By Shubhankar Thapliyal
A murder happens in 1911, ghost walks until today!
A lady is found, but in perfect condition in her room. Poison is found as evidence. The police are clueless about what happened. The place is searched without any sign of suspects.
Urban legends and mysteries surrounding this murder now.
But what is the legend of the Savoy based on the murder of Lady Garnet at the Savoy Hotel, Mussoorie?
The Hotel Ruins
The Hotel was built in 1902 by Cecil D Lincoln, an Irish Barrister from Lucknow. Earlier, it was the site of Reverend Maddock’s Mussourie School.
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There were no metalled roads at that time. Bullock carts used to move up the winding mountain paths from Dehradun to its location today to provide the hotel its Edwardian furnishings, Steinway Pianos, Billiard tables, champagne crates, cider barrels and the trunks of oak.
The Case Unravelled
The mysterious murder happened in the summer of 1911. A 49-year-old British spiritualist, Frances Garnett-Orme had arrived at the hotel for a stay.
Before she stayed at the hotel, she had been engaged to a British officer from the United Provinces who died before their wedding.This tragedy might have reinforced Garnett-Orme’s faith into séances and crystal-gazing.
In her attempts to communicate with the other side of life, Miss Garnett-Orme developed psychic abilities.
At the Savoy, she was followed by another spiritualist named Eva Mountstephen from Lucknow.
One day when Mountstephen went off to Lucknow on some urgent business, the hotel staff found Lady Frances Garnett-Orme in her room dead. The door had been locked from the inside.
There were pigments of prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) revealed in the autopsy of the body. Despite the delay, her body was totally fresh.
How can that be possible?
Suspicions quickly emerged over Lady Mountstephen role who was found in Jhansi, 700 Km away when the lady was found dead.
She was then brought to a trial before Justices Tudball and Rafiq of the Allahabad High Court on the charge of tampering with the deceased’s bottle of sodium bicarbonate, thereby poisoning her.
However, Mountstephen was acquitted due to lack of evidence. The doctor who performed Garnett-Orme’s autopsy was found dead after a few months.
Strychnine poisoning was used to kill him this time.
The Trail of the Ghost
The Savoy really was once the toast of the town. But the legend hasn’t ended till now there.
It is still believed that the halls and the corridors of the Hotel are haunted by the ghost of Miss Garnett-Orme. Reputed guests at the hotel have heard flushes going off and doors opening mysteriously.
They have often sighted something which looked like an apparition (floating silhouette) of a lady. Mysterious sounds of a woman whispering and singing softly have also been recorded.
It is said that the lady’s ghost is haunting the place to find her killer.
But who will tell her now?
The incident has now been lost in the diaries of police officials and the common people never knew how the lady was ever murdered.
The case has been a theme widely used by writers from around the world. It first reached Rudyard Kipling, the world-famous writer of short stories. He sent a real incident to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, requesting him to let his fictional character Sherlock Holmes solve the case in his story. The doctor was unable to contrive an Indian itinerary for his sleuth from 221B Baker Street.
In the story, lady Inglethorp dies of poisoning. The famous fictitious character Hercule Poirot solved the murder mystery. The aspects of Savoy’s architecture might have lent themselves to the making of Styles Court, an Essex County manor, the setting of Christie’s book.
The legend also became the stimulus behind Ruskin Bond’s ‘In a Crystal Ball – A Mussoorie Mystery (2003)’.
The Savoy has been acquired by the ITC WelcomHeritage Hotels in 2009 and was renovated. When I walked past the Savoy in the month of March 2016 with my friends, I still register how the hotel made me see its beauty as well as mystery.
Image Credits: Google Images