Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Dark Deeds and a Tragic Queen


Scotland has a rich heritage of history as well as spectacular scenery. It seems you cannot go more than a few miles in any direction before meeting up with evidence of some pretty colourful characters and many dark and sinister deeds.

Scattered around the rugged countryside, is a wealth of haunted castles, whose walls have seen much violence and bloodshed, but few can lay claim to quite as much bloodiness as the Hermitage, situated in the remote Liddlesdale Valley  around six miles from Scotland’s border with England.

More of a fortress than a palace, its forbidding presence still rises today out of the boggy landscape, its strategic importance vital in the centuries of border conflicts and it legacy, in addition to the violence and battle, includes tales of black magic and sorcery, betrayal and revenge.

Originally built by the Lords Soulis, the first structure was erected in the thirteenth century although little of that remains now. In 1360, the earth and timber structure began to be replaced by a more formidable stone edifice. Hugh Dacre was responsible for the work, starting with the central stone tower and, even today, it is possible to see the cobbled courtyard and spiral stairs which led to the laird’s upper quarters. A further three towers were built and the whole place became a stronghold, heavily fortified although with some fine accommodation.

Being so close to the border, over the centuries there were gains and losses on both sides and, from time to time the castle fell into English hands. Sometimes the exchange of ownership was aided and abetted by the laird of the day, accepting money from the English in return for possession of his castle.  From the Soulis lords, it passed to the Dacres, the Douglases, then onto the Hepburns (the family of the infamous Earl of Bothwell who married Mary Queen of Scots after almost certainly murdering her husband, Lord Darnley). Latterly it passed to the Dukes of Buccleugh and the Scotts before coming into public ownership in 1930.

As for the sorcery and black magic, there are a number of legends. In the thirteenth century one of the lords Soulis – possibly Ranulf or Sir Nicholas. He had made a pact with the devil and engaged in dark acts of sorcery and magic. The devil appeared to him in the form of Robin Redcap and kept him from harm so that no weapons or attempts to hang him could succeed. Rumours quickly spread that, in order to pay back his debt to the devil, de Soulis was capturing and sacrificing local children.

Frightened for their children’s lives the villagers sought the aid of famed prophet and poet Thomas the Rhymer and asked what they should do to kill a man who was incapable of being harmed by weapons or the hangman’s rope. The advice he gave, they followed. According to legend, the villagers captured de Soulis and dragged him off to Ninestane Rig, a nearby ancient stone circle. They then tipped him into a vat of boiling oil.

Justice had been served – or not actually. It all makes for a great legend but, in fact, de Soulis was murdered by his servants before the family moved to the Hermitage. Another version states that he was imprisoned at Dumbarton Castle where he died.

Whichever version you subscribe to, Lord de Soulis has been heard and seen returning to the vaults where he performed his sacrifices and various devilish rituals. He visits every seven years and his terrifying visage, along with the tortured screams of his victims, has been reported many times.

 The wicked and vile Lord de Soulis has another claim to fame. A frighteningly huge knight called the Cout of Keilder rode up in full armour one day, bent on killing the evil lord. His suit of armour held magical powers so that he too could not be harmed by weaponry. Lord de Soulis is supposed to have drowned him in Hermitage Water – although another version of the tale states that the Cout was also an evil soul who terrorized the castle’s inhabitants until he was drowned.

Later in the castle’s history comes the sinister tale of owner of the Hermitage, Sir William Douglas who was furious when he learned that Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie had been made Sheriff when he firmly believed that honour should have gone to him. He ambushed Ramsey and carted him back to Hermitage Castle where he kept him prisoner until the poor man starved to death. When his corpse was finally found it was clear that he had gnawed his fingers to the bone. Sir Alexander Ramsay is reported to haunt the castle to this day and his cries have been heard, screaming from the walls.

The castle’s royal connection is with the aforementioned and tragic Mary Queen of Scots who would visit Bothwell at the castle. On one such trip, she fell from her horse into a bog, contracted a serious fever and almost died. The castle has its own White Lady apparition and this is said to be that of Mary. Given all the places she is alleged to haunt, Mary Queen of Scots’ ghost leads a much travelled hectic afterlife. As for the evil scheming Bothwell - having killed her husband, married her and then abandoned her to her fate, he died insane in a filthy Danish jail;

With so much going on, it is hardly surprising that Hermitage Castle has attracted the attention of some distinguished ghost hunters over the years. Famed Victorian journalist W.T. Stead visited there when he was a young man and reported being terrified by screeches from overhead, followed by the trampling of what sounded to him like ‘a multitude of iron-shod feet’. A heavy door swung on rusty hinges and the whole place took on a chilling, menacing air. He was greatly relieved to escape the place as he felt at any moment, he might encounter the devil himself.

 When Mary Queen of Scots’ son James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, border skirmishes ceased and the need for such a fortification ended. The castle quickly fell into neglect and ruin and would not have survived today were it not for the efforts of Sir Walter Scott (whose family owned it for a time), the 5th Duke of Buccleuch (a subsequent owner) and now Historic Scotland. You can visit it – but be warned, the spirits are still there…

There are ghosts aplenty in Henderson Close – and a devil or two. Here’s what to expect from The Haunting of Henderson Close:

Ghosts have always walked there. Now they’re not alone… 

In the depths of Edinburgh, an evil presence is released. Hannah and her colleagues are tour guides who lead their visitors along the spooky, derelict Henderson Close, thrilling them with tales of spectres and murder. For Hannah it is her dream job, but not for long. Who is the mysterious figure that disappears around a corner? What is happening in the old print shop? And who is the little girl with no face? The legends of Henderson Close are becoming all too real. 

The Auld De’il is out – and even the spirits are afraid.

The Haunting of Henderson Close is available from:



Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The Haunting of Henderson Close

Ghosts have always walked there. Now they’re not alone… 

 In the depths of Edinburgh, an evil presence is released. Hannah and her colleagues are tour guides who lead their visitors along the spooky, derelict Henderson Close, thrilling them with tales of spectres and murder. For Hannah it is her dream job, but not for long. 

Who is the mysterious figure that disappears around a corner? What is happening in the old print shop? And who is the little girl with no face? The legends of Henderson Close are becoming all too real. 

The Auld De’il is out – and even the spirits are afraid.

Coming on January 10th 2019 from Flame Tree Press

Available for pre-order now - all formats (Audio to follow) 


 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Evil Black Widow Sisters

(Margaret Higgins)
 I first ran the story of these two notorious women around six years ago but, in the light of something I have been working on, their names cropped up again. Here is their gruesome tale:

Two sisters living in a rundown part of Liverpool decided on an easy way of improving their meagre circumstances - and paid with their lives.

In 1881, Thomas Higgins took his wife and ten year old daughter to take lodgings in the house of Catherine Flanagan who, along with her recently widowed sister, Margaret, lived at 5 Skirving Street in the Vauxhall area of the city. In doing so, Thomas had unwittingly signed the death warrants of his wife, child and, ultimately, himself.
 
(Catherine Flanagan)
Not long after they moved in, his wife died, and he must have sought solace in the arms of Margaret, for, on 28th October, 1882, the couple married. By the end of the following month, Thomas's daughter had joined her mother. On 22 October 1883, having recently increased his life insurance cover, Thomas died, apparently from dysentery, not uncommon in those days of poor sanitation and public health.

But Thomas's brother Patrick, believed something much more sinister was going on and contacted the doctor who had signed the death certificate with his suspicions. The coroner was alerted and Thomas's body was exhumed and examined. No trace of the disease was found and arsenic was proved to be the cause of death. Amazingly, this deadly poison could be found in most homes in those days - as one of the constituent ingredients of flypapers.

Motive? Simple. Money. Thomas was worth far more to the sisters dead than alive.

Following this gruesome discovery, three more bodies were exhumed. All had died recently, all had life insurance, and all had resided with the sisters. Catherine's own son, John, had netted his mother £71, a young female lodger had added £79 and Thomas's little daughter had returned a quick profit of nearly £22. Not inconsiderable sums in the 1880s. Post mortems revealed that every single one of them had died from arsenic poisoning.

Catherine Flanagan and Margaret Higgins were hanged on 3rd March 1884 for the four murders, but this may only have been the tip of the iceberg. It was found that four other women were involved in the scam (although not convicted of any involvement in the poisonings) and there may have been as many as seventeen victims.

The moral of this gruesome tale? Life insurance may not be good for your health!

You can read more about this fascinating story of dark deeds in Victorian Liverpool in Angela Brabin's book, The Black Widows of Liverpool:


For evil of a different kind: 

  Infinity in Death

Vienna, 1908

Gabriele Ziegler is a young art student who becomes infatuated with charismatic archeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus. Only too late does she realize his true designs on her. He is obsessed with resurrecting Cleopatra and has retained the famed artist Gustav Klimt to render Gabriele as the Queen of the Nile, using ashes from Cleopatra’s mummy mixed with the paint. The result is a lifelike portrait emitting an aura of unholy evil . . .

Vienna, 2018

The Mortimer family has moved into Quintillus’s former home, Villa Dürnstein. In its basement they find an original Klimt masterpiece—a portrait of Cleopatra art scholars never knew existed. But that’s not all that resides within the villa’s vault. Nine-year-old Heidi Mortimer tells her parents that a strange man lives there.

Quintillus’s desire to be with Cleopatra transcends death. His spirit will not rest until he has brought her back from the netherworld. Even if he has to sacrifice the soul of a child . . .

Damned by the Ancients is available from:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Apple
Google
Kobo
Kensington Publishing

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

(Text) Messages from Hell and Other Smart Devils


 
In my novel, Damned by the Ancients, a child’s doll becomes possessed and, indeed there are many well documented cases of toys and furniture seeming to have been appropriated by dark forces.

However, now, it seems the devil has taken to using technology to get his message across. Yes, really! Take this strange case in Poland.

In 2014, priest Marian Rajchel carried out an exorcism on a teenage girl. It failed. Instead of leaving her soul, he somehow managed to drive the demon into the girl’s mobile phone whereupon he started to receive threatening text messages from it.
He replied and received the response, “Shut up, Preacher. You cannot save yourself. Idiot. You pathetic old preacher.” Even more sinister, one message said, “She will not come out of hell. She’s mine. Anyone who prays for her will die.”

Father Rajchel is convinced the author of the text messages is the same demon that possesses the girl’s soul and, furthermore, asserts that this is no isolated incident. He believes many such cases like this are going undetected because people don’t realise they are being used in this way.

He has gone on record saying that the young girl is in need of further help to rid her of the evil inhabiting her.

But Father Rajchel is not alone in his belief that the devil is working through technology. In Savannah, Georgia, Reverend Jim Peasboro has written a book entitled, The Devil in the machine; Is Your Computer Possessed by a Demon? In his view, any computer built after 1985 has the memory capacity to house a demon. He believes ‘one in ten computers in America now houses some type of evil spirit.” He quotes as evidence for this, many instances of formerly happily married men unable to stop themselves from visiting pornographic websites and of women drawn into internet chat rooms where they behaved totally out of character, using foul language and debasing themselves in a way that would hitherto have been abhorrent to them. One such woman wept as she told of feeling that whenever she was using her computer, someone else was controlling her actions.

 When challenged that this is simply the result of the easy availability of so much unsavoury – and worse – material on the internet, Reverend Peasboro insisted that he knew for certain demons were at work – because he had come face to face with them.

He told a story of inspecting a computer believed to be possessed by an evil spirit when it began openly ‘talking’ to him. It typed out, “Preacher, you are a weakling and your God is a damn liar.” It then started to go berserk and printed out what looked like nonsense. He then consulted an expert in dead languages who studied it and reported back that the text contained a stream of obscenities written in a 2800 year old Mesopotamian dialect.

So, what do you do if you suspect your usually friendly PC or tablet starts behaving in a disturbing fashion? According to Reverend Peasboro you should contact a member of the clergy for help and, if that doesn’t work, call a computer technician who will change the hard drive and reinstall all the software. This, he assures us, will get rid of the spirit permanently.

 If only things were so simple for the Mortimer family. But Dr. Emeryk Quintillus isn’t going to go quietly… Here’s what to expect in Damned by the Ancients;

INFINITY IN DEATH

Vienna, 1908

Gabriele Ziegler is a young art student who becomes infatuated with charismatic archeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus. Only too late does she realize his true designs on her. He is obsessed with resurrecting Cleopatra and has retained the famed artist Gustav Klimt to render Gabriele as the Queen of the Nile, using ashes from Cleopatra’s mummy mixed with the paint. The result is a lifelike portrait emitting an aura of unholy evil . . .

Vienna, 2018

The Mortimer family has moved into Quintillus’s former home, Villa Dürnstein. In its basement they find an original Klimt masterpiece—a portrait of Cleopatra art scholars never knew existed. But that’s not all that resides within the villa’s vault. Nine-year-old Heidi Mortimer tells her parents that a strange man lives there.

Quintillus’s desire to be with Cleopatra transcends death. His spirit will not rest until he has brought her back from the netherworld. Even if he has to sacrifice the soul of a child . . .

Damned by the Ancients is available from:






.