September, 2000

September 3, 2000
A true corpse feels no pain. This fact has been used in the past to help decide if a person is dead or not. In the nineteenth century Dr. Josat 'invented' a vicious pair of forceps with sharp claws to pinch into the nipples, on the premise that the dead would feel nothing. Another method based on the same principle was to thrust long needles under finger and toe nails. In earlier times attempts were often made to awaken the dead by arranging for women to gather around the body weeping, wailing and gnashing their teeth. Winslow says: 'If possible shock his Ears by hideous Shrieks and excessive Noises.' The truly dead would be oblivious to the cacophony. Whilst on the subject of noses, consider the case of Luigi Vitton, a carabineer in the service of the pope in the 1870s, who was certified dead after an attack of asthma: 'A doctor, glancing at the body, fancied he detected signs of life. A lighted taper was applied to the nose. The body was pinched and beaten, and the taper was applied again, and so often and so obstinately that the nose was burned, and the patient, quivering in all his frame, drew short, spasmodic breaths - sure proofs, even to a non-professional witness, that the soldier was not altogether dead. In a short time the corpse was declared to be a living man. He left the hospital and resumed his duties, but his nose - a scarred and crimson beacon on his face - told till he died (which was soon afterwards) the sad story of his cure in the very jaws of the grave.' (Death: A History Of Man's Obsessions And Fears)

September 5, 2000
The peaks of the Alps in France, Austria, and Italy have given up a macabre assortment of human remains, parts of crashed airliners and detritus of the world wars this summer, as high temperatures blamed on global warming have speeded the retreat of the mountain glaciers. On Mont Blanc, which at 15,800ft is the highest peak in the Alps, fragments from an Indian Airlines Boeing 707, including human bones, have been turning up regularly at the foot of the Bossons glacier, near the ski resort of Chamonix, according to residents. The airliner crashed in 1966, killing all aboard. The remains of a Dijon woman who disappeared in October 1977 were found at 9,000ft on the Peclet-Polset glacier earlier this month, while last Friday, gendarmes defused an unexploded Second World War Italian shell found by climbers at 6,000ft up another Mont Blanc glacier. Bones, climbing equipment and parts from the Boeing, and another Indian airliner that crashed in 1950, had been appearing for years on the glaciers, but the heat wave had accelerated the process, local guides said. On the Italian Dolomites, which have experienced unusually high temperatures of 10C (50F), climbers on the 10,967ft Mount Marmolada found a network of tunnels, and trenches carved in ice and laid bare by the thaw. The complex is thought to be a military base used by Austrian troops from 1915 to 1918. The newspaper Alto Adige reported on Wednesday that the remains of an Italian soldier found in the area would be buried with honours. Local officials said they expected to find further bodies of soldiers from the war. (The Times U.K., donated by C. Martin)

September 10, 2000
An English doctor is being investigated by police after claims that he removed a pacemaker from a dead woman's heart using a penknife. It is alleged that he had originally asked for a carving knife to enable him to remove the device. Dr Arepalli Krishnamurthy is alleged to have removed the pacemaker from Edna Everson, 81, at her home in Bramhall, Stockport. According to police, Dr Krishnamurthy was called to Mrs Everson's house on 20 August to certify her death. She is understood to have died after a long illness. Dr Krishnamurthy is alleged to have asked Mrs Everson's daughter Jennifer, 55, for a carving knife to enable him to remove the pacemaker. He apparently decided against using the carving knife and instead obtained a penknife from Mrs Everson's neighbour. Wearing surgical gloves, it's alleged, he opened Mrs Everson's chest with the penknife and removed the pacemaker. He left the knife, his surgical gloves and the pacemaker on Mrs Everson's bed-side table before leaving. Jennifer Everson is said to have been left upset and bewildered by the conduct of the doctor. She said she thought it was "insensitive". Dr Krishnamurthy, 56, who practises at Higher Hillgate in Stockport, is now on indefinite leave pending a full police inquiry. The police were asked to investigate the case by south Manchester coroner John Pollard. The incident was brought to the coroner's attention by a local undertaker who had noticed an open wound in Mrs Everson's chest. Pacemakers are radioactive and can explode during cremation. They are usually removed at the mortuary from people who are due to be cremated, as was the case with Mrs Everson. A spokesman for Ben Lloyd, the undertakers, said: "When our funeral director arrived he found that there was an open wound and the pacemaker had been removed. The normal procedure is for pacemakers to be removed at the funeral home once the death certification has been issued." (BBC News, donated by Stephen O'Rourke)

September 11, 2000
A policeman committed suicide in the middle of a Cure gig in Prague on April 12. The 24-year-old was found dead in the toilet of the Prague Sports Hall. He had shot himself, but no letter or suicide note was found near the body. A member of the audience described the mood of the concert as "gloomy". (Bizarre Magazine)

September 12, 2000
Frank Nelson, 26, died almost instantly on September 22, 1997 when he fell into a vat mixing polymers at a Nalley Valley plastics factory near Tacoma, Washington. He was pouring colouring into the cylindrical 3ft x 5ft vat when he fell in and was sliced by revolving blades. (Strange Deaths)

September 13, 2000
Pedro Lopez was the son of a Colombian prostitute who abandoned him at the age of eight, whereupon he was raped for the first time. Ten years later, in 1967, while he was in prison for auto theft, he was raped by three fellow inmates, whom he then killed in revenge. After he was released from prison, Lopez began raping and strangling Indian girls between the ages of eight and twelve. In northern Peru a group of Ayachuco Indians caught him trying to kidnap a nine-year-old girl. They beat him and tortured him and were about to bury him alive when he was saved by an American Missionary who turned him over to the police. Peruvian authorities, not wanting to be bothered with prosecuting Lopez, deported him instead. Lopez continued to kill children in Colombia and Ecuador until April 1980, when he was caught trying to abduct a twelve-year-old Indian girl in Ecuador. Lopez led authorities to fifty-three graves. He estimated that he had killed at least 110 girls in Ecuador, about 100 in Colombia, and more than 100 in Peru. (Book Of Lists - '90's Edition, donated by Raven Corbain)

September 14, 2000
A 29-year-old woman was killed and her 4-year-old daughter was injured after they were swept under a large motorized street sweeper in northwest Washington. Felicita Sorto was killed instantly Wednesday when she was struck while crossing the street with a hand-pulled grocery cart and her daughter in tow. "She was crossing the sidewalk northward when she was struck by a street sweeper. She was pulled down into the brushes and killed," the Washington Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement. Officials said the daughter was pulled out of the sweeper's enormous brushes by the driver of the machine, which has a maximum speed of 20 miles per hour (32 kph). "The lady was passing, but the truck was not looking," witness Beatrice Solina said. The Washington Post reported that the woman's body got sucked into the brushes under the machine, and rescue workers spent over an hour extricating her body. An investigation was under way, but no charges had been filed against the driver of the sweeper, officials said. The child was listed in fair condition at Children's Hospital. (Reuters, donated by Jim Matson and homedonna)

September 16, 2000
Five lions ate a six-year-old boy in front of a circus audience after one of the big cats dragged him from his father's hand. When the man took his two children backstage to inspect the animal enclosures during the interval at the Vostok Circus in Recife, Brazil, the lion pounced, pulled his prey through the bars and clamped his jaws around the boy's head as the other lions attacked. Police wounded two people as they sprayed the top of the cage with machine-gun fire. Four of the five lions were shot dead. (Bizarre Magazine)

September 17, 2000
Expecting to be entertained by grisly gladitorial combats, the Romans who packed a newly constructed wooden amphitheater in 27 A.D. had no idea they themselves would become part of a grim spectacle. They had no way of knowing the huge wooden theater in Fednae, a town located just outside Rome, had been built by an unscrupulous speculator who tried to save money by failing to install a proper foundation. Some 50,000 people eagerly crowded into the raised structure before the combat was set to begin. As the seats filled, the pressure on the weak foundation increased, until finally the structure collapsed. The sound of screams and cracking timbers filled the air as tens of thousands fell into the crumbling structure. Some spectators were killed as they struck the ground, others were crushed under the weight of timbers, and still others were battered and crushed by the bodies falling on top of them. Estimates of the casualties vary, with the total dead and injured ranging from 20,000 to 50,000. (The Pessimist's Guide To History)

September 21, 2000
The body of a Russian man found in a ditch in the Netherlands apparently fell from the landing gear of a KLM plane enroute to Amsterdam from Moscow. The man, wanted by Russian police on suspicion of rape, stowed away in the landing gear compartment of a KLM Boeing 737 with another man on Sept. 2, 2000. But when the plane lowered its undercarriage he fell from a height of around 1,950 feet into a water-filled ditch in the city of Zaandam, a few miles northwest of Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. "He was already dead when he fell out of the plane," Zaandam police spokesman Martin Eyben told Reuters. A Russian passport was found several miles from the body, which was discovered on Sept. 7. The body of the other Russian, who also wanted by Russian police on suspicion of rape, was found in the wheel well of the same aircraft on Sept. 2. (Reuters, donated by Gopherbroke)

September 22, 2000
A forest fire engulfed a woman's home on Wednesday, killing her and injuring a firefighter who stayed until the last minute trying to persuade her to leave. The fire, about three miles from Paradise in northern California, started Tuesday and grew to more than 1,500 acres during the night. Crews had expected to contain it by Wednesday morning but shifting wind carried flames across containment lines, California Department of Forestry officials said. A voluntary evacuation order had been issued for the Paradise area, affecting about 1,000 people. A captain from the forestry department tried to talk the woman into leaving early Wednesday, but she refused, said Karen Terrill, CDF public information officer. "He stayed as long as he could, then he sustained injuries and had to leave," Terrill said. She said the captain was treated for burns on his hands and face. At least seven other people were injured fighting the blaze, which destroyed the woman's home and another structure. One person was struck on the head by a falling tree, but was expected to return to work within a few days, Terrill said. Six others were injured when the fire overran two fire trucks. None of the injuries was serious, she said. Schools in the area, about 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, were closed Wednesday because of smoke. The cause of the blaze was under investigation. (Associated Press, donated by Neil Langdon Inglis)

September 23, 2000
Law enforcement officials found Aurelia Lange lying on the bathroom floor, her decapitated head by her side. Her teenage son was nearby, naked, covered in blood and reading a Bible. Investigators believe David Lange cut off his mother's head with a kitchen knife, but they don't know why. "This is really weird because there's no history (of violence) on this guy at all," Assistant Merced County Sheriff Henry Strength said Monday. "We have no idea why this thing happened." Lange, an 18-year-old house painter, was being held without bail on suspicion of killing his 50-year-old mother. He had been on probation in the past, but probation officials said his file was sealed. Relatives could not shed much light on the slaying last Friday at Delhi, a town of 7,700 people in farmland about 110 miles south of San Francisco. Recently, the same county was shaken after two children were killed with pitchforks by an assailant who entered their farmhouse. Investigators discovered the killing after one of Aurelia Lange's daughters called from a nearby town and asked deputies to check her mother, saying the woman had told her she fell down a flight of stairs. Strength said the daughter also reported that the mother said her "son was getting out of hand and that she was having arguments with him." Deputies saw a man lying on the floor about 10 feet from Aurelia Lange's body. He eventually walked out of the house and surrendered. Strength would not comment on the possibility that Lange was under the influence of narcotics. Drug tests could take weeks to complete. In the pitchfork killings, investigators incorrectly jumped to the conclusion that drugs drove a man to break into the farmhouse and kill the children. Police shot and killed the intruder. Tests eventually showed no evidence of drugs or alcohol. "I would have given up a year's salary to tell you (the pitchfork killer) was on drugs," Strength said. "I don't even want to speculate on this guy." (The Associated Press, donated by A Cast Of Thousands)

September 24, 2000
Janice Petrowsky just wanted to be left alone. In death, she got what she wanted. A year after she died at her woodland home, the skeletal remains of the 56-year-old recluse known as "The Witch" were found on her kitchen floor, propped up with a pillow and surrounded by her pets' rotting bodies. Neighbors said Petrowsky's only contact with them had been her angry demands to stay away. Occasional messages, laced with profanity, were left on answering machines. And sometimes, they said, she fired a BB gun at children who came too close. When they began to notice Petrowsky's absence, they kept it to themselves. Officials said that while the woman's remains were too badly decomposed to determine the cause of her death, it did not appear suspicious. Capt. Christopher Linne said Petrowsky appeared to have made an effort to make her last days on earth comfortable. "Her body was propped up by one of those pillows with a back and arms on either side," he said. "She had her things around her ... her inhaler and some personal items. She apparently died in that spot. The pets died where they dropped." Linne said documents found inside the house showed Petrowsky, who had lived alone since her mother's death in 1997, had been dead for at least a year. Officials said Petrowsky had brushed off every attempt to help her. "She basically threw us off the property," said Washington Township Detective Sgt. Michael Bailey. "Didn't want any help from anybody." Bailey said social workers who tried to visit Petrowsky had their tires slashed and that she had been arrested in 1990 for slashing a neighbor's car tires. As bills went unpaid, officials said, Petrowsky's utilities were turned off. In April, a gas company worker tacked a notice on her front door warning that service would be shut off. Neighbors noticed that her windows had been open through the winter and that, when spring came, the property was overrun by weeds. On Aug. 6, a neighbor who found a tattered, 10-month-old copy of the New York Times in the driveway went into the house and found Petrowsky dead in the kitchen. (The Associated Press, donated by Sharon Citti and Bruce Townley)

September 25, 2000
A woman accused of killing her month-old son by putting him in a microwave oven and turning it on entered a plea on Monday of involuntary manslaughter. Elizabeth Renee Otte, 20, could get up to 10 years in prison at sentencing Dec. 4. She originally was charged with first-degree murder, which carries up to life behind bars. She entered an Alford plea, under which she did not admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict her. According to experts, Otte suffers from epilepsy, and her seizures often are followed by blackouts of up to 50 minutes. Prosecutor C. Linwood Gregory said that given such testimony, a jury might have acquitted Otte. Her son, Joseph Lewis Martinez, was found dead in 1999, crammed inside the 18-inch-wide microwave in the home Otte shared with the baby's father. According to experts, Joseph probably died after 10 minutes in the oven, when his blood reached 106 degrees. Otte told authorities at the time that the last thing she remembered was feeding the baby. She had stopped taking medication when she became pregnant, and the baby's father, Joseph Anthony Martinez, told authorities that she had more than 50 seizures before and after the birth, even dropping the baby one time. (The Nando Times, donated by Bruce Townley)

September 29, 2000
"Wizard Of Oz" author L. Frank Baum's later years were full of constant suffering thanks to severe angina attacks which had him walking the floor in tears, facial palsy and a diseased gallbladder. Besieged from within, he turned more often to the land of Oz, writing one Oz book a year between 1913 and 1919. He finished the final two in bed where a gallbladder operation had confined him for his last 18 months. In May 1919, after making notes for his 15th Oz book, his heart began to beat erratically and he slipped into a coma. He regained consciousness twice, once to tell his wife "there has never been another woman in my life," and once to foresee his final journey. With his wife Maud at his bedside, he said quite clearly, "Now we can cross the Shifting Sands." The next day, the New York Times obituary noted, "L. Frank Baum is dead, and the children, if they knew it, would mourn." (Smithsonian)