Monday, December 16, 2013

Podcast: The Detective's Grave


Time for a new podcast! You can download today's episode from feedburner, archive.org,  or iTunes.


Today, we're back at Graceland Cemetery, searching for the grave of a deranged Victorian private detective. My job is pretty sweet.

I've lately been back working on the HH Holmes case, trying to gather, evaluate, and catalog all of the best data available. Researchers into the case will often come across the name Robert Corbitt (or Corbett), author of The Holmes Castle, possibly the first book on Holmes. He pushed the odd theory that Holmes was actually innocent of murder.  One does notice a pattern in article on him: one day he'll be saying he's found the evidence that will convict Holmes, then something bad will happen to him, then he'll be saying Holmes was innocent. The book is very rare now, but the text is collected in The Strange Case of Dr. H.H. Holmes.

Plenty of evidence suggests that he was a bit on the paranoid side, at the very least. He spoke to reporters often saying he knew that various Holmes victims had checked into various hotels under assumed names, or that he'd seen them on the street, but was never really able to back his claims up. Records and stories of him don't paint much of a flattering picture.

Above: the nifty grave of Timothy Webster,
a Pinkerton detective who helped save Abraham
Lincoln from an 1861 assassination attempt. The
"Harve Birch" mentioned on the stone is a
character in a James Fennimore Cooper
novel. How often do you see a pop
culture reference on a tombstone?
However, whatever his shortcomings as a private detective may be, had was actually present at the "murder castle" investigation, may have known Holmes personally (they certainly exchanged letters), and wound up in possession of a LOT of Holmes data that modern researchers can only dream of (letters, account books...even Holmes' own pistol and knife!) He is also the guy who discovered the "glass bending factory" that we've come to know as "The Body Dump."

Anyway, Ray Johnson and I have been preparing an article on Corbitt, and found that he'd died in 1932 and the body was taken to Graceland cemetery. So on this cold December day, we headed up to the ol' graveyard in search of his grave. Along the way, we say several graves of people related to the Holmes case, including detective Allan Pinkerton, and discussed the cool stuff we saw along the way.  Ray and I will be recording a couple of podcasts about how we do this sort of research, including trips the archives, cemeteries, and more.  We hope to have a few new episodes up very soon!  Get Ray's book, Chicago's Haunt Detective



Again, you can download today's episode from feedburnerarchive.org,  or iTunes  (the episode may take a few hours to get to iTunes).
Or just listen right here:
 And if you're not sick of me, I also recently did a podcast interview for Your Chicago that was a lot of fun:




3 comments:

Corey said...

Actually Timothy Webster is buried in Onarga, Il. (where he had lived). There's no body under the memorial marker in Graceland cemetery.

Here's a photo of Webster's headstone: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=381983668597054&set=pb.325344044261017.-2207520000.1387865021.&type=3&theater

Adam Selzer said...

Fascinating, Corey! Thanks for pointing that out. I think the whole "Pinkerton hall of fame" section deserves a post or podcast of its own one of these days.

Corey said...

A lot of fascinating stories/people are buried in the ground there. I spent the last decade researching Timothy Webster and Pinkerton for a biography I wrote about Webster (A Spy for the Union), and the real unfortunate thing is that a lot of Pinkerton's records were destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which is why so little is known about those early years.

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