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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/230

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

detection of the culprit in the person of the communal shepherd, a man twenty-six years old, who on examination confessed that he, with the aid of two accomplices, had committed the disgustful deed. His object, he said, was to procure a tooth and the liver of a dead person. He intended to pulverize the tooth and after mixing it with snuff to give it to his brother-in-law in order to poison him. On perceiving, however, that the body was that of a woman, he did not take the tooth, because it would have no power to kill a man; but he cut out the liver for the purpose of burying it in a field where the sheep were pastured, and thus causing the death of the entire flock in case he should be superseded by another shepherd, which he feared might happen. All three were condemned to hard labor in Siberia.

It is a quite prevalent notion that if any part of a corpse is concealed in a house, the inmates will have the corresponding bodily organs affected by disease and gradually paralyzed. A drastic example of this superstition occurrred in May, 1875, at Schwetz, a provincial town of West Prussia, where a woman named Albertine Mayevski became the mother of a male child, which died soon after its birth. The father, to whom she was betrothed, refused to marry her, and to punish him for this breach of promise she disinterred the body of her babe, cut off its right hand at the wrist and the genitals, and hid them in the chimney of the house of her faithless lover, hoping thereby to cause the hand, with which he had pledged his vow, to wither away, and to render him impotent. All this she freely confessed when brought to trial, and was sentenced to two months' imprisonment. But such relics of the tomb are used, on the principle of similia similibus, not only for inflicting injury, but also for bringing luck. Thus members of the "light-fingered craft" carry with them the finger of a corpse in order to enhance their skill, success, and safety in thievery; if the finger belonged to an adroit thief or a condemned criminal its talismanic virtue is all the greater. It is also believed that a purse in which a finger joint is kept will contain an inexhaustible supply of money. The finger of a murdered man is greatly prized by burglars because it is supposed to possess a magic power in opening locks. The records of criminal courts prove that these absurd notions are generally entertained by common malefactors in East Prussia, Thuringia, Silesia, Bohemia, and Poland. A candle made of fat obtained from the human body is very frequently used by thieves on account of its supposed soporific power, since with such a taper, known in Germany as Diebslicht or Schlummerlicht (sloom-light in provincial English), they are confident of being able to throw all the inmates of the house into a deep sleep, and thus rummage the rooms at will and with perfect impunity. The