August, 1999

August 1, 1999
A baby died after being put in a tumble dryer by his three-year-old sister at their home in Teddington, England. The seven-week-old boy had woken up crying and his elder sister, believing he had a soiled diaper, put him in the dryer thinking she was being helpful. He was pronounced dead at the scene. (Bizarre, 8/99)

August 2, 1999
When forensic pathologist William Maples was in graduate school, he encountered a truly extraordinary case: an attorney committed suicide by shooting himself five times in the head with a .38 special at his desk, while his frantic secretary hammered at the locked door of his office. When the police came to the room and took the gun from his hand, the wounded man was still very much alive, still able to look at them, follow them with his eyes. The shooting occured late in the afternoon and Maples remained with the man, during a painfully slow death watch, until he died at last, sometime after midnight. The investigation revealed that the unfortunate attorney had put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and fired five times. Two bullets had exited from the side of his face, two more exited his cranial vault near the top of the skull, and a fifth bullet remained lodged in his brain. It is not unusual for autopsies to disclose multiple gunshot wounds in suicide victims, although these occur most commonly in wounds of the torso. For a man to shoot himself five times in the head, and live as long as this lawyer did, was rare indeed. (Dead Man Do Tell Tales)

August 3, 1999
More than 350 people have been killed by angry villagers in Tanzania in the past year and a half after being accused of being witches or wizards, a police report said Tuesday. The killings, which took place between January 1998 and May this year mean that an average of 21 murders a month are linked to superstition, said the report by Tanzania's Criminal Investigation Department. "The murdered people, most of whom were old men and women, were killed by villagers who accused them of practicing witchcraft on them by allegedly killing their loved ones or inflicting curses which made them fail in business or reduced their harvests," said police sources. Witchcraft murders have been reported recently in Mbeya, southern Tanzania, linked to a cross-border trade in human skin. The skin is supposed to protect homes from demons and evil spirits and, when used in certain rituals, to increase harvests and lure clients to bars and shops. Some old women whose eyes had turned red after years of cooking in the smoke-filled kitchens of their huts were also accused of being witches and murdered, the report said. The report said 256 of the killings took place last year and 101 from January to May, a total of 357. Deaths were reported in 14 regions including Zanzibar. (Reuters, donated by Ryan & Shala)

August 4, 1999
On July 24, 1999, a ten-year-old New Hampshire boy named Thomas was experimenting with a weird way of drinking Pepsi by pushing a plastic pushpin into his can. He put it to his mouth and began to suck. He may have been trying to "shotgun" the Pepsi by getting it to squirt out so he could drink it quickly. The pressurized tack shot from the can and lodged in his windpipe. Police Officer Mike Cassidy, summoned by Thomas's older brother and sister, unsuccessfully attempted CPR with assistance from a neighbor. The boy died on Monday at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. (The Darwin Awards)

August 9, 1999
A man in Bremen, Georgia died from injuries he suffered when a large pool umbrella became dislodged by strong winds and struck him in the neck and chest. Ben S. Pipes died Sunday night after a storm earlier in the day caused the umbrella at the Hampton Inn in this west Georgia city to come loose. "When officers arrived at the lobby, it appeared he was attacked," said Lt. Richard Harrison. "But upon further investigation, we determined it to be the umbrella." After he was hit, Pipes, 58, managed to drag himself into the hotel's lobby as the umbrella blew about 100 feet across the parking lot. He didn't know what had hit him, Harrison said. "He said a satellite blew up on him," Harrison said. "But the umbrella coming at him probably looked like a satellite dish." Pipes, of Rayville, La., had been retrieving bags from his vehicle when the umbrella struck him in the neck and chest at about 7 p.m. Pipes died at Higgins General Hospital. The hotel declined comment. (The Associated Press, donated by Bruce Townley)

August 10, 1999
Historians have long believed that Andrew Jackson slowly died of mercury and lead poisoning from two bullets in his body as well as the 19th-century medications he took for intestinal problems. Now, two strands of the seventh president's hair appear to have proven otherwise -- 154 years after Jackson's death. Instead, researchers said, Old Hickory died of kidney failure at age 78. The researchers analyzed hair clipped from Jackson in 1815 and 1839 and preserved by The Hermitage, his Tennessee plantation. While the mercury and lead levels found in the hair samples were "significantly elevated," they were not toxic, said Dr. Ludwig M. Deppisch, a pathologist with Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine and Forum Health. Jackson, who served from 1829-37, was among the sickest of all presidents. Many of his symptoms were consistent with mercury and lead poisoning, including excessive salivation, rapid tooth loss, colic, diarrhea, hand tremors, irritability, mood swings and paranoia. Some historians believed Jackson's frequent ingestion of calomel (mercurous chloride) and sugar of lead (lead acetate) -- medicines he took for intestinal ailments -- caused the symptoms and led to his death. "We fully thought he was going to have mercury poisoning, because of his (kidney) failure and neurological and psychiatric problems," Deppisch said. "But the hair analysis came back proving that he didn't." The researchers believe that Jackson's elevated mercury level was caused by the calomel and that much of the lead came from two bullets, one lodged near his heart and the other in his shoulder. According to biographers, Jackson's health improved after the bullet in his shoulder was removed and he stopped using sugar of lead, which he described as "that potent but pernicious remedy to the stomach." (The Associated Press, donated by Bruce Townley)

August 13, 1999
One of the most imaginative and brutal techniques for committing suicide was performed by a man who wedged a large knife into an old radiator inside a church, then charged the knife repeatedly, butting the point with his head, until at last the blade pierced his skull and he died. What a way to go! (Dead Men Do Tell Tales)

August 14, 1999
On December 3, 1967, Dr. Christiaan Barnard and a 30-man surgical team performed the first human heart transplant in South Africa. The first recipient was Louis Washkansky, a 55-year-old grocer with terminal heart disease. Barely a third of his heart functioned properly, and his condition was complicated by liver and kidney failure and diabetes. When approached about the transplant idea, he agreed at once. At this point, the Barnard crew began the search for a compatible heart and found one in Denise Ann Darvall, a 25-year-old woman who had just been run over by a car in Cape Town. As she lay near death in Groote Schuur Hospital, her father suspended his grief long enough to sign the papers authorizing the removal of her heart. Immediately, Washkansky was wheeled into the operating room to be prepared for surgery. Doctors opened his chest and waited for Miss Darvall to die. After an agonizing 18 minutes, her EKG finally fell flat, and Bernard went in for her heart. While the firm little muscle beat to the rhythms of a heart pump, Barnard cut out Washkansky's worn ticker. Then he dropped the Darvall heart into its new home. After three hours' surgery, Barnard switched off the heart pump, and Washkansky was on his own. The heartbeat was normal. The patient awoke an hour later and within two days he was eating solid food. But the fight was far from over. Washkansky's antibodies were working overtime to purge his system of this alien, albeit life-giving organ. To fight rejection, Barnard loaded the patient with immunosuppressant drugs. While the medication worked, it also lowered Washkansky's resistence to infection. Eighteen days after surgery, the patient died of a lung infection. (The People's Almanac #2)

August 16, 1999
The widespread use of antibiotics has resulted in resistant strains of germs and some surprising fatality figures in recent years for diseases that were once believed to be virtually extinct. Tuberculosis kills 1.5 million people a year, and nearly two billion people worldwide have latent TB infection, a massive potential reservoir for the disease. Cholera recently infected tens of thousands of people during a rampage through more than ten countries in East Africa. Malaria still infects 275 million people yearly, resulting in a million deaths. (Smithsonian)

August 18, 1999
An Austrian woman lived two years with her dead mother wrapped up in a carpet because she could not face parting with her. The corpse was discovered by chance when a policeman visited the apartment in central Vienna to collect the 59-year-old secretary's car license plates for unpaid insurance, the daily Kurier said. There he was hit by an overpowering stench which the woman attributed to the restaurant next door. (Reuters, donated by (Bruce Townley, Terri The Terrible, and Amos Quito)

August 19, 1999
When man first landed on the moon 30 years ago, President Nixon had a speech all ready in case man could not get off again. A contingency statement was prepared for Nixon, an eerie, poignant tribute that he would deliver while the astronauts were still alive but when there was no longer any hope for them. The memo, entitled "In Event of Moon Disaster," is dated July 18, 1969, two days before the moon landing. Nixon never had to act on it. Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin made it safely off the moon, back into the command module with Michael Collins, and home. According to the memo, in the event of disaster Nixon was advised to call each of the "widows-to-be" before reading the statement to the nation. Then NASA would cut off communication with the stranded astronauts and a clergyman would "adopt the same procedure as a burial at sea, commending their souls to 'the deepest of the deep,' concluding with the Lord's Prayer." It has long been rumored that astronauts landing on the moon carried suicide capsules in case their return became impossible. The Apollo XI astronauts spent more than 21 hours on the moon, watched by millions around the world on TV. Nixon had the happy duty of putting in a phone call to them while they stood on the dusty lunar surface. But had something gone terribly wrong, these words were prepared:
"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace. These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice. These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding. They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown. In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man. In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood. Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts. For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind." (The Associated Press, donated by Bruce Townley)

August 20, 1999
Killer bees attacked a one-armed man in southeast Mexico earlier this month, killing him and stinging three of his children. "The father of the children could not defend himself because he was missing an arm. His children saved themselves by jumping into a river," said Romeo Grajales, an official of the Tabasco state government. Officials said the three children were in serious condition in hospital. It was the second attack in two days in Mexico by Africanized honeybees, which are extremely aggressive. The previous day, killer bees interrupted the burial of a man in the western Mexican state of Nayarit and stung 60 people. Africanized honey bees are a hybrid of European bees and an aggressive African import introduced to Brazil in 1956 for interbreeding. Some 26 colonies escaped into the wild in 1957, and the insects have been moving steadily north through Latin America at a rate of about 300 miles (480 km) a year. The bees reached Texas in 1990 and in June were found in northeast Florida, the first time they have been confirmed on the U.S. mainland east of the Mississippi river. (Reuters, donated by Bruce Townley)

August 21, 1999
On April 27, 1969 Bolivian president Rene Barrientos died when his helicopter became tangled in power lines near his hometown of Cochabamba. (The People's Almanac #2)

August 22, 1999
A 17-year-old girl died after an operation to remove a giant hairball from her stomach, the result of her habit of chewing her hair, an investigation has found. Rachel Haigh was rushed to Conquest Hospital in Hastings in southeast England after complaining of stomach pains. While recovering from surgery, she suffered internal bleeding and died on Jan. 1. East Sussex coroner Alan Craze ruled Thursday that the death was accidental. Because Rachel was studying hairdressing, however, he first called in an expert to ensure the hair was hers. Pathologist Dr. Nera Patel said the hairball was 1 foot long, 10 inches wide and 4 inches thick. "It was closely compacted and intertwined in the shape of a rugby ball," Patel said. "No one in our medical team had seen anything like it." Dr. Annabel Moore, who carried out the operation, said the hairball filled the entire stomach cavity. (The Associated Press)

August 23, 1999
Police are revisiting the case of the Boston Strangler, who killed more than a dozen women and terrorized the city in the early 1960s until a factory worker confessed to the crimes. The Boston Police Department's Cold Case Squad is hoping to use DNA technology to analyze evidence from the crimes in order to prove once and for all whether Albert DeSalvo was responsible for the killings, The Boston Globe reported today. Authorities lacked evidence to try DeSalvo on murder charges, but he was convicted in 1967 of sex offenses, assaults and armed robberies and sentenced to life in prison. He was stabbed to death in his cell in 1973, and second-guessing about his claims-- and even the theory that one man was responsible for the killings -- began almost immediately. A 1995 book by Susan Kelly claimed that DeSalvo could have learned all the details about the killings -- information with which he impressed investigators -- by reading the newspapers. Kelly also said DeSalvo could have learned the information from the real killer in prison. Several obstacles stand in investigators' way. Police know evidence exists -- case logs describe sperm samples swabbed from some of the victims -- but have been unable to locate the items. And they think the knife used to kill DeSalvo was preserved, but they haven't been able to find it, either. The knife could provide a clean DNA sample, so investigators wouldn't have to exhume DeSalvo's body. But police say they're willing to dig up the body if they find DNA samples that need to be matched. (The Associated Press, donated by Bruce Townley)

August 24, 1999
Most notorious prisoners at the Tower of London were kept in "Little Ease," a small cell in which it is impossible to stand upright or lay down. They may stay crouched for a week before their torture began in earnest. (The Torture Museum)

August 25, 1999
Cary Stayner, the man who confessed to the murders of four women in Yosemite earlier this year, was the older brother of Steven Stayner, best remembered as the victim of an abduction when Cary was 10. Steven Stayner was kidnapped in 1972 on a Merced street and raised for seven years by a drifter who sexually abused him. The youth escaped from abductor Kenneth Parnell in 1980 but died in 1989 at the age of 24 in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident. Hollywood made a made-for-TV movie about the saga, titled "I Know My First Name Is Steven." (The Los Angeles Times, donated by Shala)

August 26, 1999
German police killed a dog-sized rat which attacked a 59-year-old man outside his home near Frankfurt in July, 1999. The mass-selling tabloid Bild quoted police as saying the half meter (20 inch)-long rat was as vicious as a fighting dog and as big as a dachshund. It said the rodent's intended victim, identified only as Horst L., heard something rustling in a bush and then a sharp hissing. He turned around and saw the rat, ready to pounce at him. "I was rigid with fear," said Horst. "I just had time to grab a wooden plank to fend it off." The rat sank its teeth into the plank and Horst ran inside his home to call the police. Officers tried to grab the animal with thick gloves but it attacked them so they shot it.

Why am I somewhat skeptical about this one? Maybe it has to do with the tabloid source. Does anyone have confirmation of this? (Reuters, donated by Daniel Laycock)

August 27, 1999
A hearse rolled away from a hilltop church east of Manila, hitting at least 20 churchgoers and damaging four parked vehicles before it was stopped by its driver, police said today. Police investigator Ireneo Gatchalian said the driver of the hearse had left the vehicle Wednesday to help carry a casket out of the church for burial when the car began to roll down the Antipolo church road. The hearse hit 20 people, including a lawyer whose left leg had to be amputated, and damaged a truck, a van and two motorcycles before the driver was able to stop it, Gatchalian said. The driver was arrested and appropriate charges will be filed against him, he said. The casket was picked up by another hearse and buried a few hours later, Gatchalian said.(Associated Press, donated by Fiendish Freya Harris)

August 28, 1999
This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Manson Family Tate-LaBianca murders which occurred on August 9-10, 1969. This infamous episode in history occurred when three young women led by Charles Watson and under the direction of Charles Manson entered the Hollywood house of actress Sharon Tate and brutally murdered her and four guests. One victim, writer Voytek Frykowsky, was shot twice, bludgeoned about the head a dozen times, and stabbed over 50 times. Tate, eight months pregnant at the time, also received multiple stab wounds, including a thrust squarely in the womb. The following night the Manson squad attacked the Los Angeles home of Mr. and Mrs. Leno LaBianca and similarly executed them. (The People's Almanac #2)

August 29, 1999
The world's oldest known goldfish died earlier this month at its home in Thirsk, northern England, at the age of at least 43. Tish the goldfish began life as a "roll-a-penny" prize won by 7-year-old Peter Hand at a fairground in 1956, the Daily Telegraph newspaper said. While the 7-year-old Peter grew up and married, Tish, measuring 4.5 inches, aged gracefully, turning from brilliant orange to silver, added The Times, which devoted a full page to its demise. Three years ago, The Guinness Book of Records learned of its veteran age and investigated the claim to the world's oldest captive goldfish title, the Telegraph said. Tish's high point came last year when it won the title from Fred, a goldfish in West Sussex, southern England, which had died at age 41, in 1980. Owner Hilda Hand, 72, was nostalgic on Tish's death. "He became something of a celebrity. People always used to ask how Tish was doing," she told the paper. "I don't think we will be getting another one. We couldn't replace Tish. He was part of the family." (Nando Times, donated by Bruce Townley)

August 30, 1999
On August 29, 1884, a fire broke out in a railroad car in a circus train travelling through Weld County, Colorado. The fire was believed to have started when one of the circus workers laid a torch down in the car to play cards. The car was already in flames when an engineer saw it about 12:30 a.m., while the Orton's Anglo-American Circus train was moving from a show in Fort Collins to Greeley, where they were scheduled to perform the next day. The train was traveling about 25 mph when the engineer saw the flames, he testified later, and slammed on the braking system of the train. He and other men rushed back to the car and found the doorways were blocked with flames and the men trapped inside. The railroad car slept 60 , in three tiers of berths on each side of the car. With no electricity in the car, they used torches, matches or lanterns to find their way. With both escape doors blocked by flames, only one small window was clear for attempted escapes. The men outside began carrying water and pouring bucketfuls on the flames. It did little to stop the rapidly spreading blaze. The heat was so intense, it buckled the steel under the car. Meanwhile,hearing the screams of the men inside the car, the engineer uncoupled the engine and sped to Greeley to find a doctor. He returned with Dr. Jesse Hawes, one of Greeley's most respected doctors and the president of the State Medical Association. For many of the men, it was too late. The story in the Greeley Tribune was headlined "Ten Men Roasted Alive" and went into horrid details of the burn injuries and graphic descriptions of the scene. While the coroner's inquest determined the fire was probably started by one of the men carrying a torch through the car, officials couldn't find a reason the fire spread so quickly. After the inquest, others stepped forward to explain that the "inhumane circus managers" had stacked barrels of highly flammable naptha in the car, blocking both doorways. The day after the fire, the dead (many of whom were unknown drifters picked up along the way) were buried in a large 7-foot by 10-foot coffin in what was then the pauper's section of Linn Grove Cemetery. (The Greeley Tribune)

August 31, 1999
A woman was ordered Thursday to stand trial on animal cruelty charges after a judge viewed part of a pornographic videotape that showed her apparently stomping mice to death. Municipal Court Judge Bruce Minto, after viewing the tape, ordered Diane Chaffin, 35, to appear in his court in suburban West Covina Sept. 9 to answer three felony charges of torturing, maiming and killing mice. Each charge carries up to three years in jail. Chaffin remains jailed in lieu of $45,000 bail. Prosecutors allege that the video was shot in Chaffin's parents' home by her co-defendant, Gary Thomason. He surrendered in Minto's court shortly after Chaffin had been ordered to stand trial, and faces the same charges. The judge viewed the videotape in his chambers. It was not shown in open court. According to court papers, investigators found numerous live animals and several so-called "crush" videos in which animals are killed by nude men and women, generally during sex acts in Thomason's home. As many as 2,000 "crush" videos are for sale on the Internet, according to police. (Personally, I think these people ought to be tied down to the ground while a parade of elephants is led over them!!) (Reuters, donated by Shala)