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Monday, November 25, 2013

The Countess & the Caveman: The Cercle Sadyana Murders

Never before have I so badly wanted to add something as gaudy as a jeweled dagger to my collection of seance paraphernalia, buuuuuut:

I can never predict the alluring mysteries that my research will uncover. During an archive search for spirit trumpet mediums, I uncovered what is likely the most fascinating accounts of spirit communication, murder, and paleoanthropology(?!) I have ever read. Because just how often do you stumble upon forgotten accounts of the rampaging spirit of a jealous Neanderthal in a French sanitarium killing 13 socially-elite seance enthusiasts? Well, just this once, apparently...

The Countess Marie Amelie Vernet-Lord was found murdered in November, 1928, "at her villa in Nice, with the hilt of a jeweled dagger sticking out of her breast." For some time, the Countess had been engaged in the seances of the Adyar Circle of Theosophy, also known as the "Cercle Sadyana," lead by "priestess of the occult" Mme. Arnelle. It was at one particular seance held on the grounds of the Domaine Les Courmettes sanitarium that the Countess felt a disturbing presence in the chamber. Mme. Arnelle offered to materialize the spirit, and, to their surprise:

"The mist...thickened into a shape. And it was no courtly gallant, no gentle giant. There stood a huge and hairy man, and ape-man with beetling brows, retreating forehead and a brutal head crowned with a bush of course hair. There was a malignant desire in its eyes, and as it stretched its long arms out to her, Arnelle wrenched her hands away from those of the Circle that held them. The Circle was broken and the figure blurred and vanished."

Countess Amelie Vernet-Lord

So it was that the mysterious spirit of a Neanderthal, which the Circle named "Ajax," began its unhealthy obsession with Countess Vernet-Lord. From that point onward, the prehistoric spirit became a thuggish nuisance in the Cercle Sadyana's sessions. The language barrier proved frustrating, and the ectoplasmic entity simply "waved his arms, thumped his chest, and made grimaces. Nobody could understand what he was trying to say, but clearly he wanted Amelie, and was always angry and threatening because she wouldn't understand what he was trying to tell her."

A Trio of Courmette's Prehistoric that Ajax's old homestead to the left?

The presence of the Neanderthal's spirit was particularly appropriate given the locale; the Domaine Les Courmettes was a popular a sanitarium for the wealthy, and the land on which it is located is lousy with prehistoric middens, monoliths, and paleolithic shelters dating as far back as 50,000 years. So that ancient spirits of smitten Neanderthals wander the craggy hillsides comes of little wonder. And the sanatorium where these seances took place still stands, making it a must-visit for historians of Spiritualism.

The Sanatorium de Courmettes in 1920, as it would have appeared during the Cercle Sadyana's residency.
Ajax's spirit continued to disturb the group, even after the departure of the Countess to America upon her marriage to Horace Wilfred Lord. The arrangement didn't last long, however, and within months, the Countess had returned to Nice and her spiritualistic endeavors with the Cercle Sadyana, where Ajax's fervor and jealousy gained momentum.

Then the deaths began.

1920s Advertisement for the Courmette Sanatorium D'Heliotherapie.

Of the 15 people in attendance at the wedding of Countess Amelie to Horace Lord just a few months previously, only 2 would survive in a supposed spiritual rampage that would make believers of Tutankamen's curse sit up and take notice. It all happened in the course of weeks after Amelie's return. The presiding pastor dropped dead of a sudden heart attack. Alfred Vernet, the bride's cousin, was found dead in his porch chair, and his brother Edmund found dead under the exact same circumstances the very next day. Madame Louise Raegger, a member of the Cercle Sadyana, "died while laughing and chatting with visitors," while the maid of honor died in the middle of a public reception. There were many others, with the 13th victim being the Countess Amelie herself. The authorities arrested Count Wencelas de Klupfel for the Countess's murder. Not only was his jeweled dagger plunged into her chest, he confessed to the crime, though maintained: "There's no use asking me why I did it. I don't know. I remember nothing." 

The Cercle Sadyana had a different theory.

It was the belief among Countess Amelie's intimates that Count Klupfel had not murdered Amelie in cold blood. Rather, they surmised, the jealous spirit of Ajax, their "l'homme prehistorique," was to blame for the murders:

"The theory of the occultists is that "Ajax" was so angry at the marriage that he wiped out almost everybody concerned in it before he finally took possession of de Klupfel and used him to convert his too material sweetheart into another ghost."
The Forgiving Husband: Horace Wilfred Lord

The alibi is fascinating not only in its premise, but in the insistence by which the murdered Countess's intimates subscribed to the belief, including her own husband, Horace Wilfred Lord, who wrote to French authorities asking all charges to be dropped: "In the name of God, and in the memory of my dear wife, have pity on poor Wencelas de Klupfel." Indeed, de Klupfel invoked this as his defense, which the newspapers were quick to point out had not been used in the French courts since the Middle Ages. 

The defense, as one might expect, didn't work, and de Klupfel was found guilty for the Countess's murder.

The sanatorium still stands, and there is a beautiful picture gallery of the grounds some 5 years past located here. It is a locale I hope to one day explore. To wander the grounds where the Cercle Sadyana once assembled, and see the prehistoric middens they claimed Ajax once called home is just too alluring. By plane, train, or automobile, this is one destination at the top of my list.

The former sanatorium in 2007, currently closed but well-maintained.

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