Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 15, 2017

Today’s Nourishing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

A young Kentucky woman directed in her will that tobacco should be planted on her grave, so that her bereaved lovers could smoke the leaves which her remains had nourished.

Culled from: Weird Wills & Eccentric Last Wishes

Perhaps a secondary motivation would be lung cancer?  Wicked woman!


Weegee Du Jour!

Weegee was the pseudonym of Arthur Fellig (June 12, 1899 – December 26, 1968), a photographer and photojournalist, known for his stark black and white street photography. Weegee worked in Manhattan, New York City’s Lower East Side as a press photographer during the 1930s and ’40s, and he developed his signature style by following the city’s emergency services and documenting their activity. Much of his work depicted unflinchingly realistic scenes of urban life, crime, injury and death.

Here’s a series from his book  Weegee’s New York: Photographs, 1935-1960.

Tramp on Lower East Side… 

… is hit by a taxi…

… and is receiving the last rites.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 12, 2017

Today’s Flammable Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Eight minutes before the close of the business day on July 21, 1919, a great shadow passed over the marble rotunda of the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank in downtown Chicago. Inside the bank, 150 tellers and clerks were balancing their cash drawers and were otherwise engaged in the frantic rush to go home.

Overhead, a 153-foot dirigible powered by 95,000 cubic feet of flammable hydrogen hovered over the central business district, when suddenly the craft buckled and plunged to earth. The fuselage of the Wing Foot tore through the iron supports holding the glass skylight in pace. The twin LaRhone engines and the two gasoline tanks crashed to the floor of the bank, splashing fuel on the bank employees standing within a fifty-foot radius.

The Wing Foot Dirigible

Eyewitnesses described the unfolding chaos and panic as a “blast furnace raining hell” upon the unsuspecting. The rotunda was instantly consumed in flames, trapping the tellers behind their wire cages and cutting off their routes of escape. Screaming stenographers, their long skirts on fire, raced toward the exits, but walls of fire blocked their path. Some were burned beyond recognition.

Employees trapped on the second floor of the building plunged to their deaths in a desperate attempt to flee the inferno. The intense heat made rescue work virtually impossible, and the immense site of the curious crowd outside the bank impeded efforts of firemen, ambulance drivers, and undertakers to reach the stricken and the dead.

The interior of the bank after the Wing Foot crash.

The Wing Foot dirigible falls to eath.

The death ship was owned by the Goodyear Company of Akron, Ohio, and was engaged in a test and demonstration flight, designed to promote the advantages of lighter-than-air travel to the public, when fate intervened. The craft had taken off from a hangar at the White City Amusement Park at Sixty-Third Street and South Park Avenue shortly before 9:00 a.m. and had bobbed lazily across the afternoon skies 1,200 feet above Grant Park, on up to Diversey Harbor.

The Wing Foot was piloted by Jack Boettner, a veteran of forty-two dirigible flights, who blamed static electricity and a rush of air from the propellers, which fanned the exhaust flames against the bag. Boettner and his four passengers parachuted off the blimp, but only the pilot managed to escape serious injury or death.

Though never officially charged with criminal negligence, Boettner absorbed much criticism and personal blame after repeatedly contradicting himself during the inquest chaired by future Illinois governor Henry Horner. The Goodyear Company agreed to arbitrate all claims through Horner’s three-member committee. The bank chipped in $1,000 for each victim’s family and reopened for business the very next day after the disaster. Such was Chicago in its busy, formative years, cranking along at a breathless breakneck speed, never pausing, never looking back.

Five days after the blimp plummeted to the floor of the bank, a race riot erupted on the city’s South Side, crowding this story off the front page so the daily newspapers But the Wing Foot tragedy, and others like it involving lighter-than-air craft, underscored the need for proper safety precautions and, more important, foreshadowed the end of an era. With the crash of the Hindenburg at Lake Hurst, New Jersey in 1937, the curtain closed on the dirigible as a means of commercial travel. 

The Wing Foot disaster is all but forgotten. No plaque or historical marker commemotating this horrible human calamity can be found on the walls of the Bank of America Building. Business, after all must go on. 

Culled from: Return to the Scene of the Crime


Morbid Auction Du Jour!

Would you like to own Marilyn Monroe’s grave marker?  Here’s your chance!

Marilyn Monroe’s Grave Marker Goes Up For Auction

Thanks to Anna for the link.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 10, 2017

Today’s Bankrobbing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Today we continue the story of the Suburban Bonnie and Clyde – bankrobbers from 1990’s Chicagoland. In yesterday’s episode, Jill and Jeffrey Erickson were nabbed while preparing to rob a bank on December 16, 1991. Rather than let the coppers take her, Jill attempted to drive away from police and shot herself when the prospect of escape became hopeless.  Today we learn what happened to Jeffrey.

Meanwhile, husband Jeff was hustled off to the Dirksen Building, where he was booked on federal bank robbing charges. In a newspaper interview just a few months later, the cynical and bemused ex-cop turned stickup man ridiculed the booking procedures and security lapses and recommended that the Marshal’s Service conduct an emergency officer’s safety training session. He boasted that it would have been easy for him to snatch a gun from the detention officer’s holster and walk scot-free through the Dearborn Street revolving doors and into the safety of the pedestrian throngs. 

“When I was fingerprinted they told me they were going to put me in prison for life. But the number one wrong thing to do they did. You never handcuff palms together, hands in front and that’s what they did,” Erickson said, literally diagramming for a reporter his intended plan of escape. The FBI, the Marshal’s Service, and court security should have been paying closer attention, but they were not. “They put me in civilian elevators. That’s how they take guys out of the lockup area.”

Smug know-it-all Jeff Erickson

The day of reckoning came on July 20, 1992 – the sixth day of Erickson’s criminal trial before Judge James Alesia of the U.S. District Court. At 5:30 in the afternoon, just as thousands of homeward-bound Loop office workers poured out of their offices and were on their way to the commuter train stations and CTA Rapid Transit lines, Erickson, dressed in a blue suit, was riding an elevator to the underground parking garage of the Dirksen Building from which he was scheduled to be transported to his cell in the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), just a few blocks away.

While standing inside the garage elevator, Erickson managed to squirm out of his handcuffs and seize the firearm belonging to Terry Pinta, a female Deputy Marshal. “He’s got my gun!” Pinta yelled, as Erickson smashed her across the head with the weapon. He turned and fired two shots at deputy marshal Roy Frakes, who had no chance to defend himself. New to the job, Frakes collapsed to the floor with wounds to the head and back. He died at Northwestern Hospital less than half an hour later.

“I’m going to jail!” raged Jeffrey Erickson in a blind fury. “I’m going to jail! I’m going to die anyway! I’m going to take everybody with me!” Erickson raced through the garage toward the auto exit ramp leading out of the Federal Building and onto eastbound Jackson Boulevard with its dingy passport-photo studios and doughnut shops.

Standing between Erickson and freedom was Harry Belluomini, a retired thirty-one-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, who had left the job with the rank detective and an honorable career on the streets already behind him. At the time of the Erickson trial, he was employed by the General Security Services Corporation as a security guard.

Belluomini, who had earned many commendations in Chicago and was looking forward to retiring to Wisconsin with his wife once his Chicago house was sold, stood in the direct line of fire. Before he could release the safety, Erickson drew down. 

Fatally wounded, Belluomini managed to fire off one round at the fleeing gunman with his dying breath. Erickson dropped to the narrow sidewalk, twenty five feet shy of the street. Though his wound was probably not fatal, the bank robber realized that his last chance to escape was squandered. He had saved a final bullet for himself, thus fulfilling his end of the death pact made with Jill, whom he had adored. 

Harry Belluomini was cited for his heroism. The section of Dearborn Street passing by the Dirksen Building was appropriately renamed “Harry Belluomini Way” by the Chicago City Council.  

Culled from: Return Again to the Scene of the Crime


Autopsy Du Jour!

Autopsy :  A Mothers Instinct  -  Foster Child Murdered
David brought this fascinating video to my attention. In graphic post-mortem and post-exhumation photographs, it tells the story of a little boy who was murdered in the 60’s – a crime that was allowed to go unpunished due to inept forensics until his birth mother tracked down his story and questioned the death verdict.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 9, 2017

Today’s Bankrobbing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Today we begin a two-part series on the Suburban Bonnie and Clyde – bankrobbers from 1990’s Chicagoland.

In 1991 the the Chicago banking community was under siege. An unprecedented ninety-two stickups had occurred in the six-county metro area during the preceding twelve months, setting new standards, while the FBI and various suburban task forces doggedly pressed on. 

Married couple Jeffrey and Jill Erickson were responsible for at least eight of these daring daylight bank heists beginning in January 1990 and continuing right up until the fateful moment on December 16, 1991, when Jeffrey was nabbed by FBI agents.

Erickson was seated in a stolen Mazda in a shopping plaza where Wise Road and Irving Park intersect at the south end of Schaumburg, that vast, unchecked suburban “mall sprawl” northwest of O’Hare Airport. The Erickson’s two-year crime spree, which would end in murder and suicide, brought to mind similar exploits of the famous southwestern “Dustbowl” desperadoes, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow.

Jeff Erickson, an “all-American” boy from Morton Grove, Illinois, was an ex-marine who had served briefly as an auxiliary police officer in suburban Rosemont and Hoffman Estates from 1985 until 1987. Erickson was a uniform-and-gun nut, obsessed with motorcycles and firepower, but his departmental evaluations on his last job were substandard, forcing his resignation.

One shudders to think just how many other psychopaths with gun fetishes manage to slip through the testing safeguards and wind up out on the street in uniform. [I think we’re beginning to know! – DeSpair]

And yet, while it seemed completely out of character for this type of individual to open a used book store and capably represent himself before a cerebral clientele of bibliophiles and Book-of-the-Month aficionados, Erickson was warmly regarded by his customers as well versed in the classics and possessing a superior mind.

Erickson closed his store on Mondays – setting aside that one day of the week to rob banks. He disguised himself with a phony beard, drove stolen Japanese imports, carried an assault rifle into the poorly guarded suburban banks, and threatened to kill everyone in sight who failed to cooperate. His adoring wife, Jill, whom he affectionately referred to as “Gorgeous,” drove the backup getaway car.

The Suburban Bonnie and Clyde

The two of them were believed to have forged a “death pact.” They would not be taken alive to face the sting of incarceration, and they had vowed to end their own lives if they were cornered by police or placed in a tight situation where escape was not possible.

Dubbed the “suburban Bonnie and Clyde” by reporters, the thrill-seeking Ericksons undoubtedly reveled in all of the publicity and media attention until the long arm of the law literally reached out and grabbed Jeffery by the collar, just before he could carry out his next bank job. FBI and suburban law enforcement had been tracking the couple’s movements for weeks. A task force had been formed, and they had kept Erickson’s Hanover Park apartment under twenty-four-hour surveillance.

Observing the arrest of her husband while seated behind the wheel of a battered Ford Econoline van, Jill Erickson whirled the vehicle around, deciding to make a run for it. She led the cops on a wild ten-mile car chase through the Northwest and Western suburbs, firing over her shoulder as she plowed through dense traffic with the Feds and as many as forty patrol cars in hot pursuit. The Chase ended at Bear Flag Drive, a residential subdivision in Hanover Park.

Her tire shot out, and struck by police gunfire, Jill realized the hopelessness of her situation. Surrender was not an option. She turned the weapon on herself. It was lights out for the “Yuppie Bonnie Parker.” She died at Humana Hospital that night.

[To Be Continued]

Culled from: Return Again to the Scene of the Crime


Morbid Mirth Du Jour!

What a fantastic idea!

And, as Eleanor points out, with only a little modification…  hmmmm… 

Culled from the February 1932 issue of Popular Science.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 7, 2017

Today’s Sorrowful Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On March 16, 1945, the Nazis liquidated the death camp at Spaichingen, located in southwestern Germany, about twenty miles north of the Swiss border. Joseph Freeman and thousands of other inmates began a six-week death march ordeal that ended in the city of Fussen in southern Germany. Joseph’s story is documented in the book The Road To Hell: Recollections of the Nazi Death March. The following is a brief excerpt from the book.

“Before embarking on our trek, I ran back to the barracks, behind the latrines, where I dug out photographs I had buried when I first came to this camp. During the liquidation of our ghetto in 1942, my father ordered me to leave so that I could save myself. With tears in my eyes, I grabbed three pictures from our photograph album, and I ran from our home without looking back. These were the only tangible remains of my past, which I had carried from one death camp to another. These pictures were my steady companions; they have accompanied me in places where I experienced the deepest sorrow, and they were with me at the moment of liberation, when I was rescued from Hell. They are still with me today.

“I remember clutching the photographs in the cattle train as I arrived in Auschwitz and watched as Mengele sent my loved ones to the gas chambers. They were with me when I was in the hospital at Veihingen, where I hovered near death as a result of dysentery. I carried the pictures to the death camp at Schomberg where an SS man split open my skull. I made sure I had them when I was transported to my final camp at Spaichingen, where I hid them near the toilets. Now on this forced march I would take them, photographs of my sister Tania and brother Isaac, neither of whom I had seen since 1942.”

Joseph Freeman with his sister Tania and brother Isaac in 1938. He had this photo with him when he passed out before his liberation from the allies.

Culled from: The Road To Hell: Recollections of the Nazi Death March


Another Dog Walking Find, Circa 1963

Murder Has a Public Face by Larry Millett is a collection of crime and punishment photos in the Speed Graphic era taken in the St. Paul, Minnesota area. Here’s an entry from the book.

Death in the chill of winter has always seemed particularly grim. So it was in February 1963 when a man walking his dog in Minnehaha Park discovered the body of 15-year-old Mary Bell. Here, three Minneapolis police officers examine Bell’s body. Ronald Steeves, 19, who had been dating Bell’s older sister and was angry because Mary had tried to break up the relationship, confessed to the crime. He lured Bell from a Minneapolis home where she was babysitting, drove her to the park, then bludgeoned and stabbed her to death. An autopsy revealed 55 stab wounds, which Steeves explained by telling police, “She just wouldn’t stop breathing.”  Dispatch, Don Spavin, Feb. 28, 1963.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 6, 2017

Today’s Mad Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

King George III of England (1738-1820) suffered from bouts of mental illness throughout his life. The first serious attack of mental illness – and the events covered by the film The Madness of King George – began in 1788 and lasted just a few months. In June 1788 the King had what his doctor called “a smart bilious attack,” and was sent to take the waters at Cheltenham. He returned to Windsor four weeks later apparently cured. Three months later, however, during the evening of October 17, the King fell ill with violent stomach cramps and complained of respiratory problems. His condition alarmed everyone who saw him. The veins in his face stood out; he became delirious and he foamed at the mouth. It is said that the King’s old friends rallied around him with an astonishing display of loyalty by pretending to be mad themselves. The regular court physician, Dr. Baker, reported that the King’s condition was deteriorating quickly. His speech became rapid and agitated, and he babbled feverishly and continuously. He became violent and abusive toward his family and his courtiers, and was generally “quite unlike his normal self.” At one point he lapsed into a coma and appeared to be near death.

The Young Madman

At first it was thought that the King was suffering from “flying gout” – the Georgian medical profession’s stock-in-trade diagnosis for anything they couldn’t explain, which covered pretty much everything. This mysterious affliction was thought to be relatively harmless unless one was unfortunate enough to get it in one’s head. The king’s flying gout, it was asserted, had originated in his feet but had traveled to his brain and become somehow stuck there. The answer was to apply blisters to the royal head to drive the gout back down again. When it became all too obvious that this was a painful waste of time, Dr. Baker administered large drafts of opium to his patient, but was otherwise completely baffled by the King’s illness and at a complete loss what to do about it.

Six more doctors were called in to the King, none of them any wiser than the last, but each hoping to profit by finding a fluke cure for the royal affliction. They bickered among themselves, placed his head on a pillow made from a bag of warm hops, put leeches on his temples, gave him large doses of James’s Powder to make him sweat, and stuck his feet in red-hot water to draw out the “humor.” Eventually the only thing that everyone could agree on was that the King was suffering from temporary insanity. Finally and very reluctantly, they agreed to stand aside and let a so-called expert on the treatment of the mentally ill have a go. Enter the Willises of Wapping.  

The Willises had at their disposal a complete, in-depth, contemporary understanding of how to treat the mentally ill. That is, they hadn’t a clue either. Willis Senior confidently asserted that the King’s illness was the result of “severe exercise, weighty business, severe abstemiousness and too little rest” and set about preparing his cure. The King, who had no idea what was coming to him, was at first quite relaxed about the arrival of Willis and in his lucid intervals was even able to joke with him about his treatment. The King even dubbed the dreadful iron contraption which Willis forced him into every day as his “new coronation chair.” 

Getting the Royal Treatment

The royal knockabout banter didn’t last. The Willises’ state-of-the-art equipment for the treatment of mental illness comprised a straitjacket, iron clamps, a chair and a length of rope. Additional treatment was in accordance with conventional guidelines: frequent bleedings, forced vomiting, a starvation diet, salivations, and afterward a cold bath. To divert “morbid humors” from the King’s head they applied blisters – various types of irritants – to the skin on his legs. These humors were supposed to be drawn through the serum of the blisters and through the pus that formed as they became infected, thus creating running sores that lasted for weeks. For the final eight years of the King’s life, his medical bill was a staggering £271,000.  

The old King spent the last eight or nine years of his life blind and deaf, alone in the north side of Windsor Castle. He lived in complete silence, white-haired and bearded, now and then picking at his harpsichord, or talking to dead friends, or occasionally indecently exposing himself to his servants. 

The Old Madman

Culled from: Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty


From the Some People Have All The Luck Department

A friend of a Facebook friend’s dog found this on a walk. What a good dog!  (The police found the rest of the remains and are investigating.)  (Thanks to Dena for letting me share these pics.)

Morbid Fact Du Jour for February 4, 2017

Today’s Rebellious Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Although Julius Caesar had attempted to conquer Britain in 55 and 54 BC, the Romans did not mount a successful invasion until AD 43, under Claudius. Arriving at the south coast, the Romans made their way up the Thames Estuary. Finding a spot where the tidal river proved deep enough for shipping but narrow enough for a crossing, they immediately grasped its strategic significance and created a makeshift settlement of forty acres along the waterfront. ‘Londinium’, capital of the Province of Britannia, was born. But Londinium soon became a target for the oppressed Britons.

In A.D. 60, the Britons, led by Queen Boudicca, rebelled. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, Boudicca hated the Romans as they had stolen her land when she was widowed, flogged her and raped her daughters. Intent on wiping out their oppressors, Boudicca’s army descended on London and burned it to the ground. This first Great Fire of London was so intense that it melted bronze coins, scorching the earth so profoundly that archaeologists discovered a seared layer of soil centuries later. Boudicca took no prisoners. Tacitus recorded that over 70,000 Romans and their allies – men, women and children- perished in the massacre; they were lynched, burned and even crucified. Romans were beheaded and thrown into the river. The number of skulls recovered from the Walbrook near Finsbury Circus, and the Thames around Battersea and Mortlake prompted the Victorian archaeologist Henry Syer Cuming to name the river ‘our Celtic Golgotha’.

Don’t fuck with Boudicca!

The Romans soon retaliated, however, crushing the insurgents and, once they had regained control, set about creating London in the image of a Roman city. A defensive wall, nine feet wide, eighteen feet high and nearly two miles long was constructed – sections of which survive to this very day. Inside the wall was the Forum (on what is now Gracechurch Street in the City), a combination of low court, council chamber and shopping mall. With their passion for town planning, the Romans laid out streets, villas and temples. In a policy shift which the historian Guy de la Bédoyère has compared with modern Western Imperialism, the Romans converted militant Britons to their way of life with consumer enticement, introducing them to the urbane pleasures of hot spas and fine dining, encouraging them to wear togas and speak Latin.  

Culled from: Necropolis: London and Its Dead

Sadly, badass Boudicca died shortly after the failed uprising (either from illness or suicide), but they’re still finding the (possible) skulls of her victims!

Roman Skulls Found During Crossrail Dig In London May Be Boudicca Victims 


Aghast!  Gang Gun Edition!

DECEMBER 13, 1935
Photographer: Detrick
Samuel Mandel, racketeer. Victim of gang guns in Paterson.  

Culled from: New York Noir: Crime Photos from the Daily News Archive

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 3, 2017

On May 19, 1845, the 59-year-old explorer Sir John Franklin set off to search for the supposed Northwest Passage around the top of Canada, which was seen as an alternative route from the Atlantic to the Pacific. His two ships Erebus and Terror were well provisioned with five years’ supply of food for the 129 officers and crew, whose quarters were equipped with central heating. In August the ships were seen in Baffin Bay, in north Canada, but then they disappeared. By 1848, when nothing had been heard of the expedition, other ships were sent to look for them but they returned without finding any trace, and it was not until 1850 that the graves of three crew members were discovered on Beechey Island. The bodies were those of John Torrington, John Hartnell, and William Brain who died in 1846. The ships had clearly spent some time on the island because they had discarded more than 700 empty cans. 

The Intrepid Explorer Sir John Franklin

Terror and Erebus

The provisions for Terror are still on record and included thousands of cans of meat, soup, vegetables, and potatoes. Most of the food they took consisted of flour (30 tonnes), salted meat (14 tonnes), biscuits (7.5 tonnes), sugar (5 tonnes), spirits (2300 gallons), chocolate (2 tonnes), and lemon juice (2 tonnes), and these were regarded as sufficient to supply this ship of 67 men for three years. 

Label from a soup can from the expedition

In 1988, Dr. Owen Beattie and researchers at the University of Alberta, Canada, were allowed to exhume and analyze the perfectly preserved remains of the three men and they found such high levels of lead that it seems almost certain that the men died of lead poisoning, probably exacerbated by scurvy, despite the lemon juice that had been taken on the expedition to prevent this condition developing.  The researchers were able to prove that the lead in the bodies came from the solder of the canned food that they ate, by analyzing empty cans found nearby. The ratio of lead isotopes in the victims was the same as that of the lead solder, and quite different from the ratio of lead isotopes in local Inuit people. The body of Petty officer John Torrington, which was extremely well preserved, revealed levels of 600 ppm in his hair, proving that exposure to lead was high during the months preceding his death. The other bodies had slightly lower lead levels of 300 ppm but even these indicate a dangerous level of exposure.

The exhumed men as seen in life.  

The lonely graves

(The far more interesting exhumation photos are included as a gallery below!) 

Were these seamen really victims of the canned foods they had eaten? It is quite possible. These were the early days of this kind of food preservation and the process and technology of canning was poorly developed. The first commercial food cannery was that of Messrs Donkin & Hall of Bermondsey, London, and it began to supply the Royal Navy with canned meats, vegetables, and soups from 1812 onwards. Indeed Donkin & Hall’s ‘Preserved Meat’ and “Vegetable Soup’ were part of the provisions of the 1814 expedition to explore Baffin Bay. By 1818 the Admiralty was ordering more than 20,000 cans a year, mainly of beef, mutton, veal, various soups, and vegetables.

Soup can from the Expedition

The cans were filled through a small hole at the top, which was then sealed by having a disc soldered over the hole. They were then heated for an hour or so in boiling water but sometimes the cans were not heated long enough to kill off all the bacteria within them, and then they were found to be putrid when they were opened. The cans preserved their contents by remaining airtight but they slowly leached lead from the solder into the food they contained. In 1824 an expedition, captained by W.E. Parry, had earlier been sent to search for the Northwest Passage and he took several thousand cans; in 1936, 112 years later, two unopened ones were found and returned to England for analysis. These were a four-pound can of roast veal and a two-pound can of carrots. They were opened and their contents found to be in good condition, although they had a metallic taste.  They were then fed to rats without these rodents showing any adverse affect. 

What remains…

Nothing more was found of the Franklin expedition until 1859 when a cairn of stones was discovered on King William Island. In it was a bottle and a note to the effect that the ships had become icebound on September 12, 1846 and that they were unable to free themselves the following summer, 1847, and were still locked in the ice at the end of the following winter, 1848. Franklin had died on June 11, 1847, and by the spring of 1848 another 20 men had also died.

At this point the remaining crew decided to abandon the ships and walk the 150 km across King William Island, pulling a boat with them in which they would then row to mainland Canada to the nearest fur-trading fort. According to the note found in the cairn they set off on April 22, 1848. When the lifeboat was eventually found it contained two skeletons and an assortment of articles that defy explanation: button polish, silk handkerchiefs, curtain rods, and a portable writing desk. Were the member of the expedition just behaving irrationally, maybe thinking these were things they could trade with the natives? Possibly. Or were they simply mad and no longer even able to think straight?

The local Inuit told stories of thin and gaunt-looking white men they had met, who, they reported had been reduced to cannibalism, and indeed some of the bones from the skeletons that were discovered bore knife marks suggesting that flesh was cut from them. Of around 400 bones that have been found, almost a quarter of them have multiple cut-marks. A less gruesome explanation is that the marks were from wounds caused by Inuit who attacked them. Beattie analyzed the bones for lead and measured levels of more than 200 ppm although this could only indicate a lifetime exposure to this metal. 

Dem Bones Don’t Lie!

Lead may not have caused the deaths of the members of the expedition but it must have seriously weakened them and there is evidence that they also suffered from scurvy. The lemon juice that they took to prevent this would retain its vitamin C for only a certain period, and after a year would be virtually useless as a means of preventing the disease. Whatever happened, the members of that ill-fated expedition certainly suffered from lead poisoning. 

Culled from: The Elements of Murder

I must mention that in recent years there has been a great deal of skepticism regarding the lead poisoning theory for the deaths and it is now believed that malnutrition, starvation, and exposure are a far more likely explanation.  


Aghast!  The Franklin Expedition Mummies!

Have I ever mentioned that my greatest sadness about global warming is that all the fantastic frozen mummies around the world will start to rot? Okay, maybe that’s not my GREATEST sadness, but dammit!  Just take a look at how fantastic the permafrost has preserved the remains of these guys!

John Torrington

John Torrington died on January 1, 1846 at the approximate age of 20.  Here’s an interesting snippet from Wikipedia about his post-mortem fame:

After ensuring that Torrington’s descendants were aware of the plan, Beattie and his team began their work on 17 August 1984. Torrington’s coffin was 1.5 metres (4 ft 11 in) deep in the permafrost, which the team had to dig through. When the coffin was opened they saw how well preserved the outer parts of Torrington’s body were, apparently not much different from the day he was buried. In order to thaw the body, the team poured water on the ice, to slowly melt it away and therefore not cause any damage to the body. Once thawed, they undressed the body to examine it. They found that Torrington had been very sick at the time of his death—he was so thin all his ribs were visible, and he only weighed about 38.5 kilograms (85 lb). After conducting a thorough autopsy and taking some tissue samples, the team left to analyse what they had discovered.

Tissue samples revealed that Torrington’s body had probably been stored on board ship while his grave was being dug; in almost all areas, significant cell autolysis had occurred, and cell definition was very poor. His brain was almost completely gone, leaving only a “yellow granular liquid”. The lungs showed scarring from earlier bouts with tuberculosis as well as signs of more recent pneumonia. After toxicology analysis showed heightened levels of lead in Torrington’s hair and fingernails, the team concluded Torrington had died from pneumonia, after suffering from various lung problems, which were aggravated by the lead poisoning. Beattie believed that the canned food was the most likely source of the lead. More tests revealed a high amount of lead in all three bodies, and some feel that this was chief cause of the expedition’s failure. Photographs of Torrington, in a remarkable state of outward preservation, were published widely, including in People magazine which named him one of the world’s most interesting personalities in 1984, and the widely-reprinted photograph inspired James Taylor to write a song, “The Frozen Man”, and Iron Maiden to write “Stranger in a Strange Land”. British poet Sheenagh Pugh wrote an award-winning poem, “Envying Owen Beattie”, about the Torrington exhumation. Authors Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler were also inspired by the photograph, and the account of the research provided by Beattie and John G. Geiger in their book, Frozen In Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition. Atwood wrote a short story, “The Age of Lead”, and Richler included references to the research and the Franklin expedition itself in his novel, Solomon Gursky Was Here.

Here’s one of the coffins as it is being exhumed.  Do you think they took coffins with them on the ship? Kinda morbid cargo, huh? 

Heeeeeere’s Johnny!

Torrington, looking like he has the worst toothache ever!

Amazingly preserved feet, complete with toe ties!

Sleep well, handsome!

John Hartnell

The second John to be exhumed was Hartnell, who died on January 4, 1846 at the age of 25.  Here’s what Wikipedia says about Hartnell’s exhumation:

What they found was very surprising. Not only was Dr. Beattie stunned to see Hartnell’s incredibly well-preserved (and mummified) remains through the melting ice, he was even more surprised to see that Hartnell’s body had already been autopsied. Beattie and his team also noticed that John Hartnell’s right eye seemed damaged (an issue beyond the sinking-into-the-sockets impact that would have occurred from prior thawing). Setting aside who did what to the mummy – before Owen Beattie’s examination – when Beattie and his team removed Hartnell’s cap, they saw a great deal of hair. They were able to use Hartnell’s hair to conclude that his body contained large amounts of lead at the time of his death.

An additional tidbit from MacLean’s:

Hartnell had been buried without pants, but was wearing a shirt embroidered with the letters “T.H.”—his brother’s initials. (Thomas’s body has never been found.) He was evidently respected enough among the crew that they had sewn him a pillow stuffed with wood chips from the coffin. “There was a little frill around the edge filled with these shavings,” says Spenceley. “It was a touching element.”

And, also, heeeeeere’s Johnny!

Dapper Gentleman, isn’t he?

Profile Pic-worthy!  Check out that hair!

Perfectly preserved hands

William Braine

At a worldly 32 years old, William was not only the oldest but also the last of the trio to die, on April 3, 1846. I couldn’t find any detailed info on William, poor guy.  I guess it’s true that the young ones get the most attention. 

Braine as he appeared pre-autopsy

Ready for his close-up

And during the autopsy – all his hair has been lost.  

Rest in Peace on that lonely island.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 1, 2017

Today’s Careless Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Mine Inspector’s Report




JOSIAH HALL, Mine Inspector.

ACCIDENT No. 16.– January 17th. Louis Hart, by his own carelessness, lost his life while riding up in the skip from the 5th level in No. 5 shaft, at the Baltic Mine. Louis Hart and four miners got into the skip at noon hour to go to surface from the 5th level. Hart was sitting on the northwest corner of the skip. John Norpe, one of the miners, told him to get into the skip, he was in danger sitting there. Hart said: “I am all right.” When they were hoisted to the fourth level, Hart’s head was caught under the timber of the gate piece. John Morpe saw Hart falling off the skip and caught him by the leg and called to stop the skip, and they put him in the skip and brought him to surface. Arthur Caldwell said: “I am a timberman in the Baltic Mine. Louis Hart has been working with me about three months. I have often warned him about riding on the edge of the skip and compelled him to get into the skip for I considered it dangerous to ride on the edge.”

Frank Hart, Jr. a brother of Louis, was present and heard the statements of the men who were riding in the skip with his brother when he was killed, and requested that no inquest be held as it was not necessary.

The oft-doomed fellows at Michigan’s Baltic Mine.

Culled from: Some Fatal Accidents in the Atlantic, Baltic, Champion, Trimountain and Winona Copper Mines

I’m not really sure what killed Louis… it sounds like they stopped him from falling?  I’m guessing head trauma?  Not a very good report, Mine Inspector Josiah Hall!


Ghastly!  Spotty Edition

Illustration culled from one of the newest additions to The Library Eclectica: The Sick Rose: Disease and the Art of Medical Illustration.

“The head of a child with blisters and other lesions affecting the skin.”

Morbid Fact Du Jour For January 31, 2017

Today’s Bacteria-Laden Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

A portrait of a Civil War field hospital in 1863, written by a Union colonel wounded at Port Hudson:

I never wish to see another such time as the 27th of May. The surgeons used a large Cotton Press for the butchering room & when I was carried into the building and looked about I could not help comparing the surgeons to fiends. It was dark & the building lighted partially with candles: all around on the ground lay the wounded men; some of them were shrieking, some cursing & swearing & some praying; in the middle of the room was some 10 or 12 tables just large enough to lay a man on; these were used as dissecting tables & they were covered with blood; near & around the tables stood the surgeons with blood all over them & by the side of the tables was a heap of feet, legs & arms. On one of these tables I was laid & being known as a Col. the Chief Surgeon of the Department was called (Sanger) and he felt of my mouth and then wanted to give me cloriform: this I refused to take & he took a pair of scissors & cut out the pieces of bone in my mouth: then gave me a drink of whiskey & had me laid away.

Amputation being performed in a hospital tent, Gettysburg, July 1863.

In 1918, after a half-century of medical advances, one federal surgeon looked back on the war:

We operated in old blood-stained and often pus-stained coats, the veterans of a hundred fights. … We used undisinfected instruments from undisinfected plush-lined cases, and still worse, used marine sponges which had been used in prior pus cases and had been only washed in tap water. If a sponge or an instrument fell on the floor it was washed and squeezed in a basin of tap water and used as if it were clean. Our silk to tie blood vessels was undisinfected. … The silk with which we sewed up all wounds was undisinfected. If there was any difficulty in threading the needle we moistened it with … bacteria-laden saliva, and rolled it between bacteria-infected fingers. We dressed the wounds with clean but undisinfected sheets, shirts, tablecloths, or other old soft linen rescued from the family ragbag. We had no sterilized gauze dressing, no gauze sponges. … We knew nothing about antiseptics and therefore used none.

In The Life of Billy Yank, historian Bell I. Wiley writes, “Little wonder that gangrene, tetanus and other complication were so frequent and that slight wounds often proved mortal.”

Culled from: Futility Closet
Generously submitted by: Marco


Morbid Mirth Du Jour!

Courtesy of Anna.