Filed under: weird crime

Georgia Tech’s Samurai Problem

The Weber Space Science and Technology Building at Georgia Tech in downtown Atlanta was the scene of a bizarre assault on Thursday. A man wielding a samurai sword attacked one person inside the building. A Tech campus cop was also injured while subduing the the would-be Ninja psycho. Early reports indicate the maniac was at one time a Ph. D. candidate at the University. The victim has been participating in a postdoctoral fellowship. The attacker was charged with aggravated assault. [WSB Atlanta]

Maine Gothic: A Boy and His Mother

Even Maine’s most famous horror novelist couldn’t make this up. Well… he could, but it’d probably be too disturbing, depressing, and tawdry for him to bother.

Just before midnight on Sunday, Matthew Audet, age 22, called police in Lewiston, Maine. He told them his 47-year-old mother Debra wasn’t breathing. According to police reports, Matthew Audet said his mother might have attempted suicide. She’d “grabbed her own larynx” and “might have choked herself out.”

Police found Audet in the apartment he shared with his mom, kneeling on a mattress beside her body. Debra Audet was unresponsive and had no pulse.

Matthew Audet was sticking to the suicide story. His mom had tried it before, he told police. Audet demonstrated what he meant to the officers on the scene by grabbing his own throat with both hands and making gagging noises.

Cops naturally wanted Audet to come down to the police department, but they made it clear that he wasn’t under arrest. Audet’s response was odd — he stuck out his arms and pressed his wrists together, saying, “I’m ready.”

The cops didn’t handcuff Audet. He persisted, walking to the police cruiser with his arms behind his back, wrists touching.

Also living in the apartment with Audet and his mother were Matthew’s wife, Kayla, age 19, and a man named Jaime Arsenault, age 30.

Once police talked with Kayla Audet, a different story came to light.

Debra Audet didn’t commit suicide.

Everyone in Apt. 4 had been drinking that night, according to Kayla. She and Matthew were tossing back 40s, but Debra Audet’s drinks of choice were “Night Train” and “Mad Dog 20/20.”

Mother and son were drinking together in Debra’s room. Kayla wasn’t with them. She and Matthew had been having problems. Matthew drank too much for Kayla’s taste, among other things. She told Matthew that she wanted to leave him. An intense argument ensued, culminating in both dashing their wedding rings against the wall.

Kayla took a shower after the fight, then went to her room to gather her belongings. She heard Matthew calling for her.

She ignored his calls at first, but finally she went to Debra’s room to see what he wanted. That was when she saw Debra’s pale form, the dead woman’s tongue protruding from her mouth.

Kayla Audet was scared. She went to the bathroom to grab a few things, and Matthew followed her, saying, “I killed my mom.”

Matthew made a half-hearted attempt to keep his wife from leaving, but she did leave. Kayla went to a friend’s house, where she told her friend what had just occurred in the Audets’ apartment. Shortly after Kayla arrived, they heard the police cars going to the Audet residence, so Kayla went back to talk with the cops.

The most bizarre aspect of the story would come from the friend with whom Kayla sought refuge, identified in police reports as Regan Tims.

Tims told investigators that Debra Audet had a sexual relationship with her son. Tims said the relationship may have begun when Matthew was a boy, 8 or 9 years old. Regan Tims’s story grew even stranger. She’d talked with Debra earlier that Sunday, she said, and the elder Audet had recounted an argument she’d had with Matthew over a separate relationship.

That relationship, according to Regan Tims, was between Debra Audet and Matthew’s wife, Kayla. Tims said that Ms. Audet’s relationship with Kayla began while Matthew was doing a stint in the military.

Police reports indicate that investigators got Kayla Audet to confirm her relationship with her mother-in-law. Kayla said she had no ‘specific knowledge’ of a sexual relationship between Debra and Matthew.

In the end, Matthew Audet seemed to come clean about what happened in his mother’s room. He told of the drinking and hanging out with his mom, and of how she’d begun to harangue him. He wasn’t working enough, she had cancer and they’d be sorry when she was gone, and… Kayla was cheating on him.

That was it, for Matthew Audet. The police report states that he grabbed his mother, thinking he’d just “calm her down.” In the end, ‘calm down’ allegedly meant Audet’s hand on his mother’s throat for at least 30 seconds.

An autopsy on Debra Audet confirmed that she’d been strangled.

Sources and links:

Kevin Underwood Found Guilty of Murder

Long story short, Kevin Ray Underwood has been found guilty of Jamie Rose Bolin’s horrifying murder.

Nearly 2 years ago I wrote the following articles about the Underwood case for The Crime Library:

I also wrote a blog entry for Huff’s Crime Blog: “Subspecies23.”

Those pieces tell the story of how in early 2006, a guy named Kevin was living a dead-end life, working in a grocery store in Oklahoma. Then one day he decided to go ahead and kill, rape, and eat his 10-year-old neighbor. In that order.

I would re-write those articles thoroughly now, but their basic content would remain the same — after all, most of the links to Underwood’s online presence are still active. One example — his weblog:

Strange Things are Afoot at the Circle K.

I would write more, but for now it is enough to note that the shark-eyed monster who liked to call himself “Subspecies23” will never be a free man again. My articles from 2 years ago tell much of the back story, so there’s no need to recap here.

Every time I question the use of the death penalty, I think of Kevin Ray Underwood, and the thought gives me pause.

Madman With a Meat Cleaver: The Murder of Kathryn Faughey *UPDATED AGAIN, 2/16/08*

It sounded like the sort of murder a screenwriter might concoct: respected psychologist hacked to death by cleaver-wielding patient. To anyone who entered the office of Dr. Kathryn Faughey after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, it was a terrible reality.

The New York Daily News reported that Faughey was attacked “during a therapy session.” The attack on the therapist was ferocious. A law enforcement source told the Daily News that Dr. Faughey’s killer “bent two knives – the cleaver and a 9-inch blade with a camouflage handle” during the attack.

Dr. Faughey’s colleague tried to help, but therapist Kent Shinbach ended up with severe injuries of his own. He was hospitalized in critical condition.

The blood-soaked killer exited the building through a basement door, passing several security cameras along the way. According to the Daily News, police think they know who killed the psychologist.

One witness told the newspaper that the killer “looked like a psycho.” (Police sketch of the “psycho” is on the left — click to enlarge.)

Kathryn Faughey had a website that explained a type of therapy she used, “adaptation psychology.” About herself, Dr. Faughey wrote that she was “interactive” and that she gave “feedback.” Her approach to cognitive therapy was effective, and practiced in a “warm, clear, and lively manner.”

Dr. Faughey had been interviewed by more than one New York media outlet, and seemed trusted and well-liked. She was mentioned on a webpage created for people with an interest in treating weight problems through therapy. Someone signing off only as “B. N. in NYC” wrote that the doctor was “very friendly open and compassionate. I would highly recommend her.”

On an early version of her site, Adaptation.net, Dr. Faughey explained her work in some detail:

Sometimes people fear that such services make take too long to be effective. Or, that “talking about it won’t help.” Or, that they will be asked to talk extensively about their childhood; to the expense of time and money.

Most people need to talk about the “real” life problems they are currently experiencing.

It may be a health issue; a relationship issue; an employment issue; perhaps it concerns a death; or a diagnosis.

Others cannot put it so easily into words . They may say ,”I just don���t know why I am unhappy.”.

And so, my approach is directed to meet these needs.

[…]

I take a two pronged approach. Yes, factors in our past shape our current feelings. These factors are a combination of genes and early family learning. Yet, as we look back we must also look at the present and implement the adaptations necessary to our current positions, problems, and longings.

With careful consideration to each individual’s needs and circumstances; full confidentiality is assured; and, referrals are made to other professionals or techniques when necessary.

Police were still searching for Kathryn Faughey’s killer early Wednesday. He has been described as a “middle aged, blonde-haired male,” and was probably a Dr. Faughey’s patient.

UPDATE, 3:28 p.m. ET

This is incredibly bizarre. The following details have been revealed about the suspected killer of Dr. Kathryn Faughey:

Police said they recovered three knives from the scene including the cleaver; a suitcase on wheels filled with women’s clothing — including slippers and a blouse — and adult diapers; and another bag filled with eight smaller knives that were not believed to have been used in the attack…

So far, this is making the case of Peter Braunstein, the fake firefighter/rapist, look like child’s play.

It’s a cliche in cases like this, but damn, it’s just true — you can’t make stuff like that up. Well, you could, but no one would believe you.

Additional link: New York Times, “Man Sought in Psychologist’s Stabbing.

UPDATE, 2/14/08

EDIT: AS OF 3:30 P.M, THE NEW YORK POST WAS REPORTING THAT BILL KUNSMAN HAD BEEN QUESTIONED AND RELEASED.

In the comments left on this post, “thefirstdiane” linked this NY Daily News article naming Pennsylvania musician William “Bill” Kunsman as the man currently being questioned in connection with Kathryn Faughey’s murder.

Faughey posted to an online forum for Martin devotees as “LittleAnna,” as did Kunsman. The forum has been made private since the therapist’s murder on Tuesday, but a search of “LittleAnna” and “Kathryn Faughey” together gave a few cached results.

At the moment Kunsman is only under questioning in part because of e-mails he apparently sent to Faughey prior to her death. As of Thursday afternoon, he has not been named a suspect in the murder of Dr. Faughey.

Additional link: New York Times article mentioning Kunsman.

UPDATE, 5:42 p.m. ET

Thanks again to “thefirstdiane” for this somewhat unexpected update: “Source: Victim identifies cleaver killer.” Quoting from WABC:

[The] surviving victim of the attack that left a psychologist dead has identified the man questioned today by police in Pennsylvania as the killer. The Distritct Attorney is awaiting forensic evidence before an arrest is made…

Again, that man was one William “Bill” Kunsman. Links to Kunsman’s online presence were removed from the previous update following news that he’d been released from custody by Pennsylvania authorities. One page linked held a bio of Kunsman, which read in part:

William Kunsman began his musical career in 1983 when, fresh out of high school, he joined the United States Marine Corps as a trumpet player for the band. In 1984, while attending the Naval School of Music in Norfolk, VA he began to play guitar and to experiment with songwriting. While in the Marines, William served in field bands in New Orleans, LA and Okinawa, Japan and applied his guitar skills in a jazz/rock ensemble.

Following his military service William tried for several years to put together a hard rock band, without success, but continued to build upon his skill as a guitarist.

In 1993 William made the unlikely transition from hard rock to all acoustic music. He expanded his repertoire when he took-up fiddle and learned to play in the West Virginia, old-timey, mountain style. In the 1990’s, he played with the Pennsylvania-based bluegrass group Willow Creek and was a founding member of the traditional bluegrass band Mountain Heritage. For both groups, Kunsman original compositions were repertoire staples. Bluegrass festival-goers in the NorthEast and listeners of WDIY radio program, Heartland’s Hayride, were soon toe-tapping to William Kunsman’s music.

Both Kunsman’s and Dr. Faughey’s names were on a webpage listing attendees to an event for Martin Guitar devotees in 2006.

A personal opinion: I don’t think the man seen in a photo accompanying this article — it’s Kunsman — resembles the suspect sketch at all. True, the angle is totally different, but he has thick, curly hair and doesn’t appear to be balding. Kunsman also doesn’t appear to be overweight in any of the photos found of him online. Dr. Faughey’s killer could have worn padded clothing, of course — in a murder this strange, you can’t really rule anything out.

I must add this, however — the killer allegedly said to surviving victim Kent Shinbach, “I know where you live.”

The only addresses I could find for a 70-year-old Kent Shinbach outside of his office address in Manhattan were in Pennsylvania.

Additional link: You can buy Bill Kunsman’s Acousticology 101 cd here.

UPDATE, 2/16/08, 4:15 p.m. ET

As has been noted in the comments left on this post, police have a new person of interest in the Kathryn Faughey murder investigation.

The man being questioned in New York is 39 (or 40)-year-old telemarketer David Tarloff. Tarloff reportedly fits the physical description of the suspect and was once a patient of Dr. Kent D. Shinbach, the surviving victim of the attack. Tarloff also has a history of mental illness and violent behavior.

Additional article referencing Tarloff: NY Times, “Queens Man Questioned in Killing of Therapist.”

**UPDATE, 6:43 p.m. ET**

David Tarloff has been arrested. Tarloff apparently told police that he went to the office with a plan to rob the Kent Shinbach, who had Tarloff institutionalized 17 years ago. Tarloff said he would then take his mother and flee the U.S. As Tarloff’s mother was in a nursing home, this may explain the bizarre clues found in the rolling suitcases, including the adult diapers.

(This entry may be updated and revised.)

Hinterkaifeck

(The following was originally published under the same title at StevenHuff.net on September 23, 2007. I decided to post it here to have a truly fascinating and old-school unsolved crime as the top story on the blog while I’m on hiatus.)

Cäzilia plucks.

Weißt du, wieviel Sternlein stehen
(Do you know how many little stars there are)
An dem blauen Himmelszelt?
(In the wide blue sky?)

One tuft of hair, two tufts of hair.
Pluck. Sting, pain.
Grandfather to one side, mother on the other.
They are silent. They are still.

Weißt du, wieviel Mücklein spielen
(Do you know how many little flies play)
In der hellen Sommerglut?
(In the clear heat of Summer?)

Pluck. Sting, pain.

It is cold, the straw is sticky, and something warm is in her eyes.
She pulls her hair, it reminds her that she is alive.

Pluck. Sting…

Weißt du, wieviel Kinder frühe
Stehn aus ihren Bettchen auf,

(Do you know how many children,
Get up early from their bed,)

Daß sie ohne Sorg’ und Mühe
Fröhlich sind im Tageslauf?

(That they’re without worry and sorrow,
Happy all day long?)

Cäzilia dies.

*****

In 1922, World War I had already brought Germany to its knees. War would come again in 1939. The Nazis would scourge the pages of history with their crimes. Horrors such as the massacre at Hinterkaifeck would seem minimal by comparison.

But the deaths at Hinterkaifeck were not forgotten. The mystery was never truly solved.

German true crime fans still puzzle over Hinterkaifeck. English-speaking true crime fans who hear of it can’t help but want to know more. And there isn’t much out there in English about this particular mass murder.

Few true tales of murder are as strange or chilling as this one.

*****

Hinterkaifeck was the name of a little farm located in the forest, 43 miles or so north of Munich, not far from Ingolstadt.

Andreas Gruber, the 63-year-old owner, was not too well-known to his neighbors. An odd, taciturn man, he was not well-liked, either.

Living with Andreas at Hinterkaifeck were his 72-year-old wife, also named Cäzilia; his widowed daughter, Viktoria, age 35; the younger Cäzilia, Viktoria’s 7-year-old daughter; Viktoria’s young son Josef, age 2; and a servant, Maria Baumgartner, age 44.

On March 30, 1922, Maria Baumgartner was the newest resident of Hinterkaifeck. A servant named R. Kreszenz had quit the farm in 1921, claiming a “strained atmosphere.” Kreszenz even hinted that the farm might be haunted.

Strange things did seem to happen there. Equipment broke down. Crucial rings of keys went missing. At some point prior to March 30, old man Gruber found a newspaper in his house that wasn’t typically distributed in the area. The postman had no knowledge of the paper being delivered.

The day Maria Baumgartner arrived, Andreas Gruber noted something so odd that the usually retiring man told a few neighbors about it.

Gruber found tracks in the snow, leading from the forest to his house.

Gruber saw no evidence that the owner of the tracks ever returned from house to wood.

Strange as this was, Gruber apparently saw no need to tell the local authorities.

Four days after Gruber spoke of the tracks in the snow, some concerned citizens headed out to his farm. The young Cäzilia had been inexplicably absent from school.

There they found a scene from a nightmare.

Everyone, the 5 members of the Gruber family and Maria Baumgartner, had been hacked to death.

Autopsies were done in the barn, where Gruber, his daughter, wife and little Cäzilia were killed (possibly NSFW). Maria Baumgartner was murdered in her room. Josef was hacked to death in his bassinet (link is safe for viewing).

The murder weapon was determined to have been a Kreuzhacke, or pickaxe.

It may have taken little Cäzilia two hours to die as she lay on the straw, pulling out handfuls of her hair.

Dr. Johann Baptist Aumüller removed all the heads of the dead, as the worst damage had been done there. The 6 victims were buried headless.

The skulls were ultimately lost during confusion and chaos at the end of World War II.

The following year, the farm was torn down. Today all that remains is a field and a monument reminding any passers-by of the crime.

*****

The local police were overtaxed at the time, but they worked hard to solve the murders at Hinterkaifeck. Still, hysterical residents near the farm tried to take matters into their own hands, hunting for wild-eyed tramps, starting for some time at every rustle in the forest. Any stranger on the road was considered suspicious.

Police established a reward, and questioned some solid suspects. No arrests were ever made.

One logical suspect was the man who was listed on little Josef’s birth certificate as his father, a nearby farmer named Lorenz. Viktoria, who was said to be beautiful, had been briefly involved with the man.

The motive? Josef was believed by most familiar with the Grubers to be Andreas’s child.

In 1919, both Andreas Gruber and his daughter Viktoria were imprisoned for the crime of incest. After all, the old man had publicly declared after his son-in-law’s death in the trenches during World War I that his daughter didn’t need another man — she had him.

Other suspects included Viktoria’s husband, Karl Gabriel. He’d supposedly been killed in France, but his corpse was never found. The theory was that Gabriel had found out about the incest and committed the murders in revenge. Police even attempted to find some trace of Karl Gabriel in the French Foreign Legion.

The investigators into the massacre did, over time, come to some concrete conclusions about the killer or killers of the Grubers and Ms. Baumgartner. These conclusions only added to the eerie aura that has always enveloped this crime.

The killer(s) of the Grubers did not intend to rob the family. The Grubers had money — a good deal of cash was found in the farmhouse. It was untouched.

The killer(s) stalked the family. There was some evidence of someone hiding out in the attic of the house, in addition to Andreas Gruber’s haunting report of a one-way set of tracks leading from forest to dwelling.

A truly strange determination was made about events immediately following the murders. As six people lay dead or dying in the barn and in the farmhouse, the killers ate a meal. Then they fed the cattle.

*****

Some sources say that the last investigations into the murders at Hinterkaifeck took place in 1986.

However, an article was published in several U.S. papers in June of 1955 indicating that the authorities in Germany had closed the case.

MUNICH, Germany, June 13. The state prosecutor has closed the records without a conviction on one of the most gruesome crimes in Bavarian history — the pick-ax slaying of six persons 33 years ago.

One of two suspected slayers is dead. The other cannot be brought to trial under the German statute of limitations…

In 1941, in the middle of World War II, a woman made a deathbed confession to a priest. She said that her two brothers committed the murders at Hinterkaifeck. A Bavarian-based newspaper published a story about this admission in 1952, but it gave no source.

The priest was questioned, but he only confirmed the names of the brothers, nothing more.

One brother had died in France in 1944. In the early ’50s the remaining brother was an elderly man living on a pension. He spent several weeks in custody, but his story as to what had transpired that night in 1922 changed each time he told it. He was released without charge.

Motive? Again, it was allegedly the incestuous relationship between Viktoria and her father. The 1955 English language article stated that one of the brothers had been enraged by this, and his rage drove him to kill the family.

In 1978, author Peter Leuschner published (in German) a book about Hinterkaifeck.

In his book, Leuschner apparently mentioned a man named Friedrich Haarmann, a criminal who certainly had it in him to kill 6 people.

Haarmann became known to history as Fritz Haarmann, a truly vampire-like serial killer who terrorized Hanover (5 hours from Ingolstadt) in the early 1920s.

But Haarmann tended to kill a very specific type of victim, and none of the victims at Hinterkaifeck fit the bill. Fritz Haarmann killed male prostitutes and vagrants. He apparently got a sexual thrill from drinking the blood from his victims’ throats. It was even alleged that Haarmann (he was dubbed “The Butcher of Hanover”) made some of his victims into sausages that he sold on the black market.

While Haarmann’s preferred victims were young, good-looking men, he was nothing if not a versatile criminal. He cheated other criminals, informed on them to the police, and generally did what the most complete psychopaths usually do — anything evil that comes to mind.

Something about the idea that Haarmann might have killed the Grubers and Maria Baumgartner just doesn’t make much sense.

Then again, nothing about such crimes ever makes much sense.

*****

Ultimately, Hinterkaifeck is one of those crimes that will remain unsolved and maintain its mystery and ability to chill as a result. It is the stuff of horror films, after all. The scene could have been scripted by Poe. Many reports indicated that it was storming the night of the murders. Theories of the crime state that those killed outside were lured by the sound of an untethered farm animal, perhaps a cow with a bell on its neck.

Taken in with the evidence of someone stalking the family, possibly peering down on them from the attic, and you have a scenario that may never lose its power to raise gooseflesh.

And then there is the coda to the murders. A little girl laying on a gory bed of straw between two dead bodies, snatching out clumps of her hair as she bleeds to death. The power inherent in the story of this particular long-unsolved multiple murder may be there, in that imagined swing of little Cäzilia’s hand through the dark.

Pluck. Sting, pain.

Such a detail conducts a chill from the the skin into the bones.

The bones, where memories of evil so often abide.

Sources not otherwise linked:

http://www.geocities.com/hinterkaifeck/;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinterkaifeck;
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/6865/hi.html;
http://www.newspaperarchive.com/;
http://www.mamalisa.com/?t=es&p=454&c=38 ;
The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, by Michael Newton;
As is stated in the English Wikipedia article, there does appear to be a new movie about the murders currently in production (link goes to German-language site).

The Great Hatto/Barrington-Coupe Caper

(This blog entry was first posted in a slightly different form at my personal weblog.)

Joyce Hatto ceased her public performing career in the 1970s when she was diagnosed with cancer.

The British pianist was never a brilliant star fixed in the firmament of concert performers. Hatto was apparently, at best, a solid performer.

Joyce Hatto cut her teeth practicing scales even while WW II raged around her, the daughter of a man who loved the music of Rachmaninov. Joyce Hatto toured a bit in Europe in the 50s. In 1956 she married a man named William Barrington Coupe. Together with a producer named Joe Meek, William Barrington-Coupe ran some sort of record company from about 1960 onwards.

After Joyce Hatto ceased public performances, so the story goes, she set about recording a remarkable body of work. Mr. Barrington-Coupe apparently had a recording studio set up in the couples’ home, and with this luxury available, Ms. Hatto could record at her leisure.

About two years ago, Ms. Hatto’s recordings began to receive remarkable notice. In August of 2005, Richard Dyer wrote a piece about Ms. Hatto for The Boston Globe. Dyer was apparently in error where Ms. Hatto’s recording career was concerned:

She made her London debut in the early 1950s; she played extensively throughout Britain and made three tours of Poland. In the mid-1950s, she played all nine Beethoven Symphonies in Liszt’s transcriptions in London. (“When I was done with them, I felt as if I were a better person than I was when I started,” she says.) In 1972 she embarked on an ambitious project to play the complete works of Liszt in London; by 1976, when she became ill, she had played eight all-Liszt recital programs in Wigmore Hall (“Rather like a morgue, or a Chapel of Rest, don’t you think?” she remarks of the atmosphere in London’s most famous recital venue). She played in America only once, and she says, good-naturedly, that “no one came, but it was nice to see my records at Sam Goody’s.”

Those would have been her first LP recordings, made for Saga – music of Bax, Mozart, and Rachmaninoff, as well as Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and an album of piano music from the movies, including “Jealous Lover” and “Intermezzo From the ‘Spellbound’ Concerto.” Perhaps records like this, and her interest in Liszt, who was very out of fashion in the ’70s, account for her neglect in the British musical press…

The emphasis was mine.

Newspaper accounts from various American papers in the late 50s and early 60s seem to indicate Ms. Hatto made recordings with a body called the Hamburg Pro Musica. The following was published by United Press International in September, 1959. The article was titled, “Gershwin is given full LP treatment”:

Rhapsody In Blue—An American In Paris by Joyce Hatto with Hamburg Pro Musica (Forum F-70008). Two giant Gershwin compositions are interpreted in classical style. Miss Hatto is facile at the keyboard and is especially sensitive on An American In Paris…

What’s the hoopla about Joyce Hatto? Why is the possible variance between the UPI article from 48 years ago and statements by and about Joyce Hatto made in 2005 interesting now?

Because of this: “iTunes fingers musical fraud.” From the New Scientist Technology Blog:

[A] critic at the Gramophone magazine got [a] surprise when he put a Hatto recording of Lizt’s 12 Transcendental Studies into his computer. The iTunes player identified the disc as being recorded by another pianist, Lászlo Simon. He dug out the Simon album and found it sounded exactly the same as the Hatto one.

iTunes had stumbled on a hoax. To identify albums it calculates a ‘discid’ from the duration of the tracks and then connects to the Compact Disc Database online. The Gramophone critic tried another disc – Hatto playing Rachmaninov – and again iTunes identified it as belonging to someone else. Again, the named recording – by Yefim Bronfman – sounded no different…

The blog then linked this site, where the fraud is being explained and demonstrated in precise detail.

The story was so cinematic, no wonder people loved the idea; that an aging and cancer-ridden concert pianist was making gold with the ivories in lone recording sessions over the years, as her health permitted.

But if you have the patience to pick through the sites above, it becomes obvious that Ms. Hatto’s recordings are well-proven to be forgeries.

This made me wonder about the story as a whole. In his article in the Globe, Richard Dyer wrote about Hatto’s “neglect in the British musical press.” I found that striking, too. Another passage in the same article was eerie:

After his wife has left the room, Barrington-Coupe says, “She doesn’t want to play in public because she never knows when the pain will start, or when it will stop, and she refuses to take drugs. Nothing has stopped her, and I believe the illness has added a third dimension to her playing; she gets at what is inside the music, what lies behind it.”

Earlier in the piece the writer had referred to the aging cancer-ridden woman’s “girlish” voice.

If Dyer conducted his interviews by phone, could it be that he never even spoke to Joyce Hatto?

Where is the proof she died in 2006?

In obituary listings for Norfolk in 2004, I found one entry for a Joyce Ethel Hatto, who was approximately 78 when she died. As rare as the last name Hatto appears to be, it still doesn’t stretch credulity to think there were two women with the same name and near the same age. Besides, at least one obituary for the pianist Joyce Hatto gave her middle name as Hilda.

What if there were not two Joyce Hattos, though?

Then the hoax, which might properly be called the “Barrington-Coupe Caper,” becomes much more strange and intriguing than it even was before.

For further interest you may want to click this link: “William Barrington-Coupe.” The link takes you to a search of Google Groups. Discussions of Hatto and Mr. Barrington-Coupe go back to at least 2004.

I don’t know that I’ve done any new sleuthing on this one, nor that I needed to. I learned that Barrington-Coupe may have been in the news in England a couple of decades ago for fraud, thus setting a precedent, and that the conductor listed on some Hatto recordings, Rene Kohler, may not exist. I also couldn’t help but note that the only “Barrington-Coupe” to turn up in any search engine was the man mentioned in this article. That made me wonder if the name was made up, as well. The con could have been going on for many decades. Joyce Hatto might have just been the newest wrinkle.

To the supremely arrogant world of classical music, this whole thing is quite a blow. Part of the deception where Joyce Hatto was concerned was facilitated by glowing reviews of the first discs that came out a few years ago. Classical music critics listened with no real discernment, it seems. They fell in love with the peculiar romance inherent in the story, and if one of them thought, “gee, that sounds a lot like Ashkenazy,” well, that was easy to dismiss — Andrea Bocelli can sound like Pavarotti if the recording is playing in another room on a bad pair of speakers. (I’m not a fan of Bocelli at all, by the way, and I’m a tremendous fan of Pavarotti’s, where pure vocalism is concerned. Bocelli is fool’s gold, Pavarotti in his prime was 24k.)

A crime? Yes, I think so. But Barrington-Coupe is an old man, and Joyce Hatto is no longer around to defend herself, at all. So this crime will stand as a lesson, I think, to many who love classical music and pride themselves on being able to discern what is and is not a quality performance. Usually, anything that seems too good to be true probably is.

Unfortunately it is also a lesson to future audio forgers — iTunes is not your friend.

UPDATE

I’ve seen the question asked several times online: Was there even a Joyce Hatto, at all?

Definitely, I believe there was. If the UPI article cited in the original blog entry wasn’t enough, this Google Groups search should be some proof: “Joyce Hatto, Usenet mentions prior to 2005.” She appears to have begun recording with legitimate labels and orchestral groups in the mid-1950s. The discs that have been sold since about 2004 by William Barrington-Coupe are the ones that appear to have been made by plagiarizing (for lack of a better word) recordings of great, established artists.

UPDATE, CORRECTION

This obituary in the Telegraph states that Richard Dyer did travel from Boston to the UK to interview Joyce Hatto. I wondered aloud in the original entry about this. So it would appear that Dyer was speaking to the real deal in 2005. Or, at least, Dyer spoke with a woman who said she was Joyce Hatto.

Sadly, if Dyer was speaking to Hatto, then to me it seems like she may have been complicit in her husband’s alleged deceptions after all.

UPDATE, 2/27/2007

William Barrington-Coupe confessed. He did it, he says, to make his wife feel good about what she was doing as she neared the end of her life.

This man did time in the UK in the ’60s for tax evasion, so I’m inclined to view his reasons for what he did with some skepticism, but he says he’s made no money off the scam. So far, it appears that some of the producers whose work was ripped off by Barrington-Coupe are taking what seems a peculiarly British view of the situation; since Barrington-Coupe is likely “ruined, one way or another,” he may not even be taken to court.

Hmmm…..