July, 1999

July 1, 1999
A 7-year-old Dallas boy copying a move he saw in televised pro wrestling killed his 3-year-old brother, police said Thursday. Dallas police said the older boy slammed his little brother to the floor with a running straight-armed punch to the neck in late May. "He said he had seen it on pro wrestling on cable television," police spokesman Officer Gabriel Grimes told Reuters, referring to the 7-year-old. The maneuver is called a "clothesline" or "lariat" in the violent and flashy world of televised wrestling. The incident, which police said occurred on May 23 or 24, came to light Thursday when it was reported by the Dallas Morning News. Police said they considered the death accidental and would not charge the boy. The 3-year-old died on May 27 from brain swelling caused by his head striking his family's carpeted concrete floor. Police, alerted by hospital staff to the injury, said they at first suspected an adult had harmed the child. But when they talked to the older brother he readily admitted knocking the younger boy down. Asked to demonstrate what he had done, the older boy ran from about 10 feet away at a life-size doll held by a detective. As he neared the doll, he thrust out one arm at shoulder height and slammed the doll in the throat, knocking it backwards. The 7-year-old was forthcoming to police when they interviewed him, crying and saying he did not mean to hurt his brother. (Reuters, donated by Amos Quito)

July 2, 1999
A police detective reading the confession of Lyle Clinton May in Asheville, N.C., in March told a jury that after May had killed a 21-year-old woman, he also stabbed her 4-year-old son to death. "It didn't seem right leaving him alive," May wrote. "I felt sorry for him. I did not want to see the kid crying or having the memory of his mom being killed." May was sentenced to death. (News Of The Weird, donated by William Leary)

July 3, 1999
Richard Trenton Chase became known as the "Vampire Killer of Sacramento" after a four day blood binge in January, 1978, in which he claimed six lives. Previously he had tried to inject rabbit's blood into his veins. When he was institutionalized he exhibited such strange behavior that the hospital staff nicknamed him "Dracula". He complained that someone had stolen his pulmonary artery and that his head kept changing shape. By 1977 it seemed that his delirium had been kept in check by his medication and he was released from the hospital to make room for more seriously ill patients. Apparently Rich then decided to stop taking his medication. He started thinking that his blood was turning into powder and a Nazi crime syndicate that had been haunting him since high school was paying his mother money to poison him. So he did what any other red-blooded American would do under such duress. He became a vampire. A typically "disorganized" killer, Chase picked his victims randomly and left as much evidence as he could around his home and the crime scenes. He drained his victim's blood, blended it with body organs and drank it. It was the only way to stop his own blood from turning into powder, or so the voices in his head said. He also took some body parts home to munch on later. Chase was arrested a few days after his 4-day bloody swan song through Sacramento. Authorities brought in FBI superstar and acclaimed author Robert Ressler to help find the killer. After his arrest Richie raved about UFO's and other imagined stalkers that were after him. He died of an overdose of antidepressants in his cell in Vacaville just after Chrismas in 1980. (Internet Crime Archives)

July 4, 1999
A few thrilling moments with fireworks can result in lifelong injury. Just ask Matthew Scott. The 38-year-old paramedic from Absecon, N.J., became the recipient of the nationís first hand transplant in January. On Thursday, he said he wished he had never been in the position to make such medical history. In town to help federal safety officials issue their annual plea for safety with fireworks, Scott recalled how he lost his hand nearly 14 years ago during "a little horseplay" with friends and an illegal M-80 firecracker during the December holiday season. "My life was never the same, and it never will be the same," he said. "Yes, I was lucky enough to be selected to get the hand transplant on my left hand but all things considered, I wish I never had to make that choice. I wish I never picked up that device and I wish I never lit it. In an instant, my entire hand was gone. It affected not only me, but my family, my friends who were there with me." (ABCNEWS.Com)

July 5, 1999
The Elephant Man was not the Elephant Man. To be more precise, John Merrick did not suffer from the genetic disorder which has come to be known as "Elephant Man disease." Recent studies of Merrick's remains have confirmed theories that Merrick was the victim of a much rarer disease that was unidentified until a century after his death, in a discovery that would be comparable to learning that Lou Gehrig did not have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Born in Leicester, England, in 1862, Joseph Carey Merrick first began to develop tumors on his face before his second birthday. His condition quickly worsened as bulbous, cauliflower-like growths grew from his head and body, and his right hand and forearm became a useless club. Merrick earned a living by exhibiting himself in a variety of sideshows, dubbed "the Elephant Man" because of a tusklike growth on his face. One promoter dreamed up the story that Merrick's mother had been trampled by a elephant while pregnant, resulting in her son's hideous deformities. Medical science has long sought a more probable explanation. One early belief was that Merrick suffered from elephantiasis, a disorder of the lymphatic system that causes parts of the body to swell to grotesque proportions. Later it was theorized that he had an extremely severe case of neurofibromatosis. This nervous system disorder causes nerve cells to grow out of control, creating large, misshapen tumors. Neurofibromatosis is not phenomenally rare, occurring in one of every 4,000 births, although no known case of neurofibromatosis has ever been as profound as Merrick's condition. In 1979, a much more rare disease was identified as causing overgrowth of bone and other tissue. This disorder, named Proteus Syndrome, has been recorded in fewer than 100 cases, ever. Several years ago a U.S. National Institutes of Health panel suggested that Proteus Syndrome may have been the true cause of John Merrick's plight. A study of Merrick's remains at the Royal London Hospital appears to back up this diagnosis. Sharma based her conclusions on a series of x-rays and CAT scans produced at the Royal London Hospital, where Merrick's remains have been kept since his death. Contrary to popular belief, the Elephant Man's skeleton has never been in the possession of Michael Jackson or any other freak-obsessed private collector. DNA tests will render a final confirmation of the Proteus Syndrome diagnosis, but it might be as long as two years before conclusive results are reached. (Fortean Times)

July 6, 1999
On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg became the only American civilians ever to be executed for espionage. Their appeals exhausted and their plea for executive clemency ignored by President Truman and later refused by President Eisenhower, the couple bid farewell to their two preteen sons and walked the last mile to the electric chair at Sing Sing. They proclaimed their innocence to the end. (The People's Almanac #2)

July 7, 1999
Fifteen snakes were found in the vicinity of a decomposed body in Stanton, Deleware in June, 1999. A neighbor complained about the smell, which led the discovery of eight rattlesnakes, two cobras, and the 3-day-old corpse. The 45-year-old owner of the reptiles was found 10 feet from the open cage of a young Diamondback rattler. Apparently the man was feeding the snake when he was terminally bitten. Residents of the apartments were evacuated by the Delaware Animal Rescue team while a search was conducted for missing serpents. Neighbors said they had no idea that the weird loner kept poisonous snakes. One neighbor named Leroy claimed, "The snake was standing straight up as it turned toward me. It was a cobra." The SPCA notes that it's legal to keep deadly snakes, provided you apply for a permit. (The Darwin Awards)

July 8, 1999
A man found dead and naked on the back of a killer whale in a tank at SeaWorld Orlando was a drifter who apparently drowned after picking the wrong place to swim, police said Wednesday. Police identified the dead man as Daniel Dukes, 27, a man who gave his address as a Hare Krishna Temple in Miami. An autopsy scheduled for Wednesday was expected to show he had drowned, as his body was not harmed. "There was no foul play or anything sinister on his part," said Orange County Sheriff's Office spokesman Jim Solomons. "He was camped out in the park and just took the opportunity to swim with the whale." An employee at the Orlando marine theme park discovered Dukes Tuesday morning, dead, nude and draped across the back of a killer whale "Tillikum," named after the western North American Indian Chinook word for "friend." Investigators said the 14-year-old whale at 11,000 pounds (4,990 kg) the largest in captivity may have played with Dukes' 180-pound (82 kg) body as if it were a toy. Killer whales, also called orcas, are not naturally aggressive to humans and are not inclined to add something new, like people, to their diet, experts said. (Reuters, donated by Joe Colaricci)

July 9, 1999
He said it with flowers. She answered with a knife in the back. Jenny Yoell of Petaluma, California, has been sentenced to six months in jail for stabbing her husband with a 13-inch (32 cm) knife after he brought home two bunches of flowers for her, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported Friday. "She didn't think he should have spent that kind of money on flowers," prosecutor Robert LaForge told the newspaper. The 33-year-old husband, whose name has not been released, drove himself to a nearby hospital where he was given four stitches and then released, the newspaper said. Yoell, 28, was initially charged with assault with a deadly weapon and spousal abuse, but these charges were dropped when she agreed to plead no contest to felony battery with serious bodily injury. Investigators said the violence erupted as the pair argued over the price of the bouquets. As the husband threw the flowers to the floor, they struck Yoell, who retaliated by grabbing the knife. "I made a huge mistake. I was crazy," she told police in this town 30 miles (48 km) north of San Francisco when they came to arrest her. Defense attorney Janet Langton said the stabbing came after a period of rising tensions in the marriage, and that "there was some provocation on the part of the victim." Along with her jail time, Yoell was sentenced Thursday to enroll in a 52-week domestic violence program. Both she and her husband hope to stay together, Langton said. "They want to work on their marriage," she said. "Both are going to anger awareness classes." (Reuters, donated by Mandy A.)

July 10, 1999
Decades of armed strife has littered Cambodia with unexploded munitions and ordnance. Authorities warn citizens not to tamper with the devices. Three friends recently spent an evening sharing drinks and exchanging insults at a local cafe in the southeastern province of Svay Rieng. Their companionable arguing continued for hours, until one man pulled out a 25-year-old unexploded anti-tank mine found in his backyard. He tossed it under the table, and the three men began playing Russian roulette, each tossing down a drink and then stamping on the mine. The other villagers fled in terror. Minutes later, the explosive detonated with a tremendous boom, killing the three men in the bar. "Their wives could not even find their flesh because the blast destroyed everything," the Rasmei Kampuchea newspaper reported. (The Darwin Awards)

July 11, 1999
American General Dwight D. Eisenhower got his first glimpse into the worst horrors at the heart of the Third Reich when he toured Ohrdruf Nord, the first concentration camp liberated by the American Army, on April 12, 1945. Eisenhower had heard ominous rumors about the camps, of course, but never in his worst nightmares had he dreamed they could be so bad. He sent immediately for a delegation of congressional leaders and newspaper editors; he wanted to make sure Americans would never forget this. Ironically, Eisenhower's visit occurred on the same day that Franklin D. Roosevelt - the American who had done more than any other to bring the horrors to an end - died from a brain hemorrhage in Warm Springs, Georgia. (American Heritage)

July 12, 1999
Blood oozed from the nose of a convicted killer executed in Florida's new electric chair Thursday for slaying a pregnant woman and her two daughters 17 years ago, prison officials said. Allen Lee Davis, 54, nicknamed "Tiny" because he weighed 344 pounds, was rolled into the death chamber in a wheelchair and became the first person to be electrocuted in a new chair that replaced a 76-year-old apparatus nicknamed "Old Sparky," which faced court challenges because flames leaped from the head of a killer during his execution two years ago. Witnesses said blood seeped from Davis' nose and stained his white shirt moments after the executioner threw the switch. "This execution of Tiny Davis was not bloodless. The man obviously suffered," said John Koch, a reporter for Florida's Radio Network who witnessed the execution. Victor Selyutin, the doctor who examined Davis after the execution, said the inmate was taking heavy doses of aspirin and Motrin, two blood thinners, to ease the pain of arthritis. "The blood appeared to be the result of a typical nosebleed," Selyutin said in a statement, adding that he saw no cuts or abrasions. Davis was convicted of the 1982 murders of Nancy Weiler and her two young daughters during a burglary at her Jacksonville home. Prosecutors said Davis forced Weiler to watch him shoot her daughters before he killed her. (Reuters, donated by Amos Quito)

July 13, 1999
Hungry or just stupid? January 29, 1998, was a fateful day for Michael Gentner. He was shooting the breeze with a group of men, watching a friend clean his fish tank. Alcoholic beverages may have been present. The friend complained that one fish in particular had become a menace. It had outgrown the tank and was eating other specimens. Michael volunteered to assist. He seized the 5-inch fish and attempted to swallow it. Unfortunately, it stuck in his throat. As Michael gasped futilely for breath, turned blue, and sank to his knees, his three friends realized that something was amiss. They contacted 911 and informed the dispatcher that Gentner had eaten some fish, and was having trouble breathing. Paramedics were quickly dispatched. They arrived to find the fish tail still protruding from the victim's mouth. Despite their best efforts, the 23-year-old could not be resuscitated. The killer fish had claimed one last victim. Although the friends did not attempt the Heimlich maneuver or administer CPR, Akron, Ohio police said it was unlikely that murder charges would be filed. "If I dare you to jump off a bridge and you do it, you're stupid," police Maj. Mike Matulavich said. Apparently Michael Gentner was not a victim of homicide, he was just a Darwin Awards contender. (The Darwin Awards)

July 14, 1999
On July 13, 1793, French revolutionary writer Jean Paul Marat was stabbed to death in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday, as she gave him a list of names to be guillotined. The assassination inspired the famous painting by Jacques Louis David; Corday was executed four days after the slaying. (Rotten.Com, donated by Lizzie Borden)

July 15, 1999
On November 3, 1957, the U.S.S.R. placed its second satellite in orbit. Sputnik 2, several times larger than its predecessor, carried the first living creature, a dog named Laika, into space. Wired from snout to paw with electronic sensors, Laika fed Soviet scientists on the ground valuable data on the biological effects of takeoff and weightlessness. The animal's oxygen supply gave out in 10 days, as planned, and Laika became the first living thing to die in space. (The People's Almanac #2)

July 16, 1999
In January, preparing for a festival at the end of Ramadan, the Taliban government in Afghanistan decided to clean up six trees in Kabul displaying the amputated left feet of recently convicted robbers. (News Of The Weird, donated by sofia)

July 17, 1999
In the New England colonies during the 1600's, sodomy was a capital crime, and executions were not unknown. Even in borderline cases an offender could be sentenced to be "whiped... & have one of his nostrills slit so high as may well be, & then to be seared, & kept in prison, till he bee fit... & then to be whiped again, & to have the other nostrill slit & seared." Those crazy Puritans! (American Heritage)

July 18, 1999
By 1959, the cumulative death toll on U.S. highways exceeded the casualty figures for all U.S. wars combined. (The People's Almanac #2)

July 20, 1999
The lost remains of the forerunner of Britain's monarchy, King Alfred the Great of Wessex, have suffered a turbulent 1,100 years since his death but archeologists say they may soon find them -- in a parking lot. Excavators are digging up the lot in the southern city of Winchester, once England's capital, on the site where an abbey where he was reputedly buried once stood. The tombs at Hyde Abbey were ransacked in the mid-16th century and again in the mid-18th century when it was demolished and replaced with a prison. Archeologists believed they had found his bones in the 18th century and reburied them. A century later an amateur historian claimed he found them -- but now he is thought to have been digging in the wrong place. Alfred, who lived from 849-899, was credited with founding Britain's navy and unifying England. But it was his grandson, Athelstan, who was crowned England's first official king. (Reuters, donated by Bruce T.)

July 21, 1999
On October 12, 1978, Sid Vicious, 21, awoke from a drugged stupor in room 100 of New York's Chelsea Hotel to find his 20-year-old American girlfriend Nancy Spungen soaked in blood under the bathroom sink, a hunting knife in her abdomen. Vicious was arrested for murder. Police later discovered that Nancy had bought Sid the collapsible seven-inch knife. Though some believe the stabbing was a botched suicide pact, others suggest it was a result of one of their regular fights -- she would badger him until he beat her up. But Nancy's mother believed that "she egged [Sid] into stabbing her by convincing him it was the only possible way he could prove his love for her." Shortly after being released from jail on $50,000 bail, Sid slashed his right forearm with a broken lightbulb and a razor blade, crying out, "I want to join Nancy! I didn't keep my part of the bargain." He recovered but four months later was found dead of a heroin overdose in a Greenwich Village apartment. (Entertainment Weekly)

July 22, 1999
The Hunley, a submarine made of old locomotive boilers and operated by hand cranks, made history in February, 1864 when it sank the Union blockade ship Housatonic. It never returned from this journey, mysteriously sinking on its way back to port. This was just the last in a series of tragedies for the submarine. Earlier, on October 15, 1863, the Hunley had sunk while performing a routine diving exercise, killing all eight men on board. The bodies of the crewmen, bloated after the victims drowned, had to be dismembered to remove them from the narrow submarine. It was gruesome work, probably accomplished with hatchets or knives. The remains were buried in a sailors' cemetery in South Carolina, but because of a clerical error, their headstones were removed and their remains were left behind. In 1947, The Citadel's Memorial Stadium was built on the site. Last month, archaeologists and volunteers began working 12-hour days to recover the remains from under the stands. The original Hunley crew will be reinterred next spring following a period military procession through Charleston's historic district. (Associated Press, special thanks to Jon Anderson and Randy Johnson for clarification of the facts)

July 24, 1999
On April 11, 1961, Adolf Eichmann went on trial in Israel of World War II war crimes. Eichmann had escaped to Argentina after the war before being captured by Nazi hunters, who drugged him, and spirited him out of the country. The defendant pleaded not guilty to all 15 counts of the indictment, which accused him of exterminating and sterilizing Jews, pressing them into forced labor, confiscating their property, depriving them of their livelihoods, inducing abortions in pregnant Jews, and stripping Jewish corpses of gold teeth, artificial limbs, clothing, and hair. In the face of eyewitness testimony and captured Nazi documents bearing his name, Eichmann summed up his defense during direct examination on the stand: "I have regret and condemnation for the extermination of the Jewish people which was ordered by the German rulers, but I myself could not have done anything to prevent it. I was a tool in the hands of the strong and the powerful and in the hands of fate itself." It swayed few. Found guilty on December 15, 1961, he became the first person to die under the Israeli death penalty five months later. (The People's Almanac #2)

July 28, 1999
Renowned British forensic pathologist, Sir Bernard Spilsbury (1877-1947), took his own life after careful forethought. Having suffered several strokes, keenly aware that his mental acuity was impaired and that his professional usefulness was nearly at an end, Spilsbury made a significant gesture. He requisitioned only a hundred autopsy forms, instead of his usual five hundred. Day by day, the dead passed through his office, each case ticking off his self-allotted time. When the hundredth form was filled out, Spilsbury dined at his club, returned to his laboratory and gassed himself by placing his head in an oven. (Dead Men Do Tell Tales)

July 29, 1999
In Europe and America in 1962, pregnant women who had been prescribed a sedative known as thalidomide began to deliver deformed babies, some with flippers instead of limbs. (The People's Almanac #2)