May, 2001

May 7, 2001
Two men have been charged with abuse of a corpse after photographs were taken in a US morgue. Relatives allege the wife of one of the dead people committed suicide because she was distressed after seeing an image of her husband. Photographer Thomas Condon and Doctor Dr Jonathan Tobias have been charged after pictures were taken of corpses with sea shells, keys and sheet music. Tobias is charged with allowing Condon access to a Hamilton County morgue. Robin Melton, from North College Hill, was found hanged in her room in Mercy Franciscan Hospital, Western Hills. She had been in hospital since taking an overdose of pills earlier this month. "It was just too much for her to take," Tony Chesser, Mrs Melton's brother told The Cincinnati Enquirer. Mrs Melton was outraged by the pictures, according to family attorney Stan Chesley. He claimed she left a note about her anguish after viewing one of the photos of her husband three weeks ago. But Marc Mexibov, attorney for Dr Tobias, said there was no reason to believe Mrs Melton's death was in any way related to the case. Condon's attorney, H Louis Sirkin, agreed. Mr Melton died after being struck by a vehicle while at work in Evendale last November. ( Ananova, donated by Chris Kench)

May 8, 2001
A celebrated actress, Mademoiselle Rachel, 'died' in Paris in 1858 and awoke from her trance after the process of embalming had started. Her reprieve was ephemeral, since she succumbed ten hours later as a result of the chemicals injected into her veins. (Death: A History Of Man's Obsessions and Fears)
Reader Facep2b writes: "I am a little doubtful about the person who allegedly died because of being exposed to embalming chemicals. Believe it or not, I was a licensed embalmer before I went to medical school! The jugular vein is used to drain blood as it is displaced by embalming chemicals injected into the carotid artery. Most certainly, she would have bled to death before the chemicals could have killed her. When the embalmer cannulated her vessels [inserted the injector needle and drain needle, he would have made a large incision [half an inch] in each major vessel, inserted the needles and tied a suture around each one. You would think he might have put sutures on the other side of the incisions, but in the dead body there is no backward flow of blood and you'd want the vein to drain anyway. The embalmer would have known if she were alive immediately when he made the incision into the artery, as it would have flinched every so slightly, and it would have pumped blood all over the place. Likewise, the jugular vein would have bled like crazy. She would have bled to death before the embalmer would have realized she what was going on. Had he been able to tie off the vessels to stop hemorrhaging, she would have stroked. Embalmers are not capable of repairing arteries, like vascular surgeons can. Little has changed in procedure since the embalming process was strarted, so I feel comfortable sharing these facts with you. So, I don't feel the source is accurate or truthful. I think you were mislead. Most people won't pick up on the above points however. Embalming as is practiced in the US and currently the western world, was developed in the US during the Civil War to preserve soldiers' bodies for shipment home. There was a charge, of course, and many embalmers became wealthy as they followed army movements and set up shop after battles."

May 9, 2001
A tombstone fell on a third-grader and killed him during a field trip to a cemetery. Nine-year-old James Wies appeared to have died of a skull fracture, said Richland County coroner's investigator Paul Jones. He said the boy jumped atop the 5-foot-tall tombstone and grabbed it when it toppled backward. ''It was just a freak accident,'' Jones said. ''With the injury he sustained, and with the way it landed on him, it was definitely fatal. No one could have done anything.'' Superintendent Mark Stock said the boy was on an annual field trip for third-graders to learn about historic sites in Butler, about 50 miles northeast of Columbus. He said most people buried in the cemetery had lived during the Revolutionary War. (Associated Press, donated by Skyknyt)

May 12, 2001
Neighbors had long assumed the lonely old man moved from his Chicago home years ago. Mail piled up. Utilities were shut off. Grass grew. Paint peeled. The house was sold at a tax auction on Tuesday, and the new owners found him when they entered. He was sitting in a rocking chair, dead. Apparently, he had died in the chair and remained there for at least four years. "We are not uncaring neighbors over here on the northwest side of Chicago, I can tell you that, but we do mind our own business," explained neighbor Perry Grimaldi. "I do know my local neighbors, and when I think about this it kind of makes me sad." The man was such a loner that police can't find anyone who even remembers his name so they can identify the skeletal remains. Investigators said they found mail at the brick bungalow on North Central Ave. dating back to 1997. But at least one neighbor says she knows why no one remembers the man. "They were very, very unfriendly people," neighbor Marion Mizowski told The Associated Press of the man and his wife. "They wouldn't talk to anyone." She said they wouldn't even respond to simple greetings. But while some neighbors said he was unfriendly, others noted he was just old and suffering from Parkinson's disease and kept to himself. Janina Kolosowski said she noticed something was wrong because nobody took care of the yard. "I told my neighbor, I said 'call the police,'" said Kolosowski. "Maybe he was living in the garage or somewhere. But nobody wanted to bother because, you know, the law." Police say they are investigating the death. The postal service is working with police to identify the man. "I didn't think for the life of me that there was somebody who had been long dead in there because it's kind of really sad," lamented neighbor Grimaldi. ( ABC News , donated by A Cast Of Thousands)

May 13, 2001
Aside from steel mills the railroad industry was the most lethal to its workers in the 19th century, killing in 1890 one railroader for every 306 employed and injuring one for every 30 employed. Out of a work force of 749,301 this amounted to a yearly total of 2,451 deaths, which rose in 1900 to 2,675 killed and 41,142 injured. In the high-risk job category the circus stuntman and test pilot today enjoy greater life assurance than did the brakeman of yesterday, whose work called for precarious leaps between bucking freight cars at the command of the locomotive's whistle. In icy weather, it often became a macabre dance of death. Also subject to sudden death - albeit to a lesser degree - were the train couplers, whose omnipresent hazard was loss of hands and fingers in the primitive link-and-pin devices. It took an act of law in 1893 to force the railroads to replace these man-traps. However a worker was injured it was always "his own bad luck". The courts as a rule sided with the employer. Companies disclaimed responsibility, refused to install protective apparatus, and paid no compensation. Their only concession to human life was to pay for burying the dead! (The Good Old Days - They Were Terrible!)

May 15, 2001
In the 14th century a bizarre disease appeared in Europe in which people would begin a twitching, ungainly dance that soon led to uncontrollable leaping, furious screaming, and foaming at the mouth. This obsessive, paroxysmic dance would last for hours, or for a day or more, until the victims fell exhausted to the ground. Victims often gathered at the chapels of Saint Vitus, who was believed to have curative powers, and thus the name Saint Vitus' Dance was given to the disease. Modern researchers found the disease to be an unusual side effect of rheumatic fever, and today call it Sydenham's chorea. Needless to say, the disease aroused strange fears in medieval times. Victims recounted visions of horrible demons, or rivers of human blood, or sometimes beatific scenes. Townspeople would gather to watch the spectacle, gazing with a mixture of horror and fascination. Saint Vitus' Dance was first seen in Germany in 1347, and spread to France and the Netherlands, then to Scotland. In Italy it was called "tarantism," after the tarantula whose bite was believed to cause it. It was treated with music, which helped soothe the victims, but elsewhere, treatments were often harsh. Victims were beaten, jumped on, dunked under cold water, and squeezed with huge tourniquets. Prayers, masses, and exorcisms were held. The disease abated in the 17th century, after raging throughout central Europe. Today chorea is seen mostly as a childhood disease. (The Pessimist's Guide To History)

May 16, 2001
For more than 500 years in Europe, from the 1200s to the 1700s, torturing accused criminals was standard operating procedure. Tortures, of course, varied from country to country, from century to century, but a few methods proved exceedingly popular:
Strappado: Perhaps the most common form of "first degree" torture throughout Europe. The hands were bound behind the back to an iron bar, the prisoner was then hoisted in the air, sometimes ssuspended for hours. For added persuasiveness, weights totaling as much as 250 pounds could be added to the ankles.
Binding with cords in various ways, especially thin cords around the fingers; also binding to ladders with sharpened rungs.
Roasting the feet, covered in lard for a longer slower burn.
Squassation: Hoisted like the strappado, but then dropped violently, causing disloation of the shoulder joints.
Can you imagine what the THIRD degree tortures were like? Actually, if you've read the archives, I'm sure you can! (An Underground Education)

May 19, 2001
From a rickety tower of bamboo and vines more than 90 feet tall, men of the Pentecost Islands in the South Pacific dive into the air, with liana creepers tied around their ankles. It is a semi-religious ceremony called the Gol and is intended to demonstrate the divers' courage. The nearer to the ground a man can swing, the greater his courage. The lianas are cut so that the diver will swing only inches from the ground. Early in 1974 the Queen and other members of the British royal family were at a Gol ceremony when one of the divers' vines snapped. The man broke his back and died later. (Strange Stories, Amazing Facts)

May 20, 2001
A 38-year-old Iranian women is to be stoned to death under Iran's Islamic law for murdering her husband, a newspaper reported Wednesday. An accomplice, a 24-year-old man, will be hanged for the killing of the woman's 42-year-old husband, who was stabbed to death and buried alongside a cow's skull in a fruit garden outside Karaj, a town close to the capital Tehran, Hambastegi daily said. It did not say when the sentences would be carried out, but public executions normally take place where the crime occurred. Stoning is relatively rare in Iran, where drug smugglers and murderers are regularly hanged under strict Islamic Sharia law. Men who are stoned to death are first buried waist-deep in the ground. If they manage to escape, they can go free. Women are buried deeper to stop stones hitting their breasts. The last time two Iranians were stoned to death was for adultery in June 1996. (Reuters, donated by Bill Paxton)

May 22, 2001
Sarah Malcolm was a middle-class English girl whose father wasted the family's goods, so that she was eventually obliged to become a laundress. She decided to rob one of her customers, an old lady of eighty called Duncomb. When friends of Mrs. Duncomb came to tea on the afternoon of Sunday, February 4, 1733, they found that Mrs. Duncomb and a female servant named Harrison had been strangled, while a servant girl of seventeen was in bed with her throat cut. As Mrs. Duncomb's char, Sarah Malcolm came under suspicion, and money was found in her room, as well as a silver tankard stained with blood. She claimed that the actual murderers were two brothers called Alexander anda woman named Tracy. When the brothers heard of the charge, they presented themselves to the magistrate, and declared they were innocent. No doubt they were, for they were not tried with Sarah Malcolm, and this was in a period when the law preferred to hang a dozen innocent people rather than let one guilty one escape. After her execution, her corpse was dissected and the skeleton presented to the botanic Gardens at Cambridge. (The Mammoth Book Of The History Of Murder)

May 23, 2001
Early Friday morning (5/18/01), a woman walked into Chicago's police headquarters with a clue that helped lead them to a man she said sexually assaulted her. She handed police the man's testicles. The 42-year-old victim was distraught and brought the testicles to the front desk of the police station at about 3 a.m. Friday. She told police that she had bitten off the testicles of a man who assaulted her on a street on the city's South Side, near police headquarters. "She brought the testicles to the front desk and police then took her to Mercy Hospital where she was treated and released," said police spokesman Thomas Donegan. Erik Williams, 21, was charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault. Williams made his way to Michael Reese Hospital for treatment and was charged with the crime and placed into custody. Physicians attempted to reattach Williams' testicles and the attempt was unsuccessful. ( ABCNews.Com, donated by Stephen O'Rourke)

May 24, 2001
A 3-year-old girl was recovering in a Houston hospital after her father tried to scalp her in a weekend attack. The man, Juan Gutierrez, age 24, was shot and killed by police in nearby Angleton, Texas, on Saturday evening (5/19/01) when he refused to stop cutting his daughter's head, Angleton police chief David Ashburn told reporters. "It was a steak knife being used and the child's scalp had actually been cut 4 to 6 inches and (he was) peeling the hair and the scalp back. That's when an officer ordered him several times to drop the weapon," he said. Gutierrez refused to stop and the policeman killed him with a single shot. The girl, listed in stable condition on Monday, was expected to make a full recovery and could be released from the hospital on Wednesday. The girl's mother, who was separated from Gutierrez, said he had never been violent and that she did not know what provoked the attack. He reportedly had come from Houston to celebrate the girl's birthday. When Gutierrez started scalping the girl, the woman ran screaming to neighbors who tried to help, but had to back away when he threatened them with the knife. In a 911 tape released on Monday, one of the neighbors nervously told police to hurry to the scene: "I went in the house and there's a guy in there cutting the child with a knife. ... She's got blood all over her head, ma'am." (Reuters, donated by Stephen O'Rourke)

May 26, 2001
The custom of handing over criminals for dissection to a barber-surgeon became law in 1752. For some odd reason, this seemed to worry criminals more than the thought of being hanged. It was one of many measures the government considered to try to reduce crime, upon the false hypothesis that a sufficiently cruel punishment would act as a deterrent. Another suggestion was to torture criminals before hanging them, breaking them on the wheel or burning them with hot irons, but this was rejected; there would be too many criminals to do this efficiently. But there were other ideas that seemed more practicable. For example, to leave bodies rotting on the gibbet until they became skeletons; to hang them "in irons" - that is, in a kind of iron cage, that would prevent the corpse from disintegrating too quickly (someone suggested that it would be a good idea to hang living malefactors in irons, and allow them to starve to death; this idea was rejected because the cries might upset people); there was even a custom of dumping the body on the doorstep of the person he had wronged, to demonstrate that the law had carried out the sentence. If one had travelled around England after 1752, one would have found many good views spoilt by the gibbet with its corpse in irons. Hilltops that could be seen from afar were selected as suitable spots, to deter the maximum number of criminals. Hanging in irons went out of fashion mainly because it was too expensive, as the suit might cost seventy-five pounds, and the gibbet had to be coated with lead to prevent relatives of the dead man from burning it down. (The Mammoth Book Of The HIstory Of Murder)

May 27, 2001
Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) of Hungary was a legendary beauty who read and wrote three languages and whose legendary career in sadism began modestly enough, by torturing her servants. In this barely post-feudal society, when even priests still believed aristocrats had the right to treat their servants pretty much as they wished, she went from 'disciplinary' beatings with clubs and body-piercing to serial murder. Aided by a manservant and four female assistants, she was able to realize her most extreme fantasies, lovingly detailing accounts of each of the 650 girls she tortured to death. Once, too ill to get out of bed, she had a servant brought in to her so she could bite chunks out of her face, shoulders and breasts, without the bother of standing up. One would-be escapee was suspended in a spherical rocking cage, lined with spikes. Girls' bodies were flung from the ramparts to the wolves, in full view of the local villagers. As her reputation spread, servants became impossible to recruit and the Countess turned to daughters of minor nobility. Her family was embarrassed by her behavior: one cousin, sent to hush up the scandal, found a girl's body outside the castle gate and another two victims inside the house. At her trial, her assistants were sentenced to death. The Countess was immured in a room in Cachtice Castle, with only a hatch for food and a few slits for light and air. Four gibbets were built at the castle's corners, to signify the living death taking place within. (Bizarre Magazine)

May 29, 2001
In the early years of the 19th century, an embittered German widow named Anna Zwanziger, who bore a striking resemblance to an oversized toad, hired herself out as a housekeeper and cook to a succession of middle-aged judges. Apparently, Zwanziger hoped that one of these worthies would become so dependent on her domestic skills that he would end up proposing. Of course, there was one small problem with Anna's plan - namely, the inconvenient fact that each of the men was already married or engaged to another woman. Anna hit on an ingenious solution: she poisoned two of the women with arsenic. For good measure, she also poisoned one of the judges, several servants, and a baby (who died after eating a biscuit soaked in arsenic-spiked milk). Just before her execution in July 1811, Anna told her jailers, "It is perhaps better for the community that I should die, as it would be impossible for me to stop poisoning people." (The A to Z Encylopedia of Serial Killers)