The Spann Case: A Chronicle

Article by guestblogger “La cara Pasifae”

The law is some tricky shit, isn’t it?
(Thelma & Louise, 1991)

From her first marriage, Patricia Ann Spann had three children: a boy, then a girl and another boy. Things were not too good, evidently, because Patricia lose custody over them and the children were legally adopted by her mother-in-law.

But in 2008 Patricia met Cody Spann Jr., her oldest son, who at the time was 18. And she married him.
In Lawton, Comanche County, Oklahoma. She signed the papers using both her maiden and her married name, “Patricia Ann Clayton Spann”.

Fifteen moths later, in 2010, at the boy’s request a judge nullified their marriage on the grounds of incest. The Oklahoma laws categorically forbids unions with direct descendants.

In 2014 Patricia met her daughter, at the time 23 years old, Misty Velvet Dawn Spann.


And on March 25, 2016, the two women got married.

They moved in together in Duncan, Stephens County (OK), nearly 30 miles from the Texas border and less than 20 from Lawton where, once again, the wedding had taken place.
To get around the obstacle of their shared family name, Patricia Spann had used her maiden name upon filing the marriage licence application.

Perhaps not all the neighbors were fine with this new, close but reserved couple settling in. So, in August, Patricia and Misty received the visit of a Human Services Child Welfare Division investigator who, while assessing the state of the Spann children, found out that mother and daughter were legally married.

The women admitted both to their biological bond and to being married. Patricia declared to the investigator that she didn’t think they were breaking any law since her name no longer appeared on her daughter’s birth certificate, and that anyway, after being reunited, “they hit it off”.

Thus the authorities came to know of the incestuous relationship. The case was assigned to Duncan Police Detective Dustin Smith, who began the investigations on August 26, 2016, after a warning from the Human Services Division. In September, just months after they had married, in compliance with the law, the Spanns were formally charged.
Felony arrest warrants were issued in Stephens County District Court for both of them. If found guilty, they would face up to 10 years in prison.
After the arrest Misty and Patricia Ann were put in custody in Stephens County Jail. The bail was set at $10,000 for each woman.

As reported by Lawton Constitution, Patricia Spann insisted that she hadn’t had contact with her children until a few years earlier, claim contradicted by court records regarding her former marriage with her biological son. No charges were pressed for that marriage.

At Misty’s request, the marriage with her mother was annulled Oct. 12, 2017, as court records show. In November the girl, who claimed she was fraudulently induced into marriage by her mother, pleaded guilty to her incest charge. She was sentenced to probation for 10 years, two of which to be spent under the supervision of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

But after the verdict, a legal technicality emerged, which does not allow deferred senteces – like probation – in incest cases. She was therefore allowed to withdraw her guilty plea and to enter a new plea.
After pleading guilty to the felony count, on March 13, 2018, 46.years-old Spann, born in Norman (OK), was transferred to prison for incest. A judged sentenced her to two years of prison, eight years probation and a $2,791 fine allocated as follows: a $1,500 fine, $300 to the State victims’ compensation fund, and $991 in legal fees. Upon her release, she will also be registered as a sex offender.
In this moment, the woman is held in prison in a Oklahoma State Jail, where she passed her first three months as a recluse.

Thus we have compiled a chronicle of a strange story from the deep South Central. The nature of these facts can amaze and astonish, pushing us to try and guess the inner dinamics that moved its protagonist, Patricia Ann Spann. What were her motivations? Is it possible to really understand?

This is why this is no biography. We can only get a glimpse of the vast array of different interpretation such a story can sustain, of the extent of speculations it suggests, of the powerful, mythical narratives it brings to mind. Where should we start?

(La cara Pasifae)

Tiny Tim, Outcast Troubadour

Remember, it’s better to be a has-been than a never-was.
(Tiny Tim)

That an outsider like Tiny Tim could reach success, albeit briefly, can be ascribed to the typical appetite for oddities of the Sixties, the decade of the freak-out ethic/aesthetic, when everybody was constantly looking for out-of-line pop music of liberating and subversive madness.
And yet, in regard to many other weird acts of the time, this bizarre character embodied an innocence and purity the Love Generation was eager to embrace.

Born Herbert Khaury in New York, 1932, Tiny Tim was a big and tall man, sporting long shabby hair. Even if in reality he was obsessed with cleansing and never skipped his daily shower during his entire life, he always gave the impression of a certain gresiness. He would come up onstage looking almost embarassed, his face sometimes covered with white makeup, and pull his trusty ukulele out of a paper bag; his eyes kept rolling in ambiguous winks, conveying a melodramatic and out-of-place emphasis. And when he started singing, there came the ultimate shock. From that vaguely creepy face came an incredible, trembling falsetto voice like that of a little girl. It was as if Shirley Temple was held prisoner inside the body of a giant.

If anything, the choice of songs played by Tiny Tim on his ukulele tended to increase the whole surreal effect by adding some ancient flavor: the setlist mainly consisted of obscure melodies from the 20s or the 30s, re-interpreted in his typical ironic, overblown style.

It was hard not to suspect that such a striking persona might have been carefully planned and engineered, with the purpose of unsettling the audience while making them laugh at the same time. And laughter certainly didn’t seem to bother Tiny Tim. But the real secret of this eccentric artist is that he wasn’t wearing any mask.
Tiny Tim had always remained a child.

Justin Martell, author of the artist’s most complete biography (Eternal Troubadour: The Improbable Life of Tiny Tim, with A. Wray Mcdonald), had the chance to decypher some of Tiny’s diaries, sometimes compiled boustrophedonically: and it turned out he actually came within an inch of being committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Whether his personality’s peculiar traits had to do with some autistic spectrum disorder or not, his childish behaviour was surely not a pose. Capable of remembering the name of every person he met, he showed an old-fashioned respect for any interlocutor – to the extent of always referring to his three wives as “Misses”: Miss Vicki, Miss Jan, Miss Sue. His first two marriages failed also because of his declared disgust for sex, a temptation he strenuously fought being a fervent Christian. In fact another sensational element for the time was the candor and openness with which he publicly spoke of his sexual life, or lack thereof. “I thank God for giving me the ability of looking at naked ladies and think pure thoughts“, he would say.
If we are to believe his words, it was Jesus himself who revealed upon him the possibilities of a high-pitched falsetto, as opposed to his natural baritone timbre (which he often used as an “alternate voice” to his higher range). “I was trying to find an original style that didn’t sound like Tony Bennett or anyone else. So I prayed about it, woke up with this high voice, and by 1954, I was going to amateur nights and winning.

Being on a stage meant everything for him, and it did not really matter whether the public just found him funny or actually appreciated his singing qualities: Tiny Tim was only interested in bringing joy to the audience. This was his naive idea of show business – it all came down to being loved, and giving some cheerfulness in return.

Tiny avidly scoured library archives for American music from the beginning of the century, of which he had an encyclopedic knwoledge. He idolized classic crooners like Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby and Russ Columbo: and in a sense he was mocking his own heroes when he sang standards like Livin’ In The Sunlight, Lovin’ In The Moonlight or My Way. But his cartoonesque humor never ceased to be respectful and reverential.

Tiny Tim reached a big unexpected success in 1968 with his single Tiptoe Through The Tulips, which charted #17 that year; it was featured in his debut album, God Bless Tiny Tim, which enjoyed similar critic and public acclaim.
Projected all of a sudden towards an improbable stardom, he accepted the following year to marry his fiancée Victoria Budinger on live TV at Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, before 40 million viewers.

In 1970 he performed at the Isle of Wight rock festival, after Joan Baez and before Miles Davis; according to the press, with his version of There’ll Always Be An England he managed to steal the scene “without a single electric instrument”.

But this triumph was short-lived: after a couple of years, Tiny Tim returned to a relative obscurity which would last for the rest of his career. He lived through alternate fortunes during the 80s and 90s, between broken marriages and financial difficulties, sporadically appearing on TV and radio shows, and recording albums where his beloved songs from the past mixed with modern pop hits cover versions (from AC/DC to Bee Gees, from Joan Jett to The Doors).

According to one rumor, any time he made a phone call he would ask: “do you have the tape recorder going?
And indeed, in every interview Tiny always seemed focused on building a personal mythology, on developing his romantic ideal of an artist who was a “master of confusion“, baffling and elusive, escaping all categorization. Some believe he remained a “lonely outcast intoxicated by fame“; even when fame had long departed. The man who once befriended the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who was a guest at every star’s birthday party, little by little was forgotten and ended up singing in small venues, even performing with the circus. “As long as my voice is here, and there is a Holiday Inn waiting for me, then everything’s just swell.

But he never stopped performing, in relentelss and exhausting tours throughout the States, which eventually took their toll: in spite of a heart condition, and against his physician’s advice, Tiny Tim decided to go on singing before his ever decreasing number of fans. The second, fatal heart stroke came on November 30, 1996, while he was onstage at a charity evening singing his most famous hit, Tiptoe Through The Tulips.

And just like that, on tiptoes, this eternally romantic and idealistic human being of rare kindness quietly left this world, and the stage.
The audience had already left, and the hall was half-empty.

Ghost Marriages

China, Shanxi province, on the nothern part of the Republic.
At the beginningof 2016, the Hongtong County police chief gave the warning: during the three previous years, at least a dozen thefts of corpses were recorded each year. All the exhumed and smuggled bodies were of young women, and the trend is incresing so fast that many families now prefer to bury their female relatives near their homes, rather than in secluded areas. Others resort to concrete graves, install surveillance cameras, hire security guards or plant gratings around the burial site, just like in body snatchers England. It looks like in some parts of the province, the body of a young dead girl is never safe enough.
What’s behind this unsettling trend?

These episodes of body theft are connected to a very ancient tradition which was thought to be long abandoned: the custom of “netherworld marriages”.
The death of a young unmarried male is considered bad lack for the entire family: the boy’s soul cannot find rest, without a mate.
For this reasons his relatives, in the effort of finding a spouse for the deceased man, turn to matchmakers who can put them in contact with other families having recently suffered the lost of a daughter. A marriage is therefore arranged for the two dead young persons, following a specific ritual, until they are finally buried together, much to the relief of both families.
This kind of marriages seem to date back to the Qin dinasty (221-206 a.C.) even if the main sources attest a more widespread existence of the practice starting from the Han dinasty (206 a.C.-220 d.C.).

The problem is that as the traffic becomes more and more profitable, some of these matchmakers have no qualms about exhuming the precious corpses in secret: to sell the bodies, they sometimes pretend to be relatives of the dead girl, but in other cases they simply find grieving families who are ready to pay in order to find a bride for their departed loved one, and willing to turn a blind eye on the cadaver’s provenance.

Until some years ago, “ghost marriages” were performed by using symbolic bamboo figurines, dressed in traditional clothes; today weath is increasing, and as much as 100,000 yan (around $15,000) can be spent on the fresh body of a young girl. Even older human remains, put back together with wire, can be worth up to $800. The village elders, after all, are the ones who warn new generations: to cast away bad luck nothing beats an authentic corpse.
Although the practice has been outlawed in 2006, the business is so lucrative that the number of arrests keep increasing, and at least two cases of murder have been reported in the news where the victim was killed in order to sell her body.

If at first glance this tradition may seem macabre or senseless, let us consider its possible motivations.
In the province where these episodes are more frequent, a large number of young men work in coal mines, where fatal accidents are sadly common. The majority of these boys are the sole children of their parents, because of the Chinese one-child policy, effective until 2013.
So, apart from reasons dictated by superstition, there is also an important psychological element: imagine the relief if, in the process of elaborating grief, you could still do something to make your dearly departed happy. Here’s how a “ghost wedding” acts as a compensation for the loss of a loved boy, who maybe died while working to support his family.

Marriages between two deceased persons, or between a living person and a dead one, are not even unique to China, for that matter. In France posthumous marriages (which usually take place when a woman prematurely loses her fiancé) are regularly requested to the President of the Republic, who has the power of issuing the authorization. The purpose is to acknowledge children who were conceived before the premature death, but there may also been purely emotional motivations. In fact there’s a relatively long list of countries that allowed for marriages in which one or both the newlywed were no longer alive.

In closing, here is a little curiosity.
In the well-known Tim Burton film Corpse Bride (2005), inspired by a centuries-old folk tale (the short story Die Todtenbraut by F. A. Schulze, found within the Fantasmagoriana anthology, is a Romantic take on that tale), the main character puts a ring on a small branch, unaware that this light-hearted move is actually sanctioning his netherworld engagement.
Quite similar to that harmless-looking twig is a “trick” used in Taiwan when a young girl dies unmarried: her relatives leave out on the streets a small red package containing Hell money, a lock of hair or some nails from the dead woman. The first man to pick up the package has to marry the deceased girl, if he wants to avoid misfortune. He will be allowed to marry again, but he shall forever revere the “ghost” bride as his first, real spouse.

These rituals become necessary when an individual enters the afterlife prematurely, without undergoing a fundamental rite of passage like marriage (therefore without completing the “correct” course of his life). As is often the case with funeral customs, the practice has a beneficial and apotropaic function both for the social group of the living and for the deceased himself.
On one hand all the bad luck that could harm the relatives of the dead is turned away; a bond is formed between two different families, which could not have existed without a proper marriage; and, at the same time, everybody can rest assured that the soul will leave this world at peace, and will not depart for the last voyage bearing the mark of an unfortunate loneliness.

Le nozze dei nani

Peter_der-Grosse_1838

Pietro il Grande, Zar e Imperatore di Russia, era un personaggio enigmatico e anticonvenzionale, ed aveva una passione per tutto ciò che era deforme. Fin da quando aveva ammirato, nel 1697, le famose collezioni anatomiche di Frederik Ruysch (su questo anatomista c’è un nostro articolo qui) aveva deciso di costruire una propria camera delle meraviglie che avrebbe ospitato le forme più curiose e impensabili partorite dalla Natura: una sorta di grandioso museo sulla conoscenza del mondo.

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La sua Kunstkamera, enorme wunderkammer che conteneva collezioni acquistate da Ruysch stesso, da Albertus Seba e da numerosi altri naturalisti e anatomisti, fu completata nel 1727. Vi trovavano posto innumerevoli esemplari di feti deformi, umani e animali, e tutto un campionario variegato di preparazioni anatomiche, minerali, e dei più disparati e rari reperti naturali. Ad un certo punto Pietro il Grande promulgò addirittura un editto, richiedendo alla popolazione di spedire al museo ogni feto malformato, da qualsiasi parte della Russia, affinché entrasse a far parte della sua collezione.

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Ma la sua passione per le curiosità umane era particolarmente accesa nei confronti delle persone affette da nanismo. All’epoca i nani erano presenti in tutte le corti europee, e venivano impiegati come giullari o come semplici oggetti di dileggio e divertimento vario. Dovevano stupire gli ospiti saltando fuori dalle torte appena portate in tavola, spesso nudi, o danzare sui deschi, cavalcare minuscoli pony, e via dicendo. Ai nostri occhi moderni tutto questo appare senza dubbio crudele, ma come al solito dovremmo cercare di calarci nel contesto dell’epoca: forse una vita simile, per quanto avvilente, era preferibile a quella, infinitamente più impietosa e feroce, che avrebbe atteso un nano al di fuori delle mura di corte.

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C’è da dire poi che alcuni dei “padroni” dei nani divenivano, com’è naturale, i più sinceri amici dei loro piccoli protetti: sembra per esempio che il famoso astronomo Tycho Brahe non si separasse mai dal suo nano di fiducia, divenuto una sorta di consigliere. Anche Pietro il Grande (che, detto per inciso, misurava più o meno due metri d’altezza) aveva il suo nano favorito e servitore fedele, Iakim Volkov, e per celebrare le sue nozze decise di mettere in scena uno dei matrimoni più indimenticabili della storia.

Lo Zar diede istruzioni al suo assistente Fyodor Romodanovsky di raccogliere tutti i nani residenti a Mosca e mandarli a San Pietroburgo. I “possessori” dei nani avrebbero dovuto vestirli a festa, con capi pregiati alla moda occidentale, riempiendoli di ninnoli e gioielli d’oro e parrucche da gran signori. Molte di queste piccole persone erano in realtà contadini e semplici paesani, dalle maniere tutt’altro che signorili.

Il giorno del sontuoso matrimonio, il corteo nuziale era formato da una settantina di nani in abiti e paramenti nobiliari, arrivati a San Pietroburgo su una carovana di pony: la cerimonia fu seguita da tutte le persone di normale statura fra risatine strozzate, colpi di gomito e sguardi increduli. Ma un serissimo Zar in persona celebrò le nozze, e pose delicatamente sul capo della piccola sposa la corona di fiori. Una volta giunti al banchetto, nel palazzo Menshikov, i nani vennero fatti accomodare ad alcuni tavoli in miniatura al centro della stanza, mentre tutte le altre tavolate erano disposte a cerchio intorno ad essi. Secondo i resoconti dell’epoca, le risate accompagnarono l’intera cena, mentre i nani si ubriacavano, cominciavano delle piccole risse, e i più vecchi e brutti ballavano sgraziatamente a causa delle gambe corte e storte.

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C’è qualcosa, però, di un po’ sospetto. Ricordiamo che Pietro il Grande aveva viaggiato nelle più raffinate corti d’Europa, e aveva cercato di modernizzare il suo Impero per renderlo più vicino e più conforme (almeno nelle sue intenzioni) alla progredita civilizzazione occidentale. E personalmente, attraverso il suo museo delle meraviglie, si era sempre adoperato per combattere l’idea antiquata che le anomalie fisiche fossero mostruose e spaventose: si trattava ai suoi occhi di sfortunati accidenti della natura, che uno spirito illuminato doveva riconoscere in quanto tali, senza per forza riderne o esserne terrorizzato. Allora, perché organizzare un matrimonio simile?

Al di là del puro intrattenimento che certamente avrà avuto la sua parte, secondo alcuni storici questa cerimonia, come tutti gli altri spettacoli farseschi che Pietro amava organizzare, mostrava un sostrato simbolico che forse non tutti erano in grado di cogliere. Era uno sberleffo in piena regola, ma non tanto rivolto contro i nani – quanto piuttosto contro la sua stessa corte di nobili. Pietro voleva mettere in scena una specie di specchio deformante, una caricatura vivente dei suoi ospiti di statura “normale”. Guardatevi!, sembrava dire quel grottesco matrimonio, siete dei lord e delle dame in miniatura, imbellettati e avvolti in raffinati abiti che però vi sono poco familiari. Siete ancora dei piccoli zotici che giocano a fare i “grandi”, gli “adulti”, e non vi accorgete che l’Europa ride di voi.

Che questa lettura dell’evento sia plausibile oppure no, il matrimonio suscitò comunque un certo scalpore, anche in tempi in cui di “politicamente scorretto” non si era ancora sentito parlare.

L’amore che non muore – II

Vi ricordate della strana e macabra storia di Carl Tanzler? Ve l’abbiamo raccontata in questo articolo: Tanzler aveva conservato per nove anni il cadavere della sua amata Elena, dormendo con lei ogni notte, in una sua personalissima e ostinata lotta contro il destino che li voleva divisi.

Nel 2009 un suo epigono venne scoperto dalla stampa internazionale: si trattava di Le Van, 55 anni, residente nella provincia di Quang Nam, in Vietnam. Dopo aver perso sua moglie nel 2003, Le Van cominciò a dormire sulla sua tomba. Dopo 20 mesi passati sotto la pioggia e il vento, il vedovo innamorato aveva deciso che per motivi di salute non gli sarebbe più stato possibile dormire sulla lapide. Si era quindi deciso a scavare un tunnel sotterraneo per raggiungere la sua sposa e poter rimanere, maggiormente riparato, al suo fianco. Dissuaso dai parenti, Le Van si era infine dato per vinto… per modo di dire. Aveva infatti attuato un progetto ancora più estremo.

Dissotterrati i resti della moglie, Le Van li aveva raccolti e portati a casa, forgiando in seguito una statua di cartapesta che potesse contenerli e tenerli in posizione. Così, finalmente, aveva potuto riportare la sua amata nell’alcova, e ricomporre quella famiglia che la morte aveva diviso.

Dopo che un’inchiesta giornalistica ebbe dato pubblicità alla vicenda, le autorità locali avevano intimato a Le Van di riportare i resti della moglie al cimitero. Eppure, a distanza di due anni, si è scoperto che ancora oggi Le Van si rifiuta di seppellire nuovamente la sua amata. Le autorità, a quanto pare, non possono intervenire con la forza e obbligarlo a liberarsi delle ossa. Così il cocciuto marito continua a prendersi cura dello scheletro della donna che ha amato, a rammendare l’effigie di cartapesta che lo racchiude, e a vivere assieme al figlioletto una dimensione familiare quantomeno sorprendente.

“Devo scontare la mia pena – dice Le Van – in una vita precedente devo aver commesso qualcosa di orribile, e così sono stato condannato ad essere uomo. Ora sto cercando di purificarmi per tornare alla mia incarnazione precedente”. Evidentemente è convinto che il suo amore, che non conosce confini e che supera perfino la morte stessa, possa salvarlo dai limiti e dai dolori dell’esistenza umana.

E così, anche stasera, Le Van si coricherà accanto alla donna che il destino gli ha affidato… e non importa se di lei il tempo ha lasciato solo le ossa. Anche stasera bacerà la cartapesta che ha modellato con le sue mani affinché gli ricordi il volto, un tempo giovane e bello, della sua sposa. Anche stasera le augurerà di sognare, e con un sospiro si addormenterà al suo fianco.

(Scoperto via Oddity Central).