Saturday, April 5, 2008

Strange Disappearance-- James Worsen

It's difficult to dismiss unusual disappearances as fanciful stories when they take place in front of eyewitnesses. Here's another. This case began as a sizeable bet placed on a one man marathon, but ended in tragic mystery.

In 1873, James Worsen of Leamington Spa, England, was a simple butcher. The few sketches of him in the August 13, 1873 edition of the London Illustrated Weekly show him to be lanky in build, with crooked, irregularly spaced teeth, and an uniquely oblong face. In the pencil sketches, his skin resembles white dough sprinkled with a generous handful of raisins. These raisins were molasses-colored moles inherited through his grandmother, the so-called Mole Lady of Lord Barrington’s Royal Circus. Topping James unattractive countenance was a small divot of black hair as dense as uncut zoysia grass.

In the era in which James and his wife lived, there was no reliable birth control. Thus, fertile couples faced the grim prospect that the price to be paid for almost every act of sexual intercourse was a new mouth to feed. Since James and his wife were evidently both very fertile, and very active nocturnally, by the time of this story, their family had topped out at thirteen children, all under the age of fifteen. Like most simple laborers with large families, James was always hard pressed to make extra money through secondary employments.

Before taking the bet which lead to his disappearance, James had failed at a number of efforts to earn money. James first effort involved what was then called whore-mastering. For this effort he enlisted as his first whore his ugly but willing first cousin Thelma. Disaster struck when Thelma and her first customer fell immediately and deeply in love. They eloped instantly, taking with them James limited start-up funds, using the money to finance an extended Paris honeymoon. James then tried selling tainted meat products to the Royal Military, a lucre business for the times. His sole supportive political contact died just when the government was to ink a small contract. As a result, James lost out on the profitable opportunity to feed some regiments in Lancaster by supplying them wormy pork buttocks. Frustrated, James then turned to opium dealing. However, as is the case with most new sellers in the trade, he found inventory control to be impossible, particularly given the comings and goings of friends, relatives and tradesmen in his crowded hubble. He next tried a music and comedy act, enrolling his three youngest against their wills. It flopped when it was discovered that only two year old Henrietta could carry a tune and then only if it were Onward Britannia! sung in the key of C double sharp. His last effort involved following his grandmother into the side show trade by enlisting as a night-time freak show attraction He named himself the Mole King of Leamington Spa. To entice larger crowds he used black pitch to dab on extra "moles" and to exaggerate those which God had bestowed. At his first catwalk, a badly timed rain revealed his ruse. He avoided a near lynching by an outraged crowd of rowdies only through the friendly help of the Bearded Lady and her entourage. That ended that career.

Finally, fancying himself somewhat of an athlete, James started to take bets on how fast or how long he could run. Initially, he had great success. He earned enough extra income where a large number of his family was soon able to eat three meals a day. On the day of his disappearance, James had made a wager with a few gamblers from out of town that he could run 26 miles from Leamington Spa to Coventry.

Learning that James was very modest and particularly disliked running in front of ladies, the gamblers required that James run the miles nude during daylight. To entice James into taking the bet, they wagered a large sum. James could not say no. The terms being set, James made ready for the run. Noticing a fatal flaw in the terms, James enlisted the help of friends to aid him in keeping his modesty while winning the wager. He had friends hire four wagons which then had sheets draped from their sides almost to the ground. At the start of the race, James had these four sheet-draped wagons positioned so as to surround him. The gamblers cried foul, but James argued that the terms did not disallow the setup. The gamblers folded their arm as James dutifully undressed within the enclosure offered by his wagons. With a yip-yip of the driver of the front wagon, the wagons started off with James nestled within. On each wagon were two men: one of James’ friends as a driver, and one of the four gamblers determined to see this through.

The gamblers expected that James modesty would soon arise to terminate his run despite the curtaining sheets. The gamblers had much to encourage them. The wagoneers found it difficult to keep a uniform pace with each other. Moreover, they found it difficult to keep a pace with James himself. James always had a stutter-step style of running which was like a girlish skip. As a result, he tended to have an uneven speed. This unevenness was compounded by his frequent stops to retie his shoes, the only item he was allowed to wear. Thus, on more than one occasion, breaks appeared between the wagons and a glimpse could be had of James in his raw state. A few times, James’ astonished eyes met the eyes of inpertinetly curious ladies on the roadside, who, the modesty of the era notwithstanding, cranked and stretched their necks, glimpsing into his abode to catch him in the state of Adam. A quick drop of his luckily oversized hands to his front and back preserved his dignity whilst the wagoneers enclosed him again.

As James began to jog at a moderate pace toward Coventry, both he and his wagoneers found a perfect rhythm and speed. James became so sure of his preserved privacy, that witnesses reported he jogged for a while with arms stretched straight out at his sides and sometimes even with his hands folded on top of his sweat dampened hair. This placid period lasted a short time, and this peaceful trot came to a bizarre and unexpected end. As James turned onto Newbury Road, one of the main roads into Coventry, he found difficulty with large rocks in the road breaking his stride and rhythm. Typical for the time, the road was unpaved. Moreover, the road, due to heavy weather and heavy traffic, had deep and cris crossing wagon wheel trenches. These obstacles made the road difficult to navigate even at a walking pace. James at first deftly dodged the trenches and jutting rocks. But then, within the sight of the drivers of the two side wagons and the one rear wagon, and within the sight of all four gamblers/passengers, James then tripped on something. Some said it was a rock, others a deep trench cut. One said there was nothing at all and that perhaps James had tripped over his own shoes. In any event, James fell forward... but never hit the hard, grooved and rocky gravel. Instead, James completely vanished in mid-fall, his arms still stretched out from his sides like bony featherless wings, too late even to move them forward to brace him for a fall, his legs up behind him in mid air. As he fell, his eyes widened to the size of wafers and the thin lips of his mouth beat together rapidly. The only sound that came forth from his mouth before he disappeared was a short quick peep-peep-peep- peep. James’ friends recognized this sound immediately. Whenever James was under great stress , James would purse his lips and make this peeping sound until his nerves calmed or the immediate crisis passed.

The wagons were stopped in their grooved tracks. The spot of James’s disappearance remained within their enclosure. Once the few spectators realized what had happened they bullied their way by the wagons into the enclosed area. James was nowhere to be found. Thinking a trick had been played, for some of the speculators had taken side-bets on the run, the wagons were searched. Nothing. Due to the amount of wagering, the authorities immediately became involved. They initially thought the disappearance a prank, or some unusual pretext to defraud outside bettors. Once James extended family arrived, it became clear that James disappearance was real.

There were no clues of course. As required, a search of the area was made to no avail. The public followed the story for weeks, including a long article of the matter in London Illustrated Weekly. As is with such cases, the public’s interest soon waned and turned to other events both trivial and significant. Over time, James was declared dead, and his family went on the public poverty rolls. Ten of his children ultimately became indentured servants. Three ended up in India, one in Bermuda and the rest in South Ameria. Their ultimate fate is lost to history.

As what actually happened that fateful day? No one can say for sure. However, one investigator, Paul B’Gessia, published a book in 1978 called, “Goodbye World, Signed James” in which he claimed that James had fallen into a temporary rip in the time-space continuum. The theory gained some support when B'Gessia produced a worn pair of shoes which he claimed James had been wearing when he disappeared. B'Gessa story was that the battered shoes had fallen back out of a similar time-space rip during one of his investigative visits to the site of the disappearance. Some critics refused to accept the story. The shoes were cooincidentally B'Gessa's size and even were an exact match for the footwear he wore for the author's photograph on his book. However, many others were made believers by B'Gessia's book and the mysterious shoes. While B'Gessia's story is based on pure theory, even his harshest critics admit that his theory may be the best explanation to date...