December, 1999

December 1, 1999
The first recorded blood transfusion was performed on dogs in 1665. At that time, there were many attempts to transfuse dogs' blood to humans, but these were almost always fatal. As a result, transfusions were outlawed in 1678 by the Paris Society of Physicians. In 1818, Dr. James Blundell declared that species lines should not be crossed and performed several successful human blood transfusions for hemorrhage in children. (Australian Red Cross)

December 2, 1999
On May 4, 1961 Commander Malcolm Ross and Lt. Commander Victor Prather ascended to 113,740 feet in the Stato-Lab V, setting the all-time balloon altitude record. However, tragedy befell Prather when he fell from the hoist of a helicopter while being picked up from the Gulf of Mexico after the flight. He drowned when his pressure suit filled with water. (National Geographic)

December 3, 1999
Over 100 Chinese have been killed in the past year by exploding beer bottles and more have been injured or blinded. Many Chinese breweries use thin bottles-often soy sauce or vinegar bottles-and the bottoms fly off when CO2 pressure builds up. China is the world's second-largest beer producer and consumer with an annual output of about 50 billion bottles. (All About Beer Magazine, donated by Bruce Townley)

December 4, 1999
Karl Denke was the landlord of a rooming house in Munsterburg, Germany in which he murdered 30 men and women and then ate them. He treated his victims like wine. After murdering them with an ax, he carefully pickled the meat from the bodies in brine and kept a detailed record of body weight, time of preservation, and condition - waiting for the moment when each would be ripe for eating. In 1924 an intended victim escaped from him and called for help. Denke was arrested. Before he could be tried, he committed suicide by hanging himself with his suspenders. (The People's Almanac #2)

December 5, 1999
Eric A. Barcia, a 22-year-old Reston, VA resident, was found dead in July, 1997 after he used bungee cords to jump off a 70-foot railroad trestle, police said. The fast food worker taped a number of bungee cords together and strapped one end around his foot. Barcia had the foresight to anchor the other end to the trestle at Lake Accotink Park, and he even remembered to measure the length of the bungee cords to make sure that they were a few feet short of the 70 foot drop. He proceeded to fall headfirst from the trestle, and hit the pavement 70 feet below several seconds later. Fairfax County police said "The stretched length of the cord that he had assembled was greater than the distance between the trestle and the ground." (The Darwin Awards)

December 6, 1999
On a hot August evening in 1944, eight German officers were led into a small room in the Ploetzensee prison in Berlin. They had been stripped to the waist, and were holding up their beltless trousers with their hands. Embedded in the ceiling were eight butcher's hooks, the kind from which heavy carcasses of meat could be suspended, and within a few minutes, the eight men were suspended from them - with piano wire, which tightened slowly, cutting into their throats. It took them a long time to die. Their trousers fell around their feet, leaving them naked. Most of the watchers drew back to a far corner of the room, their noses wrinkling with disgust as the dying men lost control of their bowels. The only man who had to stand still was the movie cameraman who was filming the long, cruel execution. He knew that Hitler was going to watch the film later that evening in his private cinema, and he would want to be able to study the men's agony. These officers were among those who had plotted with Klaus von Stauffenberg to kill the Fuhrer with a bomb and take over the German army. They were learning the hard lesson that has been learnt by conspirators through the ages: that when plotters against authority are caught, they can expect no mercy. (Crimes And Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 6)

December 7, 1999
An Egyptian doctor got the shock of his life when he opened a refrigerated compartment in a morgue and found his hand grabbed by its occupant. Ahmed el-Sayed Ali, 29, of Minya, had been taken to the morgue five hours earlier, after he collapsed while swimming and was presumed drowned. Ali was too cold to speak, but made his situation clear by grabbing the doctor's hand. (Bizarre Magazine)

December 8, 1999
A 9-year-old boy lived for a month with his mother's corpse, too afraid to tell anyone she was dead because he feared being placed in foster care. Travis Butler cut his hair, fixed meals -- mainly frozen pizza, cereal and soup -- and went to school every day from the time he said his mother died November 3 until her body was discovered Monday. "I just don't know how that baby survived in there for a month with that smell," family friend Dorothy Jeffries said. "It was the saddest thing I have ever seen in my life." Police have not released a cause of death for Crystal Wells, 30, but said foul play is not suspected. Mrs. Jeffries said Wells suffered various health problems, including high blood pressure. Mrs. Jeffries and her husband, Nathaniel, found the body when they went to the East Memphis apartment after they were unable to contact her. When they arrived, Travis answered the door. "At first he said his mother was at work and wouldn't let us inside," said Mrs. Jeffries. "When we kept asking he finally just broke down and said, 'Mama can't talk anymore because she got really sick and I think she is dead."' Wells' body was on the living room floor. Travis had covered it with his mother's coat and placed sheets of notebook paper over her face, Mrs. Jeffries said. She said Travis begged them not to call police because he was afraid of being placed in a foster home. "When the ambulance came he ran to his mother because he didn't want her to be taken. I will never forget that sight," she said. Travis was turned over to his maternal grandparents, who live in Carthage, Mississippi. (CNN.Com, donated by Kate Bolin)

December 9, 1999
The most notoriously inept executioner of all-time was Jack Ketch, who was a hangman throughout the reign of Charles II. In 1685 Ketch had to behead the illegitimate son of King Charles II, the Duke of Monmouth. The Duke's hands were not tied behind him and he was not blindfolded. He felt the blade of the axe that was to take off his head and expressed his doubts that it was sharp enough. Ketch swore that it was both sharp enough and heavy enough for the job, and with this reassurance Monmouth fitted his head into the notches on the block. Even after five strokes, Ketch could not cut the head from the body. The executioner struck an agitated blow, inflicting a small cut, and Monmouth staggered to his feet and looked at him in silent reproach. Then the Duke resumed his place and the executioner struck again and again. Still the head remained on the block, while the whole body writhed in agony. As the horrified fury of the crowd increased, the headsman flung down the axe, crying out, "I cannot do it. My heart fails me!" "Take up the axe, man," roared the Sheriff, while the crowd cried, "Fling him over the rails!" So he took it up again and hacked away, but the job had to be finished with a knife. A strong guard protected him as he went off, "else he would have been torn to pieces." Ever since, the popular name for every succeeding executioner has been "Jack Ketch". (Crimes And Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 9)

December 10, 1999
Three men working in a psychiatric hospital in Kazakhstan have been charged with murdering seven prostitutes and eating them. A police investigator said the three had ground up the women's flesh and made pelmeni - Siberian meat ravioli - out of them. Interior Ministgry spokesman Aman Ismailov said the men had "given evidence as to their guilt." He added they would undergo psychiatric examinations. (Bizarre Magazine)

December 12, 1999
Peter Kurten was an arsonist, strangler, and amateur ornithologist who had spent 21 of his 47 years in jail. He would slip out at night while his wife was at work and lure servant girls to a park (he used cosmetics to make himself appear younger). From "playful" strangling he would proceed -- if in the mood -- to sadistic attacks with a hammer or a pair of scissors. He raped his victims only when they were dead, and often returned to masturbate at their graves. Arrested in 1930 after keeping Dusseldorf in terror for more than a year, he was charged with nine counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder. Found guilty, he was guillotined in 1931. Fritz Lang's movie M is based on his case. (The People's Almanac #2)

December 13, 1999
Sunjaya got married on March 21, 1996 in his town outside of Jakarta, Indonesia. The day after the wedding, he and his new brother-in-law, Cali, went back to work on the Grogol overpass project on the main expressway in West Jakarta. Ten hours later, he fell off the scaffolding that he was working on when a 300 meter (975 ft.), 500 ton section of the overpass collapsed, killing Sunjaya instantly. Cali, who had been working underneath the overpass, was buried in the rubble. He was rescued, but died a few days later. The collapse was caused when the framework supporting the concrete, scheduled to be removed on March 26, was taken down earlier than planned... before the structure was completely dried and cured. The foreman who had ordered the structure to be removed fled the site as soon as cracks in the structure began to appear. The idiocy of one man caused a woman to lose her brother AND new husband in one fell swoop. (The Jakarta Post, donated by Stuart Kawasaki)

December 14, 1999
Until 1836, convicted murderers in England were normally executed within 48 hours of their conviction. With communications being slow and unreliable, there was often not even time for a sovereign to hear about a conviction -- let alone make up his mind about whether to grant a reprieve. The built-in dangers of this "gallop to the gallows" was dramatically shown by a case heard at Waterford Assizes in March 1835 -- a case which was largely responsible for the law being changed the following year. An Irish pedlar called "Daniel Savage" was sentenced to death for having killed his wife 10 years before. There was only one witness who positively identified him, but one was enough. The following day, after the man's beard had been shaved off to make the hangman's job easier, he was allowed a final visit from his "sister". She looked at him and was completely baffled: "He's not my brother... doesn't look anything like him." There was not enough time to investigate her claim, for the man was hanged the next day. Later it was discovered that the sister had been quite right. The man who had gone to his death was a mild simpleton called Edmund Pine who had not even known Daniel Savage. (Crimes And Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 14)

December 15, 1999
A Mexican jail warden fell to his death while spying on couples during their conjugal visits, crashing down next to a Nicaraguan prisoner and his wife having sex. Raul Zarate Diaz, prison warden in Tapachula, on Mexico's southern border with Guatemala, fell 23 feet (7 metres) to his death after tripping on a skylight looking over the conjugal visits section, La Cronica newspaper and InfoRed radio said. The warden had with him binoculars and a pornographic magazine, La Cronica said, citing local law enforcement sources. An official answering the phone at the prison told Reuters on Tuesday that police were investigating but refused to provide further details. The prisoner who was interrupted attempted to start a riot, but the intent was squelched by prison security, the newspaper said. (Reuters, donated by Bruce Townley)

December 16, 1999
German criminal law forbade indictment of mental defectives for murder. Thus, Bruno Ludke, who had been sterilized under the Nazi eugenics program after conviction for sexual assault, could not be prosecuted when arrested for murder in 1943. He was, therefore, sent to a hospital in Vienna, where he was used as a subject in medical experiments and soon died. It was a fitting fate for a man who had confessed to the murder-rape of some 85 women. The police believed his claim. (The People's Almanac #2)

December 17, 1999
In the Olde days in England it was customary after some of the more spectacular executions for the criminals to be not only publicly dissected but their skins flayed from their corpses and tanned like cowhide. Two famous murderers who received this treatment were William Burke, the body snatcher, and Corder of the "Red Barn". Corder's skin, or part of it at least, was used to bind a two-volume account of his trial. Burke's skeleton is still standing in the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh University, while those of Corder, Jonathan Wild, Eugene Aram and John Thurtell are kept in the Royal College of Surgeons, London. Corder's skin was sold at private auction, and someone bought a big enough piece to have a tobacco pouch made. (Crimes And Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 17)

December 18, 1999
In the Old West, if a killer wasn't shot down, he was sure to hang - and no one hanged more men than the Prince of the Gallows, George Maledon. Using his "scientific technique," he neatly broke the neck of every man he ever hanged, sparing the viewing public from the repulsive spasms of strangulation. Maledon hanged 87 men in all and he specialized in multiple hangings - once setting a record for hanging six men simultaneously. (It helped that he worked for notorious "Hanging Judge" Isaac Parker of Arkansas.) But there was one man Maledon never got the chance to hang: Frank Carver, who murdered the hangman's own beloved daughter Anne. Normally emotionless about his work, Maledon wanted desperately to hang this killer. But he never got the chance - Judge Parker's death sentence for Carver was commuted on appeal - to life in prison. Crushed, Maledon walked away from his job for good, taking his cherished hangman's ropes, made from the finest Kentucky hemp, with him. He lived out his days traveling the country with his own Hanging Show, explaining his techniques to audiences. The feared hangman died May 6, 1911 at age 81. (The Big Book Of The Weird Wild West)

December 19, 1999
Byzantine Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus was tortured to death in 1185. First he was chained to a pillar for days and beaten black-and-blue. His teeth were broken, and his hand was cut off. He was then tied to the back of a sick camel and paraded through the streets of Constantinople. He had boiling water thrown in his face and an eye plucked out. He was then taken to the Hippodrome for additional torture where he cried out, "Lord have mercy on me. Why do you strike a broken reed?" He was at last killed by a sword thrust. (The Torture Museum)

December 20, 1999
A Berlin architect who apparently died of a heart attack was found buried beneath piles of rubbish in an apartment so cluttered with waste that rescue workers had to remove his corpse through a window. The 51-year-old man had not let anyone into his two-room apartment for the last 10 years, neighbors told the B.Z. tabloid in a report under the headline: "Berlin architect suffocates on his own rubbish". Pictures of the flat in the working-class district of Reinickendorf showed rubbish bags, boxes and food containers piled up more than three feet high throughout the apartment, which was so messy that police couldn't open the front door. (Yahoo! News, donated by Art Aiello)

December 21, 1999
One of the favorite "spectator sports" of the Old West was a good old vigilante hanging, which could attract rubberneckers from miles around. Occasionally, such gallow's entertainment turned particularly surreal. In 1854, Dr. J.B. Crane's last request was to sing a song he had written: "I killed Susan Newham, as you have heard tell/I killed her because that I loved her so well". Not to be outdone, the next prisoner on the hanging playbill, Mickey Free, convicted of murder, asked the crowd permission to dance a jig. Some spectators claimed that Mickey Free continued to dance as he dangled in mid-air - another extreme performance from a sporting hombre of the Old West. (The Big Book Of The Weird Wild West)

December 22, 1999
Two men and a woman in South Africa tried to claim the pension of a dead man by taking his corpse into a post office and attempting to maneuver his hand on a fingerprint identification card. Holding up the corpse between them, the trio arrived in the main post office, approached a counter used to serve illiterate people and said the man was an uncle who was not feeling well, said Postmaster Dawie Bester and Post Office Eastern Cape spokesperson Rhoda Phetla, the South African Press Association reported. Seeing that the man's eyes were closed and that he was obviously not in control of his body, the cashier became suspicious, especially when one of the men carrying the corpse had to maneuver the dead man's hand for fingerprint-taking, the officials said. When another postal worker approached and felt the pensioner, he discovered that he was "ice cold." The body was then taken into the assistant postmaster's office and laid on the floor. While the trio slipped out of the post office, paramedics arrived and said the man had been dead for some time. The cause of death was not immediately clear. The body was taken to the mortuary. (The Associated Press, donated by The Mind Orbitor)

December 23, 1999
Crowning a successful career as doctor, thief, drug pusher, and local politician, Marcel Petiot added a murder chamber - a triangular concrete room - to his house in Paris during World War II. There he exterminated 63 Jews, resident aliens, and others induced to believe he would help them escape from occupied France. He gave them fatal injections - calling them "inoculations" - then shut them in the concrete room to die as he watched through a periscope. His motive was clearly profit, for the victims brought all their money and valuables with them. The remains of 27 bodies were discovered in 1944 when firemen responded to complaints of greasy smoke issuing from his private crematorium. Amazingly, the police allowed him to go free when he claimed that the bodies were those of Nazi collaborators. Petiot disappeared from town and joined the Free French forces under an alias. He was arrested eight months later and finally guillotined in April, 1946. (The People's Almanac #2)

December 26, 1999
In a Yuba City, California, courtroom on January 18, 1973, Juan Corona, a labor contractor, was convicted on 25 counts of first-degree homicide. The victims, all transient laborers, ages 40 to 68, were unearthed in orchards and along a riverbed by sheriff's deputies; some of them were discovered after Corona's arrest. All of the bodies had been mutilated with a matchete-like weapon. Corona's attorney raised charges of jury tampering, but his request for a retrial was denied. (The People's Almanac #2)

December 27, 1999
A Swedish man escaped from a blaze at a hunting cabin in central Sweden but froze to death as he fled, naked, on a snowmobile, a Swedish newspaper reported on Monday. Daily Aftonbladet said the man failed to save any of his clothes after the fire broke out on Saturday night in the cabin at Klovsjo. He was found dead on his snowmobile on Sunday afternoon, about four km (2.5 miles) from the burnt-out cabin, with no apparent injuries from the fire. (Reuters, donated by Bruce Townley)

December 28, 1999
In the 1600's, Franz Buirmann, the "witch-seeker of Cologne", was a murderer on a scale that anticipated Hitler's extermination camps. In one small village alone, he burned 150 people. He decided he wanted to sleep with a woman named Peller, who rejected him. Buirmann had her arrested as a witch: within hours, she was being tortured, with every hair shaved off her body. The torturer's assistant was then allowed to rape her. Buirmann looked on, and stuffed a dirty rag into her mouth. Then she was burned alive in a hut full of straw. (Crimes And Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 28)

December 29, 1999
Workmen have discovered the skeleton of a man who had lain dead for five years in a room in a Moscow communal apartment without the other residents knowing he was there, RIA news agency said Tuesday. Russian communal apartments, or "kommunalki," often hold five or six families in a single flat, sharing a kitchen and bathroom. RIA said nobody in the apartment on Moscow's central Shmit Street could recall having seen the tenant in one of the rooms before a crew of handymen broke the door down. They discovered the skeletal remains of a former prisoner who had died in 1994 shortly after being released from jail. RIA said the body had been taken to a morgue and experts were trying to establish the cause of death. The agency said police were mystified how neighbors could have noticed nothing and never inquired what was going on in one room of their apartment. (Reuters, donated by J Anderson)

December 30, 1999
The sequence for a "clean" hanging is as follows: First the noose is adjusted over the condemned so that the knot is behind the left ear (and a black hood is usually placed over his head so those witnessing the execution are spared the dying victim's final grimaces). His legs are tied together to prevent kicking . The signal is given, the trap door is sprung, and as he drops, the knot snaps behind the ear and knocks the person unconscious. The bones of the cervical vertebrae are broken, the spinal cord is crushed by bone fragments, and the body is paralyzed. Death comes in a few minutes. (Cause Of Death: A Writer's Guide To Death, Murder, and Forensic Medicine, donated by Rev. Katie Beaumont)

December 31, 1999
A bad hanging occurs when the rope is either too long or too short for the weight of the condemned to break the neck cleanly. In a "dirty" hanging with the rope too short (or for some reason the knot fails to break the neck), the condemned will strangle to death slowly, sometimes taking up to fifteen minutes. His wheezing is loud, and he usually jerks violently up and down on the rope while fighting for air. His legs, even while tied, kick out frantically for a hold. Death comes slowly,painfully, and with great agony for everyone. If the noose is poorly placed, the hard knot may gouge chunks of flesh from the face or head as it snaps, creating a gory mess. If the rope is too long, instead of just breaking the neck, the violent jerk causes decapitation. In West Virginia, a heavyset wife-murderer was hanged with the same result: his body crashed to the floor followed by a thud as his decapitated head landed and rolled toward the witness. (Cause Of Death: A Writer's Guide To Death, Murder, and Forensic Medicine, donated by Rev. Katie Beaumont)