December 1996

December 1, 1996
George Leese, leader of the 19th century New York street gang, The Slaughter Housers, had a very unusual occupation. He was a professional blood sucker - he would would suck blood from fighters' wounds at boxing matches. (I know - I find this one hard to believe too, but here we are...)

December 2, 1996
At an F.A. Cup semi-final football match in Hillsborough, England on April 15th, 1989 95 fans were crushed to death in the mad rush to the terracing.

December 3, 1996
From 1849 to 1851, a fearsome streetgang which consisted of Australian immigrants terrorized a section of San Francisco known as "Sydney Town". The "Sydney Ducks", as they came to be known, robbed, beat, and killed over 100 people who happened to stray onto their turf in search of the gambling and drinking facilities in their part of town. One of the Ducks' favorite ploys was to go into a nearby neighborhood and start a fire. While the firemen and policemen were putting out the blaze, they would loot the area stores. In 1851, the citizens had finally had enough of the Ducks. Vigilante justice reigned as a mob cornered four Ducks and lynched them as a lesson to the rest. This brought to a crashing halt the debauchery and brutality of Sydney Town.

December 4, 1996
Blackbeard, the pirate, survived being shot in the chest five times. Eventually he was killed via decapitation. (That always seems to work...)

December 5, 1996
The worst air disaster of all-time occurred in Tenerife on March 27, 1977 when two 747's collided on the runway and burst into flames, killing 583 people.

December 6, 1996
The Cocoanut Grove was a popular Boston night club in the 1940's. On the evening of November 28, 1942 the club was packed with servicemen on holiday leave with their wives or girlfriends and out-of-town visitors who had been at a big college football game. At about 10 pm, a waiter accidentally caught a decorative palm tree on fire when he was using a match for light to change a burnt out light bulb. The fire quickly spread throughout the club. In the confusion and panic, the patrons tried to use the rotating doors at the front of the club for their escape route, ignoring the fact that there were several other, well-hidden, exits in the club. This resulted in the deaths of 474 people.
A Morbid Facts Patron writes: The reason that people were not leaving via the exit doors was that they were chained shut to prevent people sneaking in from the outside. Also the Boston College (As I recall) team was supposed to have their victory dinner at the Cocoanut Grove. Even though they were greatly favorite to win the football game, they were soundly beaten, so the celebration was called off, saving the lives of the team. - Peter Lively

December 7, 1996
Washington and Montana are the only states that still use hanging as a method of execution.

December 8, 1996
In Queens, New York, three men were driving around in a BMW when they pulled into a transmission shop and asked the mechanic there to fix their wheels. When the mechanic replied, "We're a transmission shop - we don't do wheels" one of the three pulled out a gun and shot him to death.

December 9, 1996
On May 25, 1979 a DC-10 flying out of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on its way to Los Angeles lost its number one engine during its takeoff run. The pilots, believing they had a routine engine failure, continued normal protocol, unaware that the engine had fallen off the plane, severing vital hydraulic lines. Twenty seconds after takeoff, the aircraft began a rapid roll to the left. Ten seconds later it hit the ground and exploded, killing all 271 people on board.
Reader Tom writes: The reason for the DC-10 crash listed was a little more ironic and actually makes for a better story. The real reason is that the severed hydraulic line caused a wing spoiler to deploy. The crew, not knowing this, continued the steep climb-out, stalling the wing because the spoiler reduced the wing's lift. It fell off onto that wing and hit a K-9 police dog training field. Later simulations showed that had the pilots known about the deployed spoiler, it was perfectly possible to reduce climbout angle and successfully fly back to the airport. As an aside, a friend of mine at the time lived close enough to hear the crash while she was washing dishes.

December 10, 1996
On August 27, 1984, 13-year-old Danny Holley hung himself because he thought if there was one less mouth to feed, things would be better for his poverty-stricken family.

December 11, 1996
The first motor vehicle fatality ever occurred in 1896, when the first car in England ran over a woman and crushed her head.

December 12, 1996
Modern embalming consists of the injection of embalming fluid into the carotid artery by use of either gravity or a pump to allow the fluid to spread throughout the arterial system of the cadaver. During the process, a number of whitish splotches appear on the skin in the areas most effectively embalmed. These are used as guides to determine areas which require direct injection of embalming fluid. The splotches disappear after the procedure is terminated.

December 13, 1996
One of the most dreadful fires in history broke out in a Jesuit church in Santiago, Chile on December 8, 1863. The church was packed with almost 3,000 people, mostly women, there to celebrate the Feast Of The Immaculate Conception. The interior of the church was lavishly decorated with 20,000 oil lamps placed in small niches in the walls. As the final lamps were lit, a canvas and wood statue of the Virgin Mary caught fire. The fire quickly spread and there was little chance of escape since the only exit was the front door and it was inaccessible due to the, quite understandable, panic. The priests hurried to the sacristy and locked the doors behind them against the masses, supposedly to protect the church's riches but in effect sealing the fate of more people. One eyewitness described the horrifying scene inside: "Women were seen to undergo a transformation as though by an optical illusion, first dazzingly bright, then horribly lean and shrunk up, then black statues rigidly fixed in a writhing attitude". In all, 2,500 women and children died in the flames - still the greatest toll of lives for a fire in a single building.

December 14, 1996
The last two remaining samples of smallpox virus are being kept frozen in Atlanta, GA and in Moscow.

December 15, 1996
From the annals of Evolution In Action: CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Six people drowned yesterday while trying to rescue a chicken that had fallen into a well in southern Egypt. An 18-year-old farmer was the first to descend into the 60-foot well. He drowned, apparently after an undercurrent in the water pulled him down, police said. His sister and two brothers, none of whom could swim well, went in one by one to help him, but also drowned. Two elderly farmers then came to help, but they apparently were pulled down by the same undercurrent. The bodies of the six were later pulled out of the well in the village of Nazlat Imara, 240 miles south of Cairo. The chicken was also pulled out. It survived.

December 16, 1996
A trocar is a long, tube-like instrument that is inserted through the abdominal wall to vacuum up the contents of various internal organs during the embalming process. The food in the stomach, the blood in the heart, the mess in the intestines, the sperm in the testicles - it all goes down the drain. The pumps are then reversed and embalming fluid is sent back into the cavities.

December 17, 1996
Dr. Kevorkian's great invention was the Mercitron, the prototype machine for self-controlled mercy killing. First, the doctor inserts an I.V. line and harmless saline solution runs into the patient's bloodstream. When the patient is ready he or she can pull a string to introduce a powerful sedative. Soon he or she is unconscious and his or her arm drops, pulling the string that delivers the lethal drug. This worked quite well, but unfortunately Kevorkian was banned from using it again so he had to develop other methods for his mercy killing.

December 18, 1996
For hundreds of years, Parisians were buried in the Cemetery of the Innocents. By 1900, there were two million bodies in a 2-acre plot. When a mudslide broke through a building next door, it was considered an appropriate time to open a new cemetery and, thus, Pere Lachaise was born.

December 19, 1996
Butch Cassidy once called Black Jack Ketchum the dumbest outlaw he ever saw. Black Jack and his gang would rob stage coaches and trains in the Old West. Since he liked a sure thing, he would insist on robbing the same stage at the same place at the same time over and over again. This, naturally, led to his arrest and execution. As workmen built the gallows outside his prison cell in preparation for his hanging, Ketchum offered them words of encouragement. Black Jack's last words were "Let 'er rip!" - an unfortunate choice of wording, considering that when the trap fell, his head ripped off from his body.

December 21, 1996
The time of death of an individual can be determined by the stage of the insect development on the body. The first insects to arrive, soon after death, are the Diptera, in particular the blow flies or Calliphoridae and the flesh flies or Sarcophagidae. The females will lay their eggs around body orifices or any open wounds.

December 22, 1996
A bolt of lightning struck a baseball field in Florida on July 31, 1949, burning a trench from first to second base and killing three players.

December 23, 1996
In 1881, Dr. Albert Southwick, a dentist and former steamboat engineer in Buffalo, New York, witnessed an elderly drunkard accidentally touch the terminals of an electric generator. He was so impressed by the apparent speed and painlessness of the man's death that he discussed the concept of using elecricity as a form of execution with his friend, state senator David McMillan, who later brought the issue to the state legislature where it was eventually approved on January 1, 1889.

December 24, 1996
When Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York was started in 1838, it was intended to be a park-like cemetery, a novel idea at a time when most bodies were buried in churchyards, and it quickly became a favored picknicking spot for New Yorkers. However, the cemetery had trouble attracting enough corpses to be buried there, and it didn't help that there was a risk in ferrying bodies over from Manhattan. Dozens of corpses had spontaneous burials at sea on the way to Green-Wood during ferry rides in bad weather.

December 26, 1996
During World War I, troops on both sides of the conflict in the Alps deliberately set off avalanches with their weapons, which crushed the troops below. It is believed that 40,000 or more troops died in this manner during the war.

December 27, 1996
When he dies, David Hughes of Colorado Springs has arranged to be buried with his laptop computer, modem, and cellular phone. David plans to go on-line to the internet from the Great Beyond. (Now, that's addiction!)

December 28, 1996
A barber in Lakeland, Fla. bit off a patron's thumb when he backed out of a five dollar haircut.

December 29, 1996
When Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury was sentenced to execution by that kindly old man himself, Henry VIII, she behaved in a manner ill-conceieved for a woman of stature. She refused to put her head down on the block and she ran about in a wild panic. Finally, the executioner was forced to hack her to bits on the run. And to think, it could have been much more painless if only she'd behaved herself!

December 30, 1996
On November 28, 1979 an Air New Zealand DC-10 which was flying a sightseeing tour over the Antarctic smashed into the side of Mt. Erebus, killing all 257 people aboard instantly. The official cause was listed as "the act of the airline in changing the computer track of the craft" so that it flew directly over Mt. Erebus, not around it as had been standard procedure, "without telling the crew." Oops.

December 31, 1996
A woman in Bradshaw, Md. was trapped for three days under the body of her boyfriend after his pickup truck went off the roadway, cleared a stand of trees, and landed behind an embankment. A roadcrew tending grass alongside the roadway found the woman, who was suffering from a broken back, shoulder, and ankle. Between her injuries and the weight of her dead boyfriend, the woman had been trapped in the truck.