Belle Gunness lured lonely men to her Indiana farm to rob and kill them

Belle Gunness was one of America's most prolific female serial killers, luring lonely men to her Indiana farm with promises of marriage, only to rob and kill them. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of The LaPorte Black Widow and learn about some of her unfortunate victims.

We'll also break back into Buckingham Palace and puzzle over a bet with the devil.

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In 1629, Dutch castaways on a tiny island faced a desperately murderous leader

In 1629, a Dutch trading vessel struck a reef off the coast of Australia, marooning 180 people on a tiny island. As they struggled to stay alive, their leader descended into barbarity, gathering a band of cutthroats and killing scores of terrified castaways. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll document the brutal history of Batavia's graveyard, the site of Australia's most infamous shipwreck.

We'll also lose money in India and puzzle over some invisible Frenchmen.

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In the Philippines, one Japanese holdout fought World War II until 1974

When American forces overran the Philippine island of Lubang in 1945, Japanese intelligence officer Hiroo Onoda withdrew into the mountains to wait for reinforcements. He was still waiting 29 years later. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet the dedicated soldier who fought World War II until 1974.

We'll also dig up a murderer and puzzle over an offensive compliment.

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In 1826 a giraffe traveled 4,000 miles to be presented to the king of France

In 1824 the viceroy of Egypt sent a unique gift to the new king of France: a two-month-old giraffe that had just been captured in the highlands of Sudan. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow the 4,000-mile journey of Zarafa, the royal giraffe, from her African homeland to the king's menagerie in Paris.

We'll also visit Queen Victoria's coronation and puzzle over a child's surprising recovery.

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A prisoner in solitary confinement was the only survivor of the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century

Mount Pelée, on the Caribbean island of Martinique, erupted in 1902, killing 30,000 people in the scenic town of Saint-Pierre. But rescuers found one man alive -- a 27-year-old laborer in a dungeon-like jail cell. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll meet Ludger Sylbaris, who P.T. Barnum called "The Only Living Object That Survived in the Silent City of Death."

We'll also address some Indian uncles and puzzle over a gruesome hike.

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English teenager Edward Jones broke repeatedly into Buckingham Palace in the 1830s.

Between 1838 and 1841, an enterprising London teenager repeatedly broke into Buckingham Palace, sitting on the throne, eating from the kitchen, and generally causing headaches for Queen Victoria's attendants, who couldn't seem to keep him out. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the exploits of Edward Jones -- who some have called the first celebrity stalker.

We'll also salute some confusing flags and puzzle over an extraterrestrial musician.

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Five lateral thinking puzzles

Here are five new lateral thinking puzzles to test your wits and stump your friends -- play along with us as we try to untangle some perplexing situations using yes-or-no questions.

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How a Spanish chicken farmer became the greatest double agent of World War II

In 1941, Catalonian chicken farmer Juan Pujol made an unlikely leap into the world of international espionage, becoming a spy first for the Germans, then for the British, and rising to become one of the greatest double agents of World War II. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Pujol's astonishing talent for deceiving the Nazis, which led one colleague to call him "the best actor in the world."

We'll also contemplate a floating Chicago and puzzle over a winding walkway.

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Con man Gregor MacGregor sent shiploads of emigrants to a place that didn't exist

In 1821, Scottish adventurer Gregor MacGregor undertook one of the most brazen scams in history: He invented a fictional Central American republic and convinced hundreds of his countrymen to invest in its development. Worse, he persuaded 250 people to set sail for this imagined utopia with dreams of starting a new life. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the disastrous results of MacGregor's deceit.

We'll also illuminate a hermit's behavior and puzzle over Liechtenstein's flag.

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Meet the North Pond hermit, who lived alone in the Maine woods for 27 years

Without any forethought or preparation, Christopher Knight walked into the Maine woods in 1986 and lived there in complete solitude for the next 27 years, subsisting on what he was able to steal from local cabins. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll tell the story of the North Pond hermit, one man's attempt to divorce himself completely from civilization.

We'll also look for coded messages in crosswords and puzzle over an ineffective snake.

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Did William Wallace commit the perfect murder in 1931?

Insurance agent William Herbert Wallace had a terrible night in January 1931 -- summoned to a nonexistent address in Liverpool, he returned home to find that his wife had been murdered in his absence. An investigation seemed to show a senseless crime with no weapon, no motive, and no likely suspects. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll revisit the slaying of Julia Wallace, which Raymond Chandler called "the impossible murder."

We'll also recount some wobbly oaths and puzzle over an eccentric golfer.

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This mountain inspired a prison break in 1943

Stuck in an East African prison camp in 1943, Italian POW Felice Benuzzi needed a challenge to regain his sense of purpose. He made a plan that seemed crazy -- to break out of the camp, climb Mount Kenya, and break back in. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Benuzzi and two companions as they try to climb the second-highest mountain in Africa using homemade equipment.

We'll also consider whether mirages may have doomed the Titanic and puzzle over an ineffective oath.

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In 1913, Joe Knowles set out to spend two months naked and alone in the Maine woods

In 1913 outdoorsman Joseph Knowles pledged to spend two months in the woods of northern Maine, naked and alone, using only what he was able to find in the forest. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe Knowles' adventures in the woods and the controversy that followed his return to civilization.

We'll also consider the roots of nostalgia and puzzle over some busy brothers.

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A young Marine in WWII set out to capture Japanese soldiers by convincing them to surrender

Guy Gabaldon was an untested Marine when he landed on the Pacific island of Saipan during World War II. But he decided to fight the war on his own terms, venturing alone into enemy territory and trying to convince Japanese soldiers to surrender voluntarily. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow Gabaldon's dangerous crusade and learn its surprising results.

We'll also examine Wonder Woman's erotic origins and puzzle over an elusive murderer.

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America's first serial killer built a murder castle in Chicago

When detectives arrested H.H. Holmes in 1894, they thought he was a simple con man. But they were shocked to discover that he'd been operating a bizarre Chicago hotel full of blind passageways, trapdoors, hidden chutes, and asphyxiation chambers in which he'd sadistically murdered dozens of victims. In today's show we'll follow the career of America's first documented serial killer, who headlines called "a fiend in human shape."

We'll also gape at some fireworks explosions and puzzle over an intransigent insurance company.

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The U.S. government has a "conscience fund" for repayments from those who have defrauded it

For 200 years the U.S. Treasury has maintained a "conscience fund" that accepts repayments from people who have defrauded or stolen from the government. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the history of the fund and some of the more memorable and puzzling contributions it's received over the years.

We'll also ponder Audrey Hepburn's role in World War II and puzzle over an illness cured by climbing poles.

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The first crime solved by a lie detector

Fingerprint identification and lie detectors are well-known tools of law enforcement today, but both were quite revolutionary when they were introduced. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll describe the memorable cases where these innovations were first used. Read the rest

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