The Cannibal of Pang Yang
by Thomas Adcock
Copyright © 2012 Thomas Adcock
Inaugural edition of Noah Palmer’s pre-employment series of self-published reports, in which the young artist of purple prose plays herald for Ulster County and the world beyond in breaking first news of——
The Cannibal of Pang Yang!
C A Horrible & Revolting Murder! B
Butchery Most Foul!
Mountain Fiend Cooks & Consumes his Kill!
• By Noah Palmer •
PANG YANG, N.Y. (15 January 1902)——A fiend in human form by the name of Oscar Jukes is presumed by constabulary to be at large in our beloved Ulster, having taken flight after perpetrating crimes of such gruesomeness that those of fragile constitution should cease reading beyond this point.
Ten days ago on the fifth of this first month of the New Year, the fugitive axe-wielding Jukes murdered and dismembered a most respected gentleman of Kingston, Dr. Simon Van Dyne, whereupon the maniac cooked his victim’s entrails atop a cook stove and ate them——in a ghastly maneuver seeking to expunge evidence of heinous crime.
Following Dr. Van Dyne’s several days’ inexplicable absence from his home and medical offices in Kingston, area farmer Thaddeus Lanchester was worried as to his welfare. Suspecting himself as the last person to have seen the doctor alive——specifically, as Van Dyne approached Jukes Peak, so named for the cannibal’s ungodly lair——Lanchester contacted authorities. A search party quickly ensued.
A parallel investigation, under the supervision of District Attorney Jasper Haight, determined the tragic logic behind Dr. Van Dyne’s improbable association with the likes of Oscar Jukes——infamous head man of a kingdom of cretins, inebriates, and debauched women: the “Pang Yangers” who have long populated this vile enclave of the Binnewaters region.
It appears that Jukes swindled Van Dyne out of two thousand dollars at least——much more may yet be ascertained——as part of a bogus investment proffering, in which the doctor was persuaded to contribute major expenditures required for mining gold at Jukes Peak. In actuality, the peak is devoid of investment-worthy minerals; gold found in any notable quantity in the northeastern United States is generally of pyrites grade, contained in quartz; this is commonly referred to as “fool’s gold.” As for Jukes Peak, the land is near worthless, save for timber. But the site had been only recently surveyed and registered by its namesake, clearly an element of misdirection as part of a ruse.
At the aerie of Jukes Peak, a party of three county sheriff’s deputies came upon a low-slung shanty, the apparent home of the scabrous fiend Jukes and his alluring daughter, Prunella. The farmer Lanchester, who accompanied the deputies, told this correspondent exactly how the searchers’ gravest concern was first aroused:
“We smelled something burning, something like smoke rolled down the mountain before. Only now it was close. It smelled evil, that smoke. You just knew it was evil. The door was standing open because the chimney couldn’t take all that smoke. Then we seen right off that Jukes had something in a skillet on top of a red hot stove.”
Jukes explained to the deputies that the piercing, unclean odor permeating his home was the result of culinary ineptitude: he meant to sauté pork rinds, but had set too much coal to burning, and failed to give timely attention to the blaze. So he claimed. With reference to his daughter, who normally cooked meals but who was not present in the shanty, Jukes said, “That Nellie girl, she run off again somewheres. Always tryin’ to get above herself, that girl.”
Lanchester further told this correspondent:
“Out from the corner of my eye, I spied Oscar’s axe hanging of the back of the door. That axe, it was all greasy. Looked to me there was hairs stuck on it, too. I didn’t want to touch the dirty thing, so I didn’t say nothing.”
Incredibly, the deputies accepted Jukes’ story and departed, with Lanchester in tow.
“That night as I’m lying in my bed, I couldn’t get the sight of that axe out from my head. The same one he used on me once,” Lanchester related. “I begun to think Oscar was keeping back something real fishy. So I went and had a talk with Haight, and he had a talk with the sheriff, and anyhow the deputies was ordered to go with me on another search.”
Oscar Jukes was not at home the second time. Nor was Prunella Jukes.
Found were a number of body parts: a head, a man’s left hand, and two feet had apparently been cremated inside the cook stove. What remained of the head resembled Simon Van Dyne. The skillet atop the stove contained a singed mash of stringy, meat-like substance. Beneath the shanty’s bed were upper and lower limbs, stacked and cut into stove lengths, as if put away for future burning.
The bed was half-covered by a fashionable coat, small of size; with its high quality of wool and velvet collar, it appeared to be out of place. (Mr. Haight’s investigators had no difficulty in identifying ownership of the coat. Simon Van Dyne’s name was embroidered in a silken square fastened to the lining.) Under the coat, a deputy found a basket constructed of lake reeds, inside of which was a human heart and articulations of a deformed man’s spine, according to a preliminary inquest conducted as soon as the search party returned to Kingston.
The inquest physician identified the skillet’s charred contents as esophageal tubing and cartilage, with what appeared to be tooth indentations.
Further, by evidence of malformed spinal segments, brevity of torso size, the coat, and Lanchester’s recollections of the morning of January 5th, the physician confirmed the deceased as——
My own recollection was of pride as I stood in a Kingston print shop to witness production of that inaugural pamphlet. Can there be anything more sublime for a writer than watching the process of mechanized publication of his words?
A thick-fingered man seated at a clanking linotype machine pounded out letters and spacer blanks. Hot lead compositions of text and banner headlines were fitted into a square wooden frame, overlaid by a scrim of fragrant ink. The frame was pressed over sheets of pulp, which I delivered, finally, to hungry readers. Seven cents the copy.
How gratifying it is, this physical dimension of one’s own virility in lingual expression!
As I think back on the innocence and excitement of my pamphleteer phase, it seems no small wonder that I was snapped up by my hometown newspaper: the editor was concerned that my stirring accounts of The Story might encroach on his editorial thunder. Small wonder, too, that I earned triumphant leave-taking for the Gazz; for big-city celebrity, and riches of my journalistic ambitions.
I was the sensation I dreamt would come true.
But dreams are dilemmas of a sort. Dreams are the mysterious, incoherent or disturbing events that we see in the shadows between the birth and death of a day. This I learned was The Real Story of any story. This I learned from Nellie.
I have further learned, as many do, that crime and politics are as natural a combination as boiled beef and carrots. Upon this Sabbath execution day, I was reminded of this by the vision of W. Clement Barlow, the new state senator from Kingston. He marched into Rope Alley with a flock of D.A.R. ladies, who ushered him to a dais on the bandstand reserved for town notables.
Barlow’s jowls had grown meatier, thanks to lavish banquets in Albany hosted by malefactors of great wealth, as President Roosevelt called them——“ignoble characters” who “purchase scoundrels of high social position.” Conversely, the banquet glad-handers and their well-fed Republican guests described the man in the White House as Teddy the Turncoat.
Besides Barlow, whose haunches were barely contained by the Shaker bentwood into which he settled, the dais was graced by the mayor, the sheriff, and Mr. and Mrs. Haight. Jasper appeared to be drunk. Opal had come with her cane-back wheelchair and gingham lap robe. She wore an embroidered blouse patch over her heart: the blood drop cross, insignia of the Invisible Empire.
An hour ago, the carpenter Gardiner had finished building the gallows, with compulsory assistance from the cannibal everyone had come to see perish. There was a smell of fresh-sawn pine in the alley. Twenty minutes ago, John Law made his appearance, the unknown hangman in mask and gloves. Fifteen minutes ago, shortly before Senator Barlow and the others took their places, the constables and their tommy guns prodded Jukes up a stairway toward the swinging noose.
Jukes’ arms and wrists were secured in chains, connected by sturdy twists of wire to padlocks buckled by iron braces——one encircled about his shoulders, the other his waist. In this way, Jukes’ upper body was firmly cinched to a stiffness meant to prevent a momentary slack of rope: the long drop.
First of the dignitaries to offer ritual remarks was the sheriff, who read aloud the court’s official death warrant. His performance elicited exuberant hoots and whistles from the cheerful throng of onlookers, which included a tow-headed newsboy standing ahead of me. The senator gave the boy a long moment’s leer. To my left was a stylishly clad young woman in a bonnet of black felt, plumed with a blue feather. A coral veil covered much of her face. The senator gave her the eye as well.
Father Niall McClanahan then climbed to the gallows platform——with painful difficulty, as the cool dampness of autumn so affected the hump in his back.
He raised his hands to shush the crowd. When the townsfolk obliged, at least to a point where he could be heard, Father McClanahan opened his leather-bound edition of the Holy Bible to the place where he had inserted a scrap of paper on which was written a suggestion of final words from a condemned man. McClanahan said that Oscar Jukes, while not a parishioner of Kingston’s Roman Catholic Church of the Blessed Agony, had nonetheless requested a priestly explanation that he preferred not to speak his own piece; rather, he would offer some non-verbal manifestation of regard for the community he had sorely offended.
On behalf of Jukes, therefore, Father McClanahan intoned, “Dear God, this is my last prayer on Earth. Forgive me for the wrongs I have done, for which I am deeply ashamed and humbly sorry. I leave this world without bitterness or animosity toward anyone. Amen.”
One by one, the dignitaries of the dais said what further needed formal saying. The mayor spoke of a “long nightmare ended in our fair city,” the sheriff and district attorney traded compliments, and Opal Haight was wheeled to the precipitous edge to claim the bright October day as a great victory for the upstanding Anglo-Saxon populace of Ulster County, and that of decent white persons throughout Christendom.
Then came W. Clement Barlow. He stepped to Opal Haight’s wheelchair and placed a hammy hand on its occupant’s shoulder. “Kindly remain by my side, Sister,” he told her. “I beg the helpful nearness of thy righteous soul.”
John Law readied the noose, pulling it taut several times in his strong and leathered hands. Jukes paid no mind to this, so it seemed by his faraway gaze. Nor did it appear that he took to heart Senator Barlow’s castigations.
“With due respect to Father McClanahan——”
The senator paused, nodding toward the humpy priest as he made his way down from platform to cobblestone. Barlow’s voice was low at the start, rising ever more firmly in tone as his condemnations approached crescendo.
“——I believe it a pity that Gawd A’mighty did not smite Oscar Jukes long ago, for you see that he is nay humble nor sorrowful! It falls to Man, therefore, to enforce Gawd’s law as written in the Old Testament: eye for eye, tooth for tooth! In the case at hand——kind folks, you will recall the vigor of my prosecution?——I believe our responsibility is the taking of demonic life for noble life taken! Taken in so repugnant a manner as to cause Gawd to shield his eyes!”
With sweep of his arm over the crowd below him, Barlow continued, “My friends, it is we whom Gawd calleth to brandish His terrible, swift sword! Yea, verily, it is we who today must endeth the sickening life of a fiend! For Oscar Jukes is, in Gawd’s own truth, a cloven-hoofed beast! A fiend who so nearly escaped Man’s justice, as appointed by the Holy Master of Heaven——!”
As he rattled on, I sensed the woman at my left looking me up and down, as if in recognition. She moved closer. She smelled faintly of spearmint. So as to be heard over Barlow’s orotund screed, she asked, “Sir, would you be Noah Palmer, the newspaper writer?”
A screed of my own came to mind, a remembrance of purplish reportage for the Gazz. In the presence of the veiled lady, I was for the first time embarrassed by what I had written. The prose in which I had taken pride, the prose that had given me prosperous renown, seemed at this moment a cheap echo of W. Clement Barlow.
…The fiend Jukes, a fugitive for these years, may well be plotting to repeat his frenzy of murder and cannibalism, for which he deserves eternal agony in the fiery lake of Hades.
He is hiding somewhere, and in that hiding has surely grown more evil yet! But where is Jukes hiding? That is the desperate question.
Perhaps the fiend knows secret shelter in the corncrib behind your barn! Perhaps in the hayloft! Perhaps in the storm cellar of your house, in which you imagine your featherbed respite as did the bard of Avon——as “sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care.”
Beware, and be watchful! This blackguard Jukes, this man of scabrous face and wicked sinew, is a blood-thirty slayer of wholesome men, and a ravisher of pubescent femininity——his very daughter among his unholy concubines.
Oscar Jukes had been a fugitive for nearly three years, during which time Opal Haight and her hooded sisters forged association with the D.A.R. and the local chapter of the W.C.T.U. for the purpose of raising reward money for information leading to the live capture of Oscar Jukes. The ladies conducted a series of highly successful bake sales and church raffles, amassing proceeds totaling five thousand dollars.
Upon discovery of Jukes’ whereabouts, and his subsequent arrest, the reward was duly claimed——in care of Nelson Forbath, who arranged collection and kept the informer’s name legally confidential.
On an April morning in the year following the bloody events at Jukes Peak, the Cannibal of Pang Yang was rousted from sleep as he rested, whiskey flask in hand, upon a pallet of straw in the cellar of a Manhattan brownstone. Since his escape from Jukes Peak, he kept to himself in this place, where he was employed as brothel janitor.
After confirming the identity of their quarry, the sheriff of Ulster County and three of his deputies used truncheons to beat Jukes unconscious, so as to avoid struggle during the train ride back to Kingston.
“I’ve read all your reports,” she said.
There was an ominous note to her voice. Were others in the crowd able to hear, they might have found her more intriguing, as did I, than the overwrought Senator Barlow and his scriptural blatherings.
“Yes, I’ve read every one. Even the pamphlets you sold before becoming the famous Noah Palmer,” she said. “Indeed, I am a student of your career——a dishonorable one.”
As if a fist had slammed into my sternum and robbed me of breath, I was rendered speechless.
“May I put to you a question, sir?” she asked.
I nodded helpless assent.
“Precisely how do you know that Oscar Jukes ate the bodily organs of Simon Van Dyne?”
I thought, but had no ability to say, Well, it certainly appeared so to deputies who told me all about it…
“Did the inquest physician analyze the contents of Jukes’ stomach?”
I don’t think so…
“Did the district attorney provide scientific evidence of cannibalism?”
I suppose it wasn’t quite clear…
“And precisely how do you know me as the daughter of Oscar Jukes?”
Well, but isn’t that what everybody thinks?
It was clear enough now who it was speaking to me; clearly, I had cause for feeling harebrained, no matter that shrill inanities are the stuff of newspaper sales.
“As you consider your answer, Mr. Palmer——if you please, another question: From whence do you summon direct and adequate knowledge with which to presume a collective character among us Pang Yangers, so-called?”
I managed, “Your name is Prunella Jukes?”
“That is accurate, though not much else of what you’ve seen fit to print.”
“Are you telling me that you’re not Jukes’ daughter?”
“I wouldn’t know, Mr. Palmer. Neither would you, though ignorance seems not to trouble the journalist’s conscience. I will tell you something that you are incapable of understanding. Consider Oscar Jukes to be my father——or my brother, or my husband, or my uncle, or simply an old goat of a neighbor. Whatever you wish. These pairings do not so much concern us Pang Yangers. Survival does. Have you spent a winter in the Binnewaters, Mr. Palmer? Have you known people around you to drop dead from cold and starving, even as you blindly grope them for warmth in the dark cold of night?”
“None of it for you, sir. No. Nor have you felt cold eyes on your back. Do you know what I mean by cold eyes? No, you do not. You have always been looked upon as a man, never as a degenerate creature.”
She asked further, “As a child, did you weep in your young sleep over shame for what you’d done? Or things that bigots claimed you’d done? Bigots like the one up there.”
She looked to Opal Haight, in her wheelchair at the edge of the dais. At that moment, the Kleagle was clapping her fleshy hands as Senator Barlow cried, “I charge thee before Gawd, Oscar Jukes, and before the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom——“
Returning attention to me, she asked, “Have you ever nursed a boy gravely wounded, his ear gone from gunshot? Did you watch him slowly bleed to death? Do you suffer the truth that justice, for you, is a futile pursuit? That simple fairness, for you, is forbidden——?”
Just then, Senator Barlow spoke of ironic fairness.
“Brothers and sisters,” he said, looking out upon a throng grown impatient for the dénoûment of state sanctioned vengeance, “our Lord Jesus commands us to extend Christian favor to the least of us. The prisoner is surely that, and so we say unto to thee, Oscar Jukes——speak ye last, that ye shall be judged by the laws of Gawd and of Man’s liberty.”
Jukes’ expression went from calm to contemptuous. I was close enough to the gallows to see that his eyes blinked more rapidly than was his custom. He did not appear to be breathing hard, though he took deep breaths. His eyes fluttered, blinked, and then softly closed. He pursed his lips, jerked his head back as far as iron constraints allowed, and hocked off a gawb of spittum that smacked loudly against the lard of Senator Barlow’s forehead.
The crowd roared angrily. John Law tripped a gallows lever. There came the unforgettable cracking sound of Oscar Jukes’ spine as he plunged through the trapdoor, and shuddered into dead weight.
Now, an oppressive silence. Even Barlow was close-mouthed and still. I have never experienced a comparable quietude. There was time for me to sort through the things that Prunella Jukes had said.
“Your speech, your manner and dress,” I said, “it is of urbane influence.”
“You left the mountain when you could?” My inflection was more statement than question.
“Do you know of an establishment by the name The Ladies Seminary?”
My guess was correct. “Did you arrange to shelter Oscar Jukes at this establishment?”
“I had certain influence.”
“And do you know of Nelson Forbath?”
“You engaged him? As intermediary in a matter of substantial monetary gain?”
“Finally, you impress me, Mr. Palmer.”
As the dear hearts and gentle people around us began shuffling out from Rope Alley, she said, “Oscar Jukes is gone now. We’re through with him, aren’t we?”
“How do you mean?”
“He’s enriched us both, wouldn’t you say, Mr. Palmer? We’ve fed on him, and he’s gone. I put it to you, sir——who are the cannibals?”
Prunella Jukes’ question may have been the end of a story properly and fully told. What she did next, however, was the true coda.
She made her way slowly through what remained of the crowd, toward the bandstand where dignitaries of the dais clasped one another’s hands in congratulations for retribution at long last wrought.
She waited for a clear sightline.
Then Nellie Jukes drew a rock from beneath her plumed hat and heaved it.
Opal Haight was struck squarely on the temporal bone of her cranium. The blow that pitched her forward in her wheelchair——“arse over teakettle,” as Oscar Jukes would say.
Neither woman survived the incident.
- end -
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.