Investigator Weapons: The Strange Case of Harold Severy

Everything had gone fine until 1915, [Harold Severy] said, when he noticed that people were sticking their tongues out at him. Severy believed that his persecutors had a ringleader, and that lodges had been organized in various cities to torment him. His enemies, he thought, obtained advance information of his whereabouts and plans, apprising each other by underground communications. He tried to escape them by moving from New York to Baltimore, he said, but they caught up with him. Still trying to escape, Severy fled to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Chicago … Returning East, he came to Albany, where his tormentors soon caught up with him and began to cluck their tongues at him. Severy decided finally, he said, that the only way to stop the persecution was to shoot with a … gun.

New York Herald Tribune, “Albany Terror of ʻ16 Dies Mad at Matteawan” (22-JUL-1936)


On 01-FEB-1916, 25-year-old Harold Severy, dubbed “Jack the Shooter” by the press, was arrested in Schenectady, New York, for the murder of James Irving and the assault of three others. He had shot them on 28-JAN-1916 in Albany, New York, with a .22-calibre Stevens single-shot rifle without stock that had been fitted with a Maxim Model 1912 sound suppressor and a wire assembly to trigger the shot with the gun concealed up his right sleeve and the wire being pulled by a twist of his right hand.


Severy was an actor born in Boston, Massachusetts, although his family had moved to Los Angeles, California, after his father, an inventor, had made a fortune. He felt haunted by people in the streets, and consequently increasingly kept to his room, even taking his meals there. He moved from town to town to avoid his pursuers. Eventually he assembled his weapon to fight back.

Severy had been institutionalised twice before in asylums in Massachusetts and Vermont, and had escaped from the one in Vermont in 1912. After his shooting spree and the following arrest he was committed to the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Beacon, New York. He died there on 17-JUL-1936, 46 years of age, and was buried in Hollywood, California.

Severy might have been deranged, but in fact his life sounds a lot like that of many investigators of the Mythos. Suffering from “hallucinations,” he failed in conventional schools and took up the arts, claiming to have performed on the vaudeville stage as well as in several movies ‒ IMDb does not list him, but the films may have been suppressed just like the art of other luminaries such as Frank Marsh, Richard Pickman, or Erich Zann. He might have been hunted by agents of the Mythos just like Henry Akeley and Francis Thurston. He designed a clever weapon to protect himself, only to be carted off to an asylum by unbelieving alienists who literally could not see who or what tormented him … At the asylum, Severy passed his time reading and writing “metaphysical essays,” according to Mattewan officials, who described him as “highly intelligent but insane.”

Severy’s Weapon

The gun found in Severy’s rooms in Schenectady was cleverly conceived. It was fashioned from a .22-caibre rifle, the stock of which had been removed. Severy readily explained to his captors how the thing worked. He carried the weapon on his coat sleeve. The breech fitted up close to the elbow and the barrel, which had been sawed off [sic], projected, with a Maxim silencer, just beyond the coat sleeve when the weapon was in position. The barrel rested along the forearm, and a wire, fastened to the trigger, the catch of which had been filed, reached into the palm of the hand, where a mere twist of the fingers would discharge the weapon.

The New York Times, “Arrest Young Actor as Albany Slayer” (02-FEB-1916)


The ingenuity in concealing both the weapon and the shots was admirable, but if these people really meant him harm, he chose the wrong gun and ammunition. His down-loaded .22-calibre rounds had so little punch that his first victim, James Irving, had originally thought that he had been hit by a snowball; another victim had felt a slap on his back, but his winter coat prevented the bullet from penetrating.

The Joshua Stevens Arms & Tool Company in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, made a whole series of .22-calibre rifles. The one used by Severy was the No.40 New Model Pocket Rifle, a single-shot rifle with detachable wire stock that was also advertised as a “Bicycle Rifle.” This was chambered for the .22 Long Rifle (5.6×15mmR) rimfire cartridge, but could also fire the .22 Short Rifle (5.6×10mmR) rimfire cartridge and .22 Long (5.6×15mmR). It was produced between 1896 and 1916. It had a 38.1-cm (15”) barrel and an external hammer. Severy had left off the stock. He had affixed a Maxim Model 1912 baffle sound suppressor which he had ordered via mail. Overall weight was about 1.14 kg (2.5 lbs) and length some 60 cm (24”). The rifle cost some $15 in the timeframe, a Maxim Model 1912 suppressor would add $5.

In Gaming

In GURPS, the stats for the modified weapon would be as follows. The shot would be at -4 to Hearing (GURPS High-Tech, pp. 158-159). With Sendery’s downloaded ammunition, Damage would be 1d-1 pi- and the Hearing roll would be -5 (compare High-Tech, p. 165).

See pp. B268-271 for an explanation of the statistics.

GUNS (PISTOL) (DX-4 or most other Guns at ‑2)
TL Weapon Damage Acc Range Weight RoF Shots ST Bulk Rcl Cost LC Notes
5 Modified Stevens No.40 New Model Pocket Rifle, .22 LR 1d+2 pi- 1 50/850 2.5/0.0077 1(3i) 1 6 -3 2 $160 2 [1]

[1] Unreliable. Malfunctions on 16+ (see p. B407).


In Call of Cthulhu, the stats for the modified weapon would be as follows. Listen rolls are halved. With Sendery’s downloaded ammunition, Damage would be 1D4 and Listen rolls would be quartered (Investigator Weapons 1: The 1920s and 1930s, p. 75).

For an explanation of the statistics, see Investigator Weapons 1, pp. 27-31.


Make/Model Calibre Skill Base Chance Damage Base Range ROF Capacity HP Malf Year Price Avail
Modified Stevens No.40 New Model Pocket Rifle .22 LR Handgun* 10% 1D6+1 5 1(2) 1 8 97 1916 $20