Posted on: June 5, 2016

The life of Laura Horos (just one of her many names) gives us a fascinating insight into the occult world of the late 19th century.  She made an international career out of fooling many intelligent people that she was a genuine medium and spiritual guru.  And when her activities were finally exposed in a court of law, it gave the public an insight into just how some of the moneyed elite spent their time.

Horos liked to give herself grandiose names and colourful backgrounds.  Her favourite claim was that she was the love-child of King Ludwig I of Bavaria and his most famous mistress, the Irish-born dancer, Lola Montez.  Lola had been a notorious celebrity in her day, making herself so unpopular at one time that she even managed to cause King Ludwig to abdicate his throne.   Unfortunately Horos came from rather more respectable parentage.  Instead of being born in Nuremberg, she was in fact born in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, USA, in 1849.  Her father was a music professor at a nearby college.  Horos’s real name was Ann O’Delia Saloman.

The mid-to-late 19th century in America saw the boom of spiritualism, with psychic mediums becoming as popular a stage turn as they are now.  Horos was quick to get in on the act, studying the teachings of Madame Helena Blavatsky, and earning a living as a fraudulent medium.  In June 1888 she was convicted of fraud for persuading an elderly lawyer, Luther Marsh, to give her his house on Madison Avenue.  Horos served six months in jail.  It was just the beginning of her criminal career.  She went on to serve several more short sentences for fraud, and was run out of New Orleans for swindling.   Her reputation became such that the legendary Harry Houdini described her as “one of the most extraordinary fake mediums and mystery swindlers the world has ever known”.

In 1899 Horos, now going under the name Princess Editha Lolita,  married Frank Jackson Dutton, who was 30 years her junior, and described as being of somewhat unprepossessing appearance, and moved with him to England.  In London the couple gave themselves the names Swami Laura Horos and (her sidekick presumably) Theodore Horos.  They set themselves up as fake fortune-tellers, and established their own society, in Regent’s Park, called The Theocratic Community and Purity League.

At around this time the Hermetic Order Of The Golden Dawn was flourishing in both London and Paris.  It was a closed, secret society, devoted to the study of the Occult.  It’s members liked to dress up in ornate costumes, and partake of elaborate and highly-complicated rituals.  It reputedly had a number of illustrious members, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W B Yeats, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen and E Nesbit.   It’s most notorious member was Aleister Crowley, the self-styled Great Beast.

William Wynn Westcott founded the Order in the 1880s, when he was handed some mysterious documents, and the address of one Fraulein Anna Sprengel, who was a chief adept in a secret society in Stuttgart, called “die Goldene Dammerung” (the Golden Dawn).  For 3 years Westcott claimed to have corresponded with Fraulein Sprengel, though it is doubtful that she had ever even existed.  She instructed him to establish British versions of the Temple.  Fraulein Sprengel was supposed to have died in around 1890.  Some members of the Order never believed in Sprengel’s existence though, and Arthur Machen described it as “an entertaining mystery” which didn’t do anyone any harm.

In 1900 prominent Golden Dawn member Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers suddenly announced that the Fraulein was in fact still alive and living in Paris.   It was of course our old friend Laura Horos.  By this stage in her life Horos was obese, but she put her size down to the fact that she had swallowed the spirit of Madame Blavatsky (herself no slimline)!   For a while Mathers actually believed Horos was some kind of shape-shifter, and could alter her age, size and appearance at will.  Within the space of a few weeks Mathers realised the couple were frauds, but by then the damage was done.  He had passed on vital and highly secretive information about the Order to them.  This would come to light in an embarrassing way.

Things came to a head in September 1901, when the highly secretive world of the Occult was exposed to the public gaze.  Horos and her partner were arrested in Birkenhead and charged with fraud and rape.  They were accused of luring wealthy young women to their Temple with false matrimonial adverts, with Theo being used as a prospective suitor to the poor unwitting women.  Horos reputedly described Theo – her “son” – as an honourable man, and the victim was lucky to get him.  And then, in the time-honoured manner of many religious cults, the girls would have to give up all their worldly goods, and Theo would even return home with them to help them fetch their belongings.

The Press gleefully reported to their agog Edwardian readers that the girls were subjected to sexual promiscuity at the Temple, and having their “imaginations excited by stories of the prisoners occult powers”.  Sex and the Occult, always a tabloid winner.

Madame Horos was said to have put her arm round one girl and kissed her, and then showed her a large portrait of herself, taken in a temple in India, in which she is reclining beside a live tiger.  The said portrait was unrolled in court and was “inspected with some amusement”.  Madame Horos claimed that husband Theo couldn’t possibly be guilty as he was a castrato, and incapable of sex.  Doctors were called in to examine him, and although they found that he had only one testicle, the other (to coin an immortal phrase) was “small but perfectly formed”.

In spite of Horos putting up a spirited defence, the couple were found guilty.  Madame Horos was sentenced to 7 years, and Theo to 15.  During her time in Aylesbury prison, Horos was a model prisoner, and was said to have been good at calming excitable inmates.  She was released early in 1906, and went to South Africa, now calling herself Helena Horos.  Then, using the name Vera Ava, she returned to the United States in 1909.  It is there that she slips completely off the radar.  Absolutely nothing is known of her after that.  She vanishes completely from public view.  There is no known record of her death.  In 1915 Theo was charged with committing bigamy by marrying a 70-year-old lady in Buffalo, USA, and swindling her.

The exposure, resulting in public ridicule, was too much for the Golden Dawn.  Many of the members splintered off and went their separate ways, some forming their own societies.   Mathers died in a mysterious car accident in 1918, which some Occult enthusiasts have tried to put down to a psychic attack.  Crowley, disgusted with the whole thing, took himself off on an extended world tour.  His disgust reached new levels when he bumped into an old girlfriend, and fellow Golden Dawn member, in Hong Kong, and found out she had worn her ceremonial robes to a fancy-dress party.  She won first prize too.





Horos was born in Kentucky, so maybe sometime after 1909 she returned there to quietly live out the rest of her life?

That’s probably the most likely scenario. I’m intrigued how she managed to stay out of trouble though, unless she mellowed with old age ….

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