The Cannibal of Pang Yang
by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2012 Thomas Adcock
In the grey of autumnal daybreak, with the air chilled by a dank breeze, a gang of workmen assembled in the wide cobblestone lane behind the Ulster County Jail. There they engaged in respective tasks in advance of a public execution scheduled to commence at high noon.
The citizenry of Kingston had long relished arrival of this Sunday of October 20th, 1907. Gentlemen and ladies of Christian outlook were busy at home, readying picnic baskets of sandwiches and potato salad and lemonade and blueberry pies——refreshments for the gala after-church affair in Rope Alley, as the deathly site was commonly known.
Adjacent to a neat stack of pine lumber that would become gallows upon a few hours’ labor, a makeshift bandstand and accompanying dais had been erected during the previous two days. From his cell window, the condemned man was compelled by his jailers to watch as the Kingston branch of the Daughters of the American Revolution festooned bandstand and dais with flags and bunting, along with oaken buckets of flowers. Geranium blossoms of cheerful orange and yellow moved stiffly in the unpleasant wafts of cemetery breeze.
Mustachioed musicians of the fire brigade orchestra would soon be performing, attired in starched red-white-and-blue dress uniforms last worn for Independence Day. They would strike up a repertoire of patriotic melodies at half-past eleven o’clock, providing thirty minutes of brassy oom-pah-pahs to rouse patriotic fervor among a crowd gathered to witness death at noon.
Music had further intent of distraction: best that ladies and gentlemen of Kingston not dwell overly long on the essential business of ending a man’s life, loathsome as he was; best they be assured of the righteousness of town vengeance. The good ladies of Kingston, especially, required such communal confidence. Individually, they might be appalled to the point of fainting at the unmistakable sound of a trap door sprung open below the shackled ankles of one Oscar Jukes, plunging him five feet downward at literal breakneck speed.
Chief among the workmen that Sabbath morning was a stout carpenter in dungarees and a woolen shirt. Gardiner was his name, and he seemed to be in charge. Hammer and saws snugged the pocket loops of his canvas apron, a supply of square-head nails rode between his lips.
Father Niall McClanahan, a hunchback priest in white liturgical alb, girdled with a cincture of purple silk (the color of penitence), sucked on a Meerschaum and paced about as he whispered Bible verses. The cloud of smoke produced by his pipe was indistinguishable from the color of his hair.
A man with a ginger beard and a milky left eye sorted through a long gunny sack of equipment: a mask for stretching over his head, from bumpy nose to the nape of his blotchy neck; black leather gloves, open at the fingertips; a coil of rope, thickly noosed at one end and sufficiently hefty for the “long drop” technique said to ensure against decapitation. Unlike the others at work in Rope Alley, the hangman was a stranger in town. The sheriff’s department had booked his accommodations at the Kingston Inn, under the wry name of John Law.
Two burly constables with tommy guns cradled in their arms stood guard over Oscar Jukes, whom they had frog-marched from cell to cobblestones only minutes before.
Jukes was a grunting, narrow-eyed man of sixty-one years. His height was average, his physique of peasant stock. His features were flat, his skin a shade of tobacco. Despite his age, his matted hair was as brown and shining as creek pebbles, though it stank from application of a dull effluvium; he and his kind used their urine as pomade.
Jukes wore a jail-issued ensemble: shirt and matching trousers of cream hue, over-sewn with horizontal stripes of black cotton. The garments had not been laundered since their use by a previous inmate. The shirt was stained with droppings of sugarless porridge, a tasteless ration served twice daily by the jailer’s wife. Jukes’ feet were bare, caked in filth and swollen from vermin bites. Chains joined his ankles to a hobbling gap of eight inches.
Three years ago to the day, the Honorable W. Clement Barlow pronounced a sentence of death upon Oscar Jukes. In truth, the judge had reached that decision at the opening of Jukes’ murder trial, if not before. By no means was Barlow the only Kingstonian to regard the defendant with a generalized contempt; his was a shared civic attitude, bred in the respectable bones of the fortunate.
Oscar Jukes was patriarch of an illiterate race of menial laborers, petty miscreants, horse thieves, half-wits, drunkards, and mushroom harvesters. Some, like Jukes, had a sufficient supply of intelligence and shrewdness for dishonest schemery. At least since the time of Mr. Lincoln’s war, generations of this ilk were known to be living year round in rude outdoor encampments, caves, and communal shacks in the wooded foothills of the Catskill mountain range at the western edge of Kingston.
Home turf to Jukes and the others was a wilderness of boulders and briar thickets, and trees that produced near unburnable logs——mostly black birch, chestnut, and white pine. A dwindling population of oaks and silver maples kept the mountain people from freezing to death in winter. Logs from these species were life-saving fuel, supplemented by clapboards ripped off the sides of flatlanders’ homes and dragged up into the hills.
The wretched territory of Jukes and his people was known as the Binnewaters, or by the name of its principal village——Pang Yang. Mountain people called themselves “Binnewaters folk.” Kingstonians referred to them by the pejorative “Pang Yangers.”
Soon after Jukes was sentenced, volunteer lawyers from Manhattan filed an appellate suit with the state’s high court, then another, and another. In their briefs of claim, the city lawyers recounted dubious police procedures, cruelty of jail conditions, prosecutorial misconduct, judicial incompetence, interference with due process by local politicians (and in one notable case, a politician’s spouse), and the county’s historical tinderbox of prejudice against the mixed-race defendant and his hill clan——exacerbated by an orgy of yellow journalism, especially mine.
All three appeals for fresh trial in some neutral venue failed; so, too, their attendant applications for a reduction from the charge of first-degree, premeditated homicide brought against Oscar Jukes by the district attorney of Ulster County——one Jasper Haight, whose porcine wife, Opal, serves as Kleagle in the women’s auxiliary of the local Ku Klux Klan chapter. Opal is further invested in the cause of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, despite Jasper being an habitué of the Green Parrot Tavern, conveniently located around the corner from the courthouse.
The downstate legal do-gooders claimed that Jasper Haight had grossly overcharged Oscar Jukes. Their reasoning: on the day Jukes was apparently assailed by Simon Van Dyne, his enraged partner in a dubious gold mining venture, was not one man destined to die? If not the suckered Van Dyne, then Jukes himself? Thus did the lawyers petition for the lesser blame of manslaughter, or at least second-degree murder, which would obviate capital consequence.
Likewise ineffectual in merciful cause was a sanity hearing demanded by defense counsel. Accordingly, three local attorneys were appointed by Judge Barlow to an ex-officio lunacy commission, assigned to the task of evaluating the mind of the Oscar Jukes. The trio constituted remaining members of the law firm from which Barlow departed in 1898 upon election to the bench. The commission’s verdict came swiftly, and predictably: “Defendant is reasonably capable of distinguishing right from wrong, despite a low grade of intellectual ability, disrespect for God Almighty, foul invective, vulgar grooming habits, and incestuous conduct.”
Appeals denied, it was left to Judge Barlow to pound his gold-stemmed gavel and declare what all of Kingston wished to hear, “Death to Oscar Jukes, saith I! So saith the Lord!”
The judge was a pudgy widower with pasty skin, fine curls of carrot-colored hair, and a prudent eye for young flesh of either persuasion. He was a fervent parishioner of the Calvary Methodist Church of Kingston, citadel of the community’s establishment. Barlow was a church lector who advocated the utmost in probity, and the owner of a creamy baritone——foremost among voices composing the Calvary Methodist choir. In all verbal exchange, including the most casual of conversations, the judge spoke in biblically exclamatory fashion, frequently citing his camaraderie and daily dialogues with God, which he pronounced Gawd.
On sentencing day, Judge Barlow thundered further at the Pang Yanger before him, “May hellish vengeance afflict thee, Oscar Jukes! Thou art monstrous! Thou art of unspeakable stench! Thou art a misshapen lump of devil’s dung! I shall pray that Gawd instruct Satan to collect thy corpse and swallow it sideways!”
Jukes’ tobacco face filled with rage against the bloviating Barlow. He parted his lips, as thick and greasy as sausages, in an attempt at rejoinder to the judge’s curse. But before he could utter a sound, a bailiff’s billy club thwacked him to the floor. (Undoubtedly, Jukes wished to impart a curse of his own, perhaps the very execration he employed when offended by churchly sanctimony: “I’d dear love to see a red-hot poker shoved up yer arse, yuh Jesus-jumpin’ fook, yuh!”)
The judge’s spittle-driven damnation, followed by the spectacle of Oscar Jukes sprawled on the floor in a spasm of pain, inspired foot-stomping cheers in a courtroom filled with the burghers of Kingston, all of them fellow congregants at Calvary Methodist.
In the following year, W. Clement Barlow’s co-religionists rewarded him with election to a seat in the state legislature upriver at Albany, where he caucused with the conservative Platt wing of the Republican party.
In my capacity as a journalist, for better and for worse, I have come to know Judge Barlow well; so, too, the eponymous Mr. and Mrs. Haight. I am likewise acquainted with Oscar Jukes and, especially, his daughter Nellie, diminutive of Prunella. She is a disputatious young woman with the rare ambition of making a life far from the Binnewaters.
I attended Jukes’ trial and sentencing, of course, as well as the appellate litigations, his hearing before the hastily arranged lunacy commission——and a medical inquest to determine the cause of Simon Van Dyne’s untimely passing. Through all of this, I was pleased to quote the judge’s baroque oratorios and Jasper Haight’s pungent courtroom indictments. It made for good copy, defined by my editor at the Illustrated Police Gazette as “blood on the page.”
I have always yearned for the life of a newspaperman; I scarcely remember a time when I did not dream of seeing my words in print, and my byline. Such dreaming is usually deferred for those such as myself, low born in the professional claustrophobia of an American backwater. Luckily for me, however, there came a tale I instantly recognized as a blockbuster——the wicked story of the wily Oscar Jukes.
From the first flash of news regarding the horrific crimes committed in Jukes’ mountaintop shanty, I made it my business to gather the facts. I conducted myself as a proper newspaperman would, mindful of the who-what-when-where-why context; alas, I was unemployed by an established press. But I saw a chance to make real my dream. And so it was that I ate and slept but little, with my days and nights devoted to The Story.
To begin, I penned ripping yarns for pamphlets I caused to be published at personal expense. Pages of pulp and blotted ink bound with hemp twine, they were. I peddled them door-to-door throughout the county at seven cents the copy. Sales were brisk, but the effort grueling. I soldiered on, for pamphleteering was the customary route to formal employment. Thankfully, the Kingston Weekly Courier saw fit to accept my florid accounts for its good pages. Thereby, I became a penny-a-word cub reporter in the right place at the right time.
Quite quickly, my writings for the Courier attracted notice from editors at the Illustrated Police Gazette, the gaudiest of all broadsheets in the rambunctious Park Row district of New York City. At last, I had earned my ticket out of Nowheresville, complete with vigorous wages and national prominence. I relocated to Manhattan, less than a hundred miles from my hometown of Kingston; my new home was a planet apart: Gotham was known throughout the world.
In short order, I became the celebrated Noah Palmer, star reporter for the “Gazz,” as the coast-to-coast chronicle from Park Row was known by subscribing aficionadi of purple prose, scandals of the gentry, crimes of the lower castes, and etchings of buxom females forever the hapless victims of skirt-lifting winds and unreliable blouse buttons.
But here now, upon a Lord’s Day in late October of 1907, I had returned home. Here, I loitered in Rope Alley in first light of morning.
I made careful notes for the final chapter of The Story that birthed my career: the last hours on Earth of a manacled man under the watch of sheriff’s deputies and tommy guns, forced to assist in building the contraption from which he would twist in the wind until the point of asphyxiation.
An odoriferous old killer, Oscar Jukes was known to readers across America, and even in parts of Europe, by the sobriquet I coined in my pamphleteering days: the “Cannibal of Pang Yang.”
Dispatch No. 28, published in the Illustrated Police Gazette, in which a brief sociological précis to the life and times (and crimes) of Oscar Jukes and his mountain ilk was recorded——
STRANGE COLONY IN UPSTATE NEW YORK!
C A Clan of Fish-Eating, Opiate-Drinking Mongrels B
Despised by Decent Townfolk!
Their Traits are Criminal!
• By Noah Palmer •
Special to the Illustrated Police Gazette
KINGSTON, N.Y., February 26, 1907——Within two miles of this small though bustling Hudson River community, one-time capital of the Empire State after British troops set fire to Albany during the revolt against King George, a chain of ice-cold lakes dots a two-square-mile region of low mountains generally fogged in a green-grey hue. Collectively, the lakes are known as the “Binnewaters,” assumed to be a corrupted Huguenout term lost to the obscurity of time.
Until reports of the nearby murder and cannibalistic occurrence of some five years past——said crimes perpetrated by the despicable Oscar Jukes, currently awaiting forfeiture of his miserable life——the people of the Binnewaters are unaccountable by Census. They are unschooled and often drooling creatures, dwellers of caves and the jerry-rigged huts of waterside encampments. Some of the women are handsome, though as whorish as all others. Children run naked and wild, frequently in packs, as if belonging to no adults in particular.
As a consequence of felonious habit and disgusting moral standard, and in no small measure due to inferior lineage, Binnewaters people are the gladly forgotten outcasts of decent Anglo-Saxon society. To touch them is to risk contamination, to marry them a curse graver yet than intimate congress with Negroes. They are in all ways grossly unattractive, a racial stew of ne’er-do-well Dutchmen, bonded Irishers run away from debts of labor, escaped African slaves, and savage exiles from the Lenni-Lenape, Munsee, Mohican and confederated Esopus tribes.
The main settlement among the Binnewaters is Pang Yang, a village in name only.
At any one time, the pariahs known as Pang Yangers constitute the majority of cell space in the Ulster County Jail, for they are incessantly deserving of confinement as penalty for looting cornfields and orchards, pilfering laundry hung out to dry, making off with livestock, vagrancy, groggery, disturbing of travelers, and bastardy. When the mongrel Pang Yangers come down from the hills into town, they contribute no more to civilization than piteous glances, necessary caution, and tavern revenues.
It is a peculiarity of the Binnewaters people that many of the young women are bewitchingly pretty. But the penury of mountain life, along with the many and terrible ways by which Binnewaters men abuse their women, causes such beauty to fade. So, too, does indiscriminate breeding damage the female form in inordinate proportion to that of males. Corn whiskey and mushroom tea play supporting roles in the process of physical ruin.
Prunella Jukes is perhaps the fairest of all Binnewaters maidens. She owns a fetching figure and a pleasingly bright complexion, reflective of Hibernian ancestry: russet hair, hazel eyes, rose in her cheeks, a subtle spray of freckles across her nose.
While virtually all other young Binnewaters women are uncouth of thought and tongue, lovely Prunella is well spoken——so much so as to have fooled some Kingston ladies into believing her their equal. Other ladies beg to differ, no matter Prunella’s façade of civility: “Once a Pang Yanger, always a Panger,” as they say.
Despite her desirability in the eyes of the opposite sex, the luscious Prunella is unlikely to become a shapeless crone, this being the fate of her mountain peers. There is no lothario in all of Pang Yang who would force himself upon her, out of respect for or fear of Oscar Jukes, who once told me, from the window of his cell, “No man’ll ever come between Nellie and me.”
The Catskill mountains provide staples of pickerel, perch and small-mouth bass for consumption by bears, cougars, porcupines and Pang Yangers. A web of streams and gulleys make for easy catches of mud snails, frogs, turtles and snakes. The Binnewaters folk tend to cook their stream catch before eating, though not always. Squirrels and fox are sources of the more flavorful meats, whether put to flame or gobbled bloody raw, as is sometimes the case with particularly lazy folk.
Rabbit fur and deerskins are clothing material. The slender bones of deer make good knives when sharpened against granite. Flint shards are likewise sharpened into arrow tips, and attached to slender sticks. Heftier sticks are soaked in water, then bowed for tension and strung with the strands of fibrous vines. Pang Yangers trade such items in town for necessaries they cannot fabricate in the wild——axes, hatchets, and rubber boots. A local taboo bars townsmen from trading in guns or pistols with Pang Yangers, who fall under the classification of “persons of no postal address beyond that of general delivery,” according to statute.
Fruit and vegetable-wise, the mountains are ripe with acorns in the fall, dandelions and mannagrass in spring and early summer, choke-cherries and huckleberries from June through November. At last resort in the depths of winter, the Binnewaters folk rely on a communal storage of emergency foodstuffs: dehydrated mountain blooms, toadstools, insects, and flattened slugs. In the desperate season, children fleetest of foot and quickest of hand are coached by elders in the art of filching chickens and coal spuds from farmers in the flatlands ringing Kingston.
Mushrooms, of either solid or liquid form, accompany all meals. Certain varieties——puff-balls, inky caps, and fairy rings that sprout in forest clearings (believed by the superstitious mountain folk to mark entrance to subterranean elfin kingdoms)——are selected for pleasing texture and tang, and used as garnish or hearty side dishes. Other types——Jimson weed, Deadly Nightshade, Mandrake, and so-called “magic mushrooms” plucked from animal droppings——are used for brewing tea. Dried and boiled, tea-worthy mushrooms are prized for their effects as a balm of oblivion, and for hallucinogenic qualities that incite amplified emotions.
Nearly all the Binnewaters region lies unclaimed, in the usual sense of tenancies and covenants and mortgage equity. Although some folk gather and bag huckleberries for trade in cash to the wholesale fruit merchants in Kingston, agriculture is unlikely to ever take meaningful hold in rock-laden mountain soil, understandably immune to tillage. Timber profits have proven negligible; dangerous, too, given violent objections to the incursions of interloping woodsmen. The most abundant minerals, quartz and feldspars, fetch too little for commercial consideration.
To outsiders, the Binnewaters present an existential prospect of molestation, as many grown sadder but wiser will attest. Robbery, rape, or murder——and worse, witness the grisly discoveries of 5 January 1902——greet most anyone foolish enough to venture up the thorny hills.
The singular exception to uncharted status is a humpy rise of some forty-five acres, situated at the easternmost edge of the Binnewaters chain: Jukes Peak, it is grandly called. Hard by Pang Yang, its elevation is visible from the peripheries of Kingston, where the majority of citizens keep wisely clear of what they perceive as the hub of untouchable and threatening sub-humanity.
Perception of bitterest nature is frequently verified by Kingstonians’ encounters with Pang Yangers. The latter are targets of pistols and shotguns, for they are recurrently caught stealing horses, cows, goats, fowl, and swine; such is their wont, as honest labor for Binnewaters men and boys, and even girls and women, is generally unavailable. After a certain point of rejection, Binnewaters folk shun the idea of hiring out for jobs of work.
Upon shooting a Pang Yanger, the county coroner’s wagon is summoned as required. There exists no evidence that fatal response to trespass by Pang Yangers has ever been investigated by Ulster’s sheriff, let alone criminally prosecuted by the district attorney.
Lacking in factory-made armaments, Binnewaters folk become adept at rock throwing. Indeed, Opal Haight was herself wounded one Christmas season past by a missile of hefty granite chips tightly bound in a wrap of buckram.
According to those gathered for the public blessing of the annual outdoor Nativity scene, a Yuletide tradition staged in the heart of Kingston’s business district, it was a female Pang Yanger of indeterminate age but dead-eyed aim who flung the bound granite at the district attorney’s wife. Opal and her companions, clad in the pearl white robes and pointy hoods of their sorority, were at the moment of assault encircled about the crèche of the infant Jesus in His swaddling clothes. Toward the end of a chorused recitation of Psalm 89, Opal’s massive body was seized with holy tremor. She thrust back her hood, thereby exposing her identity, and barked, “Thou art my father, my God, the Rock——”
As if a feminine counterpart to Goliath, Opal Haight was at that very line of Psalmist verse felled by a Davidian stone, hurled with utmost accuracy at the tender plane of cartilage between the Kleagle’s stunned blue eyes. A drift of fresh snow into which her corpulence collapsed began to melt under a sheen of warm crimson flowing from Opal Haight’s nostrils and eyes, the effect of smashed ophthalmic and angular veins.
The Christmas gentry gathered in the public square that evening gasped en masse. The lady Pang Yanger took this as her cue for hurried flight into the moonless night.
Opal survived the attack, and subsequently organized a posse of overlapping fraternities——Klansmen and sheriff’s deputies——for a vengeful raid on the Binnewaters. White robed men and their tin starred comrades scaled the foothills, armed with rifles, incendiary grenades, and a mobile cannon. They were quickly forced into retreat by a commodious hail of boulders sent cascading downward from camouflaged hilltops——armories maintained by Oscar Jukes and his followers for defense against invasionary potential.
One of the boulders cracked the tarsus cluster of Opal Haight’s right foot, crushing all seven bones. She is today a cripple.
To be continued …
THOMAS ADCOCK is a novelist and journalist based in New York City. Winner of the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award, given by Mystery Writers of America, his books and articles have been published worldwide. Writing as Tom Dey, he is currently completing a new novel titled “Lovers & Corpses.” Mehr zu Thomas Adcock hier und hier.