October 1998

October 1, 1998
An April Associated Press story from Decatur, Ala., reported on the severely reclusive mother and daughter, Evelyn and Marilyn Arnold, who died of natural causes within a week of each other in December. According to neighbors and relatives, Evelyn, 85, controlled every aspect of Marilyn's life, which may have deprived the daughter of the ability to survive after Evelyn's death. Among the pair's idiosyncrasies: Marilyn's abject fear of the telephone; Evelyn's need to record in a notebook every wrong-number telephone call she ever got; their disregarding the bathtub because they feared the previous owner's germs; and their use of a bucket instead of the toilet, even though the plumbing worked fine. (News Of The Weird)

October 2, 1998
Mariella Santello, a survivor of the King's Cross fire (a fatal subway fire in England) in 1987, said, "I turned around to see if Marco [her boyfriend who perished in the blaze] had followed me but I couldn't open my eyes, I tried to shout his name but couldn't even open my mouth." The reason was that her face had literally melted. (Bizarre)

October 3, 1998
Stanton Segner of Denver Colorado was a noteworthy sculptor of many years. His sculptures were unique in that they were composed almost entirely of chrome car bumpers. He often used other parts of cars in the chrome compositions as well. These works grew to enormous sizes and some could even be considered dangerous. His chrome sculptures were sought after by art collectors around the country and after years of hard work he finally opened his own gallery in Denver with the help his friend and partner Ponk K. Vonsydow, a painter. The gallery opened and was doing well when tragedy struck. Sadly and ironically Stanton Segner, the man who made art out of old cars was killed by one on May 1. 1997 around 2am. He died instantly. As If that is not ironic enough consider this. Ponk K. Vonsydow's middle initial stands for Kenneth. The gallery he and Stanton shared was located on Curtis St. Here is the spooky part. The name of the man who drove the vehicle that killed Stanton is named Kenneth Curtis! Weird, huh? (Contributed By Genius)

October 4, 1998
Two-year-old Harrison Johnson disturbed an underground nest of yellow jackets about 5 p.m. Monday (September 28, 1998) near a mobile home where his family was visiting in Town N' Country, Florida. The swarm attacked the boy, resulting in 50-75 stings on his face and head, and 100 to 150 stings on his body. Amazingly, his parents, who witnessed the attack from the porch, did not request medical attention for the boy until 7 hours later, when the boy stopped breathing. "He had some bee stings . . . but he seemed to be all right," his father said. "I got some, too." The father's voice was monotone and unemotional throughout the conversation. Mark Lieberstein, a paramedic who responded to the 911 call, said he found the scene surreal, like something out of a movie. "The boy looked like he had purple dots all over him, the size of a pencil eraser, way too many to count," Lieberstein said. The child had no pulse and was not breathing, he said, but he exhibited no signs of swelling, common in an allergic reaction. Yet the strangest part, he said, was the family's demeanor. "I've been in this field for 20 years and I've never seen an unemotional family, especially when they had asked several times if the child had a pulse and were told "no.'" When he asked why a doctor had not been called, Lieberstein said, the parents did not reply. "I've never experienced an individual with this many stings or bites who had not received medical attention," Lieberstein said. Authorities are investigating the death. (The St. Petersburg Times)

October 6, 1998
On June 7, 1862, William Bruce Mumford, a retired gambler in New Orleans, became the first U.S. citizen to be tried and hanged for treason. His offense? Desecration of the American flag. (The People's Almanac #2)

October 7, 1998
In March, 1998, three men, who for almost a year had been tunneling into a mountain, allegedly for the purpose of finding and stealing from an ancient Han Dynasty tomb in Shandong province, China, were killed by the tomb's noxious fumes. (News Of The Weird)

October 10, 1998
Margaret Ray, 46, the woman who stalked David Letterman, committed suicide by kneeling in front of an oncoming train on October 5, 1998 in Delta County, Colorado. Since stealing Letterman's Porsche in 1988, Ray had been arrested numerous times for stalking the talk-show host. "This is a sad ending to a confused life," said Letterman in a statement. (Entertainment Weekly, 10/16/98)

October 11, 1998
A gay University of Wyoming student was beaten, burned, and tied to a wooden ranch fence like a scarecrow until a passer-by found him a half-day later, near death. Police arrested two men and two women. Police Cmdr. Dave O'Malley said robbery was the chief motive, but that the victim was chosen in part because he is gay and that the defendants made anti-gay remarks after the attack. The victim, Matthew Shepard, 22, told friends he had suffered two other beatings recently that he attributed to his open homosexuality. Shepard was found Wednesday evening by a man on a bicycle who at first thought he was a scarecrow or a dummy because of how he was tied to the fence. He was unconscious, and his skull had been smashed with a handgun. He also appeared to have suffered burns on his body and cuts on his head and face. The temperature had dropped into the low 30s during the more than 12 hours Shepard was left outside. He was in critical condition on a respirator for several days before finally succumbing to his injuries on Monday, October 12, 1998. Russell Arthur Henderson, 21, and Aaron McKinney, 22, were charged with murder, kidnapping, and robbery. They were ordered held on $100,000 cash bond. Chastity Vera Pasley, 20, a student, waived her arraignment and was ordered held on $30,000 cash bond on accessory charges. Kristen Leann Price, 18, was expected to be charged as an accessory next week. Police accused the two men of luring the victim from the Fireside bar, a campus hangout, by telling him they were gay. O'Malley said the three drove off in McKinney's truck late Tuesday or early Wednesday. He said the two men beat Shepard in the truck, then beat him some more after tying him to the fence about a mile outside Laramie. They took his wallet and shoes, O'Malley said. Later, the two young women helped the men dump their bloody clothing O'Malley said. He said the two men made anti-gay remarks to the two women, who told police about the crime. (The Associated Press)

October 12, 1998
In July 1890, Vincent Van Gogh shot himself in the chest. He lived for two days. He spent his last day in bed, smoking his pipe, comforted by his brother Theo. Six months after Vincent's death, Theo died also. (Smithsonian, 10/98)

October 13, 1998
On January 13, 1864, Stephen Foster, composer of such popular songs as "Oh, Susanna," "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair", died at 38 in the charity ward of a hospital in New York City with 38 cents - his life's savings - in his pocket. (The People's Almanac #2)

October 14, 1998
The Battle of the Wilderness was one of the bloodiest battles in the American Civil War. Waged from May 5-7, 1864, the battle began when General Grant's army crossed the Rapidan River and ended, after just 50 hours, with 25,000 dead and wounded. The rifle fire was so thick and so close that it not only killed men but cut off whole trees at shoulder height and set the Virginia underbrush afire. Hundreds and hundreds of men, the wounded as well as the fit, were burned to death. The "ammunition trains exploded," one soldier wrote; "the dead were roasted in the conflagration; the wounded... dragged themselves along with their torn and mangled limbs, in the mad energy of despair, to escape... " (Smithsonian, 9/98)

October 15, 1998
Police know who was responsible for the shooting death of John Hwilka. But the suspect will never face charges. That's because it's a poodle named Benji. Hwilka, 37, a manager at a tire store in Milwaukee, died Monday (10/12/98) in an accidental shooting at his house caused by the dog. Police Lt. Anna Ruzinski said the bizarre shooting occurred as Hwilka was showing his mother how to unload, load and use the safety on a .45-caliber handgun that he kept for protection in the home they shared. "The family poodle jumped on his chest, causing the gun to fire and killing him," Ruzinski said. For Hwilka's family, the unusual nature of the death only compounds the grief. "It was a freak accident," said Rudy Gizewski, his uncle. "The dog jumped on him. The dog would always run to greet him. I think he just took his attention away from the gun. The dog always jumps right into his hands." Hwilka was kneeling near a chair his mother was sitting in when the gun went off as he showed her the weapon. (Scripps Howard News Service)

October 16, 1998
Marcus Aurelius was one of Rome's greatest emperors. His son Commodus was a bit strange, though. Gladiators were considered lowlifes, but Commodus liked to participate in the games. He made over a thousand appearances in the Colosseum. Commodus fought wild animals, including a tiger, hippopotamus, and elephant. In one performance he killed a hundred bears with a bow and arrow. His skill was phenomenal. Using special arrowheads, he lopped the heads from running ostriches then waved one at senators in the stands as a warning. Commodus' megalomania knew no bounds. He called himself the Roman Hercules and insisted that Rome be renamed "Commodiana". He paid himself lavishly for his appearances in the Colosseum, which helped him maintain a harem of 300 women and boys. The senators were not amused. They sent a gladiator to strangle Commodus in his bath. it was his last bout. He lost. (The Big Book Of Bad)

October 17, 1998
Carl Switzer, otherwise known as "Alfalfa" of "Little Rascals" fame, died in 1959 at the age of 31 when he was shot to death by an ex-business partner in the big-game hunting business. Allegedly, the man owed Switzer $50, and the shooting was called a justifiable homicide, because Switzer threatened him with a knife. This has been disputed because of claims by family and friends that he never carried weapons. (Rascal Bios)

October 18, 1998
In April, engineer Suhrid Ganguly, 22, hanged himself in Calcutta, India, after becoming despondent at attempts to have his telephone fixed without paying a bribe. Wrote Ganguly in his suicide note, "[T]here is no other way to change the system and get an honest right to live." (News Of The Weird).

October 19, 1998
Doc Holliday was a successful dentist who turned to a life of lawlessness after he contracted tuberculosis and was told by doctors that he had only a few months to live. He soon gained a reputation as one of the meanest, deadliest gunslingers in the old west. Doc Holliday killed dozens and, by his own estimate, escaped violent death 13 times. He always thought he'd go out in a gunfight or at the end of a rope, so when his tuberculosis finally got him, on November 8, 1887 at the age of 36, his last words were, "This is funny!" (The Big Book Of The Weird Wild West)

October 20, 1998
In 1997, a team of young U.S. Army scientists reported in the journal Science that it had been able to identify a significant portion of the deadly 1918 flu virus's genetic structure. They found the genetic material in the preserved lung tissue of a 25-year-old soldier who had died at Fort Jackson, S.C., in September 1918, just weeks before he was to sail to France. (Rolling Stone, 1/22/98)

October 21, 1998
In 1850, shortly after the discovery of gold in California, a law was passed prohibiting persons of Mexican descent from prospecting in the gold-rich area called the mother lode. Soon, many "gringos" were being killed by Mexicans who felt they had a right to mine the gold. These bandidos formed gangs, the most feared of which was led by Joaquin Murieta. Murieta had a sadistically fearsome henchman named "Three-Fingered Jack" - but his missing fingers did little to hamper Garcia's skill at killing prospectors. Members of the Texas Rangers, who were hired to take care of the "Murieta Problem", ambushed Garcia and a man they assumed to be Murieta, and shot and killed the men instantly. While the remaining survivors of the gang fled, Texas Ranger leader Harry Love hacked off the head of Murieta and the hand of Three-Fingered Jack. The head and hand were placed in jars of preserving fluid and transported back to San Francisco. Within the Mexican community, rumors circulated that Murieta had survived the massacre. However, despite the rumors, Murieta's head and Jack's hand were put on display in San Francisco on August 12, 1853. Thus began "The Curse of Murieta". The promoter went bankrupt and was forced to sell the head and hand; the man who bought the items committed suicide shortly thereafter; and the third owner died when his gun accidentally went off, killing him. The curse finally ended when the head and hand were destroyed during the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. (The Big Book Of The Weird Wild West)

October 23, 1998
On June 15, 1867 Mary Wiggins Burnsworth of Mc-Cordsville, Indiana went under the knife in the first gallstone operation. Dr. John Stough Bobbs performed the surgery and thus became known as the father of cholecystectomy. (The People's Almanac #2)

October 25, 1998
Tina Christopherson, a 29-year-old Florida woman, died in 1977 by consuming so much water that her kidneys were overwhelmed. She had been in the habit of periodic fasts to cleanse her body, drinking up to four gallons of water per day. (Trivial Trivia, donated by Fiendish Freya Harris)

October 26, 1998
On June 19, 1867, Maximilian, emperor of Mexico, was executed at Queretaro, Mexico, bringing to an end the three-year-old French empire in that country. Just before being executed, Maximilian left his place at the wall and walked up to the seven startled executioners. To each man he gave a one-ounce gold piece, along with a request that the riflemen aim squarely for the heart and spare Maximilian's head so that his family back in Austria might later view his lifeless face intact. Resuming his place, he offered his last words: "May my blood flow for the good of this land. Viva Mexico!" With that, he was shot. A coup de grace to the heart was necessary to finish off Maximilian. As for his last request, it was ignored. One of the bullets shattered his forehead. (The People's Almanac #2)

October 28, 1998
A Danish man bade his dead father farewell by taking his corpse for a motorcycle ride over the weekend, stopping at a bar for beer and a cigar. Flemming Pedersen, 37, asked the staff at the hospital where his 86-year-old father died if he could be left alone with him for a while, the tabloid BT reported on Monday. Pederson dressed the rigid corpse in leather gear, boots, a helmet and dark sunglasses and walked it out of the hospital. Then he strapped the body to the seat of his Harley Davidson with elastic straps and drove around metropolitan Copenhagen for three hours, visiting his father's favorite spots. He stopped at a curbside bar, where he bought two beers and stuck a lit cigar between his dead father's lips. Pedersen said he had taken the last ride with his father to have a chat with him and that he felt good about it afterward. (Netscape News, generously donated by Sherrard Ewing)

October 29, 1998
Manchester, England - A 16-year-old boy obsessed with smelling nice died after months of repeatedly spraying his entire body with deodorant, a coroner ruled. Jonathan Capewell had 10 times the lethal dosage of propane and butane in his blood when he suffered a heart attack and died July 29, 1998 coroner Barrie Williams said. It is believed the fumes built up in Capewell's body following months of "high" deodorant use, Williams said. "His personal hygiene led him to use more than was normal in a confined space, which limits ventilation," said the coroner, who recorded the death as accidental. Jonathan's father, Keith Capewell, said his son would cover his entire body with deodorant at least twice a day. "When we told him he was using too much, he said he just wanted to smell good," Capewell said. "Even when we were in a room downstairs, we couldn't just smell it -- we could taste it," the father said. "You wouldn't have thought that could have been the cause for someone to die. What a price to pay for smelling nice." The boy's mother, Louise, called for better warnings on deodorant cans. "You just get up in the morning and spray it on, but who expects it to kill you?" she said. (Spokane.Net, donated by Peter Ceulemans)

October 31, 1998
Wayne Tikkanen, a professor of chemistry at UCLA, believes that the vampire and werewolf myths of 16th and 17th century Romania and Hungary were actually the result of victims of the rare disorder porphyria. Now treatable, the disease weakens the flesh against ultraviolet rays and changes heme, a component of blood that carries oxygen to the brain, into a toxin. Thinking of it as a folk remedy, some of these people may have drank animal blood to relieve their pain. However, they did not thirst for blood. Porphyria sufferers were generally hunted down and burned at the stake by judges, clergy and ordinary citizens who mistook their disease for a curse. As porphyria symptoms worsen, the skin begins to blacken and rupture in the sun. Abnormal amounts of hair grow in the scars. Burned lips peel back making the teeth more prominent, the nose erodes and in some cases the fingers disintegrate, making the hands resemble paws. A few variations of porphyria result in insanity and delusions including agonizing pains. Those whose skin is particularly sensitive would only go out after sunset. Tikkanen has read some documented cases in which ordinary citizens would find these disease victims hiding from the sun in coffins or buried under a few inches of dirt in the woods. "They'd dig them out of the ground, and these people would struggle frenetically beause they'd soon be ripped apart and burned," Tikkannen said. Other aspects of the vampire/werewolf myth could be explained as well: The latent disorder could be triggered by a sudden loss of blood, which could result from a vicious animal attack. Sufferers abhor garlic, which stimulates the creation of toxins in their blood and could make them violently ill. They also may have feared the cross, the sign of the religious and the inquisitors, who sought either to hear their confessions or have them burned. "Just think: you're horribly disfigured but you're perfectly lucid," Tikkanen said. "You don't know what's happening to you, and the doctor doesn't want to treat you even if he knew how. Your priest wants you to confess your sins or the judge will burn you at the stake. But you don't know what you've done wrong. I think this would be a horrible way to live." (Associated Press)