March 1997

March 2, 1997
On November 1, 1755 a major earthquake struck Lisbon, killing approximately 60,000 people. Large numbers died in churches where they were attending All Saints' Day Mass. Lisbon's great cathedral was reduced to a ruin and hundreds died there when huge pillars and sections of roof fell on them. Questions were raised as to how a merciful God could have allowed such a thing to happen, killing so many innocent people, including children, on a holy day. Many pamphlets, tracts and even books on the subjct were produced. The priests, naturally, were telling their congregations that God was angry with them for their sinful lives and that they must repent.

March 3, 1997
Rajiv Gandhi, prime minister of India, was killed in 1991 when he was blown to pieces by a suicide bomber of the Tamil Tiger separatist movement, when a young woman detonated dynamite strapped to her body as she bowed before him. Ah, the perils of power...

March 4, 1997
An anarchist bomb exploded in Paris is 1893, resulting in the loss of an eye for writer Laurent Tailhade. He had made headlines some time before when asked his opinion of an earlier explosion; he had replied grandly, "What do the victims matter if it's a fine gesture?" Now he knew...

March 5, 1997
Jumbo, "the largest elephant in the world" and one of P.T. Barnum's main attractions, was killed when he was struck by a train while loading up to travel to the next city. It was said that Jumbo turned back onto the track in order to push his little dwarf elephant friend, Tom Thumb, safely off the tracks. He saved his little friend but he sacrificed himself. (Isn't that a sad but sweet story?)

March 6, 1997
You know the rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.

As with most folk stories, the facts are quite different from the legend. Let's rewrite this factually, and extremely badly:

Lizzie Borden was accused of taking an axe
And giving her stepmother 20 whacks.
When she saw what she did, then
She went and gave her father ten.
Although she seemed the likely suspect,
She claimed that she didn't do it.
The Jury agreed with her she didn't,
Lizzie Borden was acquitted.

Hey, it's 4:30 a.m. - what do you expect?

March 7, 1997
Six women with whom Adolf Hitler was intimately involved (including his niece, Geli) committed suicide. Hmmm... I wonder if there was a connection?

March 8, 1997
One of the more unusual results of the decomposition process is Adipocere. Adipocere is a greasy, soaplike substance which develops on the surface of a body that has been lying in a moist area such as a swamp or in damp soil. It is due to chemical changes that occur in the body fats - hydrogenation of body fats into fatty acids. It develops mostly in warm weather and usually forms in a few weeks. The material is rancid smelling and floats in water. Adipocere usually covers the face and buttocks, but any part of the body can be affected. Where present, the internal organs are usually in good shape, having been dehydrated and mummified in the process.

March 9, 1997
On December 13, 1937, a large number of Chinese refugees tried to escape the Japanese invasion of China by crossing the Yangtze River. They were trapped on the east bank because no transportation was available; many of them tried to swim across the river. Meanwhile, the Japanese arrived and fired at the people on the shore and in the river. A Japanese soldier reported that the next day he saw an uncountable number of dead bodies of adults and children covering the whole river. He estimated that more than 50,000 people were killed at this tragic incident of the Nanking massacre.

March 10, 1997
Billy The Kid was shot to death on July 14, 1881 by Pat Garrett. Using a weapon that had once belonged to "Wild Bill" Hickok, Garrett fired twice. The first bullet removed Billy's buck teeth and took out three vertebrae from his neck; the second struck him in the chest, smashing through his heart.

March 11, 1997
At least 20,000 Irish people died at sea while attempting to immigrate to America during the Great Potato Famine. These deaths were hastened by horrible conditions aboard the leaking, grossly overcrowded ships.

March 12, 1997
When Satanist Aleister Crowley was 11 years old, he killed the family cat in order to discover whether it had nine lives. "I administered a large dose of arsenic," he recalled in his Confessions. "I chloroformed it, hanged it above the gas jet, stabbed it, cut its throat, smashed its skull and, when it had been pretty thoroughly burnt, drowned it and threw it out of the window that the fall might remove the ninth life." Funny, that's exactly what I would have loved to do to Crowley...
Reader Michelle Lincks adds the following: "I would just like to point out a very important fact about Aleister Crowley. He was a man out for recognition. More often than not, his stories were just that, stories. He always made his accomplishments seem much bigger than they actually were. So, as far as his 'Confessions' goes, believe only half of what you read. The other half is the machinations of a deranged psychopath."

March 13, 1997
In Jasper, Arkansas, Keith "FOU" Haigler and his wife Kate took a busload of hostages in order to force a confrontation with the police. They were members of a religious cult called the Foundation of Ubiquity, also known as the Father Of Us. Keith Haigler stated, "I am the spiritual son of the long awaited Messiah." The entire episode was based on a delusional belief that they would be resurrected after the police killed them. Eventually, Keith and Kate exited the bus with their guns in hand. The police fired at their right shoulders to immobolize and save them from themselves. However, both parties turned the guns on each other in a homicide/suicide ending. It should be noted that on the third day neither one of them rose from the dead. (Doesn't this sound like the perfect basis for a Coen Brothers movie?)

March 14, 1997
A terrible mining disaster occurred in Monongah, West Virginia, in 1907. A loaded mine train got out of control, ran down a gradient and broke power lines, creating sparks which started a fire. There was a powerful explosion and 360 men died, either from the explosion, fire, suffocation or being crushed by falling debris.

March 15, 1997
In England in 1968, two little boys (one three years old and the other four) were strangled to death by a cherub-faced 11-year-old girl named Mary Bell. In a display of incredible cruelty, Mary continued to harass the aunt of her first victim, by asking such questions as, "Do you miss Martin?" and "Do you cry for him?" and "Does [his mother] miss him?" on an almost daily basis. The culmination of this form of psychological torture was after she murdered her second victim. She seemingly innocently asked the mother of the victim if she could see Martin. "No, pet. Martin is dead," said the grieving mother. "I know he's dead. I wanted to see him in his coffin," replied Mary with a callous grin. Mary Bell was convicted of the two murders and spent 12 years in a correctional facility before being released in 1980.

March 16, 1997
Herman Webster Mudgett (a.k.a. H.H. Holmes) was one of the most prolific and cruel serial killers of all-time. When he moved to Chicago he started a drugstore empire from which he made a fortune. He built a hundred-room mansion complete with gas chambers, trap doors, acid vats, lime pits, fake walls and secret entrances. During the 1893 World's Fair he rented rooms to visitors. He then killed most of his renters. He also lured women to his "torture castle" with the promise of marriage. Instead, he would force them to sign over their savings, then throw them down an elevator shaft and gas them to death. In the basement of the castle he dismembered and skinned his prey and experimented with their corpses. When police grew suspicious about H.H's activities, he torched the castle and fled. In the burnt hulk of the building, authorities found the remains of over two hundred people. H.H. was caught and hanged on May 7, 1896, leaving behind an impressive trail of blood unequaled for almost eighty years.

March 17, 1997
The largest death toll at sea occurred on December 20, 1987 in the Philippines when a crowded ferry collided with a tanker on a dark, moonless night. The collision was followed by a fire, and the ferry sank before any real rescue attempt could be mounted. When the area was searched by sea and air the next day, only 30 survivors were found. Most were suffering from burns: there was burning oil on the sea around the two vessels. The official count of passengers and crews for the two vessels was 1,556 but the actual total is almost certainly over 2,000.

March 18, 1997
One of the classic examples of a murder investigation occurred in Britain in 1935. Seventy pieces of human body parts were found along a stream in Scotland. Many of the pieces had been bundled in newspaper. The remains appeared to belong to two women and the newspaper had come from a part of Lancaster, where it was soon noted that the wife and nursemaid of a local doctor had gone missing. Forensic examination of the decomposing remains found that the age and body dimensions matched the description of the two women. Additionally, palm prints delicately taken from the rotting skin of the hands matched prints found in the doctor's house. Police also took a photograph of the skull of one of the victims and superimposed it with a photograph of the doctor's wife and found that it matched perfectly. They also made casts of the victim's feet and found that they matched shoe sizes perfectly. Finally, a search of the suspect's house found blood and remnants of flesh inside the drain pipe of the bathtub in which he had dismembered the victims. He was convicted of murder and was hanged on May 12, 1936.

March 19, 1997
In 1917, an overloaded train carrying French troops home from Italy ran out of control on a downslope. Friction from the brakes started a fire and the train was derailed at high speed, killing at least 450 soldiers and possibly as many as 700.

March 20, 1997
Cuban born Julio Gonzalez came to the United States in the 1980 Mariel boat lift. Ten years later, in a fit of jealousy, he killed eighty-seven partiers. Pissed off at his ex-girlfriend, Lydia Feliciano, who was dancing with someone else, Julio bought a buck's worth of gasoline and torched the Bronx's Happy Land Social Club killing nearly everyone inside. Only six survived. As luck would have it, one of them was lucky Lydia, his ex-girlfriend.

March 21, 1997
Carol Berger was an emotionally troubled, restless woman who was formerly one of New York's "beautiful people". She was married to actor William Berger and frequently used LSD to heighten her perception of reality. On the night of August 5, 1970, a party being held by the Bergers in their Italian Villa was busted by the police who suspected rampant drug use. They were declared under the influence of narcotics and imprisoned in an insane asylum. Carol Berger's physical condition began to deteriorate in detention. Eventually, she was diagnosed with peritonitis caused from abdominal typhus and underwent surgery. Her husband was only allowed to view her for five minutes after the surgery and was not allowed to touch her. Carol Berger died on October 14 and after death the authorities ruled: "Penal action will not be taken against Carolina Lobravico Berger since the crime attributed to her has been annulled by the death of the said person." (How appropriate...)

March 22, 1997
On February 17, 1926 a man in Bingham, Utah was taking a shower when a large avalanche roared down Sap Gulch behind the town onto his house. He was lifted from the shower and carried bodily for nearly 100 yards before being set down unharmed.

March 23, 1997
When Oscar Wilde was released from prison on May 19, 1897, he was a broken man. Wilde left England and died in sad circumstances in Paris on November 30, 1900. His remains were buried in the insignificant Bagneaux Cemetery. There must have been plans to transfer the body from the start, since Wilde was buried in quicklime. This was done to transfer the corpse to bone, so moving it to another location would be a 'clean' affair. When the great day finally came, however, the gravediggers were shocked by the sinister sight of Wilde: his body was preserved very well and his hair and beard had grown even longer. The quicklime had only served to preserve the body, instead of skeletizing it. Wilde's remains were moved to Pere Lachaise on July 19, 1909.

March 24, 1997
On August 9, 1987 an angry Philadelphia resident called the police. He said the block was a slum, without even basic plumbing, but he did not expect blood to drip from his ceiling. The police raced round and went to the flat above the caller. They found a female corpse locked in a closet, and the remains of five dead women locked in a bedroom. They also found parts of a dismembered body. A 29-year-old retarded man, Harrison 'Marty' Graham, confessed to the crimes and admitted he was a necrophiliac. No one had to plead insanity for Graham's behavior. He was patently unable to distinguish right from wrong, nor could he make any value judgements. The judge devised a complicated sentence that ensured the accused would never leave institutional care.

March 25, 1997
According to many witnesses and researchers, when the long-suppressed JFK autopsy photos were finally released, they showed clear evidence of tampering and even forgery. Retouching changed the exit wound at the back of the skull to an entrance wound, implying a fatal head shot from the rear rather than the front. The original autopsy photos were taken by Lt. William Pitzer, who told friends he underwent repeated and "horrifying" debriefings. Found dead of a gunshot would which was ruled "self-inflicted" Pitzer still held a .45 pistol in his right hand. He was left-handed. (Makes you think, don't it?)

March 26, 1997
In June, 1971 three Soviet cosmonauts, Georgi Dobrovolski, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov, took the spacecraft Soyuz XI up to link with the orbiting space station Salyut, where they remained for 24 days. On June 29th, the cosmonauts left Salyut to return to earth. Soyuz XI appeared to re-enter the atmosphere without trouble and made a normal soft landing but when the hatches were opened, all three cosmonauts were dead. They were apparently victims of a sudden decompression - a tragic end to a splendid mission.

March 27, 1997
It is estimated that between 500 and 1,000 people die of auto-erotic asphyxiation in the United States each year.

March 30, 1997
Malcolm X was struck down by a total of 16 shots, including the blast of a sawed-off shotgun, from at least 5 assassins. Now that's what I call overkill.

March 31, 1997
On May 11, 1985 a fire broke out beneath a wooden grandstand at a Bradford City FC match in England. A pile of trash that had accumulated under the stage was believed to have been sparked by a dropped cigarette. Fire raced through the stands with frightening speed, leaving most fans unable to escape. The final death toll was 56, including some children, and over 200 were injured.