The authorities wondered if this were a Mafia-influenced spree, given that many of the victims were Italian. Police began to suspect that the same individual was responsible for murders of other Italian couples stretching back to 1911, though this was never confirmed.

Then came the following letter to the local newspaper [the byline ‘Hell’ is no doubt a hat-tip to Jack the Ripper]:

Hell, March 13, 1919

Esteemed Mortal:

They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest Hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.

When I see fit, I shall come and claim other victims. I alone know whom they shall be. I shall leave no clue except my bloody axe, besmeared with blood and brains of he whom I have sent below to keep me company.

If you wish you may tell the police to be careful not to rile me. Of course, I am a reasonable spirit. I take no offense at the way they have conducted their investigations in the past. In fact, they have been so utterly stupid as to not only amuse me, but His Satanic Majesty, Franz Josef, etc. But tell them to beware. Let them not try to discover what I am, for it were better that they were never born than to incur the wrath of the Axeman. I don’t think there is any need of such a warning, for I feel sure the police will always dodge me, as they have in the past. They are wise and know how to keep away from all harm.

Undoubtedly, you Orleanians think of me as a most horrible murderer, which I am, but I could be much worse if I wanted to. If I wished, I could pay a visit to your city every night. At will I could slay thousands of your best citizens, for I am in close relationship with the Angel of Death.

Now, to be exact, at 12:15 (earthly time) on next Tuesday night, I am going to pass over New Orleans. In my infinite mercy, I am going to make a little proposition to you people. Here it is:

I am very fond of jazz music, and I swear by all the devils in the nether regions that every person shall be spared in whose home a jazz band is in full swing at the time I have just mentioned. If everyone has a jazz band going, well, then, so much the better for you people. One thing is certain and that is that some of your people who do not jazz it on Tuesday night (if there be any) will get the axe.

Well, as I am cold and crave the warmth of my native Tartarus, and it is about time I leave your earthly home, I will cease my discourse. Hoping that thou wilt publish this, that it may go well with thee, I have been, am and will be the worst spirit that ever existed either in fact or realm of fancy.

The Axeman

On 19 March, the dance halls, saloons, and bars of New Orleans were filled to capacity, with the citizenry all partaking of loud jazz music.

There were some locals, though, who not only refused to be intimidated, but took out ads in the paper, telling the Axeman that they’d be waiting for him with back doors unlocked, and 12-gauge shotguns in hand, and then provided street addresses.

There were no attacks that night. And shortly thereafter, the Axeman vanished.

And like Jack, he was never apprehended.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Butterfield’s Lullaby

In the early months of the Civil War, the signal for soldiers to prepare for the final roll call of the day, and lights-out, was known as “Scott’s Tattoo,” a bugled melody named for General Winfield Scott, and in use since the 1830s. Union Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, commanding officer of the 3d Brigade, 1st Division, 5th Corps of the Army of the Potomac, found his unit bivouacked along the James River following the Seven Days’ Battle. He thought that Scott’s Tattoo was too harsh, and “not as smooth, melodious, and musical as it should be [for that hour of the evening].” In July 1862 while still encamped, he summoned one of his buglers, an Oliver Willcox Norton, and asked him to rewrite the piece more to his liking. Norton, only 23, nervously told the general that he couldn’t read music, and only played by ear. Undeterred, Butterfield insisted that he experiment with changes, and Norton tweaked the notes while his boss listened.

Norton later recounted,

“After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night, and was heard far beyond the limits of our brigade. The next day I was vis­ited by several buglers from neighboring brigades, asking for copies of the music.”

The call is officially known as “Butterfield’s Lullaby,” and it quickly spread throughout the Union Army, crossed enemy lines, and was adopted by Southern forces as well, being published in the CSA Mounted Artillery Drill Manual within months. But its lasting legacy commenced near Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, in 1863, when a corporal of Battery A, 2d U.S. Artillery, was killed by skirmishers, and his company prepared to bury him with the traditional three-volley salute. The senior officer present, Captain J.C. Tidball, feared that an outburst of musketry at close quarters might spark further fighting. He then recalled Butterfield’s Lullaby, and asked his own bugler to play the soothing tune at graveside in lieu of more shooting; this proved to be the first recorded instance of the music being used in this setting. Witnesses said the score was a poignant addition to the service, and its use at funerals spread informally throughout the army thereafter.

Despite widespread application, and long after Southern adoption, Butterfield’s Lullaby was not included in the U.S. Army Infantry Drill Regulations until 1891. It remains in use to this day.

And unknown to most, it has lyrics, albeit unofficial:

“Fading light dims the sight,
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright.
From afar drawing nigh – Falls the night.

“Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills, from the sky.
All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

“Then good night, peaceful night,
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright,
God is near, do not fear – Friend, good night.”

You know the twenty-four notes as Taps.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

The Primordial Hackers

Anyone above the age of 40 should remember Max Headroom, the fictional British ad-pitchman (New Coke, anyone?) who was the world’s first computer-generated TV host. He was said to have been modeled after the insincere and egotistical media talking heads of the day, in particular the smarmy Ted Baxter role from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. His stuttering electronic cadence made his voice instantly recognizable to viewers worldwide. He was such a pop success that the year following his TV debut, he even appeared in a now-forgettable film feature, 20 Minutes Into The Future.



[sidebar: computer graphics were not very advanced in 1984 when he debuted, so the ‘cyber host’ was actually portrayed by an actor in prosthetic makeup, a fiberglass suit, Ray Bans, and hand drawn backdrops]

[sidebar: the character’s name came from the supposed last thing that his consciousness saw before the fatal car wreck that claimed his corporeal self: “Max. Headroom: 2.3 meters” suspended across a tunnel entrance]

Max, however, had greater fame awaiting him: his role in the first documented hack of the computer age.

At 9:14 p.m. on 22 November 1987, the regularly scheduled programming at Chicago’s WGN was interrupted, and instead appeared on the screen a person wearing a mask in front of a non-descript retro-futuristic looking metallic backdrop. He strongly resembled Max, coming to haunt from the dystopian future. It was brief and silent. WGN technicians quickly switched back to the local news. But two hours later, during a broadcast of Dr Who, cross-town WTTW-11 experienced an identical break in service. On came the same figure, but this time there was an audio feed of largely unintelligible cackling, some mumbled threats to Chuck Swirsky (an area sportscaster), and the hummed theme song of a well-known cartoon series. The masked figure then mooned the audience, and a mysterious woman appeared who was trying to smack an airborne insect with a flyswatter. This went on for 90 seconds before regularly scheduled service was resumed.

In 2010, a Reddit user by the handle of Bpoag provided some add’n information. He claimed to have been part of a phreaking cell operating in the Chicago suburb of LaGrange in the late 1980s (phreaking was the slang term used at the time for those who could manipulate telephone networks and the systems that depended on them… in other words, the precursors of today’s internet hackers). Bpoag claimed to have been warned by two other members of the group – named J and K – to watch the TV on the evening of 22 November “for something big.” He did, and immediately recognized the handiwork of his fellow phreakers.

According to Bpoag, the actual hack was simple enough to accomplish, and didn’t require any advanced technical equipment beyond what an avid phreaker would already have had in his arsenal. He opined, “all that had to be done was to provide a signal to the satellite dish that was of a greater power than the legitimate one.”

Bpoag likened the stunt to a public service announcement: “it only lasted as long as it needed to get the point across, that point being that the airwaves were woefully unprotected, and easily exploitable.”

The feds were not amused and launched an investigation. But after almost three decades, the actual identities of the hackers have never been determined. But they no doubt foretold what would later become, for pranksters, governments, protesters, activists, and terrorists alike, a global and likely permanent phenomenon.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Peering Tom

We all know the expression “Peeping Tom,” but did you ever wonder who exactly is “Tom”?

To answer this question, we actually have to go all the way back to the 11th century, to Coventry. You must be familiar with Lady Godgyfu, or in modern English, Godiva. Her husband was Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and knowing his wife to be a prude, he said he’d lower taxes on the populace when she rode naked through the streets, the equivalent of “when Hell freezes over.” To her husband’s shock, she accepted the challenge, and then asked the townsfolk to avert their gazes. Being generally liked, unlike her miserly husband, the populace shuttered their windows and looked away as the good lady rode au naturel through the city streets for the benefit of all.

But men being men, there was at least (only?) one who had to sneak a peak. Thomas the Tailor drilled a hole in his shop’s window shutters so he could watch. And depending on your source, Tom was either permanently blinded by Godiva’s beauty, struck dead by God, or torn limb from limb by enraged locals who discovered his moral turpitude.

The problem is, there is no evidence to suggest that any of this is true.

First, the initial reference to the ride was not contemporary, but instead appeared a full two centuries after the subject’s death, in Flores Historiarum, written by one Roger of Wendover.

[sidebar: always be suspicious of stories that are appended years after a purported event; it would be the equivalent of one of my readers today telling heretofore unknown stories of George Washington]

Next, according to the contemporaneous Norman Domesday Book (1086), Godiva was one of the very few women of the day who were landowners in their own right. She apparently controlled vast swaths of territory in and around present day Coventry. So SHE would have set the tax rate, not her husband, and therefore there would have been no reason for her to ride to convince him of anything.

Add’n, ‘Thomas’ is not an Anglo-Saxon name. But in the 15th century, long after Godiva, it became a common moniker for a generic common man, the equivalent of our ‘average Joe.’ There exists a painting from the mid-16th century that shows the ride and a man looking at Godiva from his window. Not long after the painting’s creation, people commonly held that the man was just some leering ne’er-do-well, a Tom, violating the lady’s requested privacy. Interestingly, art historians have since determined that the Tom in the work is actually Leofric watching his wife, and his money, heading down the road. But the common perception stuck.

In the late 17th century, the bored inhabitants of Coventry started reenacting the ride yearly, the Godiva Procession, with the chosen woman naked some times, others not, depending on the sensibilities of the city fathers of the day. And what is a parade/ party without a villain on which to focus the mock-indignation of the alcohol-sopped crowd? Tom effigies began to crop up, and the locals went after them with gusto.

With centuries of evolution of the tale, the actual phrase “Peering Tom” (not “Peeping” then) first appeared only on 11 June 1773 in Coventry municipal records, documenting the purchase of a wig and paint to fabricate an oaken effigy of Tom for the then-upcoming procession.

By the late 18th century, we finally have an actual definition: Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1796) is the first to include Peering Tom as “a nickname for a curious prying fellow.”

So there you have it. Peeping Tom wasn’t a real person, but a 17th century legend attached to an 11th century myth of a noble that, despite having no basis in fact, persists today in popular culture because it involves a famous woman who got naked in public.

Not much, it seems, has changed.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]