December 1997

December 1, 1997
William Steyn, an eighteen-year-old Afrikaner soldier, fell victim in 1981 to the system he had elected to devote his life fighting for. On home leave after a tour of duty with the South African Army which had taken him into the tropical bush of Angola, he was involved in a traffic accident near Johannesburg. The ambulance crew sent to his aid took one look at his heavily sun-tanned appearance and thought he was coloured. They leisurely hauled off to a hospital for non-whites several miles away. The mistake was only discovered when police visited Steyn's family to inform them that their car had been stolen by a coloured youth. His mother recognised the description given as being of her son. Police rushed to transfer him to a hospital for whites but he died before he could be removed.

December 2, 1997
Paraskevi Kanima, a sixty-four-year-old Greek woman, died in Athens in September 1983 of what doctors termed 'excessive joy'. A family reunion after sixteen years separation brought on a fatal heart attack as she re-entered her parents' house.

December 3, 1997
Early in 1974, a sixty-year-old woman awoke to find a dead man jammed into the back window of her home in Herne Hill, south London. Police concluded that he was probably a burglar who died of a heart attack.

December 4, 1997
Norik Hakpioan, a student, died after being caught in a flash fire in his Kensington, England, apartment bedroom in October, 1982. He suffered 90 per cent burns in the incident. His brother, who was with him at the time, told the coroner that Norik had been attempting to relieve the pain of his piles by using an old family remedy involving paraffin. Police suspected that he had used petrol by mistake and fumes from the open bottle were ignited by a cooker hotplate. The coroner commented that it was the most lethal treatment he had come across in his years as a doctor. A verdict of misadventure was returned.

December 5, 1997
The mayor of a Philippine town accidentally shot himself in February 1985 when he slammed his car door on the cocked pistol tucked in his belt. A colleague went to his aid and drove him off to hospital but he died when the car ran out of petrol.

December 6, 1997
Murray Fensome of Luton died on October 1983 from drinking too much. A common fate, one might think. But Murray died from drinking too much water, owing to his obsessive fear that all food and medicine were poison to his body. He would cleanse himself completely by downing excessive quantities of water. After a session in which he drank thirty-five pints he was admitted to hospital unconscious, and later died of water on the brain and water intoxication.

December 7, 1997
An engineer died at Delhi airport in February 1982 after being sucked into the engine of a Boeing 737. The official cause of death was reported as 'shock'.

December 9, 1997
A Yugoslav boy survived falling from the seventh floor of a block of flats in Belgrade in December 1985 - by landing on a passing woman, who was unfortunately killed.

December 10, 1997
In January 1985, police found the body of a young woman in an unclaimed suitcase at Los Angeles international airport. They assumed she must have been a stow-away who had died of hypothermia or asphyxiation.

December 11, 1997
Sixty-two-year-old Iris Somerville was killed in June 1982 while waling through Queens Park in Willesden, north London, when lightning struck the metal underwire in her bra.

December 12, 1997
John Lacey of Savannah, Georgia, suffered 95 per cent burns in an accident in May 1982. Over forty hospitals refused to admit him though, mainly because he did not possess medical insurance. He died two days later.

December 13, 1997
Orvell Wyatt Lloyd of Dallas, Texas, told police that he mistook his mother-in-law for a large raccoon when he hacked her to death in her garage in 1981.

December 14, 1997
Inn Siang Ooi, a Miami University student on a field trip in the Costa Rican jungle in August 1986, was stung to death by a swarm of killer bees. In a ferocious attack, which eyewitness colleagues compared to a scene from a horror movie, he suffered forty-six stings per square inch of his body.

December 15, 1997
In 1989, a man in Far North Queensland, Australia, was kicked and gored to death by a supposedly trained 'boxing' kangaroo. The RSPCA employee who has since taken the animal said 'it is the roughest ironic justice I've ever seen'.

December 16, 1997
A sprawling tenement block in Tokyo was nicknamed 'Suicide Heights' early in 1981 because of the frequency with which locals decided to end it all from the roof. Within a month of the new year, five people jumped to their deaths, making eighty-four in all since the block was built five years before. The latest, a forty-three-year-old office worker, even left a note apologising to the tenants for the inconvenience he was causing. The apartment block now has nets over the footpath, not to try to save those who jump but to prevent people walking underneath being hit by falling bodies.

December 17, 1997
Luis Maria Ortega, a Venezuelan peasant, served a twenty-year sentence for the murder in January 1949 of a cane worker colleague. At his trial, witnesses testified that Ortega had threatened the victim after a fight the day before, and on this circumstantial evidence he was convicted. On his release in 1969, Ortega set about his revenge. He murdered all fifty-six witnesses who had testified against him one by one over a period of thirteen years. He was arrested in February 1982 facing another possible 1,120 years in gaol.

December 18, 1997
In May of 1994, Tony Moore, 43, of Marietta, Georgia, was gored and seriously injured by a large male bison in Yellowstone, next to the Lake Hotel. Moore and a friend had approached to within 15 feet of the bison to have their pictures taken. While they were standing with their backs to the animal, it charged. Moore's companion escaped, but Moore received a severe puncture wound in his right thigh and was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Jackson for treatment.

December 22, 1997
U.S. physician Jesse William Lazear died in 1900 when he was voluntarily infected with yellow fever as part of Walter Reed's research. Now, THAT'S dedication to the cause!

December 23, 1997
In in a 25-hour operation in September, surgeons in Melbourne, Australia, reattached the face of a 28-year-old woman who had it ripped off in a farm machinery accident. But one week earlier, in London, surgeon Steve Gill described to a British Society of Neurosurgeons audience how in February 1997 he had reattached a woman's entire head after removing it (except for the spinal cord, key blood vessels, and skin at the front of her neck) to correct a crippling condition that was causing her face to point downward. (It took him only 17 hours to take the head off, remove a wedge at the base of her skull, and reattach the head with a metal plate and two screws.)

December 26, 1997
As the doomed oceanliner Titanic was sinking, the band bravely continued to play on the deck in an effort to calm the panicking passengers. They played as long as they physically could before falling prey to the cold sea. Rumor holds that the final song played was "Nearer My God, To Thee". None of the band members were rescued.

December 27, 1997
The worst love scene in the history of literature: "In 'Justine', by the Marquis de Sade, a passionate kiss between two lovers with a penchant for the bizarre makes for what may well be the most tasteless and repulsive love scene in all literature. Before they embrace, our hero thrusts his finger down his throat as far as it will go, touching off the antiperistaltic muscles that cause him to vomit. He immediately covers his lover's mouth with his own, upchuking the semi-digested contens of his stomach into _her_ mouth. Our heroine, it goes without saying, immediately responds in kind, whereupon he bounces it all back at her again. Their mouths never come unglued and this alimentary tennis volley continues for a few minutes until our lover and his lass collapse exhausted in the muck."

December 28, 1997
In 1970, Japanese writer Yukio Mishima (Kimitake Hiraoka) committed suicide by disembowelment and decapitation (a ritual called seppuku or hara-kiri) as a protest of the Westernization of Japan. Here, once again, is true dedication to the cause!

December 29, 1997
In 1873, the steamship Atlantic, an earlier member of the White Star Line that later included the equally ill-fated Titanic, ran aground on rocks near Halifax, Nova Scotia. No fewer than 546 people, many of them children, died in this horrific occurrence which, at the time, was the worst marine accident on record.

December 30, 1997
Ross Alexander was seen in a couple of the Dick Powell/Ruby Keeler musicals of the early 1930s. During this time he was married to stage actress Aleta Freile. Alas, the union lasted only four months, ending with the suicide of Freile, who was apparently distraught over her inability to make a name for herself in film. Alexander was remarried nine months later, but again the marriage ended in suicide - this time, his own. Unable to cope with Freiles death, he shot himself on January 2, 1937, using the same gun she used.

December 31, 1997
It was opening night of The Makroulos Case at the Metropolitan Opera House. Playing a law office clerk, tenor Richard Versalle, 63, was belting out a song when he suffered a fatal heart attack. He fell 3 meters from the ladder on which he sang, landing flat on his back after singing the line "You can live only so long".