December 6th – The Festival of the Telltale Pattern; Leila Hartack’s Day

Buentoille likes to see itself as a sophisticated, civilised city, where serious crime is virtually non-existent, and love, rather than hate, dominates. Yet even in the kindest of cities, terrible things can happen, and as is usually the way, to the most vulnerable people. The residents of Etteridge Care Home were a prime example of this exploitation of vulnerability; they were elderly persons with no surviving family. Many of them were survivors of monarchist violence, the sole survivors of their families, with nobody but the kindly Home staff to look out for them. They were the perfect targets for the serial killer Morad Ferim.

As far as anyone else was aware, Ferim was a model employee, looking after the patients with considerable care and attention. He was a delight to talk to, and was extremely convincing to the other staff at the Home, too, so much so that nobody suspected a thing when the patients began dying prematurely at an alarming rate. These were all very elderly folk, after all, and Ferim was one of the only people who had extended contact with them, so nobody even bothered to fetch the coroner when one of them died. Later, Ferim was found to have used slow-acting lethal poison injections, administered as ‘pain relief’.

Yet not all the patients trapped with this terrible man in their home was oblivious to his predations. Leila Hartack had actually witnessed several murders, and had been told various details of Ferim’s further plans, but she suffered from a rare degenerative brain disease which meant that she forgot recent events very quickly. Ferim told her about the murders with a kind of evil glee, knowing that she would forget all about it before she had the chance to report him. What he didn’t expect was that she knew she was going to forget, so she found a novel way to remember, and to warn the outside world.

Today in the Large Soft Museum, the premier exhibition space for textile crafts in Buentoille, many more people than normal will be gathered around the blankets knitted by Hartack during her stay at the Etteridge Care Home. They are colourful things, with complex patterns of seemingly random colourful flecks. Whilst there is certainly a beauty to them, they are hardly pioneering creations in form or exquisite expressions of the mastery of a craft like many of the other items surrounding them. So why have they become so popular? Well, as we know the best art tells a story, and with Hartack’s blankets this is literally true: the flecks are actually Bemmind’s code, exposing (in good detail) to anyone who can read it the crimes of Ferim.

For most of the time she was making her blankets, Ferim was nearby and neither of them had any idea of what she was writing. She planned the blanket design in great detail on paper, whilst she still remembered the murders, and then placed this design in her sewing box so that she’d begin making it, once she had forgotten the horrifying revelations. The code wasn’t spotted until another veteran of the Revolution came on a visit to the care home, a way of getting the residents to make new friends. She’d worked as a cryptographer for the Revolutionary forces, and instantly understood what they said as soon as she saw them, displayed proudly around the home, on the laps of every resident. Ferim was caught soon after with several vials of the poison, and various exhumations proved its use. Hartack lived on for fourteen more years, oblivious to her own heroism. She was treated well.

Twenty five years ago, a film (Memory Blanket) was made, dramatising these events. It brought the story of Hartack to a new audience, many of whom will be visiting the Museum to see the originals today, or re-watching the film at home. There will also be a one-off knitting class held in the craft space within the Large Soft, where knitters new and experienced are encouraged to make blankets with (less macabre) secret messages in them. This style of textiles could be considered twee, given the sweet messages that are usually written into the blankets, if it were not for its considerably edgier origins. Finally, there will be an auction today, where some of the finest proponents of the Hartack style will sell their works to raise extra funds for MHS dementia research.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Wobbly Sleigh
  • Teenage Angst Day
  • The Interdistrict Candlestick Polishing Challenge Finals