Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 23, 2014

Today’s Acrid Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

An unusual punishment came into use in California’s Folsom Penitentiary around the turn of the 20th century.  This vicious method utilized chloride of lime, the biting, acrid smell of which is familiar to anyone using domestic bleach or bleaching powder.  Prisoners rebelling against discipline were put into the Chloride of Lime Cell, the floor of which had been amply soaked in dampened lime.  Within minutes the suffocating fumes affected the prisoner’s breathing, burning the sensitive lining of his nose and throat and making his eyes sting unbearably.  Only when he showed signs of submitting to prison regulations was he eventually released.

Culled from: Rack, Rope & Red-Hot Pincers

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 22, 2014

Today’s Overworked Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The summer of 1913 was one of the hottest summers in California history. On July 10, the thermometer hit 134 degrees Fahrenheit in Death Valley, the hottest recorded temperature in the United States. More than 400 miles northwest, the Sacramento Valley was as hot as a pizza oven, but the stifling heat didn’t discourage thousands of agricultural workers to work the three-week harvest in the vast hop fields. Little did the temporary workers know how much hotter the hop fields were about to become.

Hops are a creeping flower used as a flavoring and stability agent in beer. There is no major commercial use for the plant other than in the production of beer. A close relative of hemp, hops are grown on specially prepared fences and reach up to 30-feet tall by harvest time. Only the female flowers are harvested. Before mechanization, hop harvesting was a labor-intensive and dirty job, and harvest occurred only during a three-to four-week window. Hop farmers hired as many workers as possible to ensure that the harvest was brought in on time and the wages were kept low. Pickers worked from sunrise to sunset and sometimes even at night.

In 1913, the largest hop farm in the world was the Durst Brothers Hop Yard outside of Wheatland in Yuba County. The Durst Brothers knew their business well and had long arranged that their 640 acres of hops be sold to a single brewer in England. Only the finest hop cones were picked at the Durst Brothers’ farm. Drying and packaging were done on site in hop kilns before the product was transported on special trains to ships docked in the San Francisco Bay for the long voyage to England. The Durst Brothers were at the time the single largest employer of agricultural workers in California.

They had hired a German foreman who had new ideas on how to streamline production and maximize profit. First, he got rid of the “high pole men,” young and athletic types who climbed 30 feet up the hop vines to detach the vines from the support fence for the pickers below. The high pole men’s other duties were to carry, weigh and load the hops onto a wagon. As a result of this cost cutting, women and children had to reach the hops, no matter how high they were. The pickers then had to carry their own hopsacks, which generally weighed 100 pounds, to the scales and load them onto the transport wagon. This lessened the time that the worker could be picking and earning money.

If climbing 30 feet up rickety poles, hauling, weighing and loading 100-pound sacks wasn’t enough, the Durst Brothers also saved money by not providing fresh water to their workers in the fields. They instead charged five cents a glass for a mixture of water and acetic acid, a liquid compound found in vinegar and used in the production of paint solvents. Food had to be bought at Durst’s company store where the costs were high and the quality low. Sanitary conditions at the dusty workers’ camp were nonexistent. The water in the nearby irrigation canals was contaminated and undrinkable. There were only nine doorless outhouses provided at the camp and none were provided in the fields. Garbage was tossed into ditches and irrigation canals. Dysentery quickly spread through the campground. In the 100-degree heat, the stench was appalling.

To keep the pickers for the entire 18- to 20-day harvest, the Durst Brothers inaugurated a bonus system that was only a bonus to the brothers. The going rate for picking hops in 1913 was $1 for every 100 pounds of hops. Under their idea of a bonus system, the Dursts paid 90 cents per 100 pounds the first week, $1 per 100 pounds the second week and $1.10 for a 100-pound sack during week three. The idea was to keep the pickers in the Durst fields for the entire season, but it was also estimated that the brothers profited $100 a day in wage holdbacks forfeited by pickers who left before the season was over.

On August 1, 1913, about 3,000 people signed up to work the Durst ranch harvest, about twice as many as needed as the drying ovens only had the capacity to process the output of 1,500 pickers a day. Ranch manager Ralph H. Durst was following the common practice of advertising for more workers than he really needed to ensure that the crop was brought in on time.

By the evening of day two of the harvest, 1,700 workers held an informal meeting. Durst pickers came from more than 25 different nationalities, and among them were a couple of dozen members of the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as Wobblies. Richard “Blackie” Ford, an articulate and experienced organizer, was among the IWW members.

The workers formed a grievance committee and elected leaders to notify the Dursts of their demands for a flat rate of $1.25 per 100-pound hopsack. They would also demand fresh ice water in the fields three times a day, sanitary toilets, garbage collection and the rehiring of the “high pole men.”

The next day the grievance committee, led by Blackie Ford, along with 400 to 500 pickers and 30 battle-experienced Wobblies, assembled at the dance platform a half mile from the company office. They marched in columns of four to the hop yard’s headquarters. When Ralph Durst came out of his office, a halt was called to the marchers and the grievance was read to Durst. To his credit, Durst listened to the demands and asked for an hour to think it over. The grievance committee gave him two hours.

A rat-faced, derby-wearing, cigar-chomping manager, Durst halfheartedly agreed to all demands except the wage increase. When told by Ford that there would be a strike, Durst charged at him and slapped him across the face with a heavy work glove. He then ordered him and the other marchers off his property. They refused to leave.

Durst went off to Wheatland to get the police and his attorney, Edmund Tecumseh Manwell, who just happened to be the district attorney of Yuba County. Manwell, Yuba County Sheriff George H. Voss, and constables L.B. Anderson, Elmer Bradshaw, Henry Daken and Eugene Reardon joined Durst to evict the protesters. Sheriff Voss had deputized Anderson, Daken and Reardon before they drove out to the Durst yards. Reardon was a 67-year-old, Red Bluff sheep shearer who in his younger days was a renowned Indian fighter. He was on his way to work in Sutter County when Sheriff Voss asked him to join the posse.

The posse spotted the protesters at the dance platform and roared up in their auto to confront them. Firing his pistol into the air for emphasis, Voss yelled to the crowd, “I’m the sheriff of Yuba County! Disperse!” But the workers stood their ground and a rock was thrown, striking Sheriff Voss in the head. Walking through the crowd, the authorities nervously eyed the protesters milling about the dance floor when Ralph Durst spotted Ford. Durst pointed at Ford and yelled to the posse, “That’s the man! Take him!” As the officers grabbed Ford, the crowd surged forward and all hell broke out.

The crowd grabbed Sheriff Voss, took his weapons and beat him to the ground as Deputy Daken fired his sawed-off shotgun into the air. Deputy Reardon pulled out his pistol, but an African-American picker grabbed his arm and grappled with the old Indian killer. The gun went off wildly several times as the men struggled. Finally, the striker wrenched the pistol from Reardon’s hand and beat him over the head with it.

District Attorney Manwell rushed up to the fallen officers and was shot in the heart by the African-American. Conflicting articles in the Sacramento Bee reported that Ralph Durst shot the African-American in the chest, “creating a hole behind his left nipple large enough to drop a hen’s egg into,” but Deputy Daken later took credit for the kill. It is known that Durst and his guards fired indiscriminately into the crowd until their guns were empty.

Jumping into their car, Durst and his goons retreated to the farmhouse, leaving the officers to fend for themselves. The crowd beat Deputy Daken until he broke away and ran for the company store. Once inside, he shaved off his mustache, threw out his false teeth and darkened his face to disguise himself from the searching rioters. Posing as a company bookkeeper, Daken fooled the mob and made his escape at sunset.

When the gunsmoke cleared, District Attorney Manwell, Deputy Reardon, the unidentified African-American and 18-year-old Sacramento picker Ed Donnelly, who apparently worked at a different hop farm and was an innocent bystander, all laid dead. Deputy Anderson received a severe scalp wound and was shot in the arm. Sheriff Voss was beaten bloody and left with a broken left leg. Deputy Bradshaw was shot in the elbow. Nels Nelson, a Durst goon, had his right arm shattered by a shotgun blast. It was reported that many protesters were injured, including two women and a boy who were secreted away by the pickers.

Fearing retribution, hundreds of Durst farm pickers packed up as fast as they could and scrambled away from the campground, seeking work at more humane hop yards or catching the first train out of Yuba County. The police put up a dragnet and caught Ford along with other suspected Wobblies. Fearing gangs of Wobblies from all over the west would descend on the hop farms of Yuba County, Governor Hiram W. Johnson called out the state’s militia to keep the peace in Wheatland. The IWW invasion never materialized, and the militia was sent home by August 9.

The Durst Brothers ended up giving in to the protesters’ demands, and fresh ice water was provided in the field, garbage was collected, more outhouses were provided in the campgrounds and in the fields, the use of high pole men was reinstituted and the pickers were paid a flat rate of $1 per 100 pounds.

Ford and another IWW leader, Herman Suhr, who wasn’t present at the riot, eventually were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The prosecutor admitted that Ford and Suhr had not taken part in the riot, but argued they were guilty of provoking workers into violence by being IWW members. Their highly publicized trial put a spotlight on the plight of farm workers and many new, but ineffective, laws were put into place to improve conditions and protect workers. Ford and Suhr became labor martyrs and were pardoned in 1925.

Next to an electrical substation and almost surrounded by a chain-link fence, a plaque set on a stone in Wheatland marks the location of the dance platform where the uprising occurred on that hot bloody Sunday. Dedicated in 1988, on the 75th anniversary of the unrest by the Camp Far West Parlor Number 218 N.D.G.W.—Wheatland Historical Society, it erroneously states:

Durst Hop Ranch—

Site of Wheatland Hop Riot

August 3, 1913

Second Major Labor Dispute in the U.S.A.

Initiated by the IWW Labor Movement

It is one rare case in which the losers placed a monument acknowledging defeat.

Culled from: Death In California by David Kulczyk

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 21, 2014

Today’s Negligent Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Excerpt from the Report of the Mine Inspector of Houghton County, Michigan, For the Year Ending September 30, 1898.  (Josiah Hall, Mine Inspector.)

Accident No. 13 occurred in No. 4 rock-house, Atlantic mine, April 1st, which resulted in the death of Stephen Smith, aged 17 years, who was employed at the dump in clearing out the screen.  About 9 o’clock in the evening the young man was found missing from his work, and after some time, a search resulted in finding his body on the second floor of the rock-house.  His skull was terribly fractured and he had several wounds about the body.  He had in some way become entangled in the belts that run the rock-breakers, and death must have been almost instantaneous.  An inquest was held before Justice Brand.  The jury rendered a verdict “that Stephen Smith came to his death through negligence, in leaving the place of work assigned him, and placing himself in danger, where his duties did not require his presence, in No. 4 rock-house, Atlantic mine, on the 1st day of April, 1898.”

Culled from: Some fatal accidents in the Atlantic, Baltic, Champion, Trimountain, and Winona copper mines (A local history series)

Remember: Never place yourself in danger where your duties do not require your presence!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 19, 2014

Today’s Understated Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

“There’s been a shooting.”
A police operator in Hamilton, Ohio, heard Jimmy Ruppert mutter those words on Easter Sunday evening in 1975.
Officers hurried to his home on Minor Ave., in a well-worn workingman’s neighborhood in the old river city north of Cincinnati.
Ruppert, lean and short, was waiting at the door, still dressed for the holiday in a yellow shirt, white tie and plaid slacks. His clothing was mottled with flecks of blood. Cops stepped past him and could see the degree to which he had understated what he had done.
This was not a mere shooting. It was a massacre.
Ruppert shared the big house with his mother, Charity, 65. His life was a mess on that day in 1975, two weeks before his 41st birthday.
Unable or unwilling to hold a job, he depended on his mom and brother, Leonard, for walking-around money. He spent too many nights at a local bar, the 19th Hole, drinking too many beers.
His mother, widowed while her sons were adolescents, finally had had enough of lay-about Jimmy. She ordered him to get his act together or get out.
Ruppert had always been paranoid, and the pressure made him even more irrational. He imagined that his mother and brother were whispering about him to the FBI – for example, that he was a homosexual or a communist. He also worried that Leonard had booby-trapped his old Volkswagen.
Ruppert resented that he lived in the shadow of his brother, who had a college degree, a good job and a big family. He and his wife, Alma, had eight children, seven of them born in virtually consecutive years.

Leonard Ruppert and his ill-fated family.

Leonard Ruppert and his ill-fated family.

On the day before Easter, Jimmy lost himself in his favorite pastime. He toted his collection of guns to the banks of the Great Miami River for target practice.
He showed up later at the 19th Hole. During a long night of drinking, a bartender friend asked him whether he had resolved the problems he was having with his mother.
“Not yet,” he replied.
He stumbled home at 3 a.m. and slept off a hangover on Easter morning. He was finally roused by the commotion when his brother arrived at 4 p.m. and eight kids piled out of the family van: Leonard 3rd, 17; Michael, 16; Tommy, 14; Carol, 13; Ann, 12; David, 11; Theresa, 9, and John, 4.
Grandma Ruppert had prepared an Easter egg hunt, and the younger children spent an hour in the yard collecting goodies in bright baskets.
At around 5 p.m., Ruppert ambled downstairs to say hello. His mother was at the stove, making a snack of Sloppy Joes. (Her grandchildren had already eaten a more formal Easter dinner with Alma’s parents.)
At some point, Leonard asked his brother a simple question.
“How’s that Volkswagen?”
Jimmy Ruppert glared at his brother, then stomped ominously back up to his room.
By 6 p.m., all eight children were inside. The adults and several kids were gathered in the kitchen, and the others were clustered in the living room.
Jimmy Ruppert descended the stairs again, carrying four guns.
He stepped into the kitchen with a .357 Magnum pistol in one hand and a .22 in the other, and he began firing. Leonard was first to fall, followed by sister-in-law Alma and mother Charity. Amid screams and chaos, the three children in the kitchen, Ann, David and Theresa, were next mercilessly gunned down.
Ruppert moved to the living room, where he was confronted at the door by the oldest nephew, Leonard 3rd, whose life ended in a barrage of several shots.
Uncle Jimmy then sat on the sofa and, one by one, plinked shots at the remaining four children: Michael, Tommy, Carol and little John.
Ruppert got up and walked from one victim to the next, firing coup de grace bullets into them – 35 rounds in all. His sick work complete, he then lounged in the house for three hours before phoning police to report “a shooting.”
His rampage rated a spot in the American crime annals as the deadliest shooting ever inside a private home.

James Ruppert: Revenge of the Nerd.

Jimmy Ruppert: Revenge of the Nerd.

Knees buckled as the cops and rescuers arrived at the disturbing scene, with candy and gaily colored baskets scattered amid the bodies. At a heartbreaking funeral, the 11 caskets were lined end to end in the aisle of the Rupperts’ Catholic church.
Ruppert pleaded insanity, and shrinks prodded his tender psyche. Prosecutors fought hard for a felony conviction since he stood to inherit $300,000 if found not guilty for any reason, including insanity.
A three-judge panel convicted him of the 11 murders and sentenced him to life in prison. (The death penalty was not an option in America in 1975.) He won a new trial on appeal, and in 1982 a second panel of judges convicted him of the murders of his mother and brother but acquitted him, based on insanity, for the other murders. The sentence was the same: life.
He remains in prison 35 years later, at age 75. He was denied parole in 1995 and 2005. His next hearing is scheduled for 2015.
Outside of southwest Ohio, only ardent true crime devotees recall the Ruppert case. But those who visited the crime scene can’t forget it.
One of them was prosecutor John Holcomb, who recalled blood leaking through floorboards into the basement. The killer is “a disgraceful little coward,” he told a reporter. If justice is served, he said, the man who ruined Easter will die in prison.

Culled from: New York Daily News

The Exciting & The Disappointing

I have exciting/disappointing news to share with you! The Exciting: I’m heading off on Friday to Germany for a two-week photography adventure! The Disappointing: The MFDJ will be on hiatus while I’m away (probably until mid-to-late July). However, hopefully I’ll have lots of interesting photos to share when I return. I’ll try to regularly update my photography page on Facebook while I’m away – so please be sure to ‘like’ the page so you don’t miss any of the images. And please, Stay Morbid while I’m away!

Forlorn Photography

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 25, 2014

Today’s Party-Pooping Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

During the frontier days in California, a wedding was one of the biggest events that a muddy little town like Sanel (in Mendocino County) could experience.  In the last quarter of 1875, the first generation of California-born Caucasian females were reaching marrying ages.  Thomas Flanagan and Mary Pina tied the knot on December 20, 1875, and everyone from miles around attended the wedding.  The Christmas season was in high gear, and the harvest-weary farmers were ready to kick back and have a good time.  The Flanagan/Pina wedding was a good excuse to dress up and visit with friends and neighbors, and maybe even get a bit of Christmas shopping done between the service and the reception.

The reception dance was held at Pina’s aunt’s home, where the merrymakers danced to a band into the early morning hours.  Well into the celebration, William Granjean stood up on a table to cheer on the dancing guests.  Outside the house, lurking in the shadows, was a man named Jose Antonio Ygarra.  Ygarra was out on bail awaiting trial for horse theft, and Grandjean was to be the main witness against him.  He could see Granjean standing on the table with his back to a window, waving his arms and doing a jig.  Ygarra pulled out his pistol, walked towards the window, and shot Granjean in the back of the head.  Then, Jose Ygarra ran away as fast as he could run.

The report of the pistol and a blood-spouting corpse put an end to the party.  Granjean was dead before he hit the floor; the bullet had pierced his skull, gone through his brain, and smashed against the inside of his frontal bones.  He was shot at such close range that there were powder burns on the outside windowpane.

Wedding guest Weaver Andrews told the shocked gathering that he had encountered Jose Antonio Ygarra outside of the house and that Ygarra had asked him if Granjean was attending the reception.  Ygarra was tracked down and arrested two days later, on December 22.  Nearly every man and boy in the valley turned out for the inquiry hearing, over which Justice Dooly of Sanel presided.  Most of the men were armed and agitated, and there were whispers of a lynching.

At six in the evening, a group of twenty men took the prisoner from the courtroom and led him off into the darkness.  When the men returned, they reported that the prisoner had escaped.

The next morning Ygarra’s corpse was found hanging from a live oak tree a few miles down the road outside of Hopland, near the Russian River.

Culled from: Death In California by David Kulczyk

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 24, 2014

Today’s Spreadeagled Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Romans used the wheel for the punishment of slaves and to overcome the obstinacy of the Christian martyrs, and employed several different methods.  In some, the wheel was mounted horizontally, in others vertically.  In either position the victim would be bound to the face of the wheel or around the circumference, and the suffering could be increased by lighting a fire underneath, thereby converting the wheel into a roasting-spit.  The author Josephus wrote:

Then were the Apparitors [executioners] directed to bring in the Christian prisoner and, tearing away his tunic, bound him hand and foot with thongs.  Then they fixed him about a great Wheel, whereof the noble-hearted youth had all his joints dislocated and all his limbs broken.  And the whole Wheel was stained with his blood, and the grate containing the burning coals was put out by reason of the drops of blood pouring down on it, while about the axle of the Wheel the gobbets of flesh were carried round and round, the parts adjoining the joints of the bones being everywhere cut to pieces.

Another was fastened to the Wheel, on which he was stretched and burned with fire; moreover they applied spits, sharpened and made red hot, to his back, and pierced his sides and inwards, searing the latter dreadfully.

Some wheels were smaller, so that once the victim had been spreadeagled on it, with his ankles and wrists extending beyond the rim, the executioner would smash the limbs, then drape them round the perimeter of the wheel.

Culled from: The Book Of Execution


Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 23, 2014

Today’s Positively Identified Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

One of the ways in which modern forensic science can positively identify an individual is through accurate dental records, since teeth not only differ in detail from person to person, but they last longer than other physical elements after death.  Although there are subtle changes as the subject ages, the overall pattern of the teeth changes so little that records compiled years before can still be accurate enough to provide positive identification.  Moreover, where natural teeth have been replaced by false teeth, the dentures are also a very useful form of record, and in the U.S. in particular they are often marked with both the wearer’s name and his or her social security number.

One of the earliest cases of identification by teeth dates back to the mid-1770s.  Paul Revere, a coppersmith, silversmith, and engraver, had been taught dentistry by English practitioner John Baker.  In 1775 Revere made a set of dentures for his friend, Dr. Joseph Warren.  The teeth, held together with silver wire, were supported by a bridge made from the tusk of a hippopotamus.  In June of that year, at the battle of Bunker Hill where British forces stormed American entrenchments on a peninsula to the north of Boston, Warren was killed by a shot to the head.  Though hiss body was buried in a mass grave after the battle, his family wished it to be found and  brought back to England.  Revere was able to identify the body from the dental work and it was subsequently returned to be buried in the family plot at Forest Hill, south London.

"The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill" by John Trumbull.

“The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill” by John Trumbull.

Culled from: Hidden Evidence: Forty True Crimes and How Forensic Science Helped Solve Them

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 21, 2014

Today’s Obstructed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Excerpt from the Report of the Mine Inspector of Houghton County, Michigan, For the Year Ending September 30, 1892.  (Josiah Hall, Mine Inspector.)

ACCIDENT 19.—July 13.——Occurred at the Atlantic Mine.  Thomas Alatala, with two other Trammers, was told by the Miners that they were about to blast a hole in the drift at the 9th level north of No. 1 shaft.  They started with the car of rock and when it had gone about one hundred and fifty feet the car was stopped by a rock that was on the track.  Alatala instead of taking shelter behind the stull timber, which he could easily have done, insisted upon removing the obstruction.  He had just risen up from doing so when he was struck on the head by a piece of rock from the blast and was instantly killed.

Culled from: Some fatal accidents in the Atlantic, Baltic, Champion, Trimountain, and Winona copper mines (A local history series)

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 15, 2014

Today’s Pious Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Here is another little tale of Christian Martyrdom from the classic of the genre, Fox’s Book of Martyrs (1848).  These acts allegedly occurred during the Fourth Persecution, under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A. D. 162:

Felicitatis, an illustrious Roman lady, of a considerable family and the most shining virtues, was a devout christian. She had seven sons, whom she had educated with the most exemplary piety.

Januarius, the eldest, was scourged, and pressed to death with weights; Felix and Philip, the two next had their brains dashed out with clubs; Silvanus, the fourth, was murdered by being thrown from a precipice; and the three younger sons, Alexander, Vitalis, and Martial, were beheaded. The mother was beheaded with the same sword as the three latter.

Culled from: Fox’s Book of Martyrs
Generously suggested by: Louise