This is one of the stranger news stories to have involved the local area, in which young women were inducted into a fake cult, some were raped and conned out of their money and belongings – scary and bizarre stuff involving number 29 Durand Gardens…. The first two articles cover the strange events that took place in 1901 as they unfolded in court. The third article tells us all that is known about Laura Horos who was described by Harry Houdini as “one of the most extraordinary fake mediums and mystery swindlers the world has ever known”
Coventry Evening Telegraph – Friday 11 October 1901
The ‘Theocratic Community’
Alleged Extraordinary Practices – Strange Evidence in a Police Case
Remarkable charges were heard on Thursday at Marylebone Police Court against Frank and Editha Jackson, otherwise Theodore and Laura Horos. This couple are accused of decoying, robbing and ruining young girls in the most impudent, deliberate and heartless manner. The gist of the prosecution’s statement and the evidence is that the victims were procured by means of matrimonial advertisements, and, having had their imaginations excited by stories of the prisoners occult powers, were initiated into what was called the ‘Theocratic Community and Purity League’ Among the rites of admission, Mr Matthews (for the prosecution) declared, was intercourse with one of the accused, which was represented as ‘a condition precedent to any such revelation of the truth as would ensure salvation’ This outrageous practice, it was further stated, was imposed ‘upon girls by the man in the presence of his wife’
The evidence of Evelyn Maud Mary Croysdale, and attractive young woman of twenty two, who gave her evidence with considerable self possession, and in phrases which betrayed a good education was taken. In June of this year she was living at Hull with her guardian. She answered an advertisement which appeared in the matrimonial column of the ‘People’ she asked the advertiser to send a photograph and tell her something about himself. What reply did you get? – The prisoner wrote that his mother was very wealthy, and they were travelling, that he liked her letter, and that if she was as she wrote he would do all in his power to help her. He asked her to come and stay with his mother for a few days. On arriving at 29 Durand Gardens, on a visit, Madame Horos put her arms round her and kissed her. She showed the witness a large portrait of herself, which she said was taken in a temple in India while she was reclining beside a live tiger. The picture was unframed, it was unrolled in court, and was inspected with some amusement.
Witness went on to state that the woman prisoner said her son was a very honourable gentleman, and that she was lucky to win his affections. While she was at Durand Gardens she was seduced. Next day the male prisoner said to Madame Horos ‘Welcome to your little daughter, she has joined us’ She thought from their demeanour that it was decided that he was going to marry her. She was rather surprised at the male prisoner asking her to go back to Hull to fetch her things, but she did so. They afterwards removed to 99 Gower Street. The case was remanded.
Coventry Evening Telegraph – Saturday 09 November 1901
Frank Dutton Jackson and Edith Jackson, otherwise Theodore and Laura Horos, the self styled leaders of the Theocratic Unity and Purity League, of Park Road, Regent’s Park, on Friday again appeared before Mr Curtis Bennett at the Marylebone Police Court on the charge of fraudulent conspiracy, and also for alleged offences under the Criminal Law Amendment Act.
Mrs Helen Wiggs, of 29 Durand Gardens, Clapham, said two men called at her house in June last and engaged two parlours and two rooms on the first floor, at a rental of 18s a week. They were unfurnished, but she lent them some beds. The men were Mr Bosanquet and Mr Horos. They said they would take possession the next day but no furniture arrived. Madame, Mrs Bosanquet, and Rose Adams, however, called on the 21st. Madame described herself as an authoress, and said she wrote about books. They continued the tenancy for about a month, when the two men who had been principal occupants left the house. During the time the two men were in the house Vera Croysdale came there, and stayed two or three days.
Mrs Annie Belman Lewis, wife of Dr Lewis, of 99 Gower Street, said she kept a boarding house. In July last, the 16th, the male prisoner called, and described himself as Mr Adams. He asked for a room for an office for the use of his mother. He did not then say what they were. He said he was staying at Morley’s Hotel. She accepted the male prisoner’s offer to pay £1 a week for the use of the room, and he paid one week in advance. The next day the woman prisoner and Rose Adams, but who was introduced at the time as “Rose Evelyn” arrived.
On one occasion, shortly after their taking the room, the Swami came to the house with Vera Croysdale, whom she introduced to the witness as her (Swami’s) adopted daughter. Several times during their stay at her house Theocratic Unity was mentioned, but witness never thoroughly understood it until the Swami approached her with a view to her joining the Order. The male prisoner told her that in their Order they took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Witness asked if poverty meant giving up the whole of what one possessed to them. He replied that it did. She remarked that that would require a great deal of consideration. She also enquired why Mrs Wakefield, who belonged to the Order, had not given up her possessions the same as the others. He replied that she belonged to the “Outer Order”, but he had no doubt she would soon join the “Inner Order” (Laughter). As to the vow of obedience, she knew that they expected implicit obedience, because of the way they treated members of the Order. Rose Adams was a perfect slave. The case was adjourned until next Saturday.
More modern information about Swami Horos:
Swami Laura Horos
Swami Laura Horos (February 1849 – 1909) was a late 19th and early 20th century medium. She was convicted of fraud several times in the US, and was tried for rape and fraud in London in 1901. She was described by Harry Houdini as “one of the most extraordinary fake mediums and mystery swindlers the world has ever known”.
She claimed to have been born in Italy in 1854, the daughter of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and his notorious mistress, the dancer Lola Montez, and that she was raised by foster parents from a young age. However, it seems that she was born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky in 1849, her father was Prof. John C.F. Solomon. Her given name was Ann O’Delia Solomon. She seems to have been married many times, and used the names Princess Editha Lola Montez, Edith Solomon, Della Ann O’Sullivan, Ann O’Delia Diss Debar (or Dis De Bar), Vera Ava, Madame Messant or McGoon, or Swami Viva Ananda.
She seems to become involved with Victoria Claflin and Tennessee Claflin, popular exponents of spiritualism in the 1860s and 1870s, and was a disciple of Madame Blavatsky. She claimed to be the wife of West Virginia statesman Joseph H. Diss Debar, and produced “spirit paintings” by Old Masters. She was prosecuted several times for fraud. She was convicted of fraud after persuading elderly lawyer Luther Marsh to give her his townhouse in New York’s Madison Avenue, and sentenced to 6 months imprisonment in June 1888. The magician Carl Hertz appeared at the prosecution for the Horos trial in New York. Hertz helped send Horos to jail by duplicating in court the tricks she had used in her séances.
She was imprisoned for two years in Illinois for another fraud, under the name Vera P Ava; and as Editha Loleta Jackson, she was expelled from New Orleans in May 1899 as a swindler; and she was imprisoned for 30 days later that month.
She married Frank Jackson Dutton in Louisiana in 1899, calling herself Princess Editha Lolita. The couple went to England in the 1890s, calling themselves “Swami Laura Horos” and “Theodore Horos”. They set up a “Purity League” at the Theocratic Unity Temple, near Regent’s Park in London, and worked as fortune tellers and diviners, advertising their services in newspapers, such as The People and the Western Morning Advertiser. They were arrested in Birkenhead in September 1901, and charged with obtaining property by false pretenses, rape and buggery. The later charges seems to have arisen from louche sexual practices at their temple in London. The couple defended themselves, but the Swami was sentenced to 7 years imprisonment, and her husband to 15 years. She was held in the prison in Aylesbury, and released on licence in July 1906.
She spent some time in South Africa, calling herself Helena Horos of the College of Occult Sciences, and ran a fruitarian colony in Florida. She was in Cincinnati in 1909, under the name Vera Ava, but her later whereabouts are unknown.
A biography is included in the 1938 book Beware Familiar Spirits the American magician John Mulholland (reprinted in 1979).
There is a really interesting article which expands on the 1901 court case and tell us more about Horos’ life, it can be found over on the Law Society Gazette website.
- ^ Harry Houdini. (2011). A Magician Among the Spirits. Cambridge University Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-1108027489
- ^ Lewis Spence. (2003). Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. Kessinger Publishing. p. 439. ISBN 978-0766128156
- ^ Milbourne Christopher. (1969). Houdini: The Untold Story. Crowell. p. 160. ISBN 978-0891909811
- ^ John Mulholland (1979). Beware Familiar Spirits. Scribner. ISBN 978-0684161815