Meet the Monsters Behind Twilight Zone’s “The New Exhibit”
Ah, Halloween. Could there be a more ideal time to watch one of my favorite episodes from Twilight Zone’s fourth season: “The New Exhibit”?
If you aren’t familiar with it, I have three words for you: murderous wax figures. Yes, this is definitely one you should watch in the dark.
Or rewatch. After all, this is the fifth dimension, where one viewing is never enough. And I think I have a way to make the experience a bit creepier. (You’re welcome.)
One thing I wondered about when I first watched “The New Exhibit” is the backstory behind the five wax figures. Were these all real-life murderers, or were they made up for Charles Beaumont’s script?
I say “all” because one of them is the very famous Jack the Ripper. His reign of terror in the Whitechapel area of London in the late 1880s is so legendary that hardly anyone hasn’t at least heard of him. I certainly knew HE was real.
But what about the other four? Maybe there are some crime buffs out there who watched this episode and immediately recognized Albert W. Hicks, Burke & Hare, and Henri Landru. But not me.
And not, I think, most other viewers. So although ill-fated museum curator Martin Senescu gives us a brief introduction to each of these notorious criminals at the episode’s start, I thought I’d provide a little more info about this infamous rogues’ gallery. (Warning: Some grisly details ahead.)
ALBERT W. HICKS
“This is Albert W. Hicks, a mate on the oyster smack E. A. Johnson. A gentle man. Yet one day in 1860, off the Atlantic coast, he murdered his entire crew. Killed them with an ax exactly like this one. Why did he go mad? What made him change?”
For some reason, I took the phrase “entire crew” to mean a large number of people, but Hicks’s roster of victims on the ship was actually three: Captain George H. Burr, and brothers Smith and Oliver Watts.
Smith, who was on night duty, was attacked first. Hicks punched him repeatedly, and when Smith went over the side of the boat and was hanging on by his fingers, Hicks took an ax and chopped them off. Smith fell in the water and drowned.
Oliver was next, bashed over the head with the ax after he came to investigate the noise. Then Hicks went after the captain, who was asleep in his cabin. They fought for a while before Hicks managed to cut his throat.
Hicks threw Oliver and Captain Burr overboard as well, stole all the money he could find, and soon abandoned ship. It wasn’t long, though, before he was caught — and hanged.
Before his execution, though, he made a full confession, not only to the killings on the E.A. Johnson, but to almost a hundred others in California gold-mining camps.
I’m not sure where Martin came up with his assessment of Hicks as a “gentle man”. Maybe in his pre-homicidal days he was, and perhaps the evidence lies in this book, but my guess is that Martin is showing here (and elsewhere) that he empathizes a bit too much with these villains.
Interestingly, Hicks had a simple, direct answer to Martin’s questions about why he did it: “The Devil took possession of me.” Hard to dispute that.
BURKE & HARE
“Here we have Burke and Hare, the monsters of their time. But do they look like monsters? This is how they suffocated their victims. It was called burking. Think of the agonies they endured.”
You’ve probably heard of grave robbers, and that’s exactly what William Burke and William Hare were. They committed 16 murders in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1828. Not all at once, à la Albert W. Hicks, but one by one, and for one purpose only: to sell the bodies to medical science for vivisection.
Hence their use of suffocation. Being smothered by a pillow doesn’t inspire the same terror as being slashed with a knife or hacked with an ax, but let’s face it — you wind up just as dead. And Burke and Hare needed to supply their patron, Dr. Ronald Knox, with suitable corpses for use as anatomy subjects to help train new doctors.
Interestingly enough, their murder spree began by accident. A lodger in Hare’s house had died, and it was after they discovered his body that he and Burke decided to sell it instead of contacting the police. When they found out how much they could make from a doctor who couldn’t care less how they got the, um, merchandise, a motive for murder was born.
Police suspected the duo (and even Burke’s wife), but lacked any solid evidence. So they offered Hare a plea deal, and he took it. In exchange for a full confession, he got immunity, and at the subsequent trial, Burke was found guilty. As with Hicks, justice was meted out via the noose.
And you want to talk about karma? Burke’s body was then dissected, and his skeleton put on display at the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh Medical School — where it remains to this day.
Even though Burke & Hare aren’t exactly household names, their legacy remains in all kinds of lurid stories about body snatchers (including a Night Gallery episode called “Deliveries in the Rear“). You can even see their tale dramatized in the first episode of Season 2 of the Amazon series “Lore,” which was released on October 19.
“This is Henri Désiré Landru. One can see the agony that he, too, must have felt as he was driven to strangle the life from disappointed spinsters and lonely widows. Landru was a master of the garrote. And he used a waxed cord identical to the one he holds there.”
Only someone as odd as Martin could dredge up sympathy for a monster such as Landru. I honestly think he may be the worst of the bunch — though Jack the Ripper, who disfigured and disemboweled some of his victims — certainly would be a close second.
Landru killed 10 women and a teenage boy (the son of one of the women) between January 1914 and January 1919. He would run lonely-hearts advertisements in the newspaper, woo and seduce his victims (typically widows of World War I soldiers), then strangle them so he could steal their assets.
Jack the Ripper tended to leave his victims for discovery by others, but not Landru. He dismembered their bodies and burned them. During his trial, he even drew a picture of his kitchen, including the stove where he immolated his victims. He was found guilty and sentenced to death, which came (gulp) via guillotine.
And the final macabre touch: Landru’s severed head can be found in the Museum of Death in Hollywood.
As you can see, Martin had good reason to ask one of the museum’s patrons: “Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of the man standing next to you?”
Who indeed? Happy Halloween, all!
Don’t miss my earlier post about “The New Exhibit,” which asks: Who really did the killings, Martin or the wax figures?
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!
Posted on 10/31/2018, in Twilight Zone and tagged Albert W. Hicks, Burke and Hare, Charles Beaumont, Henri Landru, Jack the Ripper, The New Exhibit, Twilight Zone. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.