Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 1, 2015

Today’s Holy Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Scorpion was a variation of the medieval execution device known as The Wheel. The Scorpion was broad, with spikes, like extensions of the spokes, extending outwards from the circumference. On this wheel, the martyr was stretched around the rim between the spikes, the wheel then being propelled over rows of other spikes set into the ground.

This was the torture inflicted on St. Catherine by the Romans in the 4th century. Once she had been secured round the rim, the wheel was pushed along. But divine providence interceded, for the wheel broke and the spikes snapped off, injuring many of the hitherto gloating spectators. [A likely story – DeSpair]

Frustrated, Emperor Maxentius sentenced her to be beheaded, but so holy was she that milk, rather than blood, flowed from her corpse. [An even MORE likely story! – DeSpair] As well as giving her name to that well-known firework, the Catherine wheel, she is the patron saint of wheelwrights and philosophers, and not only do a hundred and seventy medieval steeple bells in England bear her name, but sixty-two churches are also dedicated to her memory.

Culled from: The Book Of Execution


St. Catherine: Too Cool For Cruel!

Bill of Mortality Du Jour!

Bills of mortality were the weekly mortality statistics in London, designed to monitor burials from 1592 to 1595 and then continuously from 1603 until they eventually stopped production in the mid-19th century.  Wellcome Images has a few copies of the bills available for download on their site, so I naturally had to go and download them. And, as predicted, they’re fascinating.

Here’s the Bill of Mortality from February 28 to March 7, 1664:

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 30, 2015

Today’s Sweet Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On an October night in 1858, a sweet seller by the name of “Humbug Willie” sold peppermint-flavored hard candies to passerby from a market stand on Bradford, England. Humbug Willie sold close to 1000 individual pieces of candy that night. Within days 25 people died, while at least 90 adults and 50 children became extremely ill. Counted among the stricken was Humbug Willie himself, who became sick from handling his own candies. Results of a criminal investigation determined that each peppermint treat contained two times the lethal dose of arsenic (about half a gram).

Adulterating food with edible fillers is an old practice that still occurs today. Sugar is expensive — so Joseph Neal, the distributor of the candies, sought to cut his costs, by inserting several kilograms of “daft” as a substitute for sugar. “Daft” was a substance that ranged in composition from calcium sulphate to pulverized lime to gypsum — none of these are tasty, but they’re all perfectly safe.

When Joseph Neal sent an assistant to purchase some daft from a local pharmacist, a series of errors occurred. Charles Hodgson, the pharmacist who owned the establishment left his recently appointed apprentice, William Goddard, in charge of the store. Goddard initially sent Neal’s assistant away as he did not know the precise location of the daft, but Neal’s assistant persisted, leading Goddard to contact his sick boss. A poor set of directions sent scurrying Goddard to the backroom, where he found a barrel of unlabeled white powder. After expending considerable effort in prying the barrel lid off, Neal’s assistant left with twelve pounds of the white substance.

This trip to the cellar marks a one of several the grievous errors committed in the Bradford poison scandal. The white powder Goddard sold, arsenic trioxide, did not carry with it a proper label and sat amidst a number of other barrels containing white powders. Additionally, The Sales of Arsenic Act required a color additive to be mixed in with arsenic nitrate to help identify this deadly poison — and that was the only artificial additive left out in this tragic story.

The powder next entered the able hands of James Appleton, a local sweet-maker employed by Neal. Appleton combined forty pounds of sugar, twelve pounds of arsenic trioxide, four pounds of gum, and peppermint oil, to create at least forty pounds of peppermint lozenges. James Appleton worked for six hours to create the batch, with this prolonged contact with arsenic trioxide leaving him ill for several days with vomiting and pains in his appendages. Appleton never considered that the “daft” could be the source of his illness.

Although Appleton became ill and the resulting sweets were a very different color than expected, Joseph Neal still sold the lozenges to Humbug Willie, albeit at a slight discount. Humbug Willie tasted the sweets over the course of the October night as he sold them and became one of the hundreds of people who suffered from arsenic poisoning.

The brunt of the blame for the poisonings fell on William Goddard, the poor pharmacist’s apprentice who unknowingly obtained the arsenic trioxide from the cellar. UK magistrates charged Goddard, Neal, and Hodgson with manslaughter, but dropped the charges against Neal and Hodgson. Goddard faced trial, but did not receive a guilty verdict.

The Bradford poison scandal led to an increase in regulations regarding the handling of chemicals by druggists via the UK Pharmacy Act of 1868. The Pharmacy Act in addition to the 1860 Adulteration of Food and Drink bill changed the manner by which ingredients could be used and combined, aiming to ensure the health of consumers. A restriction on the sale of arsenic already existed in England in 1858, but the restriction only required the signature of the person buying the arsenic. Unfortunately, this regulation could not save anyone’s life in the Bradford poisonings. Arsenic trioxide is in use today, albeit in smaller doses, as a form of chemotherapy when other methods have failed.

Culled from: io9.com
Generously submitted by: Melanie

 

Bill of Death Du Jour!

Bills of mortality were the weekly mortality statistics in London, designed to monitor burials from 1592 to 1595 and then continuously from 1603 until they eventually stopped production in the mid-19th century.  Wellcome Images has a few copies of the bills available for download on their site, so I naturally had to go and download them. And, as predicted, they’re fascinating.

Given the poor understanding of disease at the time and the inexperience of the clerks who gathered the deaths, the causes are strange, mysterious, and hysterical. As Mike Marano writes, in telling me about the Slate article that told me about their existence,  “Just look at it. The poetry in the cause of death. Childbed. Apoplexie. Quinsie. Starved at Nurse. Spotted Feaver and Purples. Rising of the Lights. Wormes”  (My personal favorite is Griping in the Guts.)

Incidentally, Craig Spence has dedicated his time to a blog that researches violent causes of death from these reports.  Now there’s a worthy endeavor!

The Bills of Mortality & Sudden Violent Death

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few bills over the next few newsletters.  Here’s the first delight – The Bill of Mortality from February 21-28, 1664 (a plague-free week):

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 29, 2015

Today’s Gutsy Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

A Hackensack man who stabbed himself at least 40 times and threw his intestines at police told officers responding to the bizarre scene that he wanted to die and was about to go to heaven.  But quick thinking by Bergen County SWAT team members, allowed Wayne Carter, 44, to be brought out of his mother’s Clay Street home alive. He remains in critical condition at Hackensack University Medical Center recovering from his partial disembowelment but is expected to live, Hackensack police Capt. Thomas Salcedo said.

Carter, who authorities say has been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment in the past, is an example of a person who has fallen through the cracks in the social safety net and is not noticed until an act of desperation lands him in the headlines. Police deal with the untreated mentally ill and homeless on a regular basis, trying to move them into the appropriate social programs. But both Salcedo and the Bergen County Police SWAT team commander, Lt. Michael Devine, said they had never in their long careers encountered anything like the horrific scenario that played out for almost two hours Sunday night (May 27, 2012).

Police received a call at 10 p.m. from Carter’s brother, who said Carter was threatening to injure himself with a knife. When they arrived at the home in which Carter sometimes resides, Carter had barricaded himself inside his room and blocked the door with furniture. Hackensack police kicked in the door and found Carter in a corner with a knife in one hand and a hammer in the other, Devine said.  Carter stood up, shouted at the officers, then stabbed his abdomen dozens of times, eviscerating himself, police said. Officers noticed his entrails protruding from a long wound in his abdomen. He then threw intestines and skin at them as they tried to enter the room, police said.

Carter refused to drop the knife and swung it at officers, who used two cans of pepper spray to subdue him, to no avail. The county SWAT team was then called to the scene. Devine said his officers first used a fire extinguisher spray water on Carter’s face, which had little effect. “It just sprayed off the blood, and he sat there staring at us,” Devine said. SWAT officers then fired 13 40mm non-lethal “sponge rounds” at Carter’s thighs and hands. Though a single shot from a 40mm sponge round “is like getting hit from a fastball,” Carter did not drop the weapons in his hands. “He wanted to commit suicide,” Devine said. “He was saying, ‘I’m gonna die today. … I’m sorry, but I’m going to heaven.'”

It was then that SWAT officers had to go off the playbook. Officers used a 6-foot fire ladder to pin Carter against a wall, and dog snares were used to immobilize Carter’s hands. Officers then dived toward Carter, pinned his legs, and handcuffed him. SWAT doctors and paramedics quickly took over. “Wayne is alive today because of what they did,” Devine said. “From 15 seconds after he was in handcuffs, paramedics and a medical doctor were already treating him. They went right to work. It was about four minutes from handcuffs to the hospital door.” Contrary to widespread accounts circulating online about the incident, police found no indication that Carter had used bath salts or any other substance, but the possibility of drug use is still under investigation.

Culled from: NorthJersey.Com
Generously submitted by: Lady Morgana

I wasn’t able to dig up anything about whether Carter survived or whether he’s still alive, but can you imagine the strength it takes to disembowel yourself and throw your intestines at someone? The desperately insane may be many things, but cowardly they are not.

 

The Morbid Realtor

My dream is to one day live in a structure that used to be something other than a house. You know, like  a church or a funeral home or a factory.  Or a jail.  You can actually live in the Old Salem Jail. If you’re rich. Granted, the apartments themselves are pretty boring – no cell blocks or gallows or anything cool included in them. But still, it would be nice to sleep in a building where 50 people were hanged and have a view of the adjacent graveyard.

Or is that just me?

Thanks to Rea for the link.

Old Salem Jail Turned Into Bewitching Luxury Apartments929

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 28, 2015

Today’s Suspenseful Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The men of the early 20th-century motor press sometimes referred to the 13th circuit of an automobile racecourse as “the hoodoo lap,” not because more bad stuff happened then, but because they fervently wished it would. Coming at that point, a wreck would play nicely into the tabloid trope that superstitions are not to be flouted, and it would give a long car race some much-needed narrative cord. And so it was on May 30, 1911, as several dozen reporters leaned forward anxiously to watch the 40-car field for the first-ever Indianapolis 500-mile race power past the starting line for the 12th time and roar yet again into turn one.

Right on cue, the No. 44 Amplex, a bright red car driven by Arthur Greiner and traveling in mid-pack, lost a tire, though accounts vary as to which. The bare wooden wheel hit the bricks hard, causing Greiner’s auto to swerve crazily and veer into the infield, where it plowed through tall meadow grass and began a somersault, only to stop in mid-maneuver, so that it stood straight up, balancing on its steaming grill. The 27-year-old Greiner was flipped from the cockpit like a shucked oyster, with the steering wheel somehow still in his mitts. Riding mechanic Sam Dickson, meanwhile, remained more or less in his bucket seat, one hand planted on the dashboard, the other clutching a leather side-handle, his only restraining device. This was the sort of heart-stopping moment that only auto racing could provide. If the car fell backward, returning to its three remaining tires, he might get nothing worse than a jolt. But if it fell forward, it would drive Dickson’s head into the ground like a tent spike. The crowd fell silent. Dickson tensed. The Amplex rocked on its radiator.

Sensing disaster, scores of spectators began surging over the fence that separated the track apron from the homestretch. This was a common occurrence in the wake of a potentially fatal accident. So eager were some men, women and children to get a closer look that they would risk their own lives by running across a track teeming with racing machines.

In real time, the upended Amplex couldn’t have taken more than a few seconds to fall. And when it did, it fell forward, killing Dickson. As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote: “There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert: whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted.” Dickson’s body was taken with dispatch to the Speedway hospital tent and the race continued without interruption, with the drivers swerving around spectators unable to control their morbid curiosity.

Culled from: Smithsonian
Generously submitted by: Kristen

Here’s a photo from the first Indy 500:

Here’s driver Arthur Greiner, who survived the crash – smiling for now, but not for long (as you’ll see below):

And here’s ill-fated mechanic Sam Dickson – looking none-too-happy about his fate:

And here’s the “cursed” Amplex:

Incidentally, I noticed that the driver Arthur Greiner died quite young (1917) and wondered if he had died in a car crash.  His Wikipedia page displayed his obituary, which showed the cause of death to be far more interesting:

Chicago Tribune (IL) – May 25, 1917 GREINER DIES IN SANITARIUM Deceased Name: Arthur W. Greiner Arthur W. Greiner, conspicuous for several years as an automobile driver and “man about town,” died yesterday in a Milwaukee sanitarium. He had been seriously ill for several months, following a nervous breakdown. The collapse came when he and Mrs. Greiner were living at the Edgewater Beach hotel. In the hope of recovering his health Mr. Greiner ‘s relatives caused his removal to the Milwaukee sanitarium, but he sank gradually. The body will be brought to Chicago and the funeral held tomorrow from the Greiner family residence at 1930 Lincoln avenue. Mr. Greiner was less than 34 years old. Chicago Tribune (IL) Date: May 25, 1917

Incidentally, the former Edgewater Beach Hotel (now a condo building) isn’t too far away from me.  Here’s a photo I took of it with a Brownie Hawkeye Flash vintage camera a few years ago:

And I see that the Milwaukee Sanitarium still exists – and is now part of Aurora Health Care.  I grabbed a screen shot from Google Maps and see that it has apparently been uglified considerably from its heyday:

Tangents – The Comtesse lives for them.

 

The No Nose Club

Mike Marano sent me a link to a fascinating story about 19th Century London Syphilis Clubs from The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice.  It’s a must-read.

Syphilis: A Love Story

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 27, 2015

Today’s Excruciating 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 allegedly occurred during the fourth persecution, under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A. D. 162:

The cruelties used in this persecution were such, that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight, and were astonished at the intrepidity of the sufferers. Some of the martyrs were obliged to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, &c. upon their points, others were scourged till their sinews and veins lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths.

… in France, particularly at Lyons, … the tortures to which many of the christians were put almost exceed the powers of description.

The principal of these martyrs were Vetius Agathus, a young man; Blandina, a christian lady, of a weak constitution; Sanctus, a deacon of Vienna; red hot plates of brass were placed upon the tenderest parts of his body; Biblias, a weak woman, once an apostate. Attalus, of Pergamus; and Pothinus, the venerable bishop of Lyons, who was ninety years of age. Blandina, on the day when she and the three other champions were first brought into the amphitheatre, she was suspended on a piece of wood fixed in the ground, and exposed as food for the wild beasts; at which time, by her earnest prayers, she encouraged others. But none of the wild beasts would touch her, so that she was remanded to prison. When she was again produced for the third and last time, she was accompanied by Ponticus, a youth of fifteen and the constancy of their faith so enraged the multitude, that neither the sex of the one nor the youth of the other were respected, being exposed to all manner of punishments and tortures. Being strengthened by Blandina, he persevered unto death; and she, after enduring all the torments heretofore mentioned, was at length slain with the sword.

When the christians, upon these occasions, received martyrdom, they were ornamented, and crowned with garlands of flowers; for which they, in heaven, received eternal crowns of glory.

The torments were various; and, exclusive of those already mentioned, the martyrs of Lyons were compelled to sit in red-hot iron chairs till their flesh broiled. This was inflicted with peculiar severity on Sanctus, already mentioned, and some others. Some were sewed up in nets, and thrown on the horns of wild bulls; and the carcases of those who died in prison, previous to the appointed time of execution, were thrown to dogs. Indeed, so far did the malice of the pagans proceed that they set guards over the bodies while the beasts were devouring them, lest the friends of the deceased should get them away by stealth; and the offals left by the dogs were ordered to be burnt.

The martyrs of Lyons, according to the best accounts we could obtain, who suffered for the gospel, were forty-eight in number, and their executions happened in the year of Christ 177.

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

Can you imagine those poor dogs?  They were probably like, “Human AGAIN?  These things have no flavor!”  And my cats think they have it bad being forced to endure Fancy Feast.

And here’s a likeness of that pagan bastard Marcus Aurelius Antoninus:

 

Ghastly: Chinese Food Edition

See, this is why I don’t like grills being at my dinner table.  There’s a reason they used to separate the kitchen from the house, you know.

Girl On Fire In Chinese Restaurant

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 26, 2015

Today’s Heinous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The mournful cawing of crows and creaking of bare branches lent the woodland in the remote Kent countryside a sinister enough air, but late one autumn afternoon it was rent by an even more chilling sound.

As he would later testify in one of the most sensational murder trials in Victorian Britain, an old farmer who was passing through was convinced that he had heard a woman’s scream.

For a few moments he wondered whether he should investigate, but the noise was not repeated and so he walked on, puzzling at his foolishness in mistaking the whistling wind for a female in distress.

This decision would come to haunt him as he learned that, in a grimy hovel nearby, heiress Harriet Staunton was being held captive by a gang led by her own husband.

This ruthless fortune-hunter plotted to dispatch both her and their baby son Tommy in a manner later described by a judge as ‘so black and hideous that it would be difficult to find its parallel’.

The year was 1876. But so horrible were the details, that the Penge Murder Mystery, as it became known, was still being talked about in the Thirties when it inspired a novel by schoolteacher turned author Elizabeth Jenkins.

Now the novel has been republished. And it follows the case so closely, detailing the greed and astonishing barbarity of Harriet’s tormentors and the extraordinary quirk of fate which eventually brought them to justice, that it has brought this cruel episode terrifyingly to life.

The perpetrators’ actions were all the more heinous given that Harriet Staunton was a particularly vulnerable young woman.

It has been suggested that this daughter of an Essex clergyman had been deprived of oxygen at birth but, whatever the cause, she undoubtedly became a grown woman with the mental capacity of a child.

Her father died when she was only 12 and, it might be argued, she was further cursed when a great-aunt left her the very considerable sum of £5,000 — the equivalent of around half a million pounds today.

In those days, a woman’s property went automatically to her husband upon marriage, a fact not lost on 23-year-old Louis Staunton, a smooth- talking auctioneer’s clerk from Streatham in South London, who was ten years Harriet’s junior.

He got to know her through his sweetheart, 15-year-old Alice Rhodes, a publican’s daughter who would also become implicated in Harriet’s murder.

Their machinations began when Alice’s father died and her mother was remarried. The mother’s new husband was Thomas Hinksman, a cousin of Harriet’s, and Louis Staunton saw his opportunity when this wealthy but impressionable young woman came to stay at the Hinksmans’ home nearby in Waterloo.

With his dark good looks and seedy charm, he easily persuaded Harriet that his gifts of sweets and treats of oyster suppers after visits to the theatre were proof of genuine affection, and after the briefest of courtships she returned home and announced proudly that they were engaged. This despite the fact he had never broken off his relationship with Alice.

Her mother’s suspicions about Staunton’s motives were confirmed when, on the Sunday after Harriet’s return, he came to visit the family. When she told him marriage was out of the question, he pointed out that Harriet was well past the age where she needed parental consent and there was nothing she could do about it.

He was right. The more Harriet’s mother opposed the marriage, the stronger grew Harriet’s child-like determination to do as she pleased.

At one point, her mother tried to place her under the protection of the Court of Chancery as a lunatic, but the application was refused, and Harriet and Louis were married in Clapham in June 1875.

Harriet’s mother refused to attend the wedding and, a few weeks later, received a letter from her daughter explaining that her husband objected to her calling upon them and saying, as she later recalled, that ‘she thought I had better not come, to prevent any disturbance between them’.

Although this was in Harriet’s hand, the accurate spelling alone was enough to tell her that it had not been written unaided — and she was right to be worried, for the next time she saw her daughter she was in her coffin.

The spring after the letter was sent, Harriet gave birth to son Thomas, but her husband showed little interest in either his newborn child or his wife. He wrote to Alice Rhodes assuring her ‘there will be a time when Harriet will be out of the way and we shall be happy together’, and soon afterwards he used Harriet’s money to buy Little Grays, a farmhouse near the Kentish hamlet of Cudham. Just 20 minutes walk away was the rundown cottage that was to become Harriet’s prison.

This was home to Louis’s younger brother Patrick, a struggling artist married to Alice’s older sister Elizabeth. Together, the two sets of siblings began plotting to get rid of Harriet.

That summer, Louis ensured that she was cut off from all her family and friends by moving her and her baby son to a tiny upstairs bedroom in Patrick Staunton’s cottage, which was safely hidden from public view.

At the same time, he and Alice moved into Little Grays where they began living together as man and wife. Alice played the part to the full, wearing a wedding ring and introducing herself to unwitting villagers as Mrs Staunton.

They were unaware that the real Mrs Staunton was imprisoned upstairs in her brother-in-law’s cottage. It was here in this squalid cell, with no curtains, washing facilities or proper bed, just boards across three trestles, that the cruel quartet began the process of slowly starving to death Harriet and the baby.

To prevent her escape, her outdoor clothes were taken away and locked in a trunk, with the collection of fine dresses and jewelry she had delighted in wearing over the years taken over to Little Grays, to be rifled through by Alice Rhodes.

She was forbidden from leaving her room, and the family’s maid, Clara Brown, recalled how Patrick Staunton, a violent and domineering man, made it clear what would happen if she did.

‘You must not come downstairs you damned cat, or I’ll break your back,’ he would snarl at her.

By this point, Harriet’s mother was making desperate attempts to track her down. By chance, she bumped into Alice Rhodes at London Bridge station and noticed that she was wearing Harriet’s favourite brooch.

Rhodes insisted Harriet had given it to her, but Harriet’s mother was unconvinced and, when the Stauntons’ charwoman in London told her they had moved to Cudham, she tracked them down to Little Grays and demanded to see her daughter.

Louis Staunton refused to let her in, and she had no choice but to go back to London, unaware of the misery being endured by her daughter in the nearby cottage.

That October, Harriet attempted to run out into the garden when she heard her husband and Alice Rhodes cavorting together on the lawn, but Patrick Staunton grabbed her, struck her across the face and pushed her back into the house.

Her screams reached the ears of that passing farmer, but from then on the only signs that there were two human beings incarcerated upstairs were the baby’s feeble cries and Harriet’s desperate animal-like whispering as she scratched feverishly at her lice-infested skin.

As winter came, the cold and continual hunger eventually took a toll on them both. On the afternoon of Sunday, April 8, 1877, Patrick and Elizabeth Staunton took baby Thomas to Guy’s Hospital in London, claiming to be acting on behalf of a mother who was unable to take care of him.

By then a year old, the child was little bigger than the size of a  newborn and had a bruised cheek — no doubt testimony to Patrick Staunton’s cruelty. He died of malnourishment that same evening and, the next day, Louis Staunton visited a nearby undertaker, posing as a friend of the father, and asked that the body be removed from the hospital and given the cheapest funeral possible. There were no mourners in attendance.

Five days later, Harriet was also nearing death. Keen to prevent any doctor from seeing the terrible conditions in which she had been living, the Stauntons waited until she was half-conscious, then dragged her from the house and took by her open carriage, and then by train, to a lodging house 12 miles away in the London suburb of Penge. She died there not long after her arrival. Just as planned, a local doctor accepted their false account of her symptoms and certified that she had succumbed to apoplexy.

The Stauntons might have got away with their crime but for an almost unbelievable coincidence. When Louis Staunton went into a local post office to inquire about where to record the death, the man behind him in the queue was Louis de Casabianca, the husband of Harriet’s sister.

Casabianca, who just happened to be in the area and wanted a stamp, was well aware Harriet’s family believed she was in Cudham, so when Staunton mentioned his dead wife’s age, and the name of that place, he made further inquiries and discovered that the deceased was, indeed, his sister-in-law.

He alerted the local police and the subsequent inquest recorded the full horror of Harriet’s suffering.

She was half the usual weight for a woman of her size and her body was in the filthiest state imaginable with ‘dirt which had to be scraped off like the bark on a tree’.

The soles of her feet were horny and caked with grime, which suggested that she had been denied shoes for quite some time, and her matted and insect-ridden hair completed a picture of suffering which appalled the nation.

Within weeks of the arrest of the four conspirators on charges of wilful murder, their effigies were being displayed in the Gallery of Horrors at Madame Tussaud’s waxworks, and thousands of souvenir-hunters descended on Little Grays when the house and its effects were put up for auction that summer.

When the case came to trial in September, the public gallery was full of well-heeled ladies who remained in their seats throughout the lunch breaks, eating sandwiches and drinking champagne as if they were at some kind of society party.

They were enthralled as the defense team outlined the Stauntons’ astonishing claims that Harriet was an alcoholic who had refused all offers of food, and evidence from medical experts who claimed that she had died not of starvation but meningitis brought on by tuberculosis.

None of this convinced the jury. The four defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death, but with just days to go before their hangings, there was a remarkable turn of events.

The medical profession was furious that evidence put forward by some of its leading lights had been dismissed by both the judge and the jury, and some 700 top physicians signed a letter of protest to The Lancet. Faced with such a strong and vocal body of apparently expert opinion, the Home Secretary of the day reviewed the case.

Somewhat surprisingly, given that she was clearly fully aware of what had gone on, Alice Rhodes was given a full pardon and released.

As for the others, they had their death sentences commuted to penal servitude for life.

Three years later, Patrick Staunton died of consumption while still behind bars, but his wife was released quietly in 1883 and even Louis Staunton, the longest-serving of all three, was out by 1897.

To Harriet’s family, this hardly seemed like justice and it seems that they were right to be outraged. Some 40 years later, the legendary pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury would give a speech to the Medico-Legal Society about the case.

In this, he suggested that the findings of Harriet’s post-mortem were overwhelmingly in favour of starvation, lending even greater poignancy to the lines of a then popular ballad about her plight:  ‘No one to love her. No one to care,  For the poor starving wife, in secret despair.’

Culled from: Daily Mail

Awful, awful people.  I can’t believe those idiotic doctors intervened on behalf of Staunton like that.

Here’s the book that is mentioned briefly in the article:
Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins

Here’s sweet, childishly naive young Harriet, at the time of her engagement to Louis:

And here’s 23-year-old Louis Staunton and his 15-year-old mistress Alice:

What a loathsome couple!

 

Follow-Up Du Jour!

Yesterday I featured a morbid mirth from MFDJ-patron Eleanor Cooney’s wonderful book Death In Slow Motion, Eleanor wrote to tell me that there is also a website dedicated to the book, which details her complex relationship with her Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother.  You can read more excerpts from the book here too.  Great stuff!

Death In Slow Motion

 

Morbid Mirth Du Jour!

Thanks to David for this one.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 25, 2015

Today’s Ended Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

he last words, scrawled in pen, of actor Richard Burton:


“Our revels are now ended.”

Culled from: The Big Sleep: True Tales and Twisted Trivia about Death

 

Morbid Mirth Du Jour!

I’m currently reading Death In Slow Motion, a fascinating book written by Eleanor Cooney about her complex and often-painful relationship with her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. In addition to being a brilliant writer, Eleanor is also a patron of the MFDJ and has a devilishly morbid wit that I adore. I can see where she gets it from, after reading this particular passage last night (which I had to share for obvious reasons):

For a while after my mother and Tim Durant were married, and before he bought the tall gray house, we rented a house owned by a family prominent in town, the Clevengers. The house was a replacement for another house that had sat on the same foundation but had burned to the ground. The old house had been three stories, ancient wood, and it went up like a Molotov cocktail. There had been only one person in the house on the night it burned, old Harold Clevenger, or “Grandpa.” In the morning, when they searched the rubble, they found his body in the basement – headless. And they never found the head. This is absolutely true. I know it sounds like a rural urban legend, but it’s not. It became one of my mother’s favorites, and part of our own family lore when we lived in that house. Whenever my brother or I went down the basement stairs, my mother would call after us cheerfully: “Watch out for Grandpa Clevenger’s head!”

Wish I’d lived in a place like that!

I’ll write a full review when I finish the book, but it’s fast becoming a favorite.The Amazon 5-star review is no exaggeration.

Death In Slow Motion: A Memoir of a Daughter, Her Mother, and the Beast Called Alzheimer’s

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 23, 2015

Today’s Reflexive Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

People who are brain dead make certain motions that make it look like they are aware of their surroundings. The most horrifying motion of all is the Lazarus sign — it can convince people that their loved one has literally come back from the dead.

The Lazarus sign is an example of a spinal reflex arc. Living people often experience spinal reflex arcs. If we accidentally press our hands against something sharp or something hot we will pull back before the sensation hits our brain. The sensory nerves send a signal to the spine which sends a signal to the motor nerves to get moving; it’s only later that we feel what is was we drew back from. These reflexes don’t involve the brain, and so they keep happening even when the brain is dead. Most of the reflexes are simple twitches, but the Lazarus sign is something else. It lasts several seconds — the arms rise up from the body, then draw in to the chest, sometimes crossing over the heart. After pulling in for a few seconds, the arms drop back to the body’s sides. The Lazarus sign, some say, is why Egyptian sarcophagi show people with arms crossed over their chests.

No one knows exactly why the Lazarus sign is triggered, but it can happen in response to painful stimuli and it can happen in the last few moments before death. It most commonly happens after a brain-dead patient is taken off a respirator. This is one of the reasons it’s called the Lazarus sign; it looks like a person is rising from the dead, and lasts so long that few lay people can convince themselves that it’s an involuntary response. Obviously, it’s incredibly upsetting for families who see a patient unhooked from a respirator seemingly struggle to life for a few moments, and then die. Some papers on the subject actually counsel hospital staff to take families out of the room just after the respirator is removed, so there’s no confusion, false hope, or guilt. The body has a thousand strange and fascinating responses. Though this one, sadly, can cause a lot of pain to the survivors, it causes no pain to the person undergoing it.

Culled from: io9.com
Generously submitted by: Mike Marano

And here are a couple of creepy videos showing the Lazarus Sign in action:

Sinal de Lázaro
Brain Death

Wretched Recommendations!

People who are brain dead make certain motions that make it look like they are aware of their surroundings. The most horrifying motion of all is the Lazarus sign — it can convince people that their loved one has literally come back from the dead.

The Lazarus sign is an example of a spinal reflex arc. Living people often experience spinal reflex arcs. If we accidentally press our hands against something sharp or something hot we will pull back before the sensation hits our brain. The sensory nerves send a signal to the spine which sends a signal to the motor nerves to get moving; it’s only later that we feel what is was we drew back from. These reflexes don’t involve the brain, and so they keep happening even when the brain is dead. Most of the reflexes are simple twitches, but the Lazarus sign is something else. It lasts several seconds — the arms rise up from the body, then draw in to the chest, sometimes crossing over the heart. After pulling in for a few seconds, the arms drop back to the body’s sides. The Lazarus sign, some say, is why Egyptian sarcophagi show people with arms crossed over their chests.

No one knows exactly why the Lazarus sign is triggered, but it can happen in response to painful stimuli and it can happen in the last few moments before death. It most commonly happens after a brain-dead patient is taken off a respirator. This is one of the reasons it’s called the Lazarus sign; it looks like a person is rising from the dead, and lasts so long that few lay people can convince themselves that it’s an involuntary response. Obviously, it’s incredibly upsetting for families who see a patient unhooked from a respirator seemingly struggle to life for a few moments, and then die. Some papers on the subject actually counsel hospital staff to take families out of the room just after the respirator is removed, so there’s no confusion, false hope, or guilt. The body has a thousand strange and fascinating responses. Though this one, sadly, can cause a lot of pain to the survivors, it causes no pain to the person undergoing it.

Culled from: io9.com
Generously submitted by: Mike Marano

And here are a couple of creepy videos showing the Lazarus Sign in action:

Sinal de Lázaro
Brain Death

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 22, 2015

Today’s Pale and English Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

1911 was chilly even by Antarctic standards, but a band of pale Englishmen led by Robert Falcon Scott nonetheless determined that they would be the first to reach the South Pole. They organized their dogs and supplies, and a caravan set off in November. Much of the caravan was a support team, which cleverly dropped caches of food and fuel on the way out so that the small final team that would dash to the pole could retrieve them on the way back.

Little by little, more of the caravan peeled off, and finally, after slogging along for months on foot, five men, led by Scott, arrived at the pole in January 1912 – only to find a brown pup tent, a Norwegian flag, and an annoyingly friendly letter. Scott had lost out to Roald Amundsen, whose team had arrived a month earlier. Scott recorded the moment curtly in his diary: “The worst has happened. All the daydreams must go.” And shortly afterward: “Great God! This is an awful place. Now for the run home and a desperate struggle. I wonder if we can do it.”

Dejected as Scott’s men were, their return trip would have been difficult anyway, but Antarctica threw up everything it could to punish and harass them. They were marooned for weeks in a monsoon of snow flurries, and their journals (discovered later) showed that they faced starvation, scurvy, dehydration, hypothermia, and gangrene. Most devastating was the lack of heating fuel. Scott had trekked through the Arctic the year before and had found that the leather seals on his canisters of kerosene leaked badly. He’d routinely lost half his fuel. For the South Pole run, his team had experimented with tin-enriched and pure tin solders. But when his bedraggled men reached the canisters awaiting them on the return trip, they found many of them empty. In a double blow, the fuel had often leaked onto foodstuffs.

Without kerosene, the men couldn’t cook food or melt ice to drink. One of them took ill and died; another went insane in the cold and wandered off. The last three, including Scott, pushed on. They officially died of exposure in late March 1912, eleven miles wide of the British base, unable to get through the night.

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

Here’s Scott and his men at the South Pole, the day after they realized they’d been beaten to the punch by Amundsen.  Happy fellas, huh?  That’s Scott standing in front of the Union Jack on the pole.

Eyewitness to History has an interesting article about Scott’s doomed trek that includes his last diary entries:

Doomed Expedition to the South Pole, 1912

 

 

Ach!  Those Housewives!

I stumbled across this vintage World War II ad on Pinterest.  Damn those housewives!

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 21, 2015

Today’s Narrow Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The narrow, brick chimney of a Louisiana bank became his tomb for 27 years and now Joseph Schexnider will be laid to rest Sunday, August 14, 2011 in a proper grave with a proper farewell by his family. Still, his brother Robert wonders, how did he wind up in that chimney? Didn’t anyone hear any cries for help? Was it a robbery attempt gone awry, an accident or something more sinister?

“At least we know where he is now,” Schexnider, 48, said, tears welling in his eyes ahead of his brother’s weekend funeral and burial. “At least he’s home.”

Nearly three decades after he disappeared, much mystery lingers about the case of Joseph Schexnider and involving a small town bank in the southern Louisiana city of Abbeville. Police say Schexnider became trapped and apparently died in the bank’s chimney in 1984. But beyond that, they know little more.

“Everybody has an opinion,” said Lt. David Hardy, chief of investigations for the Abbeville Police Department. “But no one has evidence to say one way or another.”

If Joseph Schexnider did cry out for help, no one heard his pleas. The stench of death was never detected.

The decades rolled on until last May (2011) when a construction worker helping turn the bank’s vacant second floor into offices tugged some fabric out of the chimney and was showered with old clothes and human bones.

Described as sweet-natured and relaxed by the few who remember him, Joseph Schexnider was 22 when his family last saw him in January 1984. He had no criminal record, but was wanted for possessing a stolen car.

A lanky, rambling man, Schexnider was prone to wandering at an early age.

In the years after they last saw them, his family, his mother, and two brothers and a sister, had not reported him missing — and no one searched for him.

“My mother worried about him, but I just said, ‘Mom, that’s just Joseph being Joseph,”‘ Robert Schexnider said. “He was always taking off for somewhere.”

Joseph first ran off around the age of 9 or 10, Robert recalled, adding his brother had dropped out of high school in the ninth grade.

He worked now and then at this and that, quitting jobs when he became tired and moving on. He was briefly in the Louisiana National Guard, leaving with a medical discharge. One of the few pictures of him shows him in uniform, his dark eyes looking off into the distance.

“He was always going off somewhere,” Robert Schexnider said. “He told me he’d seen every state in the country.”

Schexnider followed carnivals and once traveled with a circus. He told his brother he hawked cotton candy and peanuts with the shows, traveling with the circus to New York where he was stranded when it left to go overseas.

“He didn’t have enough money to get home, so the church helped him out,” recalled Francis Plaisance, a city councilman and the pastor of the church the Schexniders attended. “I remember him as being a nice kid.”

Plaisance also remembers Joseph as a somewhat simple person. When the church sent a plane ticket to New York for him to come home, Schexnider was unable to navigate the airport.

“We ended up having a pastor up there walking him through it and put him on the plane,” Plaisance said.

Jason Hebert, now a detective with Abbeville Police, went to elementary school with Joseph Schexnider. He described him as quiet kid, on the fringe of a group of young boys that made mischief in the town.

“He was just another kid,” Hebert said. “Nothing really stood out about him.”

The chimney of an Abbeville, La., bank building where the remains of Robert Schexnider were found 27 years after his disappearance is seen in this May 2011 photo provided by the Abbeville Police Department. Described as laid back by the few who remember him, Schexnider left a big question behind: How did he end up in the bank's narrow brick chimney? Was it a robbery attempt gone awry, an accident or a sinister way for someone to get rid of him? All police can say with certainty is Schexnider became trapped in the chimney and apparently died there in 1984. The chimney was his tomb for 27 years.
The chimney of an Abbeville, La., bank building where the remains of Robert Schexnider were found 27 years after his disappearance is seen in this May 2011 photo provided by the Abbeville Police Department.

With the remains found in the chimney were a yellow long-sleeve shirt, a pair of jeans, blue tennis shoes, and jockey shorts with Schexnider’s name printed in the waistband. There also was a magazine and gloves.

He had a wallet with a copy of his birth certificate, a Social Security card and a few pictures.

“There was no sign of foul play,” Hardy said. But, he said, there is no way to determine the cause of death.

From the way the skeleton was recovered, Hardy said it appeared Schexnider went into the 14-inch-by-14-inch chimney feet first. Because the chimney narrowed sharply at the bottom, he then was apparently unable to maneuver his way back out.

There was no way out at the bottom of the chute, which ended in a 3-inch opening to a narrow fireplace on the second floor of the bank building.

“He was stuck with nowhere to go,” Hardy said. If he had called for help — Hardy points out — he would have been 20 feet above the street, and encased in bricks.

“His voice would have been carried up and away from the street,” Hardy added.

None of the people working on the floor below reported any strange sounds. No one ever went into the seldom-used second floor and reported any strange smells.

His brother won’t guess why Joseph went into the chimney, but acknowledged in his final days in town that Joseph had gotten in “with a bad crowd.” He was carrying no burglary tools when found or anything to carry away money if he had planned to rob the bank.

Plaisance said he could see it as a misconceived burglary plan on Schexnider’s part, however.

“He was the kind of guy who would do things without really thinking them through,” Plaisance said.  After so many decades and so few clues, Abbeville Police have declared the case closed.

Culled from: CBS News
Generously submitted by: Mike Marano

I don’t have claustrophobia, but I get incredibly claustrophobic just thinking about going down a chimney. Does anybody actually survive these attempts?

 

Atrocious Art: Road-Kill Edition!

Kimberly Witham collects roadkill and makes incredibly beautiful still life (er, death?) out of the deceased creatures.  I think the images are a wonderful tribute to the animals.  (Thanks to Michael for the link.)


Kimberly Witham