Egyptologist Douglas Murray neither liked nor trusted the dishevelled
American who sought him out in Cairo in 1910. The man had a furtive manner
and appeared to be in the final stages of disease. But Murray, a refined
Briton, could not resist the blandishments of his disreputable visitor - for
the American was offering him the most priceless find of his career.
It was the mummy-case of a high princess in the temple of Ammon-Ra, who was
supposed to have lived in Thebes in 1600BC. The outside of the case bore the
image of the princess, exquisitely worked in enamel and gold. The case was
in an excellent state of preservation.
An avid collector, Murray couldn't resist. He drew a cheque on the Bank of
England and took immediate steps to have the mummy-case shipped to his
London home. The cheque was never cashed. The American died that evening.
Murray learned from another Egyptologist in Cairo why the price had been so
The princess from Ammon-Ra had held high office in the powerful Cult of the
Dead, which had turned the fertile Vally of the Nile into a place only of
death. Inscribed on the walls of her death chamber she had left a legacy of
misfortune and terror for anybody who despoiled her resting place.
Murray scoffed at the superstition until three days later. That was when he
went on a shooting expedition up the Nile and the gun he was carrying
exploded mysteriously in his hand. After weeks of agony in hospital, his arm
had to be amputated above the elbow.
On the return voyage to England, two of Murray's friends died "from unknown
causes". Two Egyptian servants who had handled the mummy-case also died
within a year.
Back in London, Murray found that the mummy-case had arrived. When he looked
at it, the carved face of the princess "seemed to come alive with a stare
that chilled the blood".
Although he had made up his mind to get rid of it, a woman friend convinced
him that he should give it to here. Within weeks, the woman's mother died,
her lover deserted her, and she was stricken with an undiagnosed "wasting
disease". When she instructed her lawyer to make her last will, he insisted
on returning the mummy-case to Douglas Murray.
By now a broken wreck of a man, Murray wanted no part of it. He presented it
to the British Museum, but even in that cold and scientific institution, the
mummy-case was to become notorious. A photographer who took pictures of it
immediately dropped dead. An Egyptologist in charge of the exhibit was alos
found dead in his bed.
Disturbed by the newspaper stories, the board of the museum met in secret.
There was a unanimous vote to ship the mummy-case to a New York museum,
which had agreed the accept the gift provided it was handled without
publicity and sent by the safest possibly means.
The case was shipped by the prestigious new vessel making her maiden voyage
from Southampton to New York that month. All arrangements were succesfully
completed. But the mummy-case never reached New York. It was in the cargo
hold of the "unsinkable" Titanic when she carried almost all passengers to
their doom in April 1912.