In June of 2004, in Monmouth County, New Jersey, a man decapitated & 'dismembered' his grandmother and girl friend, purportedly "acting on orders from God," though he referred to the home where the heinous acts transpired, as "the gateway to Hell," while a mother of five in 2001, drowned her five children in a bathtub in Texas, stating later that "Satan was talking to her. ..She had seen images of Satan in the walls, in the cinder blocks of her cell."
Such horrific accounts as the above, be they truthful or fictional in origin, have been the subject for numerous monographs, cinematic movies & documentaries, or prime-time episodes of crime & forensic T.V., dramas for many years, but especially during the period of 'Halloween,' or 'All Hallow's Eve' in October. However, they are in reality, nothing new.
In July of 1823, Mr. William Hood, a man of forty-five years of age and father of ten, forced three of his children to assist him in erecting a pen of fodder and rails, of which he then forced one son, "being threatened with death," to go to their home and obtain "a chunk of fire." Sitting himself down within the structure, Hood then had himself set on fire while he sang, "Drink about boys and drown away sorrow," as the flames were about to consume him. A neighbor atttempted to extricate the man from his self-imposed death-trap, but upon seizing Hood, "he found him so much burnt that the skin left the flesh...the enfuriated maniac in a rage, seized a club, and swore by his maker he would kill him for interfering."
The good-intentioned neighbor twice attempted to drag Mr. Hood from the flames, even though by the second time, the man's "nose & one of his ears were burnt off, the wind-pipe exposed..." He was taken to his home and medical aid was sent for, but he emphatically declared to his pregnant wife, that " his Master had come for him the day before, but he was not ready for him--that he would be for him again that night, but he was not yet prepared, but that next day, at 11 0'clock, when he came again, he should be ready and would go."
Mr. William Hood stated that, "his object was to have burnt up soul & body, so as to deprive the devil of his expectation." To his last breath he bitterly denounced those who had attempted to keep him from his goal, and is described as having been a man "of singular manners and intemperate habits."(Daily National Intelligencer, Washington, DC, July 26, 1823)
Thomas Goss of Barkhampstead in Connecticut, in February of 1785, "murdered his wife in a most shocking manner, as she lay in bed with three children. He perpetrated his crime with an axe, which he plunged into her forehead even to her brains...He confessed the atrocious deed, and said he expected to be commended for it, as he had, for some time, thought his wife was possessed with a familiar spirit." Goss was described as being "regular and rational," and "even to religious duties," but was executed in November of 1785 for the murder of his wife. (The Providence Rhode Island Gazette & Country Journal, March 5, 1785)
In that same year of 1785, Mrs. M'Comb, of Princeton, New Jersey, described as the "wife of a gentleman of that place," locked herself in her chamber, refused to open the door, which was broke open, only to find that she had "cut off both her ears, and scarished her throat in attempting to cut that." When asked the reason for such a "rash act," she replied, "that an Angel appeared to her, and threatened her with the horrors of perdition, unless she performed the aforesaid operation." (The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 23, 1785).
The Reverend Josiah or Joshua Upson, a Universalist minister of Ohio in 1856, had repeatedly starved himself for many days, into becoming "an almost human skeleton," under the orders of "the Spirit," which promised him that through such "discipline,' he would become "a more extraordinary 'medium' than has hitherto been known."
According to Upson, he believed "that hundreds of disembodied spirits were constantly talking with him, prescribing what he should eat, what he should say...and punishing him severely when he refused to act in accordance with their directions." These same 'spirits,' informed the clergyman that through "his mission," he would thus become "a wonderful specimen of a spiritually developed man." (Lebanon (PA) Courier, September 19, 1856).
The above are only a VERY FEW accounts which exist, in published and manuscript collections here at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, testifying to the fact such macabre & terrifying acts of cruelty to others or to one's self (and often attributed to 'voices' or 'visitations' of some sinister force), are not events peculiar only to the present, because of drug abuse, and/or mental disorders, but are a phenomenon that has plagued society and mankind for many years.