February 1997

February 1, 1997
It is believed that the space shuttle Challenger astronauts did not die immediately in the tragic explosion, as was originally believed and hoped (for their sake), but were, in fact, alive and conscious during the duration of their 2 minute and 45 second freefall from 65,000 feet in the sky to Davy Jones' locker.

February 2, 1997
Another example of the amazing human capacity for stupidity: "A thief who sneaked into a hospital was scarred for life when he tried to get a suntan. After evading security staff at Odstock Hospital in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and helping himself to doctors' paging devices, the thief spotted a vertical sunbed. He walked into the unit and removed his clothes for a 45- minute tan. However, the high-voltage UV machine at the hospital, which is renowned for its treatment of burns victims, has a maximum dosage of ten seconds. After lying on the bed for almost 300 times the recommended maximum time the man was covered in blisters. Hours later, when the pain of the burns became unbearable, he went to Southampton General Hospital, 20 miles away, in Hampshire. Staff became suspicious because he was wearing a doctor's coat. After tending his wounds they called the police. Southampton police said: "This man broke into Odstock and decided he fancied a quick suntan. Doctors say he is going to be scarred for life."

February 3, 1997
Dr. Grey Walter has cited a case of a man who, whenever he went to the cinema, had to fight off a strong impulse to strangle the person sitting next to him. On one occasion, he "came to" with his hands around his neighbour's throat. It was discovered that these seizures - epileptic in nature - were caused by the rate of flicker of the film. Remember that the next time you go to the movies...

February 4, 1997
An unstable coal tip weakened by an underground spring slid down a hillside and buried a school in the Welsh mining village of Aberfan on October 21, 1966. The school was full of children at morning assembly and, despite massive rescue efforts, very few children were found alive. The final toll was 144 dead, 116 of them children.

February 5, 1997
Helen Greenlee was a young and pretty apprentice embalmer who was also, as fate would have it, a necrophiliac. In 1979, she eloped with a corpse from the funeral home where she worked in Sacramento. They drove into the desert together and up into the mountains. The two lovers were found the next morning. Karen had attempted suicide by overdose and had left a suicide note which read, "Why do I do it? Why? Why? Fear of love, relationships. No romance ever hurt like this." Necrophilia wasn't illegal, so Karen was tried for stealing the hearse and for interfering with a burial. She was sentenced to 11 days in jail, 2 years on probation and a $255.00 fine.

February 6, 1997
When congressman Leo Ryan went to Guyana to investigate the People's Temple settlement, he took plenty of reporters with him. People's Temple leader Jim Jones wasn't happy about the publicity. Gunmen surrounded Rep. Ryan's plane as his party prepared to leave. NBC cameraman Robert Brown was taping as Rep. Ryan and three others were shot and killed. He kept taping as the gunmen advanced, shot, and killed him too.

February 7, 1997
The worst avalanche tragedy in U.S. history occurred in Wellington, Washington on March 1, 1910 and became known as the Wellington Snowslide. A vast mass of snow avalanched from the Cascade Mountains and swept down on the town, sriking the railway station area. The whole station building together with three locomotives, carriages, rails and other debris were swept away into a gorge 150 feet below, and over 100 people lost their lives.

February 8, 1997
Elizabeth Bathory, the 16th century "Bloody Countess," was witness to an execution as a child in which a gypsy, convicted of selling his children was sewn up into the belly of a horse and left to die with the animal.

February 9, 1997
The execution of Charles McIlvane (1892)was a horrid experiment gone awry. Instead of attaching the electrodes to him, the electrodes were immersed in two vats of salt water. McIlvane's hands were handcuffed or otherwise strapped down so that they were inside of the buckets. It was believed that this would cause a quicker death. McIlvane suffered horrendously and all who witnessed this awful event agreed that this was not a reasonable method of carrying out the death sentence via electrocution.

February 10, 1997
A woman in Springfield, Ohio clearing out her garage as part of a municipal cleanup day found a plastic-wrapped corpse buried in the dirt floor. Mary Williams said she tried to remove a pair of tennis shoes from a pile of debris during her cleanup work Saturday. "I pulled on the tennis shoes and when I did, I said, "There's something in the shoes. There's a body in them,"" she said. "The leg was the only thing I saw. I ran out." The body may have been there when Ms. Williams and her family moved in to the house about a year prior.

February 11, 1997
Ruth Snyder was a Queens housewife who was convicted of murdering her husband. She was also the second woman executed in the electric chair at Sing Sing prison in New York (on January 12, 1928). However, she is most famous as the star of one of the most famous pictures in the annals of criminology. A reporter from the Daily News strapped a camera to his leg in order to sneak a shot of her death throes on the electric chair. The subsequent full-page photo carried the ever-so-tactful headline "DEAD!" I guess Ruth knew what she was saying when she spoke her last words: "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."

February 12, 1997
The greatest modern earthquake disaster occurred in the Tang-shan District of China on July 28, 1976. The main shock, which registered 8.3 on the Richter scale, lasted a full two minutes and caused the destruction of 650,000 of 680,000 buildings in the city of Tang-shan. Although exact figures are unavailable, estimates of fatalities range from 250,000 to 750,000 people.

February 13, 1997
French founder of the Theater Of The Absurd, Alfred-Henri Jarry, drank himself to death at the age of 34. His last words were in fine absurdist form: "I am dying, please... bring me a toothpick".

February 14, 1997
In 1937, Arkansas bankrobber Rufe Persfal got hold of a hatchet in an Alcatraz workshop and promptly chopped the finger off one of his hands.

February 15, 1997
French patriot Charlotte Corday assassinated Jean Paul Marat, a well-known doctor turned politician who was responsible for the guillotine executions of 270,000 French citizens. She gained entry to Marat's quarters under the false pretense of supplying information on political deviants, and she stabbed Marat to death while he lounged in a bathtub. She was convicted of murder and sentenced to death via the same guillotine that she had saved so many others from. When she was taken to be executed, she viewed the gruesome instrument with fascination: "I've never seen one before. In the circumstances I'm rather curious." Her curiosity satisfied, she died 60 seconds later.
Reader Ben Granby disputes: "Actually Marat was not responsible for 270k deaths. Most of the mass death occurred all throughout the Revolutionary period, mainly in peasant regions that rebelled against the Revolutionaries, much before Marat came to power. (Most who died were shot or mass-drowned on sinking barges, not guillotined. Mass-drowning was much quicker and there are many twisted stories about incidents regarding it, such as a man being loaded onto a drowning ship asked for water and the guard wryly said he'd have plenty to drink very soon.) Marat did help initiate the Terror, but only some 2,000 were guillotined in it and that was after he was dead.

February 16, 1997
When the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas was explored for remains, the body parts of 11 people were found to be reformed into an agglutinated mass, as if kneaded together under the tracks of a tank or compacted in a press. The deceased were found to have died of various causes, including smoke inhalation, suffocation, and gunshot wounds. It is apparent that these people died in different environments and their remains were compacted together after death. This is just one of many morbid mysteries regarding the true nature of the FBI's activities in Waco.

February 17, 1997
Maria Barberi, aged 23, murdered her lover in April of 1895 when he laughed aside her hopes for marriage. She had confronted her lover, Domenico Cataldo, at a card game in a bar and asked him if they would get married. "Only pigs marry," was his reply - a fatal mistake. She walked up behind him and slashed his throat.
Tim Greeman writes: "Your fact for February 17th has Maria's lover, Domenico Cataldo, saying, 'only pigs marry'. My source has him saying, 'only pips (slang for fools) marry' before she slashed his throat." Does anyone know for certain which it was?

February 18, 1997
The Christian Church did not originally frown upon suicide. As long as martyrs were in demand, it was a perfectly acceptable manner of death. However, by the 6th century, the Donatist Sect figured they'd prefer to go to heaven sooner rather than later. The Church lost so many believers that Saint Augustine had to come out against suicide.

February 19, 1997
One of the great morbid figures of Scottish folklore is the "bean-nighe" or "washing woman". The bean-nighe was seen by travellers passing remote pools and fords, ceaselessly beating bloodstained shrouds upon the river stones and wringing the water from the cloth. Sometimes she crooned a dirge to herself. It was said that the traveler who dared to address her would hear the names of those about to die and would also hear - if he wished - his own fate foretold. The bean-nighe was believed to be the ghost of a woman who had died in childbirth (a tragic curtailment of the normal course of life). The dead mother was doomed to be a beckoner of the living, washing the shrouds of those among them who were about to join her, until the date of what would have been her natural death had been reached.

February 20, 1997
On November 13, 1985 a volcanic eruption from a nearby mountain melted snow and sent a roaring mudslide down the valley towards the South American town of Armero . The huge waves of mud hit the town about midnight. Approximately 23,000 townspeople were killed when their homes collapsed on top of them or they were smothered under the cement-like mud, which was up to 11 feet deep. The next day, rescuers located a 12-year-old girl who was buried up to her neck in rapidly solidifying mud. She was standing on the body of her dead aunt. For three days the rescue teams tried to get her out without injuring her further, while she remained cheerful and brave. Finally, she turned her face to them and said quietly, '"God is calling me now," and she died of heart failure. The whole country mourned her, for her struggles had been seen on television.

February 21, 1997
Dr. Henry Lee, a forensic scientist, developed the concept of "linkage" as the basis for a crime scene examination. The goal is to establish a link between the various facets of the crime scene, the victim, physical evidence, and the suspect. The strongest recent example of linkage is the O.J. Simpson case. The DNA analysis of three stains on the console of Simpson's Ford Bronco indicated that the droplets were a mixture of blood from Simpson, the blood of his ex-wife Nicole Brown, and the blood of Mr. Ron Goldman. The bloody gloves provided crucial linkage: one glove was found at the scene and the matching glove was found at Simpson's estate. DNA testing of the blood on the glove at the murder site matched Simpson. The ski cap found near Ron Goldman's body had fibers like those from the carpet in Simpson's Ford Bronco. Goldman's shirt contained head hair which matched Simpson. The socks found in Simpson's bedroom bore traces of blood from Simpson and Nicole. DNA expert Dr. Cotton stated that the odds that the blood found at the crime scene belonged to anyone but Simpson were 1 in 170 million. DNA expert Gary Simms informed the court that the odds that the blood on Simpson's sock came from someone other than his slain ex-wife were a whopping 7.7 billion to one. Linkage clearly established Simpson as the murderer and the abundance of evidence makes this one of the greatest "unimpeachable" cases of all-time. (Just don't tell that to the jury...)

February 22, 1997
The expression "mad as a hatter" is common; a character called the Mad Hatter appears in Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland. Like so many similar phrases, there is some basis in fact. In the 19th century, a compound of mercury was used in millinery and there were well reported cases of hat workers exhibiting symptoms of mercury poisoning (convulsions, impaired speech, mental disorders).

February 26, 1997
On July 6, 1988, an explosion shook the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea. The ensuing fire quickly spread across the platform. Many of the crew of 200 were killed by the explosion; the survivors were desperately seeking ways to escape. One survivor, Roy Carey, said later, "I didn't have time to think it over. It was a case of fry and die or jump and try. There was clear water below me so I just went straight through the railings". The heat on the platform was enough to melt helmets and other survivors described how the soles of their boots melted as they ran across the rig to jump into the water. Despite an intense rescue effort, 173 men died in the tragedy.

February 27, 1997
Horace Greeley, the man who said "Go west, young man," founded the New York Herald Tribune in 1831 and edited it for 30 years. On his deathbed, Greeley was visited by tribune editor Whitelaw Reid. His final words were, "You stole my paper, you son-of-a-bitch!"

February 28, 1997
Pyromania is one of the most peculiar of sexual abnormalities. The following is from the confession of sexual-pervert Peter Kurten, the monster of Dusseldorf: "During the firing of the haystacks the thought that human beings might be burnt added to the sensations that I experienced. I always watched the fires... During big fires, I always had an orgasm. ...sometimes several arsons in one night, then I had no success with the first or second. I also had an orgasm when I fired the woods. It was a lovely sight when one pine after another was consumed in the flames fanned by a sharp east wind... that was wonderful."