Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 20, 2015

Today’s Pointless Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The main problem facing authorities in English gaols during the nineteenth century was exactly what to do with a prisonful of idle convicts. With nothing to occupy their time, the more dangerous among them simply planned riots and fomented unrest, with sometimes disastrous results. It was then, in 1817, that the Science of Absolute Uselessness came to the aid of the perplexed officials,in the form of the Treadwheel.

The contraption first appeared at Brixton Prison in 1817 and was quickly put to use. For the technically minded, the machine consisted of a huge wheel sixteen feet in circumference, similar to a paddle wheel but wide enough to accommodate twenty-four men standing almost shoulder to shoulder. The wheel incorporated twenty-four steps, eight inches apart, and was turned by the action of the convicts ‘climbing’ the steps, moving their legs as if they were slowly and laboriously ascending a flight of stairs, the steps moving down and sliding away beneath them. As they worked, or rather walked, they supported themselves by holding on to a handrail, their backs to the watchful warders, and to complete their isolation from their fellow hikers, the men were separated from each other by high wooden partitions resembling those in public urinals.

The wheel revolved twice a minute, with a mechanism incorporated to ring a bell at the end of each thirtieth revolution, signalling a change of shift. The men were then replaced by another batch of twenty-four convicts, each man having to complete fifteen quarter-of-an-hour sessions a day, with fifteen minutes’ rest between shifts.

It was very hard work, and the hot and airless conditions made the task particularly grueling. The energy required to avoid sinking with the steps being equivalent to the man’s own weight meant that fifteen minutes “grinding the wind” was sufficient to exhaust the strongest of men, “climbing”, as they had to, 480 feet every session, 2400 yards a day, on meager prison rations.

Culled from: Rack, Rope & Red-Hot Pincers

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 19, 2015

Today’s Abolished Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In England in 1964, two young men were taken out of their death-cells because just fifteen days before they were due to be executed the House of Commons voted to end hanging as a punishment for murder.  They were Peter Anthony Dunford, 18, who had been convicted of killing a fellow prisoner in Wakefield Gaol, and Ronald John Cooper, a 26-year-old croupier who, after being arrested in the Bahamas, had been found guilty of murdering a company director called Joseph Hayes. Two other men, 21-year-old Peter Allen and 24-year-old Gwynne Evans – both milkmen – were the last to be hanged for murder in Britain before that vital vote in the Commons in December 1964.

This was not the first time that hanging had been abolished in England. For 40 years after William the Conqueror took over the country in 1066 the gallows were never used – because of his royal decree. William ordered that, instead, male criminals were to be castrated and have their eyes pulled out. His second son, William Rufus, brought back hanging for one crime only – stealing royal deer. But the Conqueror’s fourth son, Henry I, was made of far tougher material and he commanded that hanging be reintroduced for a wide spectrum of crimes including arson and theft.

Culled from: Crimes and  Punishment – the Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 14


Macabre Mementos!

Here’s a sweet list of mementos that serial killers kept to remember their victims by.  Romance is not dead!  (Thanks to Howard for the link.)

Macabre Mementos: 8 Insanely Creepy Souvenirs Serial Killers Kept To Remember Their Victims

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 18, 2015

Today’s Hammered Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

It was during the reign of Shun Yu (A.D. 1241-53) in China that the first real advance was made in the use of forensic sciences as we know them. In Shun Yu’s reign a certain Sung Tz’u, a judicial intendent of Hupeh Province, began going through various ancient and current texts, together with acquired local knowledge. From these he compiled the His-yuan-li – “Records of the Redressing of Wrongs” or “Instructions to Coroners”.

The office and functions of the coroner – wu-tso – as we know him today were thoroughly familiar to educated Chinese long ago, and the His-yuan-li is specific in its details, and makes it quite clear that the penalty for murder is death – “an eye for an eye” is a rigorously maintained principle. The text is insistent about the scrupulous administration of just punishment, and about the expert examination of a corpse, together with the proper deductions which must be drawn from such an examination.

The coroner is expected to conduct his actions – from his examination of the victim to his final verdict – with patience, honestly and insight. He must check with care any wounds found on a body, doing so quickly before decomposition sets in. He must take care that there is no tampering with the available evidence by others, and that those who may be found guilty must not in any way interfere with the evidence on which the coroner can act, and on which he can base his conclusions.

One of the important places a coroner is advised to examine when presented with a dead body is the top of the head. A favorite method of murder was to hammer a nail into the top of the victim’s head, when the hair would hide the hail head, particularly if the nail head was touched with a little black stain. This theme was something of a favorite in Chinese crime novels as far back as the middle of the seventeenth century, one such novel depicting the “investigator” being baffled by the way a man met his death until he notices flies congregating about the head of the corpse, parts the hair and discovers an inserted nail.

Culled from: Crimes and  Punishment – the Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 13

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 17, 2015

Today’s Mad Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In 2005, Mt. Everest expedition leader Russell Brice had turned back an older Japanese client when his climber was moving too slowly and running out of oxygen. What Brice couldn’t know then was what would happen two years later, during the spring of 2007, when the same climber again attempted to climb the Northeast Ridge, this time with a different team. At the Second Step, according to witnesses, he began to show signs of cerebral edema but insisted that he be allowed to continue up, despite the protests of his Sherpa and the expedition leader. At the summit, he reportedly went mad, throwing his gloves over the edge and clubbing himself in the head with his ice ax. His Sherpa managed to force him down a few hundred feet before he collapsed in the snow, where he could not be revived.

Culled from: Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season

Prisoner Du Jour!

Prisoners: Murder, Mayhem, and Petit Larcenyis a collection of seventy portraits of turn-of-the-century prisoners in the town of Marysville, California and the fascinating newspaper and prison accounts from their day describing the crimes of which they were accused. The photos themselves are more fascinating than most of the crimes.  There’s something magical about glass plate negatives that you just can’t reproduce with modern photography.  And I think people just had more character back in the day – or at least it seems that way.  Here’s the first example…


James Donald is under arrest and will be charged with petty larceny if evidence can be found to prove that the pile of second-hand grain sacks in his possession was unlawfully obtained. He is believed to have stolen them from the Buckeye Mills, but the positive proof is lacking. [June 26, 1906]

In the Police Court this morning, James Donald pleaded guilty of petty larceny, admitting that he stole twenty-four grain sacks from the Buckeye Mills, and Judge Raish sentenced him to serve forty days in the County Jail. [June 27, 1906]

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 16, 2015

Today’s Vituperative Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Both sides of the American Civil War had their fanatics. The South had the likes of old Edmund Ruffin.  A vituperative, virulent, voluble secessionist newspaper editor who joined, at age sixty-seven, a private South Carolina regiment called the Palmetto Guards. When this organization, with others, looked across the harbor to Fort Sumter in the predawn hours of April 12, 1861, it was (as far as anyone could tell) Ruffin who pulled the lanyard that let fly the first shot against the fort from Stevens Battery on Cummings Point, thus beginning the war. (Ruffin fired his last shot in 1865, when he put a pistol to his head and blew his brains out.)

Culled from:  Portraits Of The Civil War: In Photographs, Diaries, and Letters

Because I figure if I had to, you might need to as well:
bitter and abusive.
“the criticism soon turned into a vituperative attack”

Aghast! (Typical Fire Death Edition)

One of the first morbid books I ever acquired was Vernon G. Geberth’s Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures, and Forensic Techniques (Practical Aspects of Criminal and Forensic Investigations). This textbook is chock full of ghastliness and very informative as well.  Let’s take a look at this grim fella and see what we can learn:

FIRE SCENE.  Observe a victim who has died in a fire. Apparently, the victim was lying in his bed when he was overcome. Notice the deep charring and splitting of the skin. Although this is a typical fire death scene, the cause of death should not be assumed until the pathologist has made a careful examination of the deceased. In fact, this was a typical fire death case. Many times arson is used to cover-up a homicide; therefore, the immediate concern of the investigator at such cases should be the scene examination.

Morbid Mirth Du Jour!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 15, 2015

Today’s Revolutionary Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In France, the introduction of photography for the purposes of apprehending criminals occurred partly by accident. In 1871, soon after the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War, a civil war erupted in Paris between the newly elected (and German backed) National Assembly and a group of revolutionary insurgents resisting what they saw as the repressive policies of the new government. Although the Paris Commune lasted only three short months, it was one of the bloodiest and most violent episodes that city had seen. The Communards established their own municipal council to wrest control away from the Assembly in order to create a more egalitarian republic.

Proud of their accomplishments, the Communards photographed some of the events that occurred during the few months of their government’s existence. They razed and photographed the Vendôme Column as a symbolic act. This monument to Napoleon Bonaparte represented to them the militarism, conservatism, and imperialism that had ignited the war with Prussia. To their great misfortune, however, when French government troops reentered the city, they used the triumphal group pictures and small carte-de-visite portraits to track down former Communards and kill them. Photographs of the destroyed city and montages of the Commune’s bloodier moments also were used as effective propaganda to suppress any sympathy for the Communards and their cause.

Culled from: Police Pictures

Here’s a photo of the Communards and the Vendôme Column.

But the really morbid pictures were taken by the French government of the deceased Communards after they were executed. Poor comrades.


Morbid Cakes Du Jour!

Howard sends me a link with more delightfully creepy cakes.  Make mine vegan, please!

Creepy Cakes

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 14, 2015

Today’s Practical Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

A major difficulty in tracking down arsenic killers in the early 20th century was that almost anyone could acquire arsenic with little effort. Every day people walked into drugstores, grocery stores, garden supply stores and bought some version of the poison for the most practical reasons.

Arsenic was mixed into tonics like the popular Fowler’s Solution, used for skin treatments, prescribed by doctors, dispensed at drugstores.  It was available as a weed killer, a bug killer, and a rat killer. Hardware stores, groceries, and farm and garden supply shops offered up white arsenic in remarkable variety There was Rough on Rats, a grayish powder made of 10% soot and 90% arsenic trioxide; Rat Dynamite, 9% bran and 91% arsenic; Lyons Poisoned Cheese, a soft pale block containing some 93.5% white arsenic. William’s Fly Paper, Dutcher’s Fly Paper, and Daisy Fly Killerwere all laced with arsenic, easily leached out simply by soaking them in water.

Arsenic was the primary ingredient in a number of dyes that were especially popular in the nineteenth century and sold under such names as Scheele’s Green, Paris Green, Emerald Green, Parrot Green, and Vienna Green. Mixing arsenic with copper and hydrogen yielded shades that ranged from the brilliant color of a new-leafed tree to the softer tones of a shaded moss. Over the years arsenic-based dyes were used to color fabric, the artificial leaves on hats and wreaths, cardboard boxes, greeting cards, labels, candles, India rubber balls, oil paint, artificial plants made of tin, Venetian blinds, carpets, soap, and faux malachite for jewelry. Even untainted wallpaper could be made poisonous by paperhangers who liked to mix a little arsenic into their horse-hoof paste, thinking it would help keep rats out of the walls.

Culled from: The Poisoner’s Handbook


Morbid Trinket Du Jour!

nd isn’t this a lovely coffee mug?  A bit tainted, perhaps, but still lovely!

Available here.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 13, 2015

Today’s Eliminated Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

When measles struck nineteenth-century Hawaii and the Fiji Islands for the first time, it eliminated  a quarter of the native population.

Culled from: Plague, Pox and Pestilence

More food for thought for the anti-vaxxers.


Morbid Mirth Du Jour!

Okay, perhaps a bit sexist but still funny…


Morbid Tattoos!

So, this is interesting.  (Thanks to Ear for the link.)

“In late 19th-Century Poland, prison tattoos were cut from the bodies of deceased inmates and preserved to identify connections between convicts.

“Today, those samples are art, and 60 of them have been captured in haunting and beautiful photographs by Katarzyna Mirczak. The photographer found them at the Department of Forensic Medicine at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland and wanted to show how prisoners would use a variety of inventive — but often dangerous — materials to tattoo intricate designs in their skin.”

18 Preserved Prison Tattoos That Are Still Attached To Skin

Why isn’t this a thing? You know, like how in the 19th century, people would save hair from their loved ones and turn it into memorial artwork hung on the wall or worn in a brooch?  We could cut the tattoo off and frame it and hang it on the wall to remember them by. I think it’s a sweet idea. Of course, my ideas don’t often sync with normal people…

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 12, 2015

First of all, I apologize for being a flaky factster lately.  Personal life has been intruding – and actually in a GOOD way, for a change.  I hope to get ahead on the newsletters this weekend so that gaps don’t occur again for awhile!

Secondly, before we get into today’s fact, which is culled from the book I’m currently reading (Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season), a little background is necessary.  Jon Krakauer’s fascinating Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster documents the disastrous 1996 Everest season which claimed five lives and left several others injured. The most severely injured survivor was a man named Beck Weathers, who had gone blind due to the altitude effecting his radial keratotomy surgery. Weathers had been left for dead and had spent a night exposed to the blizzard and sub-zero freezing temperatures. To everyone’s amazement, he arose the next day and walked into Camp IV under his own power, with arms, nose, and feet frozen. In the end, he survived with the loss of his right wrist and hand, his fingers and thumb from his left hand, parts of both feet, and his nose.

Now on with the fact!

Today’s Nosy Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Tom and Tina Sjogren were a Swedish couple who tried for four consecutive years, beginning in 1996 and finally succeeding on Mary 26, 1999, to climb Mt. Everest.  While each of their attempts had issues, none quite compared to the Sjogrens’ introduction to Everest in ’96. The couple had signed up with a commercial expedition helmed by Henry Todd, a charmingly garrulous Scotsman who had started running trekking and climbing expeditions on Everest’s south side the previous year. Before his climbing career, Todd was best known in connection with Operation Julie, the 1977 drug bust that recovered around six million tabs of LSD – the largest sting of its kind in English History. His subsequent conviction for trafficking narcotics netted him seven years in prison.

In 1996, the Sjogrens simply knew Todd as a cheerful voice on the phone offering them a last-minute, attractively discounted opportunity to join his expedition. They jumped but soon wished they hadn’t. During the approach, camping equipment lagged behind the climbing party. Food supplies fell short. Team members got sick. Eventually, Tom and Tina pushed ahead more or less on their own. They reasoned that if they had any chance at all, it would only improve the farther they got from the group.

By May 10 they had reached Camp Two in the Western Cwm, at 21,000 feet, and had hunkered down, listening to the radio and catching bits of news about the climbers trapped in the storm on the upper mountain. Two days later, the survivors came limping past the Sjogrens’ camp. “They looked like they were coming off a battlefield,” Tina recalled. “It was really grim.”

Many climbers were so rattled by the havoc caused by the storm that they simply pulled up stakes and left. The Sjogrens debated going home as well, but they had come this far and were still feeling strong. From Camp Two on the Nepal side, the summit was just three days away. They decided to go for it, but they couldn’t move any higher until Todd sent up oxygen and an extra mask.

“I can get it to you tomorrow,” Todd promised when they radioed down to him.

The next day an exhausted Sherpa trundled into their camp hauling oxygen and an additional mask. When they inspected the equipment, they were horrified to discover that the mask was covered in dried blood.

“It works just fine,” Todd reassured them over the radio.  “I was able to recover some of the gear from the climbers who just came down. It’s Beck Weathers’s mask. Just clean it out with some snow.”

The Sjogrens were too disturbed to continue, and they bailed from the climb the next day.

“Henry did what he said he would – he got me oxygen and a mask,” Tina recalled later.  “But Beck Weathers’s nose was still in it.”

Culled from: Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season

I love the drama of this story but I doubt its veracity.  Here are photos of Beck Weathers after his rescue.  It looks like his nose is still intact.  Maybe a layer of skin came off? Or maybe it contained blood and Tina was just being a bit melodramatic with the story?

Morbid Fact Du Jour for March 10, 2015

Today’s Alcoholic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On May 28, 2013, Viola Ribbonleg, 32, was drinking with friends in her trailer in the remote town of Fox Lake, in northern Alberta, Canada. They were drinking homebrew, made with water, rolled oats, sugar, potatoes and yeast. The mixture had been fermenting for about a week in a plastic bag inside a milk crate next to a couch.

The next morning, Ribbonleg’s 12-year-old son saw that she was still drinking and was intoxicated. She asked him to come home from school at lunchtime to babysit and he agreed. At lunchtime he and two friends came to the trailer, found the door locked, and got in through the window. Ribbonleg was asleep on the floor and two male friends were asleep on one of the couches. 10-month-old Lexi Ribbonleg was upside down in the vat of homebrew, her legs sticking straight up. Her brother pulled her out and woke up their mother, who rushed to a nearby nursing station.

While Ribbonleg wept and repeated “dead baby” and some words in Cree, nurses and paramedics worked to try and revive Lexi but were unsuccessful. They observed that both mother and baby reeked of alcohol and notified tribal police and the Mounties.

An autopsy showed that Lexi had drowned, presumably after she rolled off the couch and into the open container of homebrew, which had an alcohol content slightly higher than beer. Viola Ribbonleg was charged with negligence in failing to adequately provide care and supervision for her daughter. She was sentenced to 90 days in jail in September of 2014.

Culled from: The Toronto Globe and Mail
Submitted by: Aimee