Killers In The Family
Everyone has skeleton's in their family tree, and my family is no exception. In fact, I have a LOT of nasty ancestors in my paternal branches; and since I have hit a lot of dead-ends on my maternal side, there may be some lurking on that side of the family as well.
I believe that history should be told with truth and honesty, no matter how gruesome the details may be. To sugar coat the facts and hide relatives that you are ashamed of is, in my humble opinion, doing a great disservice to future generations who want to know about their lineage.
On my paternal side of the family, I have found some
horrific historical figures to whom I am directly related. Let's start with the Tudors, the ruling Royal British family dynasty that ruled from 1485 to 1603. This particular dynasty started with King Henry VII, my 2nd cousin 17x removed. King Henry VII was the last King of England to win his title through battle, defeating King Edward IV (Plantagenet), my 2nd cousin, 18x removed. After Edward's defeat, Henry married Princess Elizabeth of York, my 1st cousin 17x removed. The battles between the Yorkists (house of Plantagenet) and the Lancastrians (house of Tudor) was known as the War of the Roses. This particular war was a civil war in England which lasted over 100 years, and cost the lives of 105,000 citizens.
The War of the Roses was a struggle for the English throne by two sides of my paternal family. I used to think that some of my family's past gatherings that devolved into chaos were bad, but these internal quarrels pale in comparison to this conflict! :)
With the coronation of King Henry VII as King of England, so began a bloody reign that history has not forgotten; nor has Hollywood as movies and TV shows continue to be produced about this particular group of family members. It is largely believed that he was behind the murders of Princes Edward and Richard, heirs apparent to their father's throne (sons of King Edward IV). While there may be no firm proof that Henry ordered their deaths, common sense tells us that he was directly involved. With either of the 2 Princes alive, even after Henry had taken the throne, there was always the risk that they would challenge Henry's crown, or that of his heirs, through another civil war.
Henry's marriage to Elizabeth of York (his 3rd cousin) was an attempt to unite the Yorkists and Lancastrians in support of the House of Tudor. Through this marriage, the future King of England, Henry VIII, would be born (Henry was not initially the heir apparent to the throne, but he was the only surviving male heir after Henry VII's death). King Henry VIII was my 2nd cousin, 16x removed.
King Henry VIII probably needs no introduction. He ruled England as a tyrant, having both wives who had fallen out of his favor and his enemies put to death. Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church, taking England away from Papal rule and set himself up as the head of the new Church of England. This allowed Henry VIII to set his own religious rules, such as allowing divorces without Papal consent, and forcing his subjects to follow the Church of England rather than the Catholic Church's teachings. Henry VIII is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of at least 57,000 of his subjects, including several of his wives.
After his death in 1547, Henry's young son, Edward VI became King of England. Edward was the product of Henry's marriage to Jane Seymour. He was not the eldest of Henry VIII's children - both Mary and Elizabeth were older than Edward, but at the only surviving male heir, he inherited his father's crown. Edward was only 9 when his father died and he died very young at the age of 15. Edward was very religious and had been raised as a Protestant, unlike his elder sister Mary who had been raised as a devout Catholic. Despite his young age, Edward attempted to exclude both of his sisters from the line of succession to the crown, but he failed to do so.
Mary Tudor, my 3rd cousin, 15x removed, was the eldest surviving daughter of King Henry VIII. She had been born from the Henry's first marriage to Catharine of Aragon. Upon the death of her half brother, Edward VI, Mary ascended to the throne, becoming Queen Mary I. She would later become known as "Bloody Mary" for her persecution of Protestants in England.
Having been raised as a devout Catholic, Mary was strongly opposed to her father's creation of a Protestant faith in England. This fact had been well known to her half-brother, King Edward VI, and the two had fought about Mary's refusal to leave the Catholic faith and to follow the teachings of the Church of England. Edward VI was also concerned that, should Mary become Queen upon his death, that she would quickly try to change England back to a Catholic faith (which she did). Mary started her reign with the execution of The Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley. He had conspired to put his son, Lord Guilford Dudley and his wife, Lady Jane Grey (a great-granddaughter of King Henry VII). Shortly after, both Lady Jane Grey, who had proclaimed her right as heir to the throne, and her husband, Lord Guilford Dudley, were also executed at the Tower of London.
Mary didn't earn the nickname "Bloody Mary" just for ordering the execution of 3 conspirators, however; she went on to persecute Protestants, having 300 people burned at the stake for heresy for failing to return to the Catholic faith. As the first female ruling Monarch, Mary certainly made her mark on history.
The next Tudor cousin to take the throne of England was my 3rd cousin, 15x removed, Elizabeth I. Elizabeth was the daughter of King Henry VIII and his wife, Anne Boleyn (my paternal 4th cousin, 16x removed). Elizabeth was a Protestant, a fact that did not sit well with her half-sister, Mary. Elizabeth barely managed to escape with her life when Mary spared her from execution and instead imprisoned her.
Shortly before her death on November 17, 1558, Mary recognized Elizabeth as her heir, and when Mary died, Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth I. While not often thought of as one of the more tyrannical of the Tudor Dynasty, Elizabeth I did order the execution of around 190 Catholics during her reign. She is also famous for ordering the execution of her cousin, Queen Mary of Scotland (and my 4th cousin, 14x removed) as Mary presented a threat to Elizabeth I's reign.
With her death on March 24th, 1603, the Tudor Dynasty came to an end. Elizabeth had no heirs and the English crown passed over to the House of Stuart (another paternal side of my family) and King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. James was the son of King James IV of Scotland and Margaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII of England,
The end of the Tudor dynasty did not end the bloodshed in my family, however. The period under the reign of King James VI/I was the start of Witch Trials in both England and in Salem, Massachusetts, in the New World. While not directly responsible for these abominations, it is notable that such things existed. King James Vi/I also signed the character the allow the expansion of the English kingdom to the New World, the first permanent English settlement in North America. As we know today, this would result in the displacement and deaths of countless indigenous people.
Civil War once again erupted in England under the rule of King Charles !, King James' successor. Charles and his armies were defeated and Charles was arrested and executed. This plunged England into a period that it was ruled as a republic rather than a monarchy. It was only after Oliver Cromwell's death in 1658 that Charles II (the son Charles I) was able to take his place as King of England.
This is only a brief outline, of course, of the bloody history of my "royal" paternal lineage. With ancestors that date back to the Vikings, I have many, many more "bloody" ancestors in the family tree.
I also have some additional notorious family members from the not too distant past. One of those people is a person who is often described as "America's First Serial Killer", Herman Webster Mudgett, also known as "H.H. Holmes".
H.H. Holmes, or Dr. Henry Howard Homes (both pseudonyms that Mudgett used), was a notorious serial killer who murdered numerous people in the late 19th century in the United States. My 22nd cousin, 4x removed, operated the "Murder Castle", a hotel built for use during the time of the 1893 World's Fair near Chicago, Illinois.
Holmes' career started off as a conman and he was also a bigamist (actually a trigamist). During his reign of terror, Holmes killed at least 10 people who's murders were confirmed, and possibly up to 235 people (unconfirmed). His victims included at least 2 children who he gassed to death in a trunk in Toronto and then later buried their bodies in the basement of the house (the place of these murders now lies under present day Bay Street).
Holmes was finally caught by the authorities in the US and put to death on May 7, 1896 in Philadelphia. Holmes' murder spree lasted just under 3 years - at least that is what the authorities of the day believe.
Prior to Holmes, another pair of my paternal cousins had a run of murder and mayhem in the US: My 21st cousins, 2x removed were the James brothers, Jesse and Frank. These notorious bank robbers and murders were believed responsible for the deaths of up to 3 men, but only 1 has ever been confirmed (Pinkerton Detective Joseph Whicher). While not killers to the degree that the others on the page were, the James Brothers were prolific robbers, having been involved in at least 20 bank and train robberies.
One final 19th century "killer cousin" of mine is my 21st cousin, 2x removed, Lizzie "Lizbeth" Andrew Borden. Lizzie is and was the main suspect in the murder of her father, Andrew Jackson Borden, and her stepmother, Abby Durfee Gray, at the Borden home in Fall River, Massachusetts on August 4, 1892. Both Mr. and Mrs. Borden had been bludgeoned to death by a hatchet or an axe.
Although Lizzie was ultimately found "not guilty" of her father and stepmother's murders, the evidence overwhelmingly points to Lizzie as being the killer. To this day the crime resonates with people, and children still recite the old dark rhyme: "Lizzie Borden took an axe, she gave her mother 40 whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father 41." If you were to ask me whether or not my cousin Lizzie committed the crime, I would have to say that the evidence points to her...but clearly a jury of her peers had enough reasonable doubt to acquit her.
One final "killer" cousin in my family tree dates from the 20th century and was determined to be responsible for one of the most shocking and memorable assassinations in history: Lee Harvey Oswald.
Oswald was my 17th cousin, 3x removed. He is best known as the person who assassinated the very popular President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas, Texas in 1963. The assassination of President Kennedy was captured on film, and the shooting of the President was, and still is, broadcasted around the globe. Even though Kennedy's assassination took place years before I was born, everyone of my generation is familiar with the event, as are most people in the world today.
Lee Harvey Oswald was himself assassinated before he could be brought to trial for the murder of the President. A commission called "The Warren Commission" was set up to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy and Oswald's involvement. The Warren Commission was set up by President Lyndon B. Johnson who had been the Vice President under Kennedy. The commission set out to uncover the facts behind President Kennedy's assassination, and it included future President Gerald Ford (my 10th cousin, once removed). The commission concluded that Oswald acted alone and that he was the only assassin of President Kennedy.
Having watched the assassination many times on the original film, as well as in TV and movie recreations, I have to say that I'm on the fence about whether Oswald was the lone gunman, and definitely believe that others were involved in the assassination plot. Unfortunately the full facts may remain muddied thanks to the numerous conspiracy theories that have been floated since that dark day in November, 1963, but one cannot argue that President Kennedy had enemies. One interesting thing that I read not long ago was that First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy thought that Vice President Johnson was involved in her husband's murder.
When I step back from the Warren Commission's report, and try to set aside the various opinionated articles and theories that have been put forth, I'm still left with the list of potential and known enemies that President Kennedy had. It's a long list: Cuba, the Russians, organized crime, etc. Another nagging fact about President Kennedy's murder is that his brother, US Attorney General Robert "Bobby" Kennedy was to meet the same fate several years later, Then their is the suspicious death of the iconic actress, and my 21st cousin, 2x removed, Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jean Mortenson). It is well known that both JFK and RFK were involved with Marilyn Monroe.
Regardless of what I may personally believe, the final ruling is that Lee Harvey Oswald was the killer of President JFK, hence his inclusion in my "killer cousins" portion of my family tree.
There are no doubt more notorious relatives hiding in my tree, and I am nowhere near finished with my family tree. Some may find it strange that I would even include such people in my personal family history, but for me it would be unacceptable to exclude these relatives simply because they were on the dark side of our history.
So who's hiding in your family tree with dark secrets yet to be revealed?