Our latest murder mystery comes from the pen of Nick Brown, but who is he and why is he making your weekend extra fun?
Nick’s a man of many eras and regions. He’s worked in Nepal and trekked to Mount Everest, studied in Brighton and worked in Warsaw, so it’s only natural he’d write about someone who’d travelled widely. Step forward Cassius Corbulo, the ‘Agent of Rome’ whose adventures in the Roman Empire are now up to six volumes. Cassius is a ‘frumentarii’, a military officer who performs secret service roles and a position which really existed. Nick knows how to blend the facts and fascinating fiction.
Nick’s influences are from a range of genres, be they Ian Fleming’s cunning spies or Michael Crichton’s visions of a world gone wrong, and for us Nick has gone back a few years to plot the murder of the Kray Twins. But Nick doesn’t just write historical, as his science fiction can be found in a collection called ‘Dead Eyes’. We assume, given his penchant for travel, that Nick would find his way onto the moon if possible.
We asked Nick what the biggest challenge in moving between eras was: “Capturing the atmosphere and attitudes of that time and place… staying faithful to the known facts wherever possible.” You don’t need to know about the Krays to enjoy our mystery, but there’s a few ‘Easter Eggs’ if you do.
Finally, what crime writer does Nick rate the most? “Michael Connelly - he never wastes a word and builds in twists you don't see coming.”
Nick’s Agent of Rome series, as well as Dead Eyes, are available now on Amazon.
Some deaths are easy for the police and coroners to solve. Some deaths remain frustrating for a long time because of circumstances that are difficult but explainable, like a murderer acting in a way that avoids detection… and some deaths are just darn mysterious from the start.
Elisa Lam and the Lift
In 2013, Elisa Lam disappeared. She was Canadian, a student, and staying at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles when she vanished. The police were informed and a search began. However, it was only a few weeks later, when a maintenance team tried to work out why people were complaining about the water, they her body was found in the tank. She was naked, and her clothes were nearby.
This is a tragic case, but it had already become an immensely strange one - an autopsy found no evidence of foul play and suggested an accidental death, however when the police went looking for Elisa they checked CCTV footage. And they found something...
Elisa was in a distressed state, coming in and going out of the lift heading to the water tank, gesturing and arguing with someone… someone who isn’t captured on any camera. The police could never work out what Elisa was doing, what was wrong, who she was arguing with, just that she died a short while later in a very strange way.
42 Days Later
February 8th 1981, and a body is found in Golden Gate Park. It’s Leroy Carter Jr, and he’d been sleeping there, his body now wrapped in a sleeping bag. I’ve said body twice now, because as much as the police searched, they couldn’t find a head, which had been sliced off and taken. It’s about then that the police discovered parts of a chicken, and vegetable matter, which had been left at the scene in a weird way.
Step forward Sandi Gallant, a cop with an interest in occult crimes. She theorises the killing is part of a Santeria ritual, and suggests the head will be used in strange practices and then returned forty two days later as a way of completing the ritual. The thing is, even Gallant didn’t really believe this, and Golden Gate Park wasn’t put under twenty four hour surveillance.
Which is a shame, as 42 later the head was placed there. Needless to say, no one was ever caught.
The Ural Mountains, a part of the world famed for being difficult to reach. A perfect place for a hiking expedition and in February 1959 a group of friends from the Ural Polytechnical Institute had gone ‘ski hiking’ there, because you couldn’t walk it. One of these people was Igor Dyatlov, and the pass is named after him because none of them came back, except the tenth member who left much earlier.
We know they made a camp at the foot of a rise called Kholat Syahkhl. But we do not know why their bodies were found away from this camp, or why they had fled from their tents without their protective clothing. Six of the nine hikers were found dead of hyperthermia, three had signs of physical damage. The search party found the tents first, one cut open from the inside. They found tracks of people without even shoes, running away. It took two months to find every body, as they weren’t together, and the last group to be discovered included those with the physical injuries.
There was no sign of anything else, neither people nor an obvious reason why the group acted like this. Initial suspicious was on local people, but the net spread to full on internet conspiracy including military tests, strange animals and the rather more believable avalanche, although there wasn’t actually any evidence of one...
Firefighting is still a very risky business, but it was trickier back before World War Two. In Chicago in 1924 you could find a fireman called Francis Leavy - and one day as he was carrying out his station chores everyone else noticed he was in a strange mood. They asked why, and he stopped cleaning a window and said he thought he was going to die that day.
He did, of course. A fire later that day pulled in many firemen, and a structural disaster killed nine of the, including Leavy. Tragic, but not too mysterious…
Until the team got back to the fire station, where they noticed a black hand-print on the window Francis had been cleaning when he’d made his prediction. A hand print they tried desperately to erase, until nothing worked and the station decided to embrace this symbol and kept it, until the window broke and had to be replaced entirely.
You’ll have to indulge us here, as there are several theories which claim to explain Spontaneous Human Combustion, but as this is one of the events that scared us as kids, we’re going to mention it.
On July 2nd, 1951, the landlady of Mary Reeser’s apartment realised the doorknob was very hot. When the police entered to see why they found Mary Reeser had burned into ash, as had the chair she’d been sitting in. But… one of her legs was intact, and the heat required to burn someone to that state was so high why was the rest of the room mostly fine?
Officially, Reeser’s lit cigarette burned her when she was on sleeping pills, but you always wonder… surely the whole place would have caught fire if something that strong was happening to a body? And Mary Reeser is merely emblematic of many, many strange deaths where a body is burned but little else is: Spontaneous Human Combustion.
The Internet is a great place to find mysteries - and the way international researchers can come together so easily, has meant communities dedicated to many different topics can quickly take shape. For instance, if you want to study Jack the Ripper, casebook.org is your starting point. But sometimes, the Internet can produce the mysteries all by itself...