September 1998

September 1, 1998
On February 19, 1997,a 16-year-old student opened fire with a shotgun in a common area at the Bethel, Alaska, high school. School principal Ron Edwards and classmate Josh Palacious were killed. Two other students were wounded. Authorities later accused two other students of knowing the shootings would take place. Evan Ramsey was sentenced to two 99-year terms. (USA Today, suggested by Kevin Frost)

September 2, 1998
In 1900, business men from Quebec organized the construction of a bridge accross the St. Lawerence River. They hired an American company to design the bridge. They designed quite a nice and elegant one, although it was flawed. The Chief engineer (Theodore Cooper) knew this but chose to keep quiet. In 1907, during the construction of the bridge, workers noticed that there was a bend in one of the bridge's chords. Each day it grew noticably worse. When they tried to straighten it, it just grew worse. So, the engineers went to New York to discuss the situation. Mr. Cooper realized that the flaw was showing and ordered all construction on the bridge to stop. But it was too late. On August 27th, 1907, the bridge collapsed before Mr. Cooper could get the news to Quebec. In less than a second the entire structure fell 50 metres into the St. Lawrence. Many workers who jumped off the bridge were simply crushed by it when it fell. All in all, 75 people died that day. Nine years later in 1916, a stronger bridge was designed and was being completed. The last piece, the center, was being hoisted from barges in the river when a chunk of steel fell off and the section fell. Thirteen people died. Finally on September 20, 1917, the Quebec bridge was finished, 17 years and 89 lives after it had begun. It is said that all iron rings worn by Canadian engineers are part of a girder from that bridge as a reminder of the disasters that come from mistakes. (Donated by Adam Taggart, The Quebec Bridge Disaster).

September 3, 1998
In 1840, King Louis Philippe requested British permission to remove Napoleon's remains from St. Helena. Permission was granted, and a delegation including the king's son, the Price de Joinville, and many of those who had been close to Napoleon traveled to St. Helena to bring him home. Because of rumors that lime had been used by the British to destroy the body, the coffin with its triple layering of mahogany, lead, and tinplate was opened. Onlookers wept as they saw their emperor again after 19 years, remarkably preserved, with lifelike color and perfectly recognizable features. After a few minutes, the old coffin was resealed and placed inside a new ebony sarcophagus. (The People's Almanac #2)

September 5, 1998
On March 12th, 1857, a train from Toronto was heading for Hamilton. The train began to cross over a small bridge over the Desjardins Canal. It never made it across. There were about 100 passengers aboard, including John C Henderson, and Sam Zimmerman. Now, the bridge was made of wood, and for some reason the train stopped. People heard a loud crack, and the locomotive fell through the bridge, dragging the coal, baggage and first passenger car with it. The second passanger car teetered on the bridge for a few seconds and then fell. 59 people died. It was ruled that the locomotive had broken an axle just before crossing on to the bridge. The timbers couldn't withstand the smashing impact of steel wheels and the train fell through. Now, all bridges are made of steel. (Adam Taggart)

September 6, 1998
In California in 1987, a professional ash-scatterer was forced to pay $27 million to 5,000 families after he was found guilty of using the ashes to fertilize his farm. (Fiendish Freya Harris)

September 7, 1998
The first motorized hearses appeared in the United States and England in 1910. (Fiendish Freya Harris)

September 8, 1998
A 24-year-old Hayward man trying to retrieve his hat from a restricted area beneath the Top Gun roller coaster at Santa Clara California's Great America theme park died Monday after he was struck in the head by the leg of a passenger dangling from the speeding ride. Hector Villegas Mendoza climbed a 6-foot fence posted with warnings and was beneath the first drop of the ride at 2:20 p.m. when the passenger coach descended and the rider's leg struck him in the head, said Santa Clara police Sgt. Anton Morec. Top Gun is a popular suspended coaster on which passengers hang from the track in harnesses with their legs swinging free. The ride reaches speeds of 50 mph. "He had been on the ride earlier and had lost his hat," Paramount's Great America spokesman Tim Chanaud said. "He went in there to retrieve his hat and he was struck in the head." Great America paramedics attempted to revive Mendoza, who was at the park on Labor Day with his wife and brother-in-law, but he died an hour later at Valley Medical Center. The 28-year-old woman who struck him was hospitalized with a fractured leg, Chanaud said. (San Jose Mercury News)

September 9, 1998
Infamous pirate Blackbeard was the terror of the high seas in the early 1700's. He never turned down a battle, even with the Royal Navy, whom he soundly defeated. Eventually, the Royal Navy got their revenge. During a ferocious battle in which all of his crew were killed, Blackbeard was eventually felled by several men who swarmed upon him as he valiantly attempted to fight them off. One slashed open his throat and it was all over for Blackbeard. An autopsy revealed five pistol wounds and twenty severe sword cuts to his body. Blackbeard's head was cut off and his body tossed into the sea. In order to collect his reward, Lt. Maynard brought Blackbeard's head to Virginia as proof of his victory. Rumor has it Blackbeard's skull found its way to a tavern in Williamsburg where it was made into a drinking goblet. Nothing would have pleased the old pirate more. (The Big Book Of Bad)

September 10, 1998
11-year-old Cody Fox was late in arriving to his home in the rural northern California community of Corning on September 6, 1998. His mother phoned the police to report him missing at 5:35 p.m. At 6:00 she called back to say she had found her son in an unoccupied mobile home and that he had been attacked by dogs and needed medical attention. Further investigation revealed that Cody had been attacked by a pack of anywhere from 8 to 18 dogs while walking past his neighbor's house. The narrow country road had blood stains from edge to edge for 17 feet. Cody, grievously injured, was rushed to UC Davis Medical Center with severe bite wounds all over his face and body, particularly on his arm, which was amputated. Police investigated the home of the dogs' owner, Jim Wick, and found a blood-smeared, torn, lifesize human replica hanging in a grove of tall manzanita bushes just outside the low wire fence that bordered the side of the road, indicating that the dogs were being trained to attack humans. Animal Control officers responded to the residence and snared 15 dogs, including pit bulls, Rottweillers, and bulldogs. (The Chico Enterprise-Record)

September 11, 1998
Tracy Edwards was "The One That Got Away" - the man who nearly became Jeffrey Dahmer's 18th victim. Edwards had met Dahmer in a shopping mall and Dahmer had invited Tracy and his friends to an impromptu party at his apartment. However, unbeknownst to Edwards, Dahmer gave them the wrong address so he could get Edwards alone. While sitting in Dahmer's apartment sipping beer, Dahmer put his arms around Edwards and propositioned him. Edwards, a straight man, was instantly awake and said he was going home. At that point, Dahmer placed handcuffs on his arm and led him by knifepoint into the stench ridden bedroom. On the wall of the bedroom were photographs of Dahmer's butchered victims. Edwards realized the stench was coming from a barrel beside the window - and he could imagine what it contained (three male torsos, as a matter of fact). Dahmer told Edwards if he didn't cooperate he would cut his heart out and Edwards swung his right fist in a punch that knocked Dahmer sideways, then kicked him in the stomach and ran for the door. When he had made his escape, he led police to the apartment of horror. When police entered the apartment, they found Dahmer lying on the floor, handcuffed. Then one of the policemen opened the door of a refrigerator and gasped, "Oh my God! There's a goddamn head in here!" That was the moment Dahmer began to scream - a horrible, unearthly scream like an animal. (Crimes And Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Vol. XI)

September 13, 1998
On April 12, 1814, after surrendering for the first time but before being shipped off to Elba, Napoleon attempted suicide by swallowing a vial of poison which he had been carrying with him for some time. Instead of killing him, however, the weakened toxin merely gave him the hiccups. He hiccuped so violently that he vomited before the poison had had a chance to do any real harm. (The People's Almanac #2)

September 15, 1998
Russians take their ice fishing very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that more than 100 Russians a year die while ice fishing. Last year, when 75 anglers near St. Petersburg were swept away on a platform of ice and were rescued nine hours later by helicopter, fights broke out over which ones got to be the last ones aboard so that they could remain fishing even longer. (News Of The Weird)

September 16, 1998
There is an island between the Bronx and Long Island called Hart Island. If you look on a map, you'll see two big islands in the Long Island Sound. The bigger one to the west is City Island, and the smaller one east of that is Hart Island. What makes it particularly morbid is the function it serves. The city uses it as a potter's field, which is (if you remember the Christian story of Judas Iscariot's 30 pieces of silver being used to purchase such a field - of course, I don't) a graveyard for unknowns. Vagrants, unclaimed bodies, and stillborn babies (who make up about half of the island's population) are buried there in large trenches by prison inmates. The babies are put in "shoebox-size coffins stacked five high and 20 across" while adults go "three high, two across" for a total of 1650 per trench. Limbs and organs from local hospitals are also buried there in boxes marked "refuse". Several thousand new bodies are interred there every year, each placed in a plastic bag before going into boxes the city buys for $54 each. With that many residents, Hart Island has a larger population that all but 10 cities in the U.S. The island was also used in the past as "a Union training camp, a Confederate prison, a yellow-fever quarantine, a 19th-century lunatic asylum, a workhouse for aged inmates, a prison for World War II German soldiers, an antiaircraft missile base, a rehab center for the homeless and drug addicts, and a driving school for chronic traffic offenders." Aside from the concrete slabs that mark a grouping of bodies, there are sometimes flowers on "graves", mostly for the dead babies. In addition, there is "a large obelisk to the Union dead, a tall white stone marked 'Peace', and a cross beside the baby field that says, 'He Calleth His Own by Name.'" (Jeff Worthless, The Wall Street Journal, Hart Island)

September 18, 1998
In 1812, Napoleon led the French Grand Army (600,000 strong) into Russia in order to teach the Czar a lesson because he would not close ports to British shipping. It was to prove a huge mistake. On September 7, at Borodino, 70 mi. west of Moscow, the French defeated the Russians in a Pyrrhic victory: 30,000 French soldiers and 43 French generals were killed, while the Russians lost 43,000. Napoleon called it "the most terrible" of his battles. On September 14, the army entered Moscow to find it deserted. Moscow's governor had ordered it burned prior to Napoleon's arrival. On October 19, having tried unsuccessfully for five weeks to negotiate with the czar, Napoleon, fearful of winter's approach, headed west with his Grand Army into the long nightmare of the retreat. Never had the Russian winter with its blizzards and intense cold come so suddenly and so early. The men suffered from starvation, dysentery, frostbite, and hallucinations. Instances of cannibalism were alleged. Of the original 600,000 troops, only about 100,000 returned from Russia. (The People's Almanac #2)

September 19, 1998
A Texas hiker, who is believed to have accidentally started a forest fire just south of the Oregon-California state line, died from injuries sustained in a fall off the trail. The body of Bobby Drew Stacker, 44, was recovered September 15, 1998 just off the historic Kelsey Trail, about 15 miles southwest of Gasquet. Stacker, of Amarillo, Texas, apparently slipped off the trail sometime Sunday night. It was already dark at the time and he didn't have a flashlight, said detective Gene McManus. "In an attempt to gain attention, he used a lighter that he had," McManus said. "We believe the lighter accidentally caught the nearby brush on fire, which initiated the forest fire." Stacker's body was not burned and it's believed he died of injuries he sustained after falling about 600 feet down the steep slope. (Associated Press)

September 20, 1998
Before it even had a wrinkle, 2-year-old Mycha Lee Herbert's face was torn off. While he was playing Sept. 4 in his back yard in Tulsa, Okla., the toddler's visage was reduced to bone as he was savaged by the family's pit bull, Blue. Only Mycha's eyes and forehead were intact. No cheeks. No nose. No eyelids. No flesh. By most medical accounts, Mycha should have died that day. But now, under a constantly changing mask of bandages, the boy has a new face. Sculpted from the flesh of his legs, forearms and abdomen during 39 hours of surgery this week, Mycha has a mouth again. "It's a mouth that will not smile but will eat, so we're thanking God for that," said Mycha's aunt, Delisa Herbert-Cabrellis. "They created a face." Mycha lay in a Tulsa hospital for three days before he was flown to Dallas where a team of plastic surgeons frantically improvised. "We happened to be in the right or wrong place at the time, depending on how you look at it," said Jay Burns, one of eight surgeons from Children's Medical Center of Dallas who performed the operation. "We all began to realize what it was going to take." The damage was so catastrophic that the plastic surgeons could not use traditional skin grafts. "I've never seen a case where all of the facial muscles were gone," Burns said. "I've done my share of reconstructive surgery, and I was overwhelmed." After briefly considering the technically possible, but ethically troubling, solution of transplanting a face from a cadaver onto Mycha, the doctors decided to use a traditional procedure known as a free flap. In a free flap, doctors harvest a section of flesh from another part of the body, sew it onto the damaged area and sculpt it as needed. The procedure, essentially a composite graft, involves reconnecting nerves and tiny veins. In Mycha's case, five such interconnected procedures were needed. The risk, Burns said, was that if one free flap attachment failed, the other four could fail in succession. The child will have multiple reconstructive surgeries throughout his life, Burns said. Even though Mycha has some muscular control, he will never have a normal face. Mycha still has no nose. In a year or so, doctors will take one of his ribs to fashion one. "He's going to need a lot of love," Burns said. "This kid still has to deal with this defect for the rest of his life." (The Associated Press)

September 22, 1998
Frederick Fleet was the lookout who spotted the iceberg in Titanic's path on the fateful night of April 14, 1912. He survived the wreck, rowing a lifeboat of women to safety. Fleet worked at sea until 1936 and in his final years sold newspapers ("just to while away the time," he said) in his home of Southampton, where he spent most nights drinking beer alone at the local workingmen's club. "He seemed a sad, lonely man," said Titanic historian Bruce Ticehurst. "His wife, Eva, was the only person he related to." Shortly after her death in 1965, Eva's brother, whose house the couple had shared asked Fleet, 76, to move on. "The next morning," says Ticehurst. "the brother-in-law pulled open the curtains, and there was Frederick hanging from [a clothes post] in the garden." (People, 3/16/98)

September 23, 1998
Just months before the liberation of the Auschwitz-Berkenau death camp, when it was already known that the Russian army was approaching, the SS caught wind of the fact that the last of the Sonderkommando--the squads of Jewish prisoners formed to shepherd their fellows to the gas chamber-- were planning an uprising. They determined to eliminate them all. On October 7, 1944, as the SS were forming a detail of three hundred members of the Sonderkommando for some outside work (this was thought to be a ruse to separate and execute them) the Sonderkommando began pelting the SS with stones and drove them off. They packed crematorium IV with explosives they had "organized" or stolen, and blew it up. Eighty to one hundred trucks of SS men arrived and the Sonderkommando fought them with stolen machine guns and grenades they had been stockpiling; the SS responded in kind and by unleashing fifty attack dogs. Sonderkommando in other units rose up too; some seized crematorium II and threw an SS man and a kapo into the furnace alive. Some men cut holes in the barbed wire and fled, but in the wrong direction, remaining within the larger confines of the extended camp. The SS trapped some in a barn and set fire to it, and hunted others down in the woods; by the end of the day, hundreds of members of the Sonderkommando had been burned or shot to death. After the revolt was put down, the remaining two hundred members of the Sonderkommando were executed, some with flamethrowers. (The Auschwitz Alphabet)

September 24, 1998
The USS Thresher, commissioned on August 3, 1958, was the first of a new class of submarine, designed for optimum performance of her sonar and weapons systems. Thresher was capable of diving deeper and running more silently than any other submarine of her time. On the morning of April 10, 1963, Thresher proceeded to rendezvous with USS Skylark off the coast of New England during routine testing manuevers. At 7:47 AM Thresher reported to Skylark, "We are commencing our deep dive". From 7:47 until 9:13 the dive appeared to be going well, with Thresher reporting her depth and course changes to Skylark. At 9:13 AM Thresher reported to Skylark that, "We are experiencing minor difficulties, we have a positive up angle, and are attempting to blow. Will keep you informed". Nothing further was heard until 9:16, when Skylark received a garbled transmission. Again at 9:17 Skylark received a second garbled transmission with partial words that appeared to be, "Nine Hundred North". No further transmissions were received and at 9:18 Skylark detected a high energy, low frequency disturbance, which was most likely the sound created by the implosion of the Thresher's hull as she exceeded crush depth and broke apart, killing all 129 crewmembers. An investigation determined that the probable cause of the accident was a faulty piping system that failed, causing the ship to sink uncontrollably. (USS Thresher - A Tribute To Those Sailors On Eternal Patrol)

September 25, 1998
Madame Tussaud opened her wax museum in 1802. She got her start making death masks of guillotine victims during the Reign of Terror. (City Of The Silent)

September 26, 1998
A 66-year-old nursing home patient died in Jackson, Mississippi after being bitten hundreds of times by fire ants that swarmed over her while she lay in bed. Nell Rein, who had Alzheimer's disease, was found covered in fire ants when employees checked on her during the early morning of August 30, 1998. She died four days later from heart failure brought on by physiological stress, according to her physician. (The Associated Press)

September 27, 1998
In Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1853, Dr. Alexander Wood devised the hollow metallic needle, attached it to a syringe and called the invention a "hypodermic syringe". Wood first used his invention to inject morphine into a surgical patient in 1853. The hypodermic syringe gained wide acceptance and was used extensively, especially in the American Civil War. Unfortunately, this device accounted for 400,000 American soldiers' becoming addicted to narcotics during that war. (The People's Almanac #2)

September 30, 1998
Legendary schoolboy basketball star Richie Adams - who traded a career in pro basketball for a drug-fueled career of crime - was convicted on September 28, 1998 of stomping a 15-year-old Bronx girl to death. Adams was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter despite an O.J.-esque defense that the sneakers linked to the death did not fit him and that the real killer was still at large. A medical examiner had testified that the victim, Norma Rodriguez - Adams' neighbor in the Jackson Houses project - died from being stomped in her head and neck. A shoe print on her neck matched a pair of bloody, size-13 basketball sneakers. The left shoe was found near the body - the right one in Adams' bedroom. He claimed he didn't know how the shoe got there and that the police must have planted it. Jurors didn't buy it. Their guilty verdict followed nearly four days of deliberations, and a two-week trial featuring eyewitness testimony from a terrified neighbor, who viewed the vicious stomping from the peephole of her apartment door. Adams, a 6-foot-9 lefty, was twice named player of the year at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. But the day after he was drafted by the Washington Bullets in 1985, he was busted for stealing a sports car, ruining him for the NBA. Since then, he has bounced in and out of jail on three felony convictions for robbery and grand larceny in Manhattan and The Bronx. (The New York Post)