Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 2, 2015

Today’s Mercurial Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In the early 20th century, mercury compounds were sold as bedbug killers. They came mixed into laxatives, antiseptics, and diuretics. In extreme cases, doctors prescribed them for chronic bacterial infections such as syphilis. In the 1920’s, both the benefits and the murderous potential of mercury bichloride were well known. The poison’s risky attributes had been impressed on film fans everywhere, thanks to a Hollywood-fueled tabloid scandal of 1920.

Actress Olive Thomas had the look of a charming child, with a shining bob of curly dark hair, big violet-blue eyes, and a pale, heart-shaped face. The look launched her career, starting in 1914 when she’d won a “Most Beautiful Girl in New York City” contest. She went on to become a featured Ziegfeld dancer at the New Amsterdam Theatre, a graceful waif, drifting in a zephyr of scarves.  Within a few years she was making films for the Selznick studios.

In the way of people whose lives seem charmed, Thomas soon married a member of the Hollywood’s elite, Jack Pickford, younger brother of screen star Mary Pickford. The couple rapidly developed a reputation for wild behavior, intense partying, and intense quarreling, usually over his numerous affairs – he’d developed syphilis as a result of one of them. They separated, reunited, separated, and tried again, delighting the gossip magazines. “She and Jack were madly in love with one another but I always thought of them as a couple of children playing together,” Mary Pickford observed sadly in her autobiography many years later.

In early September 1920 the couple sailed to Paris, reportedly on a reconciliation holiday. They checked into the Hotel Ritz and whirled off to enjoy the Prohibition-free city, drinking and dancing at Left Bank bistros until the early morning. At the end of one particularly drunken spree, Pickford and Thomas staggered into their hotel room at nearly three in the morning. Jack, barely standing, fell into the bed. His wife, still energized by the adventure, puttered around the room, wrote a letter, and, finally tiring, went into the bathroom to get ready for sleep.

As Pickford told the police, he was floating in a whiskeyed haze when Olive began screaming, over and over, “Oh my god, my god.” He stumbled into the dimly lit bathroom, where she was leaning against the counter. Mistaking it for her sleeping medicine, she had picked up a bottle of the bichloride of mercury potion that he rubbed on his painful syphilis sores, poured a dose, and chugged it down. As the corrosive sublimate burned down her throat, she had a moment to realize her mistake. He caught her up and carried her back to the bed, grabbing the phone and calling for an ambulance. “Oh my god,” she repeated, “I’m poisoned.”

As the story broke, as Thomas lingered in the hospital for three more days, the newspapers repeated every rumor smoking around them: Pickford’s infidelities had driven her to suicide; he had wished to get rid of her and tricked her into taking the poison. As the days passed, he became more evil, she more saintly. So many people flocked to Thomas’s funeral in Paris that women fainted in the crush and the streets became carpeted with countless hats, knocked off and trampled.

The police launched an investigation, including an autopsy, and concluded that it was, as Pickford had said, just a terrible accident. In an interview with the Los Angeles Examiner after his return to California, Pickford dwelled on how much his wife had wanted to life: “The physicians held out hope for her until the last moment, until they found her kidneys paralyzed. Then they lost hope. But the doctors told me she had fought harder than any patient they ever had.”

Olive Thomas’s demise, for all the feverish attention it received, was actually a rather standard death from bichloride of mercury. In New York City the medical examiner’s office calculated that the compound caused about twenty deaths a year, mostly suicides and similarly unfortunate accidents.

Culled from: The Poisoner’s Handbook


Coronal Section of the Head Du Jour!

Here’s another lovely artistic image culled from the book Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia by Gretchen Worden.

Sliced Head (2000) by Richard Ross

One of a series of coronal sections of the head, prepared for the Mütter Museum by Dr. Joseph P. Tunis (1866-1936), 1910.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for August 1, 2015

Today’s Imitation Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Soviet Union’s answer to the Concorde was the Tupolev Tu-144. Never was an airliner more obviously produced to imitate a rival. It looked almost identical to the Concorde – many suspected that the KGB stole secret early plans – and was nicknamed ‘Concordski’ as a result; unfortunately, it was nothing short of disastrous. The statistics tell a gruesome but convincing story. The Russian plane flew 102 times, and had 181 hours in service which involved 220 failures, 80 in-flight. Yet in 1962, when Nikita Khrushchev ordered the plane from Alexei Tupolev’s design team, it did not seem all that ridiculous. Not only was Russia still ahead in the space race, but Tupolev had produced the TU104, one of the first jet airliners – though the 104, like so many other Russian jets, had an appalling safety record, with nearly one in five crashing. This was despite the fact that the 104 – like Boeing’s 707 – had the inestimable advantage of being based on a military plane. In contrast, Concordski, like Concorde, demanded entirely novel technical  sophistication in the plane, engines and controls.

Typically, Khrushchev imposed a ridiculous timetable: four planes were to be produced within five years so that the plane could be introduced into passenger service in 1967, the 50th anniversary of the Communist revolution. Tupolev did his best, and a prototype was flown at the end of 1968, a couple of months before that of its Anglo-French rival. But the political pressure to show off the Soviet supremacy in supersonic air travel received what amounted to a near-fatal blow when a Tu-144 crashed at the Paris Air Show in June 1973. The plane first dived sharply and then crashed when it tried to pull up, destroying 15 houses and killing all six people on board and eight more on the ground. The causes of this incident remain controversial. A popular Russian theory was that the Tu-144 tried to avoid a French Mirage fighter which was being used to photograph some of its advanced features; the French initially denied a Mirage was anywhere near, perhaps because it was engaged in industrial espionage – later the existence of the Mirage (and the fact that the Russian crew were not told about its flight) were confirmed.

Another theory has the ground engineering team altering certain controls to allow the Tu-144 to outperform Concorde in the display circuit. The changes, so this story goes, also inadvertently connected some factory-test wiring which resulted in an excessive rate of climb, leading to the stall and subsequent crash.

The aircraft was eventually introduced into passenger service on November 1, 1977, almost two years after Concorde, but was clearly unready. Whereas Concorde had been subjected to 5,000 hours of test flying by the time it was certified for passenger flight, the Tu-144 had undergone less than 800. Unsurprisingly, every aspect of the inaugural flight betrayed this haste: ceiling panels were wobbly, service trays stuck, window shades dropped without being pulled, reading lights did not come on, not all the toilets worked, and a broken ramp delayed departure. Things only got worse – so bad, indeed, that the Kremlin actually approached Concorde’s manufacturers for help in improving their air intakes and engine control systems, approaches firmly blocked by the British government.

In May 1978, a Tu-144 crashed while being delivered, and the passenger fleet was permanently grounded after only 55 scheduled flights. In reality Concordski was doomed from the start because of a fundamental failure: the fuselage was composed of large machined blocks of alloys of steel and titanium. This ensured that the slightest flaw would spread throughout the aircraft.

Culled from: Black Box: Inside the World’s Worst Air Crashes

And here’s footage of the Concordski’s air show crash:

Soviet Tu-144 Crashes At Paris Air Show


Arcane Bookshelf Acquisition Du Jour

I went antiquing today and stumbled across this beauty – dating from 1839. I look forward to sharing some arcane excerpts with you in the near future.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 31, 2015

Today’s Pus-Filled Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On July 21, 1881, Charles Guiteau shot President James A. Garfield in the waiting room of Sixth Street Station in Washington, D.C.  Here’s the story of the assassination from Sam Kean’s marvelous The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery:

Kill Garfield.  Slinking out, Guiteau closed to within two yards. The first shot grazed Garfield’s arm, stunning him. Guiteau fired again and plugged Garfield in the lower back. This second shot brought pandemonium on the platform – screams, hollers, chaos. Guiteau speed-walked away, but a policeman nabbed him at the depot exit.

Meanwhile Garfield’s legs crumpled and he sank down, a circle of red blooming on his back. Two doctors arrived moments later – as did Garfield’s advisors, including Robert Todd Lincoln, who sixteen years before had seen his father borne out of Ford’s Theatre. “Mr. President, are you badly hurt?” one doctor asked. According to one account, Garfield breathed, “I’m a dead man.”

So began the national James Garfield deathwatch. With the recent expansion of telegraph lines across the world, Garfield’s suffering became practically a live event, and Garfield’s physician, one Dr. Doctor Bliss (sic the first name, and last), took full advantage of the new medium. Newspapers coast to coast reprinted his daily bulletins, and many cities plastered updates onto huge billboards in their public squares.

Unfortunately, Dr. Doctor provided more bliss with his public relations than with his medical care. Garfield suffered from three main problems over the next few months: isolation, hunger, and pain. Isolation, because Bliss confined him to a bed and forbade even family members from seeing him at first. Hunger, because Bliss, fearing an intestinal infection, began feeding the president rectally, with a slurry of beef broth, egg yolks, milk, whiskey, and opium. (The empty-bellied president spent many an hour that summer fantasizing about hearty recipes from his frontier boyhood such as squirrel soup.) Pain, because Guiteau’s second shot had lodged itself inside Garfield’s torso; he described the discomfort as a “tiger claw” raking his legs and genitals. Bliss tried excavating the bullet, but no matter how many times he worked his fingers into the wound and rooted around in Garfield’s groin, the slug eluded him. Other doctors tried their hands, too, and Bliss even recruited Alexander Graham Bell to rig up a crude metal detector of batteries and wire. No trace. A few doctors begged Bliss to check near Garfield’s spinal cord instead, since the collapse of the president’s legs at the depot and the subsequent shooting pain both sounded like neurological trouble. Bliss blew them off and kept digging. Meanwhile, he kept releasing what one historian called “fraudulently optimistic” bulletins about Garfield’s progress and sure recovery. Other doctors leaked more negative assessments, causing a rift within the president’s medical team.

Bliss eventually granted Garfield’s wish to escape D.C., and they relocated to the president’s cabin in coastal New Jersey. Ironworkers laid 3,200 extra feet of track right to the cabin door, they pushed Garfield’s railroad car the last quarter mile when it got stuck on a hill.  The change of scenery and seaside air buoyed the president at first, but he soon faded, as he still couldn’t eat. Overall, Garfield lost eighty pounds in eighty wretched days, and when Bliss’s fingers finally infected Garfield’s wound, turning it into a slimy pocket of pus, Garfield had no fight left. He died on September 19, 1881. The autopsy found the bullet nestled near his spine.

Culled from:  The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery


And What Became Of Charles Guiteau?

Now, does THIS look like the face of a madman?

“The doctors killed Garfield; I just shot him.” – Guiteau does have point there…

From Wikipedia:

Once Garfield died, the government officially charged Guiteau with murder. He was formally indicted on October 14, 1881, for the charge of murder, which was previously attempted murder after his arrest. Guiteau pleaded not guilty to the charge. The trial began on November 14, 1881, in Washington, D.C. The presiding judge in the case was Walter Smith Cox. Guiteau’s court-appointed defense lawyers were Leigh Robinson and George Scoville, although Guiteau would insist on trying to represent himself during the entire trial. Wayne MacVeagh, the U.S. Attorney General, served as the chief prosecutor. MacVeagh named five lawyers to the prosecution team: George Corkhill, Walter Davidge, John K. Porter, Elihu Root, and E.B. Smith.

Guiteau’s trial was one of the first high-profile cases in the United States where the insanity defense was considered. Guiteau vehemently insisted that while he had been legally insane at the time of the shooting, he was not really medically insane, which was one of the major causes of the rift between him and his defense lawyers.

Dr. Edward Charles Spitzka, a leading alienist, testified as an expert witness. Dr. Spitzka had stated that it was clear “Guiteau is not only now insane, but that he was never anything else.” While on the stand, Spitzka testified that he had “no doubt” that Guiteau was both insane and “a moral monstrosity”. Spitzka came to the conclusion that Guiteau had “the insane manner” he had so often observed in asylums, adding that Guiteau was a “morbid egotist” who “misinterpreted and overly personalized the real events of life”. He thought the condition to be the result of “a congenital malformation of the brain”.

George Corkhill, who was the District of Columbia’s district attorney and on the prosecuting team, summed up the prosecution’s opinion of Guiteau’s insanity defense in a pre-trial press statement that also mirrored public opinion on the issue. Corkhill stated the following:

He’s no more insane than I am. There’s nothing of the mad about Guiteau: he’s a cool, calculating blackguard, a polished ruffian, who has gradually prepared himself to pose in this way before the world. He was a deadbeat, pure and simple. Finally, he got tired of the monotony of deadbeating. He wanted excitement of some other kind and notoriety, and he got it.

—George Corkhill – District attorney for District of Columbia

Guiteau became something of a media sensation during his entire trial for his bizarre behavior, which included him frequently cursing and insulting the judge, most of the witnesses, the prosecution, and even his defense team, as well as formatting his testimony in epic poems which he recited at length, and soliciting legal advice from random spectators in the audience via passed notes. He dictated an autobiography to the New York Herald, ending it with a personal ad for “a nice Christian lady under 30 years of age”. He was oblivious to the American public’s hatred of him, even after he was almost assassinated twice himself. He frequently smiled and waved at spectators and reporters in and out of the courtroom, seemingly happy to be the center of attention for once in his life.

Guiteau attempted to convince President Chester A. Arthur to set him free through a letter as he had just increased Arthur’s salary by making him president. At one point, Guiteau argued before Judge Cox that President Garfield was killed not by the bullets but by medical malpractice (“The doctors killed Garfield, I just shot him”), which, if one discounts the fact that Guiteau had been responsible for Garfield needing that medical attention in the first place, was more than a little true. Guiteau’s argument had no legal support, however. Throughout the trial and up until his execution, Guiteau was housed at St. Elizabeths Hospital in the southeastern quadrant of Washington, D.C. While in prison and awaiting execution, Guiteau wrote a defense of the assassination he had committed and an account of his own trial, which was published as The Truth and the Removal.

To the end, Guiteau was actively making plans to start a lecture tour after his perceived imminent release and to run for president himself in 1884, while at the same time continuing to delight in the media circus surrounding his trial. He was found guilty on January 25, 1882.  After the guilty verdict was read, Guiteau stepped forward, despite his lawyers’ efforts to tell him to be quiet, and yelled at the jury saying “You are all low, consummate jackasses!” plus a further stream of curses and obscenities before he was taken away by guards to his cell to await execution. Guiteau appealed his conviction, but his appeal was rejected, and he was hanged on June 30, 1882, in the District of Columbia, just two days before the first anniversary of the shooting.

Of the four presidential assassins, Guiteau lived longer than any after his victim’s death (nine months). While being led to his execution, Guiteau was said to have continued to smile and wave at spectators and reporters, happy to be at the center of attention to the very end. He notoriously danced his way to the gallows and on the scaffold as a last request, he recited a poem he had written during his incarceration which he called I am Going to the Lordy. He had originally requested an orchestra to play as he sang his poem, but this request was denied.

After completing his poem, a black hood was placed over Guiteau’s head and moments later the gallows trapdoor was sprung, the rope breaking his neck instantly with the fall. Guiteau’s body was not returned to his family, as they were unable to afford a private funeral, but was instead autopsied and buried in a corner of the jailyard.

With tiny pieces of the hanging rope already being sold as souvenirs to a fascinated public, rumors immediately began to swirl that jail guards planned to dig up Guiteau’s corpse to meet demands of this burgeoning new market. Fearing scandal, the decision was made to disinter the corpse. The body was sent to the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland, which preserved Guiteau’s brain as well as his enlarged spleen discovered at autopsy and bleached the skeleton. These were placed in storage by the museum.

Part of Guiteau’s brain remains on display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 30, 2015

Today’s Deceptive Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Al Capone, a brutally raw man in his twenties, became crime overlord of Chicago during the 1920s. His power was disputed by the Irish gangs of Chicago’s North side. Their leader, Dion O’Banion, a florist, had been shot on Capone’s orders in his shop in 1924. What remained of his gang had passed under the control, in 1929, of George ‘Bugs’ Moran.

On February 14, 1929, a snowy St. Valentine’s Day, six of Moran’s men were in the garage of the SMC Cartage Company at 2122 North Clark Street awaiting what they thought was a consignment of hijacked Canadian whiskey. Also present was Dr. Reinhardt Schwimmer, an optometrist, who appears to have been a ‘groupie’ of the gangsters. Moran was expected, but he had overslept and was late.

When men dressed as policemen entered, the Moran men thought it was a police raid and allowed themselves to be lined up with their faces to the wall. More men, carrying machine guns, then entered and mowed them down. The killers left with the suspects they had “arrested” still believing their captors to be policemen.

One of the Moran men, Frank Gusenberg, was alive when found by real policemen, but died later in the hospital. In traditional gangland style he refused to name his killers. They were never identified, but there is no doubt they were henchmen of Capone. He himself was in Miami, ostentatiously keeping an appointment with an official, when the massacre happened. However, as Moran said, ‘Only Capone kills like that.’  Moran had arrived at the garage, seen the murderer’s car outside the garage, and promptly departed. He died in prison in 1957.

Culled from: Crimes and Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 22

So I decided to pay an impromptu visit to the site of the SMC Cartage Company warehouse.  Of course, in the grand Chicago tradition of ruining every interesting morbid thing, the warehouse was demolished in 1967.  The bullet-marked portion of wall where the massacre occurred was removed, and was reinstalled in the men’s room of a Canadian restaurant for awhile (how sexist!), and eventually most of the bricks were sold to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.

Suffice to say, there isn’t a lot of interest left where the warehouse once stood… but I was pleased to see that the building adjacent to the warehouse still stands so you can vividly imagine where it was.  Here are a couple shots of the warehouse building at the time of the massacre:

And here’s what the site looks like today – no plaque even!  Chicago, you disappoint me so…  It’s almost like you’re embarrassed by your ghastly history!

See, there’s the building with the pillars from the pics… but there’s nothing left of the precious warehouse.  Oh, my poor sad heart…

The patch of grass where the warehouse once stood.  Sniffle.

Of course, I could have just settled for the Google Maps street view of the scene – it turned out better than my lousy phone pics… but I had to experience the atmosphere myself, being a morbid sightseer and all.  And it reeks of joggers, Starbucks-sipping stroller pushers, and labradoodles wearing boutique collars.  Like all of this neighborhood.

And here’s the better Google Maps shot, complete with someone sitting on the stoop touching her phone, completely unaware (I would imagine) that six men were slaughtered only feet away from her! Well, I guess that’s not very unusual in Chicago, come to think of it…


Forlorn Photography: Fragrant Factory Edition

And speaking of pointless photography, I put up a collection of photos I took at an abandoned factory in Illinois three years ago on my Forlorn Photography website. Please have a look if you’re interested in that sort of thing!

The Fragrant Factory

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 28, 2015

Today’s Anti-Climactic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Andreas Vesalius (31 December 1514–15 October 1564) was a Dutch anatomist, physician, and author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body). Vesalius is often referred to as the founder of modern human anatomy.

Despite his many accomplishments, Vesalius met a nasty end.  Within a month of performing an autopsy on French King Henri II, Vesalius, as the official physician of the court, followed Spanish King Philip to Spain. There are two competing stories about what finally drove Vesalius from Spain. The less likely story says that Vesalius got a little too anxious to start the autopsy of a noblewoman one night – and  found her heart still beating when he cut her open. Her family supposedly called in the Inquisition, and Vesalius saved his neck only be agreeing to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

The second story, while probably more truthful, is even stranger. The Spanish heir apparent, Don Carlos, called the Infante, was a weak and febrile boy. No one had much sympathy for him, however, since he was also a psychopath. Born with teeth, he delighted in gnashing his nursemaids’ nipples until they bled and became infected, and he spent much of his childhood roasting animals alive. By his teenage years he’d moved on to deflowering young girls. One night in 1562 the Infante tore down the stairs to snatch a maiden he’d spied, but karma tripped him. He somersaulted and smashed his noggin at the bottom of the staircase, lying there bleeding for some time. Spanish doctors failed to cure the prince, so Philip sent Vesalius. Vesalius found a tiny but deep red wound at the base of the prince’s skull, and he suggested trepanation to alleviate pressure. The Spanish doctors, spiteful at a foreigner’s interference, refused. Instead, they allowed the local townsfolk to dig up the desiccated, century-old corpse of Friar Diego, a cook at a local monastery and a reputed miracle worker. The townsfolk then entered the Infante’s bedchamber to slip Diego beneath the boy’s sheets – and the boy, who was more or less out of his wits by then, snuggled up to and began dreaming of visits from the friar. A few days later he’d improved little, and Vesalius prevailed upon the other doctors to puncture the skull near the eye socket and drain some pus. The Infante recovered within a week after this, but the doctors and townsfolk universally credited Diego, who was later canonized for Vesalius’s miracle.

The whole farce disgusted Vesalius and convinced him to quit Spain. So he arranged a holy pilgrimage to escape. He first visited Padua, where he’d produced Fabrica, and arranged to get his old job as a professor back. Nevertheless, perhaps feeling guilty about using a pilgrimage as a ruse, Vesalius continued to the Holy Land, landing at Jaffa in the summer of 1564. He visited Jerusalem and the plains of Jericho, and sailed back satisfied, but he never reached Padua. He’d booked passage on a cut-rate tourist ship with inadequate supplies, and when storms ravaged the vessel on the return voyage, passengers began expiring from a lack of victuals and fresh water. Like something out of Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa, corpses were being heaved overboard, and for once in his life the sight of dead bodies spooked Andreas Vesalius. He went half mad, and scrambled ashore as soon as the ship staggered to Zakynthos, an island in what’s now western Greece. According to different accounts, he either died at the gates of Zante, a port city, or crawled to a filthy inn where the locals, wary of the plague, let him die alone. Either way, it was an anticlimactic death. Ther was no autopsy to determine what had killed him.

Culled from:  The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery


Wretched Recommendations: Slow and Sad Edition

As promised, here’s my review of my most recent read.

Death in Slow Motion: A Memoir of a Daughter, Her Mother, and the Beast Called Alzheimer’s
by Eleanor Cooney

I think there’s a special club for those of us who have lost our mothers. There’s something so devastating about that loss that I don’t think you truly appreciate it until you’re faced with it yourself. And there’s a particularly devastating pain in watching your mother suffer and die before your eyes.

For me, that devastation came in watching my mother suffer physical deterioration as she fought against metastatic breast cancer. I remember every detail of our last couple conversations and wince in pain when I think of her weary eyes as she confessed to me in one of our last conversations, “I just want to fall asleep and never wake up again.” But there were good moments too – like when a bird landed nearby as we sat on her rural California deck. “What’s that?” I asked her, having long ago taught her all the native birds. “A titmouse,” she replied. “I still remember everything you taught me.”

Ah yes, memories. Towards the end of my mother’s life, I pried her memories, desperately trying to capture every little tidbit about her life. Even on that last day of her life, I showed her photos from the family album, and asked her to share her remembrances. The thought of losing her mind, her memories, our common experiences, was the most frightening thing to me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother’s death lately, as I have been reading Eleanor Cooney’s masterful memoir, Death in Slow Motion, and I realize how lucky I was to be able to capture memories from my mother during those final weeks. Eleanor wasn’t so fortunate: her mother, a vibrant, intelligent author (Mary Durant), ending up dying a slow, torturous, dignity-shredding death from Alzheimer’s disease. Many years before her body died, Durant lost her ability to store and retrieve memories, her personality disintegrating before Cooney’s eyes. Can anything be more terrifying?

One of the things I most appreciate about Death In Slow Motion is Cooney’s unflinching honesty about her own guilt, frailty, and regret in the way she handled her mother’s decline. After initially trying to care for her mother herself, she realized the strain of being a primary caretaker was destroying both her relationship and her sanity. She turned to care homes for help and then was faced with intense guilt and regret when she discovered they weren’t taking such great “care” after all. At one point, she looks at a photograph of her mother gazing up at her with trust in her eyes and contemplates how she shattered that trust, and – the guilt, the unimaginable guilt! Oh, how I know that guilty feeling – like the guilt I feel every time I think of my mother showing me her scraped knees that she suffered trying to walk down to the laundry room beneath the house only a couple of weeks before she died. Why wasn’t I doing the laundry for her? Why did I let her down???  Oh, Regret – you merciless ghost!

That’s not to say that Death In Slow Motion is a book of regret. Cooney spends a large amount of the book painting a vivid portrait of her younger mother as an intelligent, witty woman who lived, by and large, a full, inspiring, and happy life. Although early relationships were rocky, Durant found the love of her life when she met environmentalist Michael Harwood, with whom she researched and penned their masterpiece, On The Road with John James Audubon. However, Harwood’s death at just 55 years of age was a heartbreak that she could not overcome; this tragedy very likely hastened her decline. It actually came as a warped sort of blessing when Durant reached an advanced stage of dementia and no longer seemed tormented by constant thoughts of Harwood’s death.

It may seem strange to say, but I didn’t find Death In Slow Motion to be a depressing read, despite its subject matter.  It’s very sad, yes, but more than anything, I found the book inspiring. It’s like a literary version of the old tombstone inscription:

Passenger stop as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you shall be
Prepare for death and follow me.

Stories like this remind us that life is short, the future is uncertain, and we should all do what makes us happy while our precious minds and limbs are still under our control.   I highly recommend you give Death In Slow Motion a read.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 27, 2015

Today’s Pathetic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Arthur Frederick Goode III
Executed: 4/5/84 in Florida by electrocution
Crime: Raped and murdered two young boys
Last Meal: Steak, broccoli, cauliflower, corn on the cob, Breyers butter pecan ice cream, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and milk.

Not only was Arthur Goode disliked by the families of his victims and community as a whole, but he couldn’t even scrounge up an ounce of respect from his fellow inmates while in prison. His was the first Florida execution that wasn’t protested by the other men on death row, and it’s even been rumored that Ted Bundy once stole his cookies!

Goode was a life-long pedophile who would endlessly rant about having sex with young boys to anyone who would listen. He sent maniacal letters from prison to the parents of his victims, which included graphic retellings of the crimes, and he smugly announced to reporters that he would carry a picture of child actor Ricky Schroeder with him to the electric chair.

On the day of the execution, Goode finally began to lose his composure. His obsession for kiddie sex was replaced with incoherent worries such as whether or not he should eat his ice cream or his peanut butter cups first, and who would scratch his nose for him if it started to itch once he was strapped down in the electric chair. Eyewitness reports claim that Goode finally broke down minutes prior to the execution and claimed remorse for his crimes, then died while sobbing pathetically – without  the aforementioned Ricky Schroeder picture.

Culled from: Last Suppers: Famous Final Meals From Death Row



It’s time for another dose on 19th Century grimness – in this case, it’s an ugly reminder of the genocide that America was built on.


Chico Courant (Chico, California)
Saturday, November 18, 1865


INDIANS. – It will be seen by extracts from a letter written by Mr. Nance, of this place, that the Indians are still committing their depredations about Humboldt. Nothing but extermination will prevent them from committing their depredations. It is a false notion of humanity to save the lives of these red devils. There should be no prisoners taken, but a general sacrifice made of the whole race. The are of no benefit to themselves or mankind, but like the rattlesnake live only to slay. Like the wild beast of prey shey [sic] are necessarily exterminated by the march of civilization. The tribes of Indians upon this Coast can no more be civilized than the jaugar [sic]. If necessary let there be a crusade, and every man that can carry and shoot a gun turn out and hunt the red devils to their holes and there bury them, leaving not a root or branch of them remaining, then we shall record no more massacres.

From the collection of The Comtesse DeSpair

More sad tales of racism from America’s tattered past can be viewed at Garretdom.  

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 26, 2015

Today’s Chaotic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

June 4, 1968: Democratic Senator Robert Kennedy eased past Eugene McCarthy to win the California Primary, and it seemed certain he would be nominated by his party at the upcoming national convention in Chicago. Kennedy delivered a victory speech in the early hours of June 5, in the ballroom of Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel, and then prepared to leave for another celebration in another part of the hotel. However, because reporters were nearing deadlines, it was decided at the last minute that Kennedy would forgo the party and instead go through the hotel kitchen to a press area.

At that time, presidential candidates didn’t receive Secret Service coverage, so Kennedy was protected by ex-FBI agent William Barry and two professional athletes, football player Rosey Grier and Olympic decathlete Rafer Johnson.

As the senator finished his speech, his press secretary and Barry attempted to clear a path for him through the kitchen corridor, but Kennedy was hemmed in by well-wishers and ended up accompanying maitre d’ Karl Uecker through a back entrance to the kitchen. In a narrow hallway, dominated by a steam table on one side and an ice machine on the other, Uecker escorted Kennedy, holding his right wrist, which he released whenever Kennedy stopped to shake hands. As Kennedy stopped to shake the hand of busboy Juan Romero, 25-year-old Palestinian national Sirhan Bishara Sirhan stepped down from a low tray-stacker next to the ice machine, pulled out a .22-caliber Iver Johnson revolver, and fired, striking Kennedy in the head and chest.

The scene erupted in chaos, as Sirhan was thrown against the steam table, firing wildly even as his gun was being wrestled from him. Five other people were injured: two newsmen, a campaign staffer, a party activist, and a UAW leader. Meanwhile, Kennedy slid to the floor, and Barry, who recognized the low-caliber weapon, at first had reason to hope the injuries were not serious. But once he got a look at the wound in Kennedy’s head, he knew his hopes were in vain.

Juan Romero, 17 years old, who had just shaken hands with Kennedy, now knelt by the stricken man’s side, cradling his head and giving him his own rosary to hold. Kennedy asked “Is everybody safe? Okay?” and Romero reassured him “Yes, yes, everything is going to be okay.. An L.A. Times photographer captured the moment with his camera, and the image of the young man comforting the injured candidate became the most iconic image of the assassination.

Police and paramedics were on the scene quickly and Kennedy was placed on a stretcher. He whispered “Don’t lift me” and then lost consciousness; those would be his final words. He was taken to Receiving Hospital, where his heartbeat was stabilized, and then transferred to the Good Samaritans Hospital for a nearly four-hour surgery. Doctors attempted to remove bullet fragments and pieces of shattered skull from his brain, but his condition continued to deteriorate. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead at 1:44 AM on June 6, about thirteen hours after he’d been shot. He was just 42 years old.

Culled from: Wikipedia
Submitted by: Aimee

Here’s some footage for you. The frantic reporter is Los Angeles radio newsman Andrew West, who had just spoken briefly with Kennedy a few moments before he was murdered. – Aimee

The Assassination of RFK – ABC News


Ghastly! – French Edition

Here’s a ghastly image of a murder victim and her murderer from a French crime scrapbook used as the basis of fictional tales in the book Crime Album Stories. (The poor quality is in the source material.)

And here’s the story from the December 31, 1888 issue of the Montreal Herald:


Prado, the Paris Murderer, Executed on Friday.

A Howling Mob Surrounds the Jail All Night Long.

PARIS, Dec. 28. — Prado, the murderer of Marie Aquetant, a prominent member of the demi-monde of Paris, was guillotined at daybreak to-day in the yard of the Roquette Prison.

The execution was attended only by a few correspondents of the gensdarmerie and two chaplains, whose services the murderer declined with the suavity of a courtier who is about to be decorated.


The culprit was as unconcerned throughout as if he were simply an onlooker and not the chief actor in the horrible execution. He made no confession and smiled blandly when his arms and legs were pinioned behind him. He looked about him in an unconcerned way, muttered a few unintelligible words and then bowed his head ready for the fatal stroke of the gleaming axe.

Down it came with a whizz, and Prado’s head rolled from the block to the ground.


All night long there was a great howling mob outside the prison. They came from everywhere; Bohemians from the Quarter Latin; roues and loungers from the avenues; workmen in blouses, and women with children in their arms. They could see nothing, but still they remained, jostling, crowding, hooting and shrieking.

As is usual when a man is executed there are numerous accidents. Women fainted and in many cases had to be carried away by the gensdarmes.

Many had rented rooms a week before in the immediate vicinity of Roquette merely for the purpose of gratifying their morbid curiosity.

After the execution the crowd dispersed in an orderly manner.


Pardo’s career of infamy brands him as the most remarkable criminal in the recent history of France. His victim, Marie Aquetant, was a young and beautiful woman of the fallen class, and was known as “La Dame aux Diamants,” from the splendour of a noted necklace she wore in public.

It was on the evening of January 14, 1886, that a small, unimportant looking man addressed Marie in the corridor of the Eden Theatre during a lull in the performance, and together they proceeded hastily to Marie’s apartments in a fashionable quarter of the town. She was the mistress of a prominent man in club circles, M. Bleg.

At two o’clock in the morning, the accepted lover reached the apartments and found Marie lying near the fireplace with her throat cut. The leather bag in which she had kept her treasures had been slit as dexterously as had been the murdered woman’s throat. No trace could at first be found of Marie’s companion.

Then began a detective hunt through Paris and all the rest of France, but for a long time no clue was found. Long afterward a man was surprised while attempting to make off with a casket of jewels from a private house. He was pursued by a policeman. Seeing himself overtaken, the man turned and sent a pistol ball through the policeman’s jaw. The policeman did not give up his hold. The man was caught and when arraigned for trial he gave the name of Prado.

About the time Eugenie Forestier, a demi-mondaine of Paris, and Mauricette Courouneau, a young married woman of Bordeaux, were arrested on the charge of receiving stolen goods.

The thief was Prado; Eugenie was his mistress, and Mauricette was the woman whom he had promised to make his wife. Eugenie finally consented to tell what she had learned from Prado of his origin and life. He was born in Mexico, he said, and when a youth discovered some fearful secret about his birth.

His life had been crowded with adventure of every kind. He had travelled in Hayti [sic], China, the United States and the Holy Land, nursed when sick in Jerusalem by an English lady of birth, who gave up her vows as a Sister of Charity to follow Prado to Italy.

When he had killed Marie he confided his secret to his mistress, Eugenie Forester, with whom he was then living. She promised to keep his secret, and they fled to Bordeaux. He might have remained undiscovered, had he not been faithless to Eugenie. When she learned he was living with Mauricette Courouneau she wanted revenge.

Eugenie told Mauricette of Prado’s crime. Mauricette, a girl of twenty who had become a  mother, told her confessor. The priest insisted that Eugenie should make her statement public. At last she consented. Prado was arrested and the mystery of Marie Aquetant’s murder was solved.

The trial was the talk of all Paris. A new victim of the the adventurer then appeared. It was his legal wife, Dolores Garces, of Marcilla, with whom he had at one time lived in luxury in Madrid. She still retained her affection for Prado. The jewels of Marie were all traced, together with others he stole in Spain and distributed among his mistresses.

When on trial he was insolent to both Judge and witnesses and absolutely laughed at the avalanche of proof that fell upon him.

His Spanish wife was divorced, and the other women connected with the sensational case have become notorious and had many offers of marriage. Nothing was confessed by Prado of the mystery of his birth. He died as he had lived, cool, merciless and unconcerned.

THIS was “the most remarkable criminal in the recent history of France”?  Sheesh… I am not impressed, France!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 25, 2015

Today’s Condemned Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The “new” Sing Sing prison death house, designed by state architect Lewis F. Pilcher, was pressed into service in February, 1922. Made of brick and stone, with steel bars encasing the windows of all 39 cells (including three for women), it was quickly proclaimed by The New York Times to be, “as far as possibility of escape is concerned, the most impregnable penal institution in the world.” Under the new arrangement, a prisoner could not see another convict from his or her cell. The residents were divided into three classes: the newly arrived condemned; the pre-execution class, who had lost their legal appeals and faced almost certain death; and those who were physically or mentally ill. Six radiating cells, located near the execution chamber, served as a staging area (known as the Dancehall) for the electrocutions. The killing procedure called for the contract executioner to be hidden in a small room adjoining the electric chair within the chamber. The self-contained facility also included tiny exercise yards, a hospital room, a dental room, a keeper’s room, a kitchen, chaplains’ and doctors’ offices, a reception room, and a meeting room for use by the governor, a judge, the lunacy commission, or other officials – everything needed for a modern killing center.

New York law required every capital defendant to receive a trial by jury, removed sentencing discretion in cases of first-degree murder, and guaranteed at least one automatic appeal from New York’s highest court. For several decades, the legal process generally moved so briskly that a defendant was charged, tried, convicted, and executed within a few months of his capital crime. (Several would die before their eighteenth birthday.)

Most condemned criminals were slipped into the prison without fanfare. But sometimes crowds of curious onlookers and paparazzi gathered at the front gate to witness the arrival of a notorious criminal such as Martha Jule Beck or Julius Rosenberg. All new arrivals were brought directly to the death house, where most would remain until their execution. Once inside, the transporting police transferred custody of the “living body” (as the condemned was often called) to the state prison authorities, and the death warrant and other necessary papers were handed over and examined. Each condemned prisoner was meticulously photographed, physically examined, measured, and interrogated. All were asked to state the reason they had committed the crimes for which they stood convicted and sentenced to death, and these responses were also officially recorded. (As many as 40 percent claimed they were not guilty.) Eventually, each convict was escorted to a separate cell.

Some of those arriving appeared mentally deranged, and some came still protesting their innocence. Some were recovering from gunshot wounds or other injuries received during their capture. A few had been the subject of immense publicity or special prison alerts. Mentally retarded or cunning, young or old, black or Chinese, infamous or nondescript – they all came to meet the same end.

Culled from: Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House

Here’s the Sing Sing Death House as it appeared in 1922:

Here’s Martha Jule Beck arriving at Sing Sing in 1949:

And here’s Anibal Almodovar arriving uncooperative, in a straitjacket:

NAME: Anibal Almodovar
NUMBER: 101-054
BORN: 11-3-21 (Ponce, PR)
AGE: 21
EDUCATION: 4th grade, Spanish
OCCUPATION: Unemployed
CRIME: Strangled his wife, Louisa, in park, night
CLAIMS: Innocent, framed by detectives
JUDGE: Donnellan, NY General Sessions
SENTENCED: 3-10-43
RECEIVED: 3-10-43
EXECUTED: 9-16-43


Follow-Up Du Jour

Back on June 2, I featured a link to an article about Dr. Harvey Cushing’s early brain surgery photographs. I featured the following photograph:

Adoxa8 writes with a bit more information about this patient’s condition, and a fascinating recent case study of another suffering from the same affliction:

“I thought you might like to know (if you did not already) that the scalp of the patient with his head on his hand in your last email was not the result of any surgery but a naturally occurring skin thickening condition. On one of the ER medical shows on TV, I can’t remember which, one of the doctors has this condition and at first I thought he was wearing something on his head as a joke but, after a little research, I now think that it is just the way his scalp is.”

Primary essential cutis verticis gyrata – Case report

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 23, 2015

Today’s Unstitching Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Thallium, element eighty-one, is considered the deadliest element on the periodic table. Animal cells have special ion channels to vacuum up potassium, and thallium rides into the body via those channels, often by skin osmosis. Once inside the body, thallium drops the pretense of being potassium and starts unstitching key amino acid bonds inside proteins and unraveling their elaborate folds, rendering them useless. And unlike cadmium, thallium doesn’t stick in the bones or kidneys, but roams like a molecular Mongol horde. Each atom can do an outsized amount of damage.

Thallium, in its element.

Thallium, in its element.

For these reasons, thallium is known as the poisoner’s poison, the element for people who derive an almost aesthetic pleasure from lacing food and drinks with toxins. In the 1960s, a notorious British lad named Graham Frederick Young, after reading sensationalized accounts of serial killers, began experimenting on his family by sprinkling thallium into their teacups and stew pots. He was soon sent to a mental institution but was later, unaccountably, released, at which point he poisoned seventy more people, including a succession of bosses. Only three died, since Young made sure to prolong their suffering with less-than-lethal doses.

Young’s victims are hardly alone in history. Thallium has a gruesome record of killing spies, orphans, and great-aunts with large estates. People still die of thallium poisoning today. In 1994, Russian soldiers working at an old cold war weapons depot found a canister of white powder laced with this element. Despite not knowing what it was, they powdered their feet with it and blended it with their tobacco. A few soldiers reportedly even snorted it. All of them came down with a mysterious, entirely unforeseeable illness, and a few died. On a sadder note, two children of Iraqi fighter pilots died in early 2008 after eating a birthday cake laced with thallium. The motive for the poisoning was unclear, although Saddam Hussein had used thallium during his dictatorship.

Culled from: The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements


At Long Last, Death!

Back in November, 2014 I eagerly pre-ordered the Thanatos Archive‘s first book, the budget-priced Beyond the Dark Veil.  It was due to arrive in December. But it didn’t.  And a waiting game began.  Amazon asked if they’d like me to cancel the order because they were unsure when it would come to fruition.  “No,” I said.  “I will keep the faith!”

And then I saw many people on the book’s Facebook page bragging about purchasing it elsewhere.  And I saw that it was showing up on Amazon second hand at astronomical prices.  And I began to despair that I would ever touch its exquisite bound cover.

And then it happened: a note from Amazon saying that my credit card information needed to be updated for the book to be shipped.  After I clumsily entered the new digits, another note:  “Your Item Has Been Shipped”.  And a couple days later, a gorgeous little thing filled with fountains full of tears arrived in my lobby.

I highly recommend you go out and purchase this beautiful baby yourself, but I’ll share a few images here and there along the way.

Beyond the Dark Veil: Post Mortem & Mourning Photography from The Thanatos Archive

Here’s the first image – pre-mortem:

Waiting for Death
circa 1856
sixth-plate daguerreotype
3.75″ x 3.25″

Portrait of a child dying, photographed in Waltham, Massachusetts, by Henry F. Warren

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 21, 2015

Today’s Splintered Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In 1559, King Henri II, aka Le Roi, brought peace to France when he signed a treaty with Spain, thus ending a ruinous military campaign. Two important clauses in the treaty established alliances through marriage – an immediate wedding for Henri and his wife Catherine’s fourteen-year-old daughter to the king of Spain, and a second for Henri’s spinster sister to an Italian duke. To celebrate the marriages, Henri organized a five-day jousting tournament.

On the third day of festivities, a Friday, June 30, Henri himself decided to joust. Despite the heat he wore fifty pounds of gold-plated armor. Whatever his faults, Henri looked regal upon a horse, and he entered the list on a handsome, chestnut-colored steed. During his first run he unmanned (which is to say, unhorsed) his future brother-in-law with a blow from his lance; a short while later he unmanned a local duke, knocking him onto his arse as well. When young, Henri had a reputation as a brooding sort, but he was in high spirits that day, and arranged for a third and final joust against a powerful young Scotsman, Gabriel Montgomery.

The king and Montgomery put perhaps a hundred yards between them, and when a trumpet sounded, they took off. They clashed – and Henri got his bell rung. Montgomery bludgeoned him just below the neck, and Henri lost a stirrup and nearly careened off his horse.

Embarrassed, the king wheeled around and announced that “we” would tilt with Montgomery again – a bad idea for any number of reasons. It violated the laws of chivalry, as he’d already jousted the maximum three times. It also spooked his court. Catherine had dreamed the night before of Henri lying facedown in blood, and two of her astrologers had already prophesied the king’s doom. (One of them, Nostradamus, had written a quatrain four years earlier that read, “The young lion overcomes the old / on the field of war in single combat. / He pierces his eyes in a cage of gold. / Two wounds one, then dies a cruel death.”)

Finally, Henri had been suffering from vertigo and headaches recently, and his attendants found him shaken after his latest joust. Cruelly, though, a blow to the head can cloud someone’s judgment when he needs it most, and like a linebacker or boxer of today, Henri insisted on jousting again. Montgomery demurred, and the crowd watched in embarrassment as Henri berated him and challenged him to tilt again. At 5 p.m. they lined up. Some eyewitnesses later claimed that an attendant fastened the king’s visor improperly. Others said that Henri wiped his brow and, in his fog, forgot to refasten the visor. Still others insisted that he cocked it up, in spite. Regardless, this time Henri didn’t wait for the trumpet before charging.

During a joust, a low timber fence separated the combatants, and they charged each other left shoulder to left shoulder, shield hand to shield hand. They held their fourteen-foot wooden lances in their right arms and had to angle them across their bodies to strike. A proper blow therefore not only jolted but twisted the opponent, and the force often broke the lance. Sure enough, the king’s lance shattered when it met Montgomery, and Montgomery’s lance exploded into splinters when it struck the king just below the neck. Both men, jerked, and the courtiers in hose and doublets, the women adorned with ostrich feathers, the peasants hanging on the eaves, all of them whooped at the teeth-rattling blow.

The action, though, was not over. Given the commotion, no one quite knows what happened next. Perhaps Montgomery’s broken shaft buckled upward like an uppercut, or perhaps a splinter of wood leapt up like shrapnel. But somewhere in the melee, something knocked open the king’s gold-plated visor.

Now, many contemporaries blamed Montgomery for what happened next , because the moment his lance splintered he should have flung it aside. But the brain can react only so quickly to stimulus – a few tenths of a second at best – and a brain fogged from jousting would have responded more slowly still. Besides, Montgomery had an awful momentum, and even as the crowd’s roar lingered, his horse took another gallop. An instant later the jagged lance butt in his hand struck the king dead between his eyebrows. It raked across his naked face, wrenching his skull sideways and digging into his right eye.

But Nostradamus spoke of two wounds, and a second, deeper wound, to Henri’s brain, proved worse. Compared to those of most mammals, the four lobes of the human brain are grotesquely swollen. And while our skulls provide some good protection, the very hardness of the cranial bones also poses a threat, especially since the skull is surprisingly jagged on the inside, full of edges and ridges. What’s more, the brain actually floats semifreely inside the skull; it’s attached to the body really only at the bottom, near the stalk of the brainstem. We do have cerebrospinal fluid between the skull and brain to buoy and cushion it, but the fluid can absorb only so much energy. During impact, the brain can actually slide counter to the skull’s motion and slam into its bones at high speed.

As the butt of Montgomery’s lance struck home, Henri would have felt both a blow and a twist, like a mean hook to the jaw. The blow likely sent a small shock wave through his brain, a ripple of trauma. The rotational force was likely even worse, since torque stresses the brain unequally at different points, tearing its soft seams and opening up thousands of micro-hemorrhages. Henri, an expert equestrian, nevertheless kept his saddle after the impact: the muscle-memory circuits in his brain kept him balanced and kept his thighs squeezing the horse. But on a deeper level, the twist and blow tore open millions of neurons, allowing neurotransmitters to leak out and flood the brain.The would have caused untold numbers of other neurons to fire in panic, a surge of electrical activity reminiscent of a mini-seizure. Henri had suffered a mammoth concussion.

After the clash Montgomery yanked his horses reins and whirled to see what he’d done. Henri had slumped down onto the neck of his Turkish steed, a horse forevermore known as Malheureux, unlucky. But however unlucky, Malheureux was disciplined, and when it felt its reins slacken upon Henri’s collapse, it kept galloping. The now-unconscious king bobbed on his horse’s back, as if keeping time, his visor clanging down on the shards of wood protruding from his eye.

Although he initially regained consciousness and it was thought that he might recover, the king eventually fell into a coma and finally succumbed to an intracranial hemorrhage at 1 p.m. on July 10.

Culled from:  The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery