Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 22, 2018

Today’s Raging Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On Armistice Day, November 11, 1940, the Midwest region of the United States was hit by a terrifying storm, reminiscent of the historic gales of 1913 that had wreaked havoc on the Great Lakes. On shore, raging winds toppled church steeples, telephone lines and rooftops and brought driving snow to Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan. Further south, it stranded hundreds of duck hunters along the shores of the Mississippi River and was blamed for 144 deaths.

Duck Hunters in Minnesota

On the water, Lake Michigan bore the brunt with winds reaching as high as 124 mph. All over the lake, vessels were in trouble. On the east shore at Ludington, the car ferry City of Flint 32 was blown ashore, while a nearby fish tug Three Brothersmanaged to save seventeen men aboard the doomed Navadoc. The freighter Frank J. Peterson was beached at Hog Island, while another freighter, the Navadoc, went aground off Naubinway at the northern tip of the lake.

Among the worst disasters were the complete loss of both the 380-foot steamship Anna C. Minch and the 420-foot steel freighter William B. Davock. All hands perished – 24 on the Minch and 32 on the Davock. The Minch was found a mile and a half south of the pier at Pentwater with her mast still above water. Bodies from both ships washed up along the shore near Pentwater and Ludington, leading some to speculate that they had collided.

A view from the car ferry City of Flint 32

In all, 59 sailors, mainly on Lake Michigan, were lost. Because November had always been a dangerous month for shipping on the Great Lakes, the storms were given the nickname “Witches of November”.

Culled from: Disaster Great Lakes


Car Crash Du Jour!

Deathsentences of the Polished and Structurally Weak is an album and booklet by Negativland. The band describes the project as “a 6 by 12 inch 64-page full-color book which comes with a 45-minute CD soundtrack.”  I’m not interested in the band Negativland, but I own a copy of this objet d’art macabre because car crashes are fascinating… and this is very similar to a project I wanted to do years ago but never got around to completing (nothing new there).  What they did was go to junkyards and look for notes left behind in the smashed cars and display them together.  Of course. you’re left wondering – did the person who wrote the note or for whom the note was intended live or die? I have no answers…  but speculating can be its own entertainment, and so I present to you this entry.

What do you think?  Fatal or no?

The Wreckage:

The Note found within:

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 21, 2018

Today’s Untrained Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

During the dry summer and fall of 1933, thousands of workers financed by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation were hired to clear dry brush and to build trails and roads in Griffith Park in Los Angeles. On October 3, 1933, an estimated 3,780 men were working in the park in more than 100 squads of 50 to 80 men, each supervised by a foreman or “straw boss”.

A little after 2 p.m., a small fire started in a pile of debris in Mineral Wells Canyon. Many of the workers volunteered or were ordered to fight the fire, but it spread up the canyon. Because there was no piped water in the area, the men tried to beat out the fire with shovels. Foremen with no knowledge of firefighting initially directed the effort, setting inappropriate back fires and sending hundreds of workers into a steep canyon.  

Fire Chief Ralph Scott said when firefighters arrived they found an estimated 3,000 workers in a 40-acre fire area that included Mineral Wells Canyon, nearby Dam Canyon and the ridge that separated the two. The workers were making well-intentioned but often inefficient efforts to contain the blaze. Chief Scott said his men could not effectively fight the fire and ensure the welfare workers’ safety at the same time, largely because they had no way to control the workers’ actions. “It was absolutely impossible for firemen to control them because of their great numbers,” he said.

A working class hero is something to be…

Around 3 p.m., the wind–which had been blowing gently and steadily down the canyons from the northwest–shifted. The fire advanced on the workers quickly, taking them by surprise. Said Richard D. Meagher, a foreman, “Suddenly there was kind of a whirlwind and the fire broke loose.” It jumped a fire break some workers had hastily made in the canyon.

Some of the foremen rode their workers hard to hold the line. One worker said he and his work gang were “being yelled at like a bunch of cattle.” When another worker, L. J. Green, decided to retreat from the flames, a foreman yelled at him to “get the hell back in there.” Worker Frederick Alton saw a man running away from the fire struck on the jaw by a foreman and knocked down.

But as the flames crept closer, survival instinct took over. Most of the men ran directly away from the fire, climbing up and out of the canyon. Others chose to run sideways to the rapidly-advancing flames. This route required no climbing and provided fairly quick access to the main road. As it turned out, this second choice–for the workers who had a choice–was the better of the two.

Running directly away from the flames meant running downwind and uphill. This was a deadly mistake. Even the most able-bodied men could only climb up and out of the canyon at two or three miles per hour. Witnesses said that the wind was pushing the fire up the canyon wall at up to 20 miles per hour.

Men scrambled madly up the canyon wall, trying to outrun the advancing flames. Workers watching from the new road above heard a particularly grisly transcript of the proceedings. “You could tell the progress of the fire by the screams,” said John Secor. “The flames would catch a man and his screams would reach an awful pitch. Then there would be an awful silence. Then you would hear somebody scream and then it would be silent again. It was all over inside of seven minutes.”

It was a few minutes after 3 p.m. That much is well pinpointed because in some cases the dead workers wore watches that stopped when the flames reached them.

Meantime, some of the men in Dam Canyon weren’t just being chased by the fire–they were surrounded by it. “I didn’t know if I was going away from the fire or toward it, because we were hemmed in by flames,” said G. B. Carr. Just how some of the workers became surrounded was a key topic of the inquests.

Some of the men tried diving through the advancing wall of flame like it was an ocean wave. “I heard someone yell “Look out!” and a wall of flames was on us,” said Anton Schaefer. He was cutting away brush in a ravine with some other men. “It was exactly like the big waves of the ocean came over you, except it was fire. The only way out was straight up the hill in front. It looked like a cliff.”

Attending to the injured

Some survived in unique ways. Miguel Holquin, originally listed among the dead, survived by jumping into a stone planter he was building around an oak tree and covering himself with sand. Several men dove into the swimming pool at what was then the girls’ camp, and survived.

Fate, intuition or maybe just luck played a role. Foreman H. N. Claypool was about to order his 20-man crew to cut a fire break, then decided against it. “Something told me to stop,” he said. Shortly afterward, a tornado of flame swept over the place they were headed. “Six or eight men in the squad just beyond us were trapped,” Claypool said.

Then it stopped. The fire department had the blaze under control before nightfall.

Because of the disorganized nature of the deployment and the often inaccurate recordkeeping of the work project, it took weeks to establish the exact death toll and identify the bodies. A month after the fire, the District Attorney’s office put the official death toll at 29, although other groups claimed the number was 52 or higher. The Griffith Park fire was the deadliest in the State’s history until the 2017 California wildfires.  The cause of the fire was never determined.

Three photographs of the charred corpses (“24 Men”) c
ulled from Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook:

Culled from: Wikipedia and Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Archive

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 20, 2018

Today’s Overconfident Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On July 18, 1933, sixteen-year-old Edgar A Gibson of Tulsa, Oklahoma was visiting Yellowstone National Park with a party of his peers.  There are two conflicting accounts of what happened on this fateful day.  The superintendent’s version says Edgar’s party was touring the Steady Geyser area in Lower Basin, when another boy dared Gibson to walk across what appeared to be a solid formation but was really hot mud. Gibson sank to his thighs, receiving severe burns from which he later died. This version is corroborated by the Old Faithful logbook that states Gibson fell through hot mud at Steady Geyser, and was burned severely on his legs and thighs.

The newspapers reported that Gibson’s touring party of teenagers stopped at Old Faithful to walk around the geyser basin. Gibson stepped onto what he thought was a stone at the edge of a hot spring. Instead, it was a thin crust of sinter which gave way and precipitated him into the scalding water.

Steady Geyser circa 1958

Regardless of which version happened, forty percent of Gibson’s body was scalded and that was enough to cause his death on July 25, after he lay in agony for a week at the Livingston hospital. The newspapers also reported that overconfidence might have played a part in Gibson’s death, as he had been in the park a year earlier and “no doubt believed himself to be familiar with the section being visited.”

Culled from: Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park  (Oooh – there’s a second edition out!!!)


Crime & Punishment Photo Du Jour!

The book Deadly Intent, Crime and Punishment: Photographs from the Burns Archives, like most of the excellent Burns Archive books, is usually good about documenting its photos, so I found it surprising that this image has only the following caption:

Man in an Electric Chair
circa 1940

Ready to be executed, this man’s head has been totally immobilized by leather straps. One electrode is wrapped around his bare right foot.

I did an image search to see if I could find more of the story and found an excellent article by Robert Walsh about this execution.  It turns out this was the first execution performed after Mississippi changed from hanging to electricity as a primary execution method. Instead of building a “death house” for executions like “normal” states do, Mississippi elected to create a portable electric chair: “The chair would be taken from county to county in a large silver truck also carrying a generator, switchboard, cables, and all the standard equipment for performing electrocutions that any other prison might use.”

And the executioner?  “The new ‘State Executioner’ was Jimmy Thompson, an ex-convict, ex-merchant sailor, frequent drunkard, carnival showman, stage hypnotist, and ex-Marine only recently pardoned in 1939 after serving time at Parchman for armed robbery. He also had a violent past. During the 1920’s Thompson had shot a neighbor for insulting his mother, escaping prosecution only via an unwritten law of Southern life that said a man was allowed to shoot another man to defend a woman’s body or personal reputation. Needless to say, this law only extended to white men and certainly didn’t extend to black men shooting white men on similar grounds.”

And Thompson acted like a circus master with his “toy”: 

“By September, 1940 the equipment was ready for its public unveiling in the state capital at Jackson. Thompson arrived, set up his grim equipment, fired up the generator and worked the controls, cycling the voltage up and down to the deafening sound of the generator and unnerving whine as the current wound up and down.  According to an article in Life magazine dated October 7, 1940:

‘Crowds saw a big silver truck, a portable generator and a sturdy chair complete with helmet straps and electrodes. Beside it stood Mississippi’s new executioner, Jimmy Thompson, ex-sailor, marine, carnival man and high tension expert. No less proud of his chair than of the black cat, snakes and strawberries tattooed on his velvety skin, he explained that he and his volts would travel from county to county as business required’

“Other press reports were far less favourable. The Memphis Commercial Appeal bitterly criticized the exhibition as barbaric and tasteless, stating: ‘The only thing lacking at Thursday’s formal and public exhibition of the State’s new electric chair was a victim.’ At $100 per execution plus expenses, Thompson was as keen to start work as the state was to demonstrate its new concept. It wasn’t long before both would be satisfied.”

Which brings us to this photo: the first victim of the chair.

“Like most of Mississippi’s condemned, Willie Mae Bragg was black. He’d been convicted of murdering his ex-wife in Lucedale. With the state keen to demonstrate its new method and Bragg inspiring no sympathy in appellate judges, it was no great surprise that he was first in line. His date of execution was October 11, 1940. Bragg fully expected to die, but didn’t know he was about to make state and penal history. He would be the first convict to die in a portable electric chair.”

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking that this execution was botched and Willie Mae died a prolonged, horrible death, right?  But surprisingly, the execution went off as well as can be expected.  And here we have the summary of what is happening in the photograph above: 

“‘The picture was made as the first flash of electricity surged through his body. Note Bragg’s hands gripping the chair and his neck bulging in death’s throes.’ Thompson, always ready to supply a grim, attention-grabbing comment, stated that Bragg had died: ‘With tears in his eyes for the efficient care I took to give him a good, clean burning.’”

Er, okay.  Whatever you say, Thompson.

Additional photos:

Prepping Willie Mae Bragg

Checking the vitals, I assume, though he could still be alive here.  Doesn’t look too …  er…  “damaged”… does he?

And this one shows the executioner just before pulling the trigger:

Funny what you can find out on the internet, isn’t it?

The Traveling Executioner

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 19, 2018

I was doing so well at keeping up my resolution of a Morbid Fact per Jour and then the dreaded flu hit me and kept me bedridden for three days.  However, that pestilence which doesn’t kill me only builds up my antibodies!  

Today’s Gripping Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On June 18, 1970, tragedy struck at Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park. After climbing over barriers and ignoring signs warning hikers not to go into the Merced River, thirty-year-old La Puente resident Yolanda Fuentes and her nine-year-old daughter Christine, along with five other members of their party, sat on the rocks in the raging river to cool off and take photos, less than sixty feet from the lip of the falls. A woman who was standing in the water taking photos dropped her hat into the water. Little Christine sloshed over to retrieve it and was pulled into the strong current. Her mother Yolanda chased after her daughter and was gripped by the rushing water. One by one, the hat, Christine, and Yolanda were all swept over the ledge to their deaths. Yolanda’s decomposed body was found over two months later. Christine’s body was never found.

Culled from: Death In California: The Bizarre, Freakish, and Just Curious Ways People Die in the Golden State


Malady Du Jour

I have a book that collects images of various specimens used for the Body Worlds exhibits.  Of course, the ones with maladies are the most interesting.  This particular example is of a torso with severe deformation of the spinal column and thoracic wall caused by a hereditary disorder of bone formation and development.  How uncomfortable must this person have been?  

Culled from: Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 15, 2018

Today’s Honorable Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Perhaps the most celebrated “vanquished honor” suicide was Marcus Procius Cato (95-46 BC). He was a man who inspired respect rather than affection from his fellow Romans. A brave soldier, he fled to Greece and then to Libya when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC. Refusing to compromise his high principles by living under the rule of a tyrant, Cato decided upon suicide. After having ensured the safety of his men, he ate supper with his son, after which he retired to bed to read Phaedo, Plato’s treatise on the soul. At dawn, after a short sleep, he drew his sword and plunged the blade into his chest. Cato’s alleged last words, ‘And now I am master of myself,” epitomize the sentiment of men who hold that to choose the moment and mode of one’s own death is an inviolable human right.

Even had Cato been captured by Caesar, it is likely that the victor would have given to the vanquished the opportunity to commit suicide. It represented honor in defeat. (Indeed, Caesar might have spared Cato altogether, since he is reputed to have said, “Cato, I grudge you your death as you have grudged me the preservation of your life.”)

Culled from: Death: A History of Man’s Obsessions and Fears

Here’s an additional tidbit from Wikipedia on Cato’s death:

According to Plutarch, Cato attempted to kill himself by stabbing himself with his own sword, but failed to do so due to an injured hand. Plutarch wrote:

Cato did not immediately die of the wound; but struggling, fell off the bed, and throwing down a little mathematical table that stood by, made such a noise that the servants, hearing it, cried out. And immediately his son and all his friends came into the chamber, where, seeing him lie weltering in his own blood, great part of his bowels out of his body, but himself still alive and able to look at them, they all stood in horror. The physician went to him, and would have put in his bowels, which were not pierced, and sewed up the wound; but Cato, recovering himself, and understanding the intention, thrust away the physician, plucked out his own bowels, and tearing open the wound, immediately expired.

Now, that takes guts!


The Death of Cato: Artistic Interpretations

It’s always fun to see how those Renaissance artists depicted famous scenes in Roman/Greek history.  My favorite is the last one: Cato as seductive suicide in the gay bath house. 

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 14, 2018

Today’s Convenient Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Sticking your head into an oven, or at least sitting quietly in your easy chair with the (unlit) gas jets on and the windows closed, was once a standard suicide method on stage, screen, and in real life. Black and white movies and mid-century pulp fiction are filled with nick-of-time rescuers breaking down doors, shouting “Gas!” and frantically opening the windows; real life victims include poet Sylvia Plath. Yet you never hear about this anymore. What happened?

Suicide by gas didn’t go out of style – it just became a whole lot less convenient. The gas piped into your house these days is not your grandfather’s gas. Modern gas companies deliver “natural gas,” a naturally occurring fossil fuel that is a benign mixture of methane and ethane. It only smells terrible; it’s really not that lethal. Safety types call it a “simple asphyxiant.” Turn on your gas jets and yes, you will die, but only after the gas displaces most of the oxygen or, more likely, reaches the pilot light and explodes. Who has that kind of patience? And who can stand that smell that long?

The gas it replaced, “coal gas” or “illuminating gas” was another matter entirely. It was manufactured locally at “gasworks” from coal heated in airtight chambers. The gas produced, a mixture of methane, hydrogen and carbon monoxide, not only burned beautifully, but was perfect for the suicidally-inclined. The active ingredient was, of course, the carbon monoxide. With blood having more than 200 times the affinity for carbon monoxide than oxygen, it doesn’t take much to saturate the blood and starve your brain and nervous system of oxygen. A few breaths of 1% carbon monoxide is enough to knock you out; a few minutes breathing it will kill you. With coal gas running 10% carbon monoxide, it’s not hard to see why one psychologist called old fashioned coal gas ovens “the execution chamber in everyone’s kitchen.” Like all good technologies, it was fast, convenient, and effective.

Advances in metallurgy and welding technology in the 1930s and 1940s brought coal gas industry to an end. Natural gas, formerly a nuisance byproduct of oil drilling that was frequently simply burnt at the wellhead, could now be transported long distances cheaply and easily. After World War II, American cities and towns rapidly switched over to the new safer natural gas. The local gas plant joined horse trams and coal furnaces on the dust heap of discarded technology. The transition in Britain was a little slower, with a few gasworks limping into the ‘70s. The only remaining legacy of this formerly robust industry is numerous abandoned brownfield sites contaminated by the process’s coal-tar and ash byproducts.

The switch from coal gas to natural gas also had one unexpected effect. During the ‘50s and ‘60s, about half of the suicides in Britain were by coal gas. By the ‘70s, when the transition to natural gas was complete, the number of gas suicides had dropped to zero and the overall suicide rate was down a third. Even the suicidal appreciate convenience. If it’s too much trouble, as Dorothy Parker said, “You might as well live.”

You’d think I’d have an oven suicide photo in my collection, but I can’t seem to locate one and all the ones on the internet seem to be fake.  So I chose this one, which is fake, but quite stylish. 

Culled from: Gizmodo
Generously submitted by: Pemphigus

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 13, 2018

Today’s Abusive Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

After the American Civil War, the ingrained slave-owner’s racist mentality in the Southern states led to brilliant abuse of the convict lease system: de facto slavery. Some historians and apologists use the devastating effect of the Civil War on the economy of the Southern states as an excuse for the criminal treatment of its incarcerated civilians. One major aspect is overlooked however; prior to the Civil War, the North and Midwest built large, castle-type prisons such as Auburn in New York and Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania, while in the Southern states only Virginia had a penitentiary and it did not participate in the convict lease system in any significant manner. Prior to the Civil War, and for the following half-century, no other Southern state built a penitentiary. Enlightened Northern liberal penalogists struggled with various philosophies of proper prisoner treatment, constantly developing new concepts. Slave labor camps were the Southern philosophy – and only changed in the 20th century by dramatic federal intervention.

Those convicted of crimes were exploited by the Southern convict labor system. The inmates were leased out to owners of cotton and sugar plantations, coal and phosphorous mines, railroads, turpentine forests, and all sorts of other hard labor industries and were used by the states to build canals, dams, and roads. The reality was that the Southern mentality was that of slaveholders and that people convicted of crimes before and after the war were treated as slaves. This was far different from criminal justice systems in the rest of the country, which labored under the simple philosophy that prisoners had to pay for their upkeep (food, lodging, clothes, medical care) and not be a burden on the taxpayer. In the early 19th century two competing criminal justice systems were in vogue in the North: the Auburn, or New York, system in which prisoners labored in groups in varying industrial projects; and the Quaker, or Philadelphia, system where solitude, quiet, and individual labor, such as shoemaking, was the objective. Eventually the Auburn system prevailed as officials found that the inmates became bored or depressed if allowed too much idleness or solitude.

Several authors writing about particular states had addressed the metamorphosis from slavery into the convict labor system. Matthew J. Mancini in his seminal portrayal of the Southern convict leasing system clearly defines and exposes the practice. It was worse than slavery and resulted in the death of thousands. Mancini takes the title of his book, One Dies, Get Another, from a comment of a Southern penal expert at the National Prison Association’s 1883 meeting: “Before the war, we owned the negroes… If a man had a good negro, he could afford to keep him… But these convicts, we don’t own ’em. One dies, get another.” Costs for the care of convicts were much lower than for slaves. There was no initial purchase price, and since one didn’t care if they lived, medical care and food were minimal. Few countries, not even the Soviet Union, had such an abusive system.

Culled from: Deadly Intent: Crime and and Punishment

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 12, 2018

Today’s Debaucherous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Let’s have another jolly story of Christian Martyrdom from the classic of the genre, Fox’s Book of Martyrs (1848).  This incident allegedly occurred during the Seventh Persecution, under Decius in A. D. 249:

Peter, a young man, amiable for the superior qualities of his body and mind, was beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to Venus. He said, “I am astonished you should sacrifice to an infamous woman, whose debaucheries even your own historians record, and whose life consisted of such actions as your laws would punish.— No, I shall offer the true God the acceptable sacrifice of praises and prayers.” Optimus, the proconsul of Asia, on hearing this, ordered the prisoner to be stretched upon a wheel, by which all his bones were broken, and then he was sent to be beheaded.

“What a dick!” – Venus

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


Follow-Up Du Jour!

So you may recall back on January 5, I shared the story of twin sisters Alice and Sally Richard12.  Alice was resentful of Sally’s popularity, shot her in the head, and then showed absolutely no remorse for what she did.  The last bit of information that I could track down was that Alice had been committed to a mental hospital, but that’s where the story went cold. 

A couple of you did some additional research and were able to find Alice’s gravestone via Find-a-Grave.  Nic sent me the link with the following comment:

“I don’t know what she did for the remainder of her years, but Alice ended up living a fairly long life, married and apparently died in Sitka, Alaska. 
“A quote from the movie Insomnia seems appropriate about her. When the protagonist, Al Pacino, is speaking to the hotel desk clerk/manager, she tells him something about the area.
“‘There are two kinds of people in Alaska: those who were born here and those who come here to escape something. I wasn’t born here.'”

Find-A-Grave: Alice Elizabeth Richard Schoenenberger

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 11, 2018

Today’s Executed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Louis “Lepke” Buchalter was one of the great Jewish gangsters of the 20th century, a violent goon who led the Mafia’s own private hit squad. He worked with key bosses of his day, helped build the mob we know today, and became the only major Mafia figure sent to the death chamber.

Louis Buchalter was born February 6, 1897, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, an area with large Jewish and Italian-American populations. He got his nickname, Lepke, because his mother called him “Lepkeleh,” which means “Little Louis” in Yiddish.

Buchalter did his first prison stint at age 20. In 1917 he was sentenced to 18 months at Sing state penitentiary in New York for larceny. He finished his term and was back two years later on a two-and-a-half year sentence for attempted burglary.

Buchalter’s criminal jobs and his trips in and out of the Castle paired him up with the mobsters who would make his career. Among them were Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro, a friend from childhood.

Together these two infiltrated the unions that represented New York’s garment-industry workers. It was the start of a labor racketeering scheme that would last Buchalter’s entire career: The mob-run unions would threaten strikes unless management paid the union bosses, and the bosses would rob the unions blind.
Buchalter eventually built his labor scam into a small empire, partnering with future Italian Mafia boss Tommy Lucchese to run the garment district. It made him wealthy enough that he was able to set his family up in a luxurious penthouse on Central Park West.

Shapiro and Buchalter were charged with the attempted murder of a bootlegger in 1927. But the police lacked evidence, and the charges were dropped. By the next decade, Buchalter was an associate of some of the biggest young stars in the mob world. He knew Lucchese, ” Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky.  Indeed, he joined them in 1929 as one of the founding members of the National Crime Syndicate, a loose group of Italian and Jewish mobsters that ran organized crime in the United States in the 1930s and ‘40s. And from the start, he played a key role in the Syndicate’s most gruesome duties.

Murder Inc. was a group of hit men who acted as the enforcement arm of the Mafia, acting under the Syndicate. Most of the assassins were Jewish. And they all answered to Lepke Buchalter.

This hit squad, known to gangsters as The Combination, was formed by Siegel and Lansky. But its killers included members of Buchalter’s labor racket and a gang from Brooklyn. Siegel and Lansky were nominally in charge. But as their own rackets grew, Buchalter became the operational chief of Murder Inc.
The group took its directives from the Syndicate itself or from the bosses of the various Mafia families around the country. Buchalter worked with future mob boss Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia, and other key gangsters carried out their orders.

Murder Inc. was responsible for as many as 1,000 murders, including hundreds during Buchalter’s time at the helm. They used guns, knives, ice picks and countless other weapons to kill Mafia enemies, witnesses, informants and others who displeased Buchalter or the bosses. Buchalter’s most famous hit came in 1935, when Jewish gangster Dutch Schultz plotted to kill New York Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey. The prosecutor had been called in by an anxious grand jury because the district attorney wasn’t doing enough to fight the mob.
Dewey declared war on Schultz, and Schultz wanted revenge, but the bosses said no. When they realized he planned to disobey them, they sent killers Emanuel “Mendy” Weiss and Charles Workman, both of Murder Inc., to assassinate him.

Ironically, Dewey turned his attention to Buchalter, the man who may have saved his life. Dewey wanted to prosecute Buchalter, like Schultz, for his racketeering ways and ties to the Syndicate. The pressure mounted. Buchalter was tied to the 1936 murder of Joseph Rosen, a former truck driver who sold his union to Buchalter in exchange for a candy store. Buchalter believed Rosen was ratting him out. That November, Buchalter and his old partner Shapiro were sentenced to two years in federal prison for violating antitrust laws. A year later, the feds charged Buchalter with conspiracy to smuggle heroin, and he faced serious hard time.

So he simply disappeared. In November 1937, a month before the indictment, a $5,000 reward was posted for information leading to his capture. That was raised to $25,000 two years later, following a massive manhunt that pursued leads in the United States and Europe.

Finally, in August 1939, Buchalter surrendered to J. Edgar Hoover, director of the FBI, in a deal supposedly arranged by radio personality Walter Winchell. Police later learned that he never left New York. Buchalter was convicted on the heroin beef and sentenced to 14 years in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. Soon after, he was hit even harder: He was convicted and sentenced to 30 years to life in state prison for labor racketeering. But the worst was yet to come.

In 1941, Buchalter was charged with a series of murders in New York, including the Rosen hit. Witnesses included two of his hit men, Albert Tannenbaum and Abe Reles. He was convicted at 2 a.m., after just four hours of deliberation.
In December 1941, Buchalter, along with Weiss and fellow Murder Inc. leader Louis Capone, was sentenced to death in the electric chair. His appeals reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard his case and voted unanimously to uphold his conviction.

On March 4, 1944, Lepke Buchalter became the only major Mafia figure to die by execution. He was buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens.

Sing Sing Prison details on Lepke from Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House

Culled from: American Mafia History


Garretdom: Another Drunkard Gone!

It’s time for another edition of Garretdom, where I feature grim or weird old newspaper articles.  This one comes to us from Minnesota.

February 2, 1867
Froze to Death. Another Drunkard Gone.

Mr. Thomas Warner, a man of superior intelligence and information and once a minister of the gospel, froze to death, while in a helpless state of intoxication, near Elysian, Le Sueur county, on the night of the 16th of January. The day previous to his death and most of the night he had spent in a saloon in the village and left for his home, near morning, in a state of intoxication. When within one hundred rods of home, he commenced falling down every few rods until at last he was obliged to crawl on his hands and feet, which he did until he got within ten or twelve rods of his own door, but could get no farther, then falling forward from his crawling position died. He leaves a very interesting family.

Thus another victim to intemperance has gone − perished in a snow bank, almost at his own door, and the tears of the widow and orphan are falling and aching hearts are almost bursting in breasts that know no comfort.

We have been fearful for the past winter or two that we should have a similar case to the above to report, as having occurred in this village, but so far, thank God, all have escaped, but no one knows for how long.

Culled from the February 2, 1867 issue of the Chatfield [Minnesota] Democrat, as reprinted in Coffee Made Her Insane.

More grim old news can be perused at the Garretdom page.  

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 10, 2018

Today’s Horrible, Vile, Indecent, Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

A news article from 1807 as recounted in the book The Chronicle of Crime:

Nineteen-year-old Ann Webb, who came to London from the country a few years ago, found – as country girls since Hogarth’s “Moll Hackabout” have done – that the streets of Covent Garden are paved with bawds waiting to entice would-be servants into a life of shame.

Moll Hackabout arriving in London

Ann was so enticed, and changing her name to Elizabeth Winterflood [Great Name! – DeSpair] came under the protection of carpenter Thomas Greenaway.

This wretch, under the assumed name of “Weeping Billy” White, lives off women in Southwark. His cruelty and infidelities have driven one of his charges to suicide, and in August this year Miss Winterflood decided to dispense with his protection.

Dressed in virginal white, she stood at her “beat” on the corner of Higglers’ Lane and Dirty Lane, where she was seen quarreling with Greenaway shortly before midnight. At 2:00 a.m. she was found lying on the ground, her legs indecently exposed and parted. She was dead, and her external genitals had been chopped off and thrown under a cart. This horrible mutilation is so extraordinary that the doctor summoned to examine the body failed to observe it until the mangled organs were handed to him.

Greenaway was charged with her murder, but Miss Winterflood’s landlady and other women friends were so vehemently hostile to this vile procurer that the judge warned the jury against their prejudice.

In consequence “Weeping Billy” has been acquitted, though it is hard to see who else could have performed this horrible, vile and indecent crime.

Culled from: The Chronicle of Crime