Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Lady Wonder, the Talking Horse

A horse is a horse, of course...
by Robert A. Waters

In September, 1952, various newspapers across the country reported the following dialog, not between two humans, but between a woman and a horse:

Claudia Fonda: “Is Gary Hayman alive?”

The horse, named Lady Wonder, touched rubber discs with her nose until the letters H-U-R-T popped up.

“Where can the little boy be found?”


“Where is the truck?”

Lady Wonder touched the discs again.


“Can Gary Hayman be found?”


This bizarre scene might have seemed comical except for the seriousness of the occasion. Gary, a nine-year-old mute, had vanished from his neighborhood in Exeter, Rhode Island. Weeks of searching turned up only one clue: his clothes, neatly folded, lay beside a small stream near his home.

Soon after, Gary’s distraught mother, Mrs. Benjamin Hayman, heard about Lady Wonder. Some cops claimed that the mare could read minds, having helped to solve at least one case concerning a missing child. Mrs. Hayman called Fonda and implored the woman to ask her horse a series of questions about the vanished boy. Fonda, from Richmond, Virginia, agreed, prompting the newspaper articles quoted above.

Fonda asked the horse a final question: “Is Gary with good people or bad people?”


Based on this information, Mrs. Hayman requested that the Kansas State Police search for her son in that state.

Claudia Fonda bought the two-week old filly in 1925. Three years later, she said, she discovered its psychic powers. After some experimentation, Fonda built a “typewriter” on which the letters of the alphabet were spread out in front of Lady Wonder. The horse operated this device by lowering her muzzle onto levers that flipped up, showing letters to the audience.

Fonda charged $1.00 for three questions. Over the years, more than 150,000 paying customers dropped by to question the horse.

Several college professors studied the horse, concluding that Lady Wonder did indeed have psychic powers. At least one egg-head journal, “Abnormal and Social Psychology,” published an article about the horse. The authors (whose names I will mercifully not publish) concluded that the horse had “telepathic” powers through “the transference of mental influence by an unknown process.”

A skeptic named John Scarne decided to check out the talking horse. He later published an article concluding that Claudia Fonda was a fraud.

Scarne visited Fonda and, after giving her various clues, asked the mare several questions. He then carefully observed Fonda and Lady Wonder as the horse answered.

Scarne wrote the following paragraph describing how Fonda manipulated the horse to pick out certain letters: "Mrs. Fonda carried a small whip in her right hand, and she cued the horse by waving it. I detected Mrs. Fonda doing it every time the horse moved the lettered blocks with the nose. This method of doing the trick might have puzzled me if I hadn't known that the placement of horse's eyes on either side of the head gave them wide backward range of peripheral vision. Therefore it offered no problem for me to detect. Mrs. Fonda, when cueing Lady Wonder, stood about two-and-a-half feet behind, and approximately at a 60-degree angle to Lady's head. The shaking of the whip first time was the signal for Lady to bend her head within a couple of inches to the blocks. A second shake of the whip was the cue for Lady to continuously move her head in a bent position back and forth over the blocks. When Lady Wonder's head was just above the desired block Mrs. Fonda made the horse touch the block with her nose by shaking the whip a third time. It was as simple as that."

Alas, the case of Gary Hayman did not turn out as predicted by Lady Wonder. In December, 1953, hunters discovered a skull found in the woods near his home.  A coroner identified the skull as that of the boy, and ruled his death accidental.

Unfortunately, Gary Hayman was not in Kansas being cared for by “good” people.

In 1957, Lady Wonder died of a heart attack. Buried in a local pet cemetery with about thirty mourners in attendance, a minister read the poem, “An Arab’s Farewell to His Horse.” 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why We Own Guns

Twelve-year-old girl shoots intruder
by Robert A. Waters

In Calera, Oklahoma, Stacey Adam Jones allegedly broke into a home and was shot for his trouble. After ringing the front doorbell several times, he walked around back and kicked in the back door. Making his way through the house, the intruder had no idea that twelve-year-old Kendra St. Clair [pictured] had barricaded herself inside the master bedroom closet.

Jones, who’d allegedly abducted a 17-year-old girl just a year before, made his way into the bedroom.

Undersheriff Ken Golden described what happened next. “[From] what we understand right now,” he said, “[Jones] was turning the [closet] doorknob when the girl fired through the door.”

A few minutes earlier, Kendra had called her mother and stated that a stranger was attempting to enter the home. Debra St. Clair told her daughter to get the family’s .40-caliber Glock and hide in the closet.  She did so, all the while using her cellphone to speak with a 911 dispatcher.

Police arrived at the home a short time later and found Jones outside. He’d been shot in the shoulder, the bullet exiting his back.  He was transported to a hospital for treatment.  After spending a day in the hospital, Jones was released, then arrested

Golden told reporters that “[the girl] did everything she was supposed to do and more. And we're absolutely so thankful that she is fine. And I admire the little girl a lot.”

Imagine what may have happened had the girl not had a gun.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Three Week Hiatus

I'm currently completing my fifth true crime book.  The manuscript is due November 1, so I'll be taking a hiatus from writing my blog until then.  Thanks to the many readers who visit here.  More about my new book later.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Don’t Tell Mama I was Drinkin’

Memories of music past...
by Robert A. Waters

One of the constants in my life has been hillbilly music. My earliest memories are of listening to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights. Like many Southern families, in the early 1950s, we’d gather around the radio and thrill to the fiddles and banjos and faraway voices singing of home--both here and in the afterlife.

My grandfather, a World War I veteran, farmer, and mechanic, loved to sing: gospel songs, Jimmie Rodgers’ blues and train songs, and what are now called folk songs. “Life’s Railway to Heaven,” “Waiting for a Train,” and “Trouble in Mind” were a few of his favorites.

In those days, hillbilly music wasn’t politically correct. God existed. People sinned: they drank too much; cheated on their wives or husbands; and were quick to take lethal revenge on being wronged. But God stood over it all, ready to forgive our transgressions.

Hillbillies loved their guns, their freedom, and their country. While intellectuals looked down on their lifestyle and religion and music, with its Rebel twang and steel guitars and broken-life lyrics, songwriters continued to turn out songs that are now recognized as classics.

Like most teens of the time, I went through a rock and roll phase. But my real love was always country--real country, not watered-down Nashville pop. As far as I’m concerned, you can send Shania back to Canada and Keith Urban back to Australia.  Then tar and feather all the Nashville producers and give them a one-way ticket to New York City.

If you’re still reading, here’s one of my favorite songs. It combines three of old-time country music’s constant themes: God, family, and booze. It’s a tear-jerker of the best sort. The singer is Gary Allan.

Don't Tell Mama I was Drinkin’
Written by Buddy Brock, Jerry Lassiter, and Kim Williams

I was headed north on Highway Five
On a star-lit Sunday night,
When a pick-up truck flew by me out of control.
As I watched in my headlights,
He swerved left, then back right.
He never hit the brakes as he left the road.

I found him lying in the grass
Among the steel and glass
With an empty whiskey bottle by his side.
And through the blood and tears
He whispered in my ear
A few last words just before he died.

CHORUS: Don't tell Mama I was drinkin’
Lord knows her soul would never rest.
I can't leave this world with Mama thinkin’
I met the Lord with whiskey on my breath.

I still think about that night
And how that young man died,
And how others sometimes pay for our mistakes.
The last thing on his mind
As he left this world behind
Was knowing someone else's heart would break.

CHORUS: Don't tell Mama I was drinkin’
Lord knows her soul would never rest.
I can't leave this world with Mama thinkin’
I met the Lord with whiskey on my breath.

Don't tell Mama I was drinkin’.