Criminalia

Criminalia

Humans have always committed crimes. What can we learn from the criminals and crimes of the past, and have humans gotten better or worse over time?

Episodes

July 9, 2024 28 mins

In the mid-1890s, Harry Kramer’s Sterling Remedy Co. introduced a product called, Cascarets Candy Cathartic. Cascarets were just laxatives, but the product blew away the competition. And a lot of that had to do with how it was marketed (a stroke of brilliance): Harry advertised the product as candy – and historians believe he may have been the first to have marketed medicine in that way. They were brown tablets – nothing special th...

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Talking about the United Society of True Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing – a religious group commonly known as Shakers -- doesn't mean this is an episode about religion. They were disciplined and hard-working, and they were also innovative -- a good combination of characteristics that helped them finance their communal lives in a few successful ways. Their most successful business didn’t come from their famous furniture or i...

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Daffy's Elixir was one of the most popular patent medicines in Britain -- and it sold for nearly 300 years, which is amazing considering these types of products were often a flash in a pan. But what makes this product different than others we’ve talked about this snake oil season, other than its longevity, is that its ingredients list wasn’t kept secret -- it was a novel idea to publish ingredients for patent medicines at a time wh...

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According to the Vermont State Pharmacy Association in 1921, quote: "Dr. Kilmer's SWAMP-ROOT Kidney, Liver and Bladder Medicine … is a medicine of genuine merit. Thousands of letters we have received from druggists indicate that it has won the confidence of the people. We believe that the druggist who recommends it thereby helps his own reputation for reliability and truthfulness as his customer is usually satisfied with the result...

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Herbert Elijah Bucklen made himself one of the wealthiest businessmen in both Elkhart, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And his patent medicine business, The H.E. Bucklen & Company, had a lot to do with that -- but he didn't rise to millionaire status with just snake oil products and lies, although that was a big part of it. 

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Many patent medicines may have done more harm than good -- or at the very least, nothing at all -- and we’ve been talking about a good many of them so far this season. Ingredients in patent medicines were unregulated and manufacturers weren’t required to list ingredients on the label. Most didn’t help your problem, but there were several products that originated in that era that we still use to this day, believe it or not, although...

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Getting yourself a parasitic buddy will help you lose weight; the idea here is that the tapeworm lives in your intestines and eats whatever you’re eating, meaning you can go for seconds or thirds without feeling guilty about any of the calories. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? Until the tapeworm part, that is. Tapeworms shouldn’t be inside your body unless it’s by accident, but if you lived in Victorian England, you might have intenti...

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“It’s the Hair – not the Hat That Makes a Woman Attractive,” read one ad for the Seven Sutherland Sisters’ scalp cleaner. Sisters Sarah, Victoria, Isabella, Grace, Naomi, Dora, and Mary Sutherland were performers who sang and played instruments, but what the crowds came to see was their hair; primarily because there was, collectively, 37 feet of it. By 1880, they were billed as the "Seven Wonders" – and just four years later, their...

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In 1946, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company launched an ad campaign with the slogan, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” Long before Camel cigarettes became the doctor-approved cigarette of choice, at least in advertising, people living with asthma were often instructed to inhale smoke to relieve their symptoms. And that advice was for asthmatic adults – and children. ‘Asthma cigarettes’, as they were called, and relat...

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By the time he was in his 40s, Perry Davis was an entrepreneur who had tried, unsuccessfully, to start multiple businesses; and those failures had left him $4,500 in debt – roughly more than $160,000 today. In 1839, his bad luck continued when he then became ill with debilitating pain. Seeking even just any little bit of relief, he mixed up a concoction, containing mostly opiates and alcohol – a mix that would later become known ar...

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John Healy wasn’t a real doctor. Charles Bigelow was never a scout in the United States Army. And, the products they sold weren’t actually based on healing secrets of the Kickapoo people. Yet, the two men made a fortune from their Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company patent medicines – which, while named for them, not a single Kickapoo was involved with the company or its remedies. The story of Healy and Bigelow is one of quackery, lie...

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Norman Baker was an entrepreneur, a pioneering radio personality, and a fake doctor. He was a masterful propagandist, and through his radio station and multiple tabloid publications, he manipulated American anxieties about everything from politics to alleged ills of vaccinations. But his biggest claim was that he could cure cancer, in just six weeks, with his own elixir -- and your money.

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Though the Pink Pills couldn't stand up to the wild advertising claims that the product was a cure-all, the pills were actually potentially medically beneficial to some people with a certain -- common -- condition; in theory. Maybe. Hey, we're not doctors. Let's talk about, how despite that, why this potentially potent patent medicine was under fire from the U.S. government.

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William Bailey called himself a doctor, but his career was as a shady businessman, not a medical professional. In the early 20th century, he launched a series of start-up companies, capitalizing on the new discoveries of radioactive elements, and sold patent medicine products with lethal radioactive substances with unproven promises to cure everything from arthritis to impotence – it was said they could help you regain your youth. ...

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Today, if you’re asked to think of a tractor, most of us probably imagine farm equipment. But in the late 18th century, a physician named Elisha Perkins made and sold a different kind of tractor – a device consisting of small metal rods that could cure what ails you simply through touch. And for several years, people were mad for the Perkins Patent Metallic Instruments, or Perkins Tractors as they became popularly known -- even tho...

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When Maude Mayberg was 38 years old, this was back in 1890, she 'discovered' an elixir that transformed her life. It was called Fruitcura, she said, and it cured her ailments when medical doctors could not. Two years later, she was a patent medicine entrepreneur and saleswoman going by the name, Madame Yale. Let’s talk about how that’s code for, snake oil peddler. 

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Clark Stanley was a silver-tongued Texas cowboy who called himself the ‘Rattlesnake King’. Back in the late 19th century, he wasn’t the first charlatan going from town to town in the American West, hawking quack products -- during this time when patent medicines were gaining popularity, American consumers could buy all sorts of fraudulent snake oil products like his. But Clark had a certain flair. A certain charisma and showmanship...

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From illicit love letters to political bribes, everyone has a secret, and it’s the threat of exposure that’s key to this crime -- and we discovered a whole lot of surprising examples along the way -- including a man who built his own submarine, hoping to escape with his payout under Lake Michigan; it sounds made up, but we speak the truth. We have enjoyed sharing these sometimes-almost-unbelievable stories of crime and criminals wi...

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Snake oil. Today the term describes any worthless remedy that's promoted as a cure-all. And, by extension, snake oil salesmen are considered a bunch of rip-off artists who peddle fraudulent goods. We’re rolling straight from the criminal world of blackmail and extortion into a new season -- we’ll see you there, not only with some very real stories about some very bogus things, but also with the cocktails and mocktails made to go wi...

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This is a story of a Texas oil tycoon, a congressman from Idaho, and a financial commodities broker in Oklahoma City. It’s a story of blackmail, yes. But it’s also a story of political corruption and ethics uncovered by that blackmail. There’s a lot going on here, and pretty much everyone’s guilty.

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