Tag Archives: Crime Stories

more dreadful than the most gruesome of tales: Newspaper Coverage of The East Orange Bathtub Mystery

Ocey Snead George Grantham Bain collection of glass negatives

Photograph of Ocey Snead, taken December 21, 1907. From the Grantham Bain collection of glass negatives

In 1909, a mystery unfolded that was so shocking, it’s nearly too strange to believe today.

Shows like Dateline and Forensic Files continuously reveal the depths of human depravity and the bizarre story of Oceania (Ocey) Snead and the events leading up to her death could have easily found their way into an episode of true crime TV had the murder happened today. But Ocey Snead’s strange story happened long before television, at a time when murder mysteries were played out, in vivid detail, on the pages of newspapers.

To tell Ocey Snead’s story, we should start seven years before her death. . .

In 1902 Virginia Wardlaw arrived in Christiansburg, Virginia to run Montgomery Female College, a well-respected boarding school for young women and girls. Her aunt, Mrs. O. S. Pollock, had run the school for several years and asked Virginia, who had experience in teaching and academia, to take it over. The college offered students room and board and course study in English language, literature, ancient and modern history, natural science, mental and moral science, math, music and ancient and modern languages. “The remarkable purity and healthfulness of the atmosphere,” explained its 1880 catalog, “render the location peculiarly eligible for a seat of learning.”

Image from the 1880 catalog for the Montgomery Female Institute, from the Digital Collections of Duke University Libraries.

Image from the 1880 catalog for the Montgomery Female Institute, from the Digital Collections of Duke University Libraries.

Virginia Wardlaw’s sister, Mary Snead, later joined her in Christiansburg to help run the school.  All went smoothly until a third sister, Caroline Martin, joined them, taking over the college’s administrative duties. Caroline acted erratically, suddenly changing the school’s curriculum, shifting students to different classes, padlocking doors for no reason and concocting a scheme to turn the institution into … read more »

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