December, 2001

December 1 , 2001
An Italian man is accused of killing his cousin with a chainsaw in a billion lire ($460,000) insurance scam that went horribly wrong. The body of 23-year-old Andreas Plack was discovered on Wednesday (November 28, 2001) in a pool of blood in his home town in the far north of Italy. His 29-year old cousin, Christian Kleon, insisted the death was an accident. Kleon said that Plack wanted to cash in on a generous insurance policy and had persuaded him to cut open his leg with a chainsaw. To make it look like a crime, Kleon then fled the scene and threw the chainsaw into a nearby river. Plack, a part-time bouncer who wanted to become a private detective, was a first aid expert and the pair believed he would be able to stem the bleeding before calling for help. But the cut was too deep and when he phoned for an ambulance his voice was so distorted by pain operators could not understand where he was. Kleon is under arrest and faces a murder charge. (Reuters)

December 3, 2001
An 8-year-old girl died after her family's pet Burmese python wrapped itself around her neck and suffocated her. The 10-foot-long snake was one of five owned by the family. Amber Mountain's mother left home for a short time on Wednesday and returned to find that the snake had escaped from its cage. The girl was unconscious and had no pulse when paramedics arrived. She died at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh on Friday night. Pythons kill by coiling themselves around their prey and constricting until their victims are asphyxiated. (Reuters, donated by JoAnn Elliott)

December 5, 2001
Here's another splendid example of 19th Century newspaper melodrama, courtesy Alf's morbid scrapbook (a.k.a. The Steele Scrapbook):
MARSHALL, Ill., Aug. 18.—One of the most horrible cases of suffering on record is reported from McKean, six miles east of here. On the 8th of the month, David Black, aged eleven, was thrown from a horse and his arm broken in two places. An unskillful physician set it, leaving one of the bones protruding through the flesh. Mortification set in and soon spread to the child's shoulders and body. The mortified arm was left exposed to the flies by some means, and last Wedensday worms began working at the flesh of the living boy. After suffering the most awful agonies for five days and having his arm daily eaten away by the worms, the sufferer died Sunday night and the remains were buried at once. The surgeon has been warned to leave the country. (The Steele Scrapbook, donated by Alf)

December 8, 2001
A suicidal man in England pulled a funny face at a train driver seconds before he was hit. Jonathan Gundry, 38, stuck his tongue out and put his thumbs in his ears as he stepped into the train's path. Mr Gundry died instantly when the express struck him at high speed. Driver David Bowen told an inquest how Mr Gundry appeared in front of his Swansea to Paddington train. He said: "Fifty to 60 yards away, a man stood in front of me. He made a gesture to me, putting his hands to his head to make wings and stuck his tongue out. I heard a bang and it took me half a mile to stop." Mr Gundry, a restaurant manager, of Pontyclun, Mid Glamorgan, had been twice the drink-drive limit. He left a suicide note saying: "We are all going to die. I'm just checking out early. I never got the life I wanted." (The Daily Record, donated by Susan Prendergast)

December 10, 2001
A man who had been practicing archery in the back yard with his two children died when his cesspool caved in and swallowed him. Michael Lobasso, 35, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, was standing on the ground above the cesspool when it gave way at about 12:40 p.m. Monday, September 3, 2001. Searchers located his body a few hours later, but worked throughout the night to remove it because the walls of the 18-foot-deep cesspool were crumbling on top of the quicksand-like pool. The body was recovered at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. "The more they dug, the worse the body actually got stuck," Detective Sgt. Arthur Ahl said. When rescue crews arrived, they found a 3-foot-wide hole that grew to about 15 feet across as they searched. Fire officials told Newsday they didn't see any construction or digging that could have caused the cesspool to cave in. (The Associated Press, donated by Glia)

December 11, 2001
The young man making his way along the Street of the Prophets was dressed in a skullcap, white shirt and dark trousers - the sober garb of an Orthodox Jew, apparel that would scarcely draw a glance in the center of Jerusalem. But to sharp-eyed passers-by, the man's demeanor was all wrong. His movements were jerky, nervous; he was almost running. As two Israeli paramilitary policemen confronted him, he smiled, turned away - and detonated explosives in a sack strapped to his back. Even in bomb-hardened Jerusalem - where the previous 36 hours had produced no fewer than four blasts, none causing serious injury - the gruesome aftermath of this attack had the power to shock. The force of the explosion catapulted the bomber's severed head over a high wall and into the schoolyard of a French school as children were arriving for class. Scraps of mangled flesh were embedded in the cracks of the former convent's high stone wall. Bystanders, including at least one arriving schoolgirl, were pelted with bloody bits of the bomber's body. Others suffered shrapnel wounds from nails and screws packed into the bomb. Twenty people were injured, including the two paramilitary border policemen. One was in critical condition following surgery for internal injuries and severe burns, and his young partner was inconsolable. "He was just ahead of me - he took the force of it," said 24-year-old Guy Mughrabi, red-eyed and dressed in a wrinkled hospital smock, speaking to reporters from his bed in a hospital just up the street from the blast site. With an iodine-soaked bandage showing under the open neck of his hospital gown where he was hit by shrapnel, Mughrabi recounted how the pair spotted the man moments after being alerted that someone suspicious was in the area. "We started running - we came within three or four meters (yards) of him. We yelled 'Stop!' Mughrabi said. "He had this smile on his face that I will never forget. We raised our rifles. We knew this was a point of no return, that we had a suicide bomber in front of us." The explosion scorched the high outer walls of the Lycee Francais, a French-language international school. Pierre Weill had just pulled up outside the school to drop off his 12-year-old daughter Ines when the thunderous blast shook the street. "My car was splattered with pieces of flesh and blood. My daughter was also covered with bits of flesh and blood," he said. "We saw the head of the suicide bomber rolling into the courtyard." (The Associated Press, Neil Langdon Inglis)

December 13, 2001
An Iranian bridegroom bit off more than he could chew when, according to custom, he licked honey from his bride's finger during their marriage ceremony and choked to death on one of her false nails. The 28-year-old groom died on the spot in the northwestern city of Qazvin while the bride was rushed to hospital after fainting from shock. Iranian couples lick honey from each other's fingers when they get married so that their life together starts sweetly. (Reuters, donated by Bruce Townley)

December 16, 2001
In March 1978 the coffin containing the body of Charlie Chaplin was stolen from the cemetery at Corsier-sur-Vevey, overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Chaplin had died the previous Christmas Day, aged 88, and had been buried in the village where he had spent the last twenty-five years of his life. It was accepted that the theft of Chaplin's body had no political motive. Other explanations included exhumation so that he could be reburied in Westminster Abbey, in Britain, the country of his birth; so that he could be reburied in a Jewish cemetery; theft by an insane fan; or else ransom, pure and simple. Chaplin's Widow, Oona, refused to pay a ransom and was reported as saying, 'My husband lives on in my heart and mind, and it really doesn't matter where his remains are.' Chaplin's coffin was finally found eleven weeks later, in a shallow grave in a cornfield about ten miles from his former resting-place. Two men, a Pole and a Bulgarian, were charged with having demanded a ransom of £400,000 and with disturbing the peace of the dead. The Pole, regarded as the "brains" of the operation, was jailed for four years; the Bulgarian was given a suspended sentence. Charlie Chaplin was reinterred in a concrete vault. (Death: A History Of Man's Obsessions And Fears)

December 17, 2001
The Russian Czar Ivan The Terrible arrived in the city of Novgorod on January 2, 1570, leading a restless army that had already slaughtered citizens n town and villages all along its path. He had come to murder the people of the city, apparently because he believed they opposed him. On arriving, his soldiers first built high wooden walls around the city, so that no one could escape, and sealed churches and monasteries to prevent anyone seeking sanctuary. Then, on January 9, Ivan ordered the killing of the general population to begin. Each day the army was ordered to round up a thousand citizens, who were then brutally tortured and killed in front of Ivan and his young son. Parents watched their children being bludgeoned to death, while elsewhere women were slowly burned to death over fires. Holes were carved in the frozen ice of the river Novgorod, and hundreds were killed by being pushed into the frigid water. These and other atrocities lasted for five weeks, during which time an estimated 60,000 people were put to death. (The Pessimist's Guide To History)

December 18, 2001
Naga Sadhus are naked, ash-smeared warrior priests that have wandered the length and breadth of India for at least 5,000 years. The only progress that a Sadhu values is the journey towards "moksha" - a state of absolute bliss, free from the fetters of bodily desire or earthly gain. Sadhus declare themselves dead in their earthly life and reborn to a spiritual quest that will free them from the cycle of rebirth and pain. In an attempt to find a short cut to paradise they abstain from sex and cut all ties with their family and former lives. Many Sadhus engage is extreme acts of self-mutilation to hasten them on their journey towards spiritual enlightenment. They are inventively brutual in the suppression of their physical desires. In the past, Nagas would hang heavy weights from their penises to conquer their libidos; nowadays they tend to favor a padlock or a piece of heavy jewelry. A few still use their penises to lift rocks weighting nearly as much as they do. Tapeshwar Saraswati demonstrates. Semi-squatting, he loops a piece of cloth around his penis and hooks the other end around a rock that can barely be moved by hand. With intense concentration, he rises to his full height, lifting the rock and leaving it dangling for at least ten seconds. The agonising exercise tears the nerves of the penis, intentionally rendering Saraswati impotent and ruining any chances he may have of fulfilling any sexual urge. Other Nagas wrap their penises around a stick and invite their friends to stand on it, raising up like some band of demented S&M acrobats. (Bizarre)

December 22, 2001
Police are investigating the bizarre death of a woman who ended up headfirst in a large wood chipper. Claire Duchesne, 43, who lived with her husband in a large bungalow east of Ottawa, left a suicide note. "She was a flower," a shaken Guy Duchesne said of her death Monday. "She was a loving mother. Anything you can say nice about her, that was my Claire. But I can't talk any more." The couple's 16-year-old daughter said she was a good mother. Constable Pierre Dubois said foul play is not suspected. He said the death is not believed to be accidental, though he added that investigators are still "keeping the door open" on that possibility. Police towed the machine away Monday. (AzCentral.Com, donated by Chris Kench)

December 26, 2001
The Germans invented the term "lustmörd". This does not mean, as one might suppose, lust-murder, but "murder for pleasure," joy-murder. The Germans can perhaps claim not only to have invented the word for joy-murder but the thing itself. The earliest cases are to be found in the Journal of Master Franz Schmidt, the Nuremberg hangman in the 16th century. Of one murderer, Nicklaus Stüller, who was torn with red-hot tongs and broken on the wheel in 1577, he writes: "First he shot a horse-soldier; secondly he cut open a pregnant woman alive in which was a dead child; thirdly he again cut open a pregnent woman in whom was a female child; fourthly he once more cut open a pregnant woman in whom were two male children. Görgla von Sunberg [an accomplice] said that they had committed a great sin and that he would take the infants to a priest to be baptised, but Phil [another accomplice] said he would himself be priest and baptise them, and so he took them by the legs and dashed them to the ground." Another murderer mentioned by Schmidt, Kloss Renckhart, broke into a mill and shot the miller, raped the wife and a maid, and then made the wife fry egs and eat them off the body of her husband. (The Mammoth Book Of The History Of Murder)

December 27, 2001
On October 28, 1997, a 23-year-old man from the town of Itacoatiara on the Amazon River sought medical attention with obstruction of the urethra, having been attacked by a candirú fish. The fish penetrated the victim's urethra while he was standing in the river urinating, actually emerging from the water and entering his penis, filling the entire anterior urethra. He reported trying to grab hold of the fish, but it was very slippery, and it forced its way inside with alarming speed. The candirú's forward progress was blocked by the sphincter separating the penile urethra from the bulbar urethra. With the passage blocked, the fish had made a lateral turn and bitten through the tissue into the corpus spongiosum, creating an opening into the scrotum. Prior to being attended, the patient remained untreated for three days and was only administered medication for pain. By the fourth day the patient presented with fever, intense pain, scrotal edema [swelling of the scrotum], and extreme abdomen distention from urine retention. Surgical removal of the fish was considered, but rejected in favor of endoscopy [insertion of a TV-equipped tube into the urethra]. The patient was anesthetized and the procedure was performed. The fish was grasped using an alligator-clip attachment on the endoscope and removed in one piece. Fortunately the fish was dead, and decay was beginning to soften its tissues. Tension on the spines had relaxed in death, and they no longer gripped. Had the candirú been alive, its removal would have been more difficult and resulted in greater trauma to the patient. Although the patient had remembered the fish as being small, after extraction it measured 134 mm (5 1/2 in) [long], with a head width of 11.5 mm (7/16 in). Some coagulated material was removed, revealing a wound on the bulbar urethra of 1 cm in diameter and associated with a small amount of local bleeding. Although the patient suffered immediate trauma, no long term effects of the attack were noticed 1 year after the incident.
See pictures of the fish here: (The Straight Dope. donated by jon)

December 29, 2001
Five workers have fallen to their deaths in a cauldron of boiling fat at a soap factory in Russia. The victims were carrying out repairs to a workshop at the Nefis factory in Kazan. All five fell from a platform and plunged into the vat of boiling soap fat. Rescuers pulled the victims out but all five were dead. The cause of the accident is being investigated. (Ananova , donated by Stephen O'Rourke)