and the disappearance of Marilyn Bergeron
Have you heard of Puzzle 15?
I bet you have, you just don't know it. You know those 4 x 4 tile scrambles where you have to rearrange the sliding pieces into an image? Popeye? The Flinstones? That's the 15 puzzle, sometimes called Gem, Boss, or Mystic Square.
The 15 puzzle was the original fidget spinner occupying busy digits a century before the iPhone. The origin of Puzzle 15 is something of a puzzle itself. It became a craze in the 1880s. Game huckster Sam Lloyd said he invented it. He didn't. In 2006 Jerry Slocum and Dic Sonneveld published an entire book - not about games in general, but specifically the 15 Puzzle - in which they unscrambled some of its mysteries:
"Sam Loyd did not invent the 15 puzzle and had nothing to do with promoting or popularizing it. The puzzle craze that was created by the 15 Puzzle began in January 1880 in the U.S. and in April in Europe. The craze ended by July 1880 and Sam Loyd's first article about the puzzle was not published until sixteen years later, January 1896. Loyd first claimed in 1891 that he invented the puzzle, and he continued until his death a 20 year campaign to falsely take credit for the puzzle. The actual inventor was Noyes Chapman, the Postmaster of Canastota, New York, and he applied for a patent in March 1880."
I conducted a not-too-scientific lit review of the facts in this passage. I cannot locate any claim by Loyd in 1891, nor the article from 1896. And Noyes Chapman's patent application will have to remain another lingering mystery – there's no record of it. However, a Noyes S. Chapman was confirmed in a senate executive session in 1867 as postmaster of Canastota, New York.
Certainly, by the time he authored his 1914 masterpiece, "Sam Loyd's Cyclopedia of 5000 Puzzles, Tricks & Conundrums (with answers)," Loyd was taking credit for the 15 Puzzle invention:
"The older inhabitants of Puzzleland will remember how in the early seventies I drove the entire world crazy over a little box of movable pieces which became known as the "14-15 Puzzle". The fifteen pieces were arranged in the square box in regular order, only with the 14 and 15 reversed, as shown in the figure. The puzzle consisted in moving the pieces about, one at a time, so as to bring them back in the present position in every respect except that the error in the 14 and 15 must be corrected. A prize of $1000, which was offered for the first correct solution to the problem has never been claimed."
The problem is there is no mention of the 14-15 Puzzle "in the early seventies." It first came up in January 1880, and how the fidget wonder "excites" the public. By March 15 Puzzle mania was in full bloom, with The Atlanta Constitution reporting how "The great 13, 14, 15 puzzle game is racing the brains of thousands, causing neuralgia and headache". Loyd wasn't associated with the frenzy until 1893 when Connecticut's The Press reported Sam Loyd as "famous as being the author of "Pigs in Clover" and the "15 Puzzle".
Some have likened 15 Puzzle hysteria to the Rubik's Cube phenom in the 1980s. It's an apt comparison, as the Rubik's Cube is sort of a 3-D version of Puzzle 15. In fact, it's kind of like what would happen if you combined a 2-D math puzzle with the 3-D block game Soma. Very recently, a British American mathematician, Henry Segerman, took this one step further and created Continental Drift, a Rubik's Cube in the shape of the earth. It's the same idea as taking numbers and associating them with a picture of the Flintstones and the Rubbles. In 1972, U.S. Chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer appeared on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and solved the 15 Puzzle in 17 seconds. Not to be outdone by the troubled chess titan, my daughter recently witnessed me solve Soma in under a minute.
If I didn't already say it, Puzzle 15 is solved when the numbers are arranged in sequential order, a kind of numerology. That's a clumsy transition to rip into what I really what to talk about: Ol' Leather Apron himself and numbers.
Numerology is the belief that there is some synchromystical relationship with numbers. Pythagoras thought they carried secret codes, and this has carried over to influence everything from Nostradamus to tetraphobia, the fear of the number four. And, of course, there is a subset of numerology inclusive to interpreting the Whitechapel murders and Jack The Ripper. Here's just one example from the zany world of numerology:
Mary Nichols is widely assumed to have been the first Ripper murder on Buck's Row, on August 31, 1888. There's a Pythagorean system of assigning letters to numbers that I'm not going to get into fully (you can look it up), but from August 31, one naturally comes to the initials JKS which then naturally leads to the name "James Kenneth Stephen," I mean, any idiot can see that! Stephen is the guy who was a tutor for the House of Windsor. He's part of that Ripper theory that supposes the whole thing was part of a conspiracy involving the British Royals. This is all from an online post on numerology in which the author triumphantly summarizes, "This is how the occult is used in solving murder mysteries. What ordinary men cannot see." I must be super-ordinary; not only do I not see it, I thought the Whitechapel murders were unsolved.
Another tin hat post discusses the significance of the year 1888. If you add the numbers, you get 25. Ok, with you so far. Well, in numerology, 25 holds all sorts of sacred meanings. 25 represents "a dark time in Whitechapel" (no shit). For the assailant, it points to an "unbalanced" individual (see previous parenthetical). Also, "the person who was behind the Ripper killings was born with the characteristics of the eight influencing his life." Ok, can I get a sniff of what that means? Well, he burned with ambition, enjoyed taking risks, was a loner, and on and on. You get the point. Obviously, we are giant steps away from behavioral profiling - that's numerology.
In 2002 The National Post mistakenly reported that all of the victims of the Eastern Townships murders were found on Good Friday, and I've never lived it down. Not only is that not true (Good Friday, 1977, was April 8), it wouldn't mean anything even if it was. There's a logical explanation for bodies turning up on holidays. People have time off. They can dedicate their leisure hours to strolling along lakes, streams, and woods. That's what that means. It's like saying a killer is motivated by the phases of the moon, which they did with Daniel Couillard and the 74-75 murders of Norma O'Brien and Debbie Fisher. Ya? So?
Show me a killer who committed all his murders on Good Friday, and I'd say you might have something.
Undiluted Hocus-Pocus is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Here's a puzzle. What happened to Marilyn Bergeron? This week marks the 15th anniversary of the disappearance of the 24-year-old girl who today would be thirty-nine. Bergeron left her family's home in Quebec City for a walk on the morning of February 17, 2008. She did not return. An ATM security camera in Loretteville recorded her attempting to withdraw money early that afternoon; she was last seen almost five hours after leaving her home at a coffee shop in Levis. Several sightings of Marilyn have been reported since then, especially in areas of Ontario just outside Quebec, but none have been confirmed.
Quebec Police continue to speculate that Bergeron committed suicide, which is absurd. Fifteen years and no body; where did she go? The elephant's graveyard? The family fears she met with foul play, possibly sold into the Quebec sex trade. Could someone fall off the map for 15 years and still be hiding in plain sight? Definitely.
This was an immediate fear in the 1990 disappearance of Lise Brisebois. Before her remains were found in a field near Rainville, Brisebois had been missing for nine months, and speculation was that she had been abducted into the sex trade. In July 1990, her sister, Marie-Andree Brisebois, told the Montreal Gazette that she "heard of girls and women being kidnapped from shopping centres then eventually forced into prostitution." By October, her parents reiterated this theory, telling the news media they feared "their daughter had been kidnapped, drugged and forced into prostitution."
The idea gained momentum when, later that month, another young girl vanished on the way from her parent's house to do some banking and visit a pharmacy. Twenty-year-old Pascale Lemaire was found later that October shot in a field at St. Mathieu de La Prairie. Guy Bissonnette would eventually face a second-degree murder charge for the death of Pascale Lemaire. In these cases, the narrative was not accurate, but the Quebec sex trade industry remains a threat to young women in the province. Like Bergeron, no one knows the whereabouts of Nathalie Godbout. The twenty-six-year-old has been missing for 22 years, last seen in September 2000 after leaving her home in Levis, Quebec, the same place from which Bergeron disappeared.
Finally, I promised you an update on the Brisebois case. One of the advantages of acting like the smartest guy in the room is that, if you're lucky, someone will come along and tell you why they're smarter. It turns out Guy Croteau isn't the only suspect in the Brisebois murder. I was told that one of her boyfriends – and I have to couch it that way, but you know who I mean – apparently used to go hunting on the property in Rainville where she was found, and he had severe issues with "impulsivity" and "aggression." Of course, I've heard this one before. Manon Dube was found on property owned by her family, so the family must have been involved. It's cockeyed logic. If it is true, why isn't Lise Brisebois' boyfriend in jail? And what about Johanne Marsolais and Annette Labelle? The theory does not account for them. My money's on the guy convicted of murder and a collection of sexual assaults, not a boyfriend, who might have been a bit disturbed.