October 1996

October 1, 1996
Christopher Houck was struck and killed as he chased his runaway cowboy hat in heavy traffic on Texas Highway 225. Must have been his finest hat...

October 2, 1996
The execution of John Evans, who died on the electric chair in April of 1983, was a particularly "difficult" affair. After the first jolt of electricity, sparks and flames erupted from the electrode attached to his leg and smoke and sparks came out from under his hood. Doctors checked and found a heartbeat so another jolt of electricity was administered with the result of more smoke and burning flesh. Again, the doctors found a heartbeat. Ignoring the pleas of Evans' lawyer, a third jolt was administered. The execution took 13 minutes and left Evans' body charred and smoldering.

October 3, 1996
One particularly strange side show freak was "Mortado" - the human pincushion. He found a doctor willing to bore holes into his hands and feet and he would place fake blood pellets into these holes and be crucified as the shocked public looked on. He also rigged a chair that would shoot water out of the holes in his hands and feet and he dubbed himself "The Human Fountain".

October 4, 1996
In Paris in the 1700's, times were desperate and, consequently, one out of every seven Parisians was a beggar. Due to the intense competition among beggars, some individuals began to go to extremes to mutilate themselves or make themselves look diseased, so as to arouse pity and, hopefully, money from the passing citizens. The strangest and most extreme of these practices was hiring a physician to perform a horribly painful operation which produced what was called a "denatsate". First, the mouth was extended by having slits cut from each of the corners to the lobe of the nearest ear. Next, the gums were removed while the teeth were carefully left in place. The final touch was the complete slicing away of the nose so as to leave a gaping hole in the center of the face. The result was a ghastly, skull-like countenance which horrified people so much that they would pay just to get the denatsate out of their site. Voila! - instant cash!

October 5, 1996
The funeral procession for the Ayotollah Khomeini consisted of over a million people and was 21 miles long. For this reason, they used a helicopter to carry his coffin over the crowd, down to where his grave was going to be. However, the crowd started pushing and shoving so much in their attempts to touch the body that they knocked the Ayotollah down into the dirt. They placed him back in the box and flew him off: no burial for him that day. Nevertheless, eight people were crushed to death in the excitement.

October 6, 1996
Douglas and Dana Ridenour dreaded the idea of getting old, so they decided to treat themselves to a $50,000 spending spree and then commit suicide. They made a videotape of their plan and sent it to Mr. Ridenour's brother, who received it two days after Mr. Ridenour shot his wife, his dogs, and then himself.

October 7, 1996
During the Viet Nam War, the U.S. expended 39,424 pounds of ammunition per fatality at a cost of $2,436,657 per each enemy death. Now, there's an example of American know-how at work!

October 8, 1996
Dennis R. Widdison of Newark, England committed suicide in 1987 by pounding 5-inch nails into his own skull with a hammer.

October 9, 1996
A possible medical explanation for the phenomenon of vampirism is a condition called porphyria. Porphyria sufferers are sensitive to light; they may grow excessively long hair; their teeth may elongate and become orange colored. Porphyria symptoms are allegedly alleviated by injections of heme, a compound found in human blood, and aggravated by exposure to garlic.

October 10, 1996
In June of 1966, Thomas Guy Cleveland, a 19-year-old Northridge CA resident, was killed when he attempted to sneak into Disneyland along the monorail track. Cleveland scaled the park's sixteen-foot high outer fence on Grad Nite and climbed onto the Monorail track, intending to jump or climb down once inside the park. Cleveland ignored a security guard's shouted warnings of an approaching Monorail train and failed to leap clear of the track. He finally climbed down onto a fiberglass canopy beneath the track, but the clearance wasn't enough -- the oncoming train struck and killed him, dragging his body 30 to 40 feet down the track.

October 11, 1996
Death via the gas chamber is a particularly excrutiating affair. The process is begun when cyanide pellets are dropped into shallow pans of sulfuric acid mixed with water. The gas fumes rise quickly but death is usually painfully slow. The victims begin to gasp and wheeze then they thrash, scream, and cry. Often they struggle so violently they break free of their straps. Their faces turn purple, their tongues stick out, they drool. Needless to say, witnesses often find this manner of execution rather distressing. What an ugly way to go...

October 12, 1996
A woman in Brooklyn who lived with her five grown children became ill with a brain tumor. Being a religious woman, she stopped taking her medication and told her children that God would make her well. Her kids kept taking care of her, washing her and changing her clothes, and waiting for God to make her well for about a year and a half after she died. It's a strange world we live in, isn't it?

October 13, 1996
Thomas Edison helped to develop the electric chair in order to prove the deadly dangers of Alternating Current electrical systems. You see, he was in direct competition with Westinghouse, whose AC system was becoming the preferred method of electrical production, thus threatening Edison's Direct Current (DC) system with irrelevance. Realizing that he was losing the war, Edison began holding demonstrations in which he would electrocute large numbers of cats and dogs by luring the animals onto a metal plate wired to a 1,000 volt AC generator. Fortunately, this act of cruelty did not work to sway the public to his side and the more economical and efficient AC became the electricity standard. However, the legacy of Edison's Machiavellian maneuver was the development of the electric chair.

October 14, 1996
14-year-old Martine Blot of Paris was killed by a man who fell on her as he jumped from the tower of Notre Dame Cathedral to commit suicide. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time!

October 15, 1996
The preferred method of execution for women in the olden days was the extremely torturous method of being burned at the stake. This method was supposedly suitable for women because the sentence could be carried out with them keeping all their clothes on. Also, being tied to the stake kept them from jumping around in an unseemly, unladylike manner. This philosophy was best stated by legal commentator William Blackstone: "As decency due to the sex forbids the exposing and publicly mangling of their bodies, their sentence is... to be burned alive." Women were burned until 1789.

October 16, 1996
In 1969, nine people died on a river in Zambia when their boat was hit by rampaging hippopotamuses.

October 17, 1996
Leslie Merry of London, England was killed at the age of 56 by a turnip thrown from a passing car in a drive-by pelting.

October 18, 1996
The method of disposing of a body can be a very crucial decision in any murderer's life. For instance, Raymond Vargas killed a girl on the Williamsburg Bridge. Instead of throwing the body in the river, like you might think, he goes and gets his girlfriend. They buy a dollar's worth of gasoline, return to the remote site, and attempt to burn the body. Of course, bodies don't burn very well since humans are mostly made of water. The body is found and Vargas is arrested.

October 19, 1996
In one of the more incredibly stupid examples of accidental (it is assumed) death, a man attached a JATO (Jet Assisted Takeoff Unit - actually a solid-fuel rocket) to his Chevy Impala and went for a joyride in the desert. Unfortunately for him, he hit a curve... quite literally. The crushed metal remains of his car (which resembled an airplane crash) were found imbedded into the side of a cliff rising above the road. It was determined that he was going between 250-300 mph when he came to that curve. The brakes on the car were completely burned away from attempting to stop.
Update: Morbid Facts Patron Kevin Schieberl writes: "The MFdJ for 10-19-96 about the JATO driver's unintentional suicide is a hoax. As I originally read that story several years ago, it occurred in Arizona, but the Arizona Highway Patrol says it never happened. Maybe, though, it really did happen and the driver was a distant Kennedy cousin...

October 20, 1996
A Long Island man claimed he stabbed another guy 72 times and ran him over with a car "in self-defense". Unsurprisingly, he was convicted of murder.

October 21, 1996
After James Dean's fatal car crash, his smashed Porsche was exhibited privately around Los Angeles as a warning of reckless driving. Fans were charged 25 cents to view the death car, 50 cents to sit behind the wheel, and 50 cents to touch the bloodstained steering wheel. The car was later broken into small pieces which were sold as momentos.

October 22, 1996
During a firing squad execution, five gunmen stand just 20 feet away the condemned. Only four of the guns get real bullets; the fifth is a blank. Due to this, none of the executioners are certain that they were responsible for the death. I guess this makes them feel better about it. Talk about rationalization!

October 23, 1996
Oscar Wilde's last words were, "Either this wallpaper goes or I do!"

October 24, 1996
A 1986 Florida survey found that bicycle fatalities had tripled since 1981, when a tough new drunk-driving statute began forcing alcoholics to ride bikes.

October 25, 1996
Charles I, King of England (1600-1649), was beheaded then buried at Windsor Castle in the same vault as Henry VIII. For many years the coffins were lost but they were rediscovered in 1813 and an autopsy was secretly performed by the royal surgeon, Sir Henry Halford. He secretly stole Charles' fourth cervical vertebra, which had been cleanly sliced by the axe. For the next 30 years, he loved to shock friends at dinner parties by using the vertebra as a salt holder. The bone was returned to Charles' coffin at Queen Victoria's command.

October 26, 1996
Attila the Hun died during sex.

October 27, 1996
After English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley died of drowning in 1822, his body was cremated on the Italian beach where it had washed up. During the burning, Lord Byron asked Edward Trelawny for the skull, but Trelawny refused. They were surprised to see that Shelley's heart didn't burn and so, despite the heat, Trelawny thrust his hand into the furnace and snatched up the relic. (His hand was racked by continual pain for many years thereafter.) The heart was eventually given to Percy's widow, Mary Shelley, who preserved it in a silken shroud and carried it with her wherever she went. When their son, Percy, died the heart was placed in a silver case and buried with him.

October 28, 1996
The Geek was the most frightening of the circus sideshow freaks. They even frightened the other freaks. You see, a geek was an unfortunate individual (often a derelict drunk or drug addict with no other financial options) who was placed into a cage and billed as a "wild man" (or woman) or a "missing link". While horrified marks would look on, the Geek would make a variety of unpleasant noises and eat virtually anything offered - warm and still breathing. They would bite the heads off chickens and swallow them. The greatest of all Geeks was Veronica Shant. Unlike many others, she loved her job and devoured chicken, field mice, and garter snake heads with joy... and in the process caused much vomiting among the marks.

October 29, 1996
During the late Roman Empire, there was a fad among the upper classes of having at least one dwarf among their servants. Eager hunters scoured the countryside for dwarfs to buy or steal, but the natural supply soon ran out. Eventually, techniques were developed whereby dwarfs could be created out of normal babies. First, the babies were given food which was deprived of as many growth-encouraging nutrients as possible. If they survived this fragile period, they were then fed a diet which consisted almost exclusively of brandy. Between drinks, they were soaked in vats of alcohol "in order to shrivel tissue and cartilage". Naturally, many babies died from this treatment but their murderers made a tidy profit on those who survived.

October 30, 1996
When Glenn R. Williams started squabbling with his uncle over who should get the dark meat at their family's Thanksgiving dinner, the uncle blew him away with four shots from a 22-caliber rifle. (Now, now - what sort of example is that to set for the children?)

October 31, 1996
Our modern celebration of Halloween is a descendant of the ancient Celtic fire festival "Samhain" (pronounced "sow-in") which was also known as "All Hallowtide". This was a festival marking the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. During this time it was believed that faeries were particularly active and could be rather malevolent and spiteful. The concept of "trick or treating" began when some clever folks decided to dress up as faeries and go from house to house begging for treats. If anyone did not comply, it would result in practical jokes being played on the occupants. An offering of food or milk was frequently left on the doorstep so that the householder could attain the blessings of the "good folk" for the next harvest. These imitation faeries would sometimes carry turnips carved to represent faces, which is the origin of the modern jack-o-lantern.