Those were the days OTR: The Black Museum, Narrated by Orson Welles
by, 07-30-2012 at 02:47 PM (1968 Views)
Let me get this out of the way really quick. Iím putting the Based on a True Stories on hold for a bit. With my husband having a crazy work schedule lately, and my work being crazy (more than normal, except for the last week), and we are trying to potty train our daughter. So I havenít had much time to do research on any movies. I also found out that the Keddie Murders are going to have their very own movie, so I will save The Strangers to combine with the Keddie Murders.
This isnít going to be the typical Those were the days. Instead of just doing one episode I wanted to do a write up on a whole series. I canít recall if I had heard any of the episodes prior to my recent listening, but it is awesome.
The series aired on the Mutual Network from January 1st to December 30th 1952. The series was also one of the earliest to be broadcast worldwide. Radio Luxembourg picked up the series on May 7th 1953 and broadcast it to England at night. Broadcasts continued through the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The BBC broadcast some shows in the early 90s. With good reason, this series can definitely stand the test of time.
The series is based on actual case files from Scotland Yard. Each case revolved around a piece of evidence held at the Crime Museum at Scotland Yard. The museum itself is one of the oldest crime museums. It opened in 1875, and was opened solely to record crimes. Later it would be used for lectures. The history on the museum is pretty nifty (http://www.met.police.uk/history/crime_museum.htm). The museum even houses items from the notorious Jack the Ripper.
The Black Museum was brought to life through London radio producer Harry Alan Towers (The Towers of London production company, Secrets of Scotland Yard) with scripts written by Ira Marion, and music written and composed by Sidney Torch. The series was narrated and hosted by none other than Orson Welles. If you have never heard an Orson Welles radio broadcast, go listen to one (doesnít really matter which one)! Orson Welles had one of the best radio voices ever. Not only could he convey a spectrum of emotions just in his voice, he could set the whole tone for whatever show he was on. One of the best is, of course, War of the Worlds.
Iíve only listened to about half of the episodes, but each one is fantastically written and acted.
Listeners are greeted with Orson Welles:
"This is Orson Welles speaking from London."
(Big Ben starts chiming in the background).
"The Black Museum, repository of death... Here, in this grim stone structure on the Thames which houses Scotland Yard, is a warehouse of homicide, where everyday objects, a piece of wire, a chemist's flask, a silver shilling, all are touched by murder." (The last section of the intro does vary from episode to episode).
After the intro, Welles informs the listener of what piece of the museum a story will come from. From start to finish each episode is detailed with who, what, where, when, and for the most part why. Although the why isnít always understandable (when would it ever be), but each murderís reason is usually because of love, or money, and in some cases both.
I did find one thing a bit odd in some of the episodes. They seem to deal with men and women either cheating on their spouse or having multiple spouses. Well I guess in the age before the internet (long, long before the internet was even a thought) it was fairly easy for these men and women to get away with it. That is until they commit murder.
Okay so I said this wasnít about a single episode, but I have to talk about just one. There are several episodes that stand out, but this one takes the cake. The episode is called The Straight Razor.
I cannot find a definitive air date, but it was sometime in 1952.
The episode opens the same as all the Black Museum episodes do, with Orson Welles walking us through some of the exhibits in the museum. The strait razor is examined by Wells and then we are brought into a conversation between two officers, about the use of the razor. A grim thought indeed.
We meet our characters while riding in a handsome cab. Larry Wilson wants to marry his bar maid Mabel Dell. At first Mabel thinks it rather inappropriate. After all she is a sheltered young girl in 1896. But eventually goes along with it. She sends a letter to her parents informing them that she is going to marry Larry Wilson. Being like most parents they are a little unsure of this union, so they decide to go and pay a visit to the love birds. They draft a letter informing Mabel that they are coming. She is to do nothing until she talks with them. Mabelís mother and father are greeted at the Statue public house (the pub) in which Larry owns, by what seems to be a wedding party. Even her mother asks where the blushing bride is. Well the blushing bride is Mabel. Mabel claims that she never received such a letter, but nevertheless everyone is very happy to see each other. But this happiness is not too last long. Mabel has fallen ill.
The doctor seems to think that itís just an upset stomach, probably brought on by something she ate, like rabbit. But Mabel doesnít seem to get any better.
Mabelís mother decides to stay on for a bit and take care of her daughter. Larry doesnít particularly like this idea and insists he can take care of his wife himself; after all he was a barber. She also wants to bring in the family doctor to have a look at Mabel. The disagreement continues with Mabelís mother pointing out that just because Larry was once a barber, that doesnít mean his qualified to look after his wife. ďA barber is no doctor. Even though some people permit barbers to bleed them.Ē A bit more bickering between the two and then Mabelís mother points out that Larry didnít take such great care of his two previous wives. Theyíve passed away within the last 3yrs.
Not much could be done in 1896, except for some observations, and maybe some chemical reactions. One evening Mabel awakes asking for Larry. Once Larry is by her side, she pronounces her love for Larry and says her goodbyes.
While one doctor seems to think that exhaustion is the reason behind Mabelís death, but the other doctor is unsure of what she died from. He also refuses to sign off on the death certificate. Dr. Grant wants to certify the reason for death. He believes it to be inflammation of the intestines, and a post mortem will need to be done to determine the actual cause of death. At first Larry refuses, but the doctor informs him that if he refuses then he will have to inform the coroner along with getting the police involved.
ďIt was a case of razors. Razors. Which can been seen today in the Black MuseumĒ
Dr. Marshall reports his finds on the post mortem: ďAnd as a result of my analysis, it is my opinion that there is definitive suspicion of arsenical poisoning.Ē Dr. Marshall delivers the information to the police, and they turn over his findings to toxicology.
The police bring Larry Wilson for questioning. Before questioning begins the Inspector hands over a warrant to the sergeant, informing him to bring back anything that may be suspicious. While the pub and home are being searched the inspector asks Larry about his first two wives. His first wife had a substantial estate with which Larry retired from being a barber, and opened his first pub. Same goes for the second wife, and he bought another pub. Larry explained the purchase of the second pub was because he could no longer be in the same place that he had shared with his second wife.
The inspector goes on to question when Larry first came to this country. In 1888. The inspector informs Larry that there are records that indicate he made a trip to America in 1890 and returned a year after. The inspector notes that Larry was not born in the British Aisles, and that his name is not really Wilson. Larry explains that he changed it from Wilmettes to Wilson, more Anglo Saxon. The inspector interviews Larry for another 2 hours. But there are some areas that have holes in them. Larry has no real recollection of 1890. And in 1891 he had to re-establish himself. It was in 1892 that he married his first wife, and stayed married to her until 1894. And then married his second wife, who passed away in 1895.
The sergeant returns to the inspectorís office stating that they did find one thing that was suspicious. The sergeant did not realize that Larry Wilson was still in the inspectorís office. The sergeant has found a case of razors. Larry proclaims that those are his! The sergeant explains that they found the case of razors hidden in a closet in a spare bedroom. Now why would Larry Wilson have to hide a case of razors? He was a barber at one point in time. As the sergeant is leaving the inspector asks him to escort Larry Wilson to his ďroomĒ. Larry asks if he is being arrested, to which the inspector replies not yet, they are just detaining him for 24 hours, that is the limit the law allows. And just enough time to receive the toxicology report.
What would a case of poisoning have to do with a case of razors? The inspector put the thought in the back of his mind. Finally the toxicologist report has come in, and Mabel had been indeed poisoned, but not with arsenic, but with antimony. Larry Wilson is informed of his charges and his rights.
The police begin to do more digging, literally. The inspector files for the first and second Mrs. Wilsons to be exhumed. The lab report comes back that both the women had been poisoned with antimony. Dr. Grant is called in to be questioned, since he attended all 3 wives. In all three cases he found the women had all passed do to exhaustion. Bit of a coincident and Dr. Grant seems to think so as well.
The police begin to question all of the drug stores and chemists in the area where Larry Wilsonís first bar was located. Finally they find a drug store that recalls Larry buying Tarter and medic. He told the clerk that he was experimenting with a new dandruff remover. The clerk was able to produce a receipt for the purchase, which was a little over two years ago.
Three wives, three deaths by poisoning, but where do the razors fit into all of this? The inspector still has this stuck in his mind, and calls the sergeant back into the office. Larry Wilson says he hid them, because he didnít want anyone to get hurt by them. But there were no children, so who exactly would get hurt? The inspector has pulled a file on a case that had yet to be solved. The description of the man fits Larry Wilson, but this proves nothing right? The cases in the file begin in 1888; Larry Wilson came to White Chapel in 1888. But the cases stopped in 1890 when Larry Wilson went to America. But wait thereís more. But in that year there were three identical cases in New Jersey, and stopped when Larry Wilson came back. Do any of those dates sound somewhat familiar? Well they can only hang him once in any case.
I really suggested listening to The Strait Razor, at the very least to hear who they think Larry Wilson might have been.
There are so many more interesting stories from the Black Museum. I have fallen in love with the whole series. Each story is told well, and the mood it can set will take you back in time. No wonder this series has withstood the test of time.