In October 2000 there was a ruckus in the archaeological community when it was announced that a mummy, alleged to be that of a Persian princess, had been found in Pakistan. Wrapped in the manner of an Egyptian mummy, an inscription on her death mask identified her as a daughter of the Persian king Xerxes I (reigned 485-465 BCE).
Suspicions were raised initially because the Persians were not known to have practiced mummification, although some argued she might have been a Egyptian married to a Persian prince. Further investigation revealed she was in fact a modern woman, no more than twenty-one years old, dead no more than two years and possibly a murder victim. As of 2008, she remained unidentified and unburied, that last thanks to the proverbial red tape.
Her sad story reminds me of one told for true about a similar crime committed in 1890s Dresden, Germany—of another faked mummy. The story was told by Michael and Mollie Hardwick in John Canning’s compilation 50 GREAT HORROR STORIES (1971).
One of Dresden’s best known museums is the Albertinum, built in 1887-1889, all but destroyed in the February 1945 firebombing of the city, restored after the war and undergoing renovation since 2006. In 1894 the director—according to the Hardwicks—received a letter from a Professor Schulze, who offered the museum an mummy which had come into his possession under circumstances he refused to reveal. Schulze had previously sold the museum an authentic papyrus, so the director and his assistant decided to take a look at the mummy.
She was, to put it bluntly, perfect—on first glance. Schulze identified her as a Princess Notokris, a daughter of the first pharaoh of the twenty-sixth dynasty. The director had the mummy looked over by the museum’s Egyptian expert, who pronounced her genuine, and though Dr. Schulze asked a steep price, the museum purchased her.
And then the trouble began.
The first to see a ghostly woman flitting by the Egyptian Gallery was a cleaning lady, and then a night watchman. The director’s assistant also saw her. His description of the woman—young, thin and dressed in a hooded cloak, prompted the director’s sensible wife to point out that a mummy’s ghost surely would not appear wearing a nineteenth century garment. She also pointed out that an exorcism might be in order. Meanwhile, the cleaning ladies began to complain of a foul odor, and searched for dead rats to no avail.
An exorcism was performed by a local Lutheran pastor, but it didn’t work. No sooner was the ritual completed than the director, alone in his office, was confronted by the ghost. She was accompanied by the smell of rotting flesh.
The next day, the Egyptian mummy of which the museum was so proud was examined more closely than she had been before her purchase. Far from being an ancient Egyptian, she was unmistakeably German, dead for weeks rather than centuries. An attempt had been made to mummify her by something like Egyptian methods, but had obviously failed.
A manhunt for Dr. Schulze—who had visited the museum a day or two earlier and noticed the stench in the air—traced him, after some months, to Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic (in 1894 part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). He was arrested and returned to Dresden to be tried for murder. He never revealed the name of his victim; she was thought to be a young prostitute whom he lured to his room and killed.
The Hardwicks say that before he was executed he was asked one last time to give up his victim’s name, but he refused. He would say only that she had been nothing, and he had made a princess out of her. He was, he asserted, a god.
Not hardly, in that blunt double negative so beloved of hillbillies. Gods don’t die on the end of a rope.