March, 2001

March 4, 2001
To retard putrefaction there was a brief vogue for india-rubber coffins in the 19th century. Despite the supposed impermeability of such coffins, the bodies contained within them generally succumbed to putrefaction. P. Brouardel described the result of this process in Death and Sudden Death: 'The body is destroyed in three or four years, and there is formed a liquid greasy substance, like black axle-grease, which rolls about, and when the coffin is opened gives forth an abominable stench.' (Death: A History Of Man's Obsessions And Fears)

March 5, 2001
In the 19th century, dictator Francisco Lopez was Paraguay's Caligula or Nero. His father, Carlos Lopez, had also been dictator and Francisco was accustomed to doing as he pleased. When only a young man, he had started to pay court to a beautiful Spanish girl; she rejected him, explaining that she was already engaged to be married. Shortly afterwards, her fiancé was arrested, and one day the girl went out and found his body, naked and horribly mutilated, lying on the steps. She went insane. (Crimes and Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 6)

March 6, 2001
A Brooklyn baby died the kind of death that could make the toughest cop or firefighter cry. A teenager who hid her pregnancy from her ailing mother and kid sister delivered the infant herself several days ago in a Bedford-Stuyvesant apartment. Then 16-year-old Lisa Small allegedly hurled her child into the small yard behind her tenement, where the family's snarling, hungry dog was waiting. Police learned her grisly secret yesterday after a neighbor called 911 and reported a "newborn being eaten by a dog." Fire Lt. Dennis Murphy arrived at 590 Bainbridge Ave. and found in the icy, muddy yard a pit bull/Rottweiler mix gnawing on a corpse so mangled it was impossible to determine its sex. "At first, we thought it was a doll," Murphy said. "It was too terrible to think it was a baby." Murphy said rescuers used fire tools to subdue the dog while police sprayed it with Mace to loosen its jaws from the baby's body. "Unfortunately, the infant was dead already," said Police Capt. Patrick McAndrews. The dog, which neighbors said was called Midnight and was kept half-starved, was taken to a Brooklyn pound. Small, a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School, told detectives at the 73rd Precinct the baby was stillborn. No charges were immediately filed against the teen, who was being questioned at the stationhouse last night. Neighbors in her building said she was a quiet girl devoted to caring for her mother and raising her 6-year-old sister. "She's not a violent person," said Marie Stanton, 19, a friend of the teen. "She's a good girl." Murphy said the case was even more tragic because Small could have dropped off her unwanted child at any firehouse in the city without fear of prosecution under the Abandoned Infant Protection Act, which Gov. Pataki signed into law in July. "It's very sad, very tragic," Murphy said, "if the baby was, in fact, born alive." (The New York Daily News, generously donated by Catherine Villanueva and desi)

March 7, 2001
For more than 500 years in Europe, from the 1200s to the 1700s, including the heyday of the Renaissance, torturing accused criminals was standard operating procedure everywhere except England. One of the prime reasons that the practice of torture survived and thrived was the stamp of approval given it early on by the enormously influential Catholic Church. In 1252, Pope Innocent IV sanctioned torture as a way to help officials of the Holy Inquisition force heretics to confess. His papal bull ordained: "If torture is appropriate for those who break the laws of men, then it is more than fitting for those who break the laws of God." England, to its credit throughout its history, rarely authorized legal torture... and that refusal to rack and pincer infuriated the Vatican. Pope Clement V wrote to King Edward II (1284-1327): "We hear that you forbid torture as contrary to the laws of your land; but no state can over-ride Canon Law. Our Law. Therefore, I command you at once to submit these men to torture... You have already imperilled your soul as a favorer of heretics." The English king in this instance caved in, and hundreds suffered. (An Underground Education)

March 10, 2001
In the 1200's, Chillingham Castle, the ancestral home of the Grey family in Northumberland, England, was known as "the home of the torturers." In the torture chamber, thousands awaited the most vicious torturer in the history of Chillingham Castle. His name was John Sage. He had a skill for creating painful and barbaric devices. His favorite was the cage, in which he would place his victims before lighting a fire beneath them. Sage would watch as, bit by bit, the victim would slowly cook from the feet up. After years of cruel torture, Sage was dragged out of the castle by an angry mob. He was hanged just outside the castle walls. His body was dismembered and buried at a crossroad so his ghost wouldn't know the way to heaven, and would therefore choose the road to hell. (The Scariest Places On Earth)

March 11, 2001
In 19th Century England, it was common for human teeth to be used for dentures. Aging dandies wore "Waterloo Teeth" - extracted from the dead at the 1815 battlefield of Waterloo. Teeth from the dead of the Civil War (1861-65) were also shipped to England. In addition to extracting teeth from the battlefield dead, and graveyards, mortuaries, and hanged convicts, teeth were also extracted from living individuals hard-up for cash. (Strange Stories, Amazing Facts)

March 14, 2001
A Pennsylvanian transsexual allegedly killed her husband by castrating him. Tammy Lynn Felbaum is charged with manslaughter, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and unauthorised practice of medicine and surgery. Investigators originally thought her sixth husband died of a drug overdose. The castration was only discovered later. Felbaum apparently told police that her husband performed the surgery on himself, only intervening when the operation went wrong and he had signed a consent form. Felbaum is being held in Cambria County Jail and is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on March 20, 2001. (Reuters, donated by Bruce Townley)

March 15, 2001
A British man who jumped off a cliff survived a fall of nearly 400 feet -- but landed on a ledge next to a badly decomposed body. Rescuers said the 22-year-old man had suffered serious and extensive injuries and it was miraculous that he was still alive after falling such a distance. "To live at all is a miracle but to land so close to a dead body is just amazing," a coastguard spokesman told Reuters. The drama began when police and coastguards were called to Shakespeare Cliff at Dover on England's southeast coast on Tuesday night when the man was spotted behaving erratically. Despite their attempts to calm him he leapt over the cliff edge. "The man survived the plunge but landed close to another body. It was very much decomposed," the spokesman said. The grisly find was made by a paramedic who went to the aid of the man as he lay injured on the ledge about 30 feet from the bottom of the white chalky cliff. The man was taken to hospital with multiple injuries but his condition was stable, officials said. A spokesman for Dover police said officers did not know the identity of the dead man. (Reuters, donated by Bruce Townley)

March 20, 2001
London hospitals reported over 316 new cases of cholera between August 31 and September 2, 1854, all occurring in the quarter mile between Golden Square and the Soho district. Over 150 people died of cholera-related dehydration in the first two days of September alone. An English doctor, John Snow (1813-1858), traced the outbreak to a single water pump on Broad Street that drew water from a sewage-infected well. Snow's accomplishment is one of the earliest examples of medical sleuthing, earning Snow the title "Father of Epidemiology." While cholera epidemics have swept through the west coast of South America as recently as 1991, the disease had been in Europe for only 37 years when the outbreak occurred on Broad Street. The disease originated in India, travelled between trading ports, and established itself in overpopulated European cities such as London, where raw sewage sometimes spilled into the streets. Snow saw his first cast of cholera as a medical apprentice at 18, and had continued to study the disease. In 1849, he published a theory that cholera was transmitted through water rather than air, considered a radical opinion by many. When the London outbreak occurred, Snow presumed that the cholera outbreak was due to a single contaminated water source. After obtaining a copy of the death registry, he marked the victims' homes on a map and found that most were within one-quarter mile of the Broad Street pump. The inmates and workers at the nearby prison and brewery, however, remained healthy. Snow noted that the prison had its own well and workers at the brewery drank mostly beer. But a local factory that used the Broad Street pump had lost 18 employees to cholera. Snow's mounting evidence convinced officials to disable the Broad Street pump by removing its handle on September 8. The disease stopped spreading. ( Zooba,donated by Lynne Rutledge)

Silvi Wool adds the following: "I love that story! But you've missed the best part: There was one mystery dot on Snow's map that was quite removed from the rest. It represented a woman who had moved away from Soho, but had died from the same strain of cholera as the rest. It turned out that she loved her Broad Street water so much that she had it delivered to her new home by hand."

March 21, 2001
The Mayan civilization (1500 BC-1697 AD) produced pyramid cities and artworks of exotic splendor, yet there was a dark side to this sophisticated culture of mathematicians, astronomers, and artisans that once occupied the greater part of present day Central America. The Mayans believed in appeasing their gods through human sacrifice, and this was nowhere more strangely manifested than in a highly ritualistic game called tlachtli. Tlachtli was played in specially built I-shaped courts found in most of the larger Mayan cities. One of the largest of these courts is in Chichen Itza in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. It measures 420 feet long and 197 feet wide and is enclosed by 26-foot-high walls. Spectators stood on ledges that jutted out from the upper portion of the walls. Using only their shoulders, hips, knees, and arms, players scored by knocking a hard rubber ball through vertical stone rings mounted on the walls at opposite ends of the court. To score was extremely difficult and rare. If neither team scored, a presiding priest judged one team the victor. Tlachtli was an extremely violent game, and players, usually four or five to a team, wore padded trunks and gloves, helmets, and knee guards. Yet despite all the protective gear, they were often severely bruised or cut by falls, collisions, or blows from the hard rubber ball. When a game of tlachtli was finished, a single player selected by the priests--the winning team was not exempt--was led from the field and (if he was lucky) fed an alcoholic, anesthetizing drink called pulque, made from the maguey plant. A priest then either beheaded him or cut out his heart as an offering to the gods. The sacrificed player gained semi-divine status, and to be chosen was considered a great honor, brief though its enjoyment might be. (Zooba,donated by Lynne Rutledge)

March 23, 2001
A 5-month-old baby died in his car seat while his mother was at work at a nearby restaurant. The distraught woman told authorities she must have forgotten to drop him off at day care. An autopsy was pending to determine the exact cause of Ethan Fletcher's death Wednesday (3/21/01). Temperatures in Dallas reached 73 degrees and officials said that the temperature in a closed car could easily build up to nearly 100. Witnesses described hearing screams from the woman when she returned to the car Wednesday afternoon. She told police she had recalled dropping the boy off at day care before going to work. "It's a tragic example of how quickly these things can happen," police Deputy Chief Alfredo Saldana said. "It's a violation of the law to leave your child unattended for even five minutes." The 24-year-old Plano woman, whose name was not released, was questioned by police and released, but could later face charges of criminally negligent homicide. After the medical examiner determines the cause of death, the case will be forwarded to the district attorney's office. The mother arrived for work at about 10 a.m. The child's body was discovered at about 3 p.m. "I heard these two bloodcurdling screams and ran over to see what the problem was," witness Tony Fraga said. "I saw the baby in the car and tried to help." The child's grandmother told The Dallas Morning News her daughter, a single mother, was devastated on the loss of her only child. "This baby was everything to her," the grandmother said. "She will never be the same. She loved this baby so much." (The Associated Press, Bruce Townley)

March 27, 2001
A Texas man survived for three hours after being knocked down and cut in half by a reversing lorry. Emergency workers took Herbert Lee Grossman's torso to hospital by helicopter and his bottom half by ambulance. Paramedics were amazed the lorry driver was still alive when they arrived at the garage car park in West Pensacola. He was pronounced dead in the hospital. Don Leggett, who spoke to the driver of the reversing lorry, told the News Journal: "The driver said he rolled out, looked in his rearview mirror and all he saw was legs. He just figured there would be a body attached. I couldn't believe it. If you're cut in half, wouldn't you die instantly?" Florida Highway Patrol trooper Melissa Pestana said: "When the paramedics got up to him, he was breathing and he raised his arms to them. I've seen a lot of very horrible accidents, but never one this horrible where the victim actually survived." Eddie Patterson, 55, of Pensacola who was reversing the lorry, hasn't been charged. (Ananova, generously donated by Bruce Townley)