Author Archives: Comtesse

The Comtesse DeSpair sits in sullen silence in The Castle DeSpair, obsessively reflecting upon the horrible void in which we exist. In her spare time (of which she has nothing but), she collects morbid trinkets and reads voraciously about the history of torture. She stores her trinkets in The Asylum Eclectica (http://asylumeclectica.com/). The Comtesse is hideously disfigured and thickly veiled at all hours. Once, an unfortunate servant caught a glimpse beneath the veil and was driven to madness. The Comtesse loves thunderstorms, darkness, and solitude.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for July 10, 2017

Today’s Badly Hit Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The first large-scale avalanche catastrophes in the United States occurred with the advent of commercial development, which especially early on meant that the highest number of victims were those looking for silver and gold. Extracting the Comstock Lode, some miners acknowledged the damage they were doing to the mountains. “It was as if a wondrous battle raged in which the combatants were man and earth,” wrote a visitor to Virginia City, Nevada. “Myriads of dust-covered men are piercing into the grim old mountains, ripping them open, thrusting murderous holes through their naked bodies.” The mountains often reaped this violence in kind. The Avalanche Book, quoting nineteenth-century newspaper reports, recounts the story of the winter of 1883-84, in which 100 people were killed in Colorado, including 20 in the San Juan Mountains in the southern part of the state. Badly hit was the Virginius Mine, perched on a steep, 12,000-foot mountain above the town of Ouray. December 1883 had brought continuous snow for three days; late in the storm an avalanche barreled into the mine’s boarding house, “carrying death and destruction in the mighty embrace,” according to a newspaper account in The Solid Muldoon. Four men were killed, and rescuers took twenty-four hours to find the last two survivors. The following day, 32 men from nearby mines came to Virginius to help; recover the bodies; as they pulled the “sled hearses” beneath a particularly steep slope, they were engulfed in another avalanche, this one a quarter of a mile wide. 


Taking a load to Virginius Mine

Culled from The White Death: Tragedy and Heroism in an Avalanche Zone

 

Convincing Wax Model Du Jour!


Arm with Horn, Gangrene Hand – 1994 Rosamond Purcell

Wax models showing a horn (cornu cutaneum) growing from above the wrist, and dry gangrene of the hand., Both models made ca. 1850 by master modeler Joseph Towne (1806-1870) of London, who constructed wax teaching models for the Gordon Museum of Guy’s Hospital, Southwark, London. Towne also made extra models for sale.

Culled from: Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Morbid Fact Du Jour For July 4, 2017

Today’s Dangling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

95 years ago, a forgotten tragedy occurred in Homewood, a suburb of Chicago.  Here’s how it was reported by the Chicago Tribune on July 3, 1922:

CROWD SEES FLYER DIE IN AIR

—–

Stunt Leap Lands Him in Propeller.

—–

Swinging on a rope ladder dangling from an airplane 800 feet in the air as he sought to thrill 5,000 Homewood pleasure seekers, Louis James, nationally known “boy aviator,” was cut to pieces yesterday by the propeller of another plane. His body fell to the ground, almost at the feet of his fiancée, Miss Clara Trissman, 17 years old, 5013 Fletcher avenue.

Protegé of Ruth Law.

James, who was but 18 years old, lived at 4250 North Mobile street. He was a protégé of Miss Ruth Law, and of recent months had been employed by the Ralph C. Diggins company of Ashburne field fame.

The occasion was the second day of an aerial celebration under the auspices of the American Legion post of Homewood. A great throng had gathered from Homewood and surrounding communities. A dozen planes were whirring through the air, nose dives, tail spins, barrel rolls, Immelman turns, and all the other hair raisers of the aerial art held the spectators.

From One to the Other.

Then came the feature of the day. James was to perform the stunt made famous by Lieut. Omer C. Locklear – that of climbing from one “ship” to another in midair. 

He was talking to his fianceé and friends when the call came to take to the air. Twice before that day he had tried it and failed. “He didn’t feel well,” he said. His friends advised him not to go up. “I can’t disappoint the crowd,” he answered. 

The planes were under the guidance of Pilot “Jimmy” Curran, chief instructor of the Diggins flying school, and Pilot LeRoy Thompson, also of the Diggins entourage.

Up to 800 Feet.

James climbed to the wing of one plane, and, lying flat upon its surface, grasped two struts and gave the signal to go ahead. The two ships took the air and slowly climbed to a height of 800 feet.

Circling with them was Pilot Diggins in another ship, with several passengers who wished to watch the “stunt” from the air.

Twice the pilot in the upper plane brought the dangling ladder to within a few inches of James’ outstretched hands, not quite close enough.

Again the ships roared over the field, while thousands watched below. The upper plane came lower this time, so near the other that spectators gasped. The ladder, plainly visible, moved nearer and nearer to the man now standing upright on the wing.

He grasped it. He was seen a second later hanging free. And then —

Spectators gave different stories. Most said that the planes seemed to sheer together for a moment. James and the ladder were thrown squarely into the propeller of the lower ship, a heavy bar of wood revolving at 1,500 revolutions to the minute.

Drops Into Crowd.

The body of the man was seen to crumple. A moment later, mangled and bleeding, his hands still clutching a bit of the ladder bar, he dropped into the crowd far below. 

Women screamed and fainted.

Miss Trissman sank to the ground unconscious. She was carried from the field. The crowd rushed madly to the scene of the accident, endangering their own lives as the three planes, now in a mad descent, sought to make a landing.

Died in Air.

James was dead long before his body hit the ground. Physicians in the crowd sought to give him aid to no avail. The two pilots, nerve shaken, both made rough but successful landings.

The body of the dead pilot was taken to a morgue, while other cars bore hysterical and fainting women to the nearest homes for sedatives. [Isn’t it strange that women today just don’t faint like they used to? – DeSpair]

Officials of the Legion cleared the field shortly after the accident. An inquest will be held today. 

In the July 4 Tribune there was some additional information provided in Coroner’s Jury testimony by two of the pilots:

James Curran, a vertain aviator, who was flying the top ship at the time the change of planes was to made, told the story to jury:

“We made three attempts,” he said. “The last time I had decided that the air was too rough for the stunt and was preparing to return to the field when I saw James reach for the ladder. He was riding the top wing of the lower ship. He caught a rung of the ladder. Then a gust of wind hit my ship – the ladder swung out – James swung into the propeller.”

Roy Thompson, pilot of the lower ship, also testified.

“I saw James grab the ladder,” he said. “Then he was swept out of my sight. Then I saw his feet dangling down in the path of the propellor. The propellor was shattered and my motor was killed. I landed.”

Incidentally, this was the ruling of the Coroner’s Jury:

“It was established that this was an accident and that the aviators concerned did all they could to avert it, but they had no chance.  

“We therefore advise that immediate legislation be had to prevent all forms of stunt flying. There should be local, state, and national laws. Every pilot should be inspected. Every ship should be inspected. There should be no stunt flying.”

What party poopers, eh?

 

And Also…

Did you know that the Chicago Tribune used to track moonshine deaths?  This is from July 4, 1923.  

Morbid Fact Du Jour For July 2, 2017

Today’s Anomalous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Peter the Great’s early-eighteenth-century Kunstkammer, the first museum in Russia, included living exhibitions. Peter, a giant himself at 6’7″, had a marked fondness for all anomalies, and in his museum he installed Foma, a boy whose hands and feet had only two digits apiece, and a beloved giant named Bourgeois, whom Peter tried unsuccessfully to breed by procuring a giantess from Sweden to be his wife. Both Foma and Bourgeois displayed both themselves and the objects in the museum to visitors. Although Peter’s monsters were not given curatorial authority, the Czar, who had a tender streak, apparently treasured these men as he did his horse, his dog, and his wife, Catherine. The skeleton of Bourgeois may still be seen in the Kunstkammer of Peter, although the skull on the skeleton clearly comes from another person.

The Beloved Lobster Boy Foma


The Beloved Giant Bourgeois

Although Peter adored Catherine, their relationship was not without conflict. In a moment of fury, he decapitated the head of his own young mistress as well as the head of his wife’s lover and left them properly pickled in alcohol beside Catherine’s bed. According to some accounts, and to Catherine’s credit, she never said a word. The heads, beautifully preserved in the tradition of Dutch anatomists observed by Peter on his travels to the Netherlands, were entered into his collection only to be discarded by Peter’s grandniece, Catherine the Great, fifty years later in a fit of housecleaning. Catherine the Great preferred paintings and sculpture to natural history and decapitated heads, however eternally fresh and however historical.

Culled from: Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters

Damn Catherine the Great, ruining everything with her unreasonable bias against historical severed heads!

And for those of us who doubt we’ll ever be able to make the trip to St. Petersburg to see the Kunstkammer in person, there’s a fantastic online tour that you can take.  Despite Catherine, there are still a few pickled things in jars to be gawked over!

Kunstkammer Virtual Tour

Ghastly! – Free Gasoline Edition

You probably haven’t heard about this because you hardly ever hear about anything impacting the people of Pakistan, but back on June 25th at least 150 people were killed in an explosion following an accident in which a petrol truck overturned on the highway.  The truck was leaking gasoline and many poor locals mobbed the scene to collect the precious fuel from the tank. I haven’t been able to find any footage of the actual explosion, but this video contains a fascinating and shudder-inducing ‘before’ and ‘after’ sequence. 
Bahawalpur Tanker Explosion (Pakistan)
File Under: Ill-Advised Cost-cutting Ventures

Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 29, 2017

Today’s Gradually Excluded Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In 1930’s Germany, there was wide acceptance from the public to the policies of the Nazi regime.  Broad swaths of German society, whether with indifference or enthusiasm, accepted the gradual exclusion of the Jews from the “Volk community”.  The boycott of Jewish businesses, physicians and attorneys on April 1, 1933, served to stigmatize the Jewish minority and isolate them socially. Such actions may have caused some Germans discomfort, but did not, in the final analysis, fail to achieve their purpose. “Non-Aryans” were marked, intimidated and avoided by most “national comrades” from then on. Those who violated the boycott were publicly denounced and defamed as “jew servants” (“Judenknechte”). On April 7, 1933, a few days after the boycott, the “Laws for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” imposed a professional ban on Jews, Social Democrats and Communists, all of whom were fired from their public service positions. Jews were to be stripped of their professional existence.

The “Nuremberg Laws” announced at the Nazi Party Rally on September 15, 1935, were generally accepted or welcomed. The “Reich Citizenship Law” classified Jews and others that fell under its promulgated definitions as second-class citizens. At the same time, this law provided the decisive judicial foundation for the continuance of the disenfranchisement process. The “Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor,” which forbid marriages between Jews and “Aryans” and criminalized their sexual relations, sought to penetrate even into the Jewish minority’s private sphere, thereby isolating and excluding them from the social life of the “Volk community”.

The resonance that these measures of persecution found among the public was profoundly affected by the fact that many Germans materially profited, directly or indirectly, from the displacement, disenfranchisement, and dispossession of the Jews. Jobs, homes, furniture, companies and real estate changed hands, typically at prices far below their market value – until the Jewish minority was fully destitute.


In an example of the type of social punishment inflicted upon Germans who associated with Jews, two German women accused of intimate contacts with prisoners of war are publicly humiliated by members of the SA and Nazi Party functionaries, Reichenbach/Vogtland, October 4, 1941.  After their heads were shorn they were led on a pillory march through the town. The signs around their necks read: “I was expelled from the Volk community because I consorted with prisoners of war.”

Culled from: Topography of Terror: Gestapo, SS and Reich Security Main Office on Wilhelm-and-Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse

 

Ghastly!: Powerlines Are Powerful Edition

“Ooh, it captivate and it hypnotize
Hear the power in the lines.”
– Hüsker Dü, “Powerline”

Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 21, 2017

Today’s Pestilent Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In 1348 much of the population of Florence was wiped out by an outbreak of the Black Death (Bubonic Plague) that eventually spread throughout Italy. In that same year, Pope Clement VI, who was then living in Avignon, proposed a pilgrimage to Rome. Just over a million people went on the journey of about 500 miles. Only 100,000 returned.

At the height of the epidemic, the Rhone River was consecrated to provide a graveyard for victims who could not be disposed of in any other way.

By the end of the 14th century, 25 million deaths had occurred – an estimated 25 percent of Europe’s population. According to one estimate, there were 45 outbreaks of plague between 1500 and 1720. The most notorious reached London in June 1665.

One of the preventative methods used in London against the spread of the plague was to burn cats, dogs, mice, and rats. But this precaution was a case of too little, too late. By 1666 more than 68,000 Londoners had died, and Europe feared another pandemic.

But then, on September 2, 1666, fire broke out in the heart of London’s most populous area. The fire raged for four days, leaving four-fifths of the city devastated. But the great blaze also wiped out the unsanitary conditions that had helped the contagion to spread. 


“Bring Out Yer Dead!”

Culled from: Strange Stories, Amazing Facts

 

Ghastly! – Oncoming Traffic Edition

Oh, those Russian dashcams!  What would we have to watch on You Tube without them?  This is a particularly deadly moment for a pair of motorcyclists…  (Thanks to Amy for the link.)

 

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 19, 2017

Today’s Infested Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

During the American Civil War, osteomyelitis (infection of the bone) was treated somewhat differently by the opposing sides. Both sides used cold compresses, local debridement, drainage, and amputation to treat bone infections. However, a unique form of treatment was developed serendipitously by the South during the war. A group of Confederate surgeons, imprisoned in Chattanooga, had been denied supplies to keep their men’s wounds clean. Subsequently, maggots infested the wounds and, surprisingly, cases of osteomyelitis and gangrene were cured. After their release, the surgeons applied this method in Southern hospitals, which led to improved results. The North continued to have poor responses to treatment because they scrupulously eliminated all maggots from their soldiers’ wounds. Maggot treatment was eventually rediscovered. Maggots bred under sterile conditions were used to treat osteomyelitis during World War I and were reported to have excellent results.


Union Soldier Suffering from Osteomyelitis

Culled from: Orthopaedic Injuries of the Civil War: An Atlas of Orthopaedic Injuries and Treatments During the Civil War

Fine(ly Designed) Wine!

If you’re like me, you buy your wine exclusively based upon the quality of the label.  And there are few labels that are more enticing to me than those produced by Orin Swift.  I want them all – and I don’t even like wine very much!  Well done, Orin Swift!  Here are a few of my faves:

China Doll Rosé 

Mannequin Chardonnay (which comes in a skateboard deck too):

Papillon Bordeaux Blend:

And my favorite, the absolutely stunning Cabernet Sauvignon which made me let out an audible gasp when I saw it at a liquor store in Seattle last month:

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 18, 2017

Today’s Realistic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In 1872 war broke out between the American government and the Modoc tribe who lived in a rugged, desolate area near Mt. Shasta in Northern California. The Modoc War was the costliest Indian battle to the U.S. government, both in terms of financial expenditure (over $400,000) and the number of soldiers killed (73 – versus only 17 Modoc).  The Modoc Indians had been forced out of their native lands, had experienced the bad faith of white treaty makers, and had suffered constant encroachment by “American” settlers. They were driven to fight when some of the younger Modocs seceded from their tribe in a display of independence, if not desperation. After brave but mostly symbolic defiance, the Modocs surrendered, and four of them were hanged.


U.S. soldiers inspect Captain Jack’s cave in the Lava Bed (1873 Edward Murbridge photo)

The German immigrant photographer Louis H. Heller made small, card-mounted photographs of the renegade Modoc leaders and their captors, which Carleton Watkins sold in his San Francisco gallery. These pictures reveal the Indians to be complex figures and are in no way sensationalistic. Rather, these sad, ambiguous photographs must have been made for their newsworthiness and documentary value more than for any racial stereotyping of the outlaw “wild” Indian. Captain Jack (Kintpuash), their leader, wears the modest clothing of a farmer, his hair is short, and his most distinguishing characteristic is an expression of profound melancholy. 

Culled from: Police Pictures: The Photograph as Evidence   

And after death, the disrespect continued, unsurprisingly. From Wikipedia:

They severed the Modocs’ heads after the executions at Fort Klamath, sending them on October 25 by train to Washington, DC, to the Army Medical Museum for study.

In 1898, the Army transferred the skulls to the Smithsonian Institution. In the 1970s, descendants of Captain Jack learned that his skull was at the Smithsonian and appealed for its return. In 1984 the Smithsonian returned Kintpuash’s skull to his relatives, who acted as tribal representatives to receive also the skulls of Boston Charley, Black Jim, and John Schonchin, and of an unknown Modoc woman whose remains had been recovered from the Lava Beds.

 

And Speaking Of Heads Stored for Study…

Here’s another excerpt from Malformed: Forgotten Brains of the Texas State Mental Hospital.

3693-13-1980
Study No. 206
This label breaks from the collection’s convention with only a case number alluding to the date. This brain’s hemispheres are severely asymmetrical.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 16, 2017

Today’s Systematic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Sick and disabled people were systematically registered by the Nazi regime starting in the autumn of 1939, and murdered beginning in January 1940. The organizational headquarters of this campaign was located at Tiergartenstrasse 4, Berlin. The address of the murder headquarters provided the code name of the operation: “T4”. The operation was classified as “Secret Reich Business”, and its management involved the Reich Ministry of Internal Affairs and later the Reich Ministry of Justice, as well as the regional government agencies that were responsible for overseeing the institutions.

The murders were carried out in several phases. In 1940 and 1941, over 70,000 people were killed by poison gas in specialized institutions under “Operation T4”. From 1942 on, still more people were killed in institutions by hunger, poison, and systematic neglect. At least 5,000 children and adolescents were murdered in “pediatric wards”. Meanwhile in Poland and the Soviet Union, the armed task forces called the “Einsatzgruppen” killed tens of thousands of patients.

Registration forms were collected and evaluated to decide who was to be gassed in the killing centers. Beginning in October 1939, the registration forms sent by the Reich Ministry of Internal Affairs were filled out in the institutions, usually by doctors or directors. All patients with certain diagnoses, all patients who had been institutionalized for five years or more, all those who were not of “German or related blood”, and all the “criminally insane” who had been committed to institutions by the courts were to be registered. Based on these registration forms, outside consultants recommended the deaths of more than 70,000 people. The consultants rarely saw their victims in person.

On August 24, 1941, the Nazi government stopped “Operation T4” because of spreading uneasiness among the population.

Here are two of the victims of Operation T4:

Xaver Rager (shown above in 1910) was born in 1898 in Jengen, Ostallgau district. He lived thirty years in the Catholic institution in Ursberg. In 1940 he was transferred to the Kaufbeuren mental hospital; in 1941 he was murdered in the Hartheim killing center.  


Leopoldine Schlager (shown above in 1920) was born in 1898. She lived in Müzzuschlag, Styria, until 1928, when she was admitted to the Am Feldhof state mental hospital in Graz. She was murdered in the Hartheim killing center in 1941.

Culled from: registered, persecuted, annihilated. The Sick and the Disabled under National Socialism

 

Morbid Sightseeing: Tiergartenstrasse 4

Out of curiosity, I did a Google search on Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin and what came up on street view (from way back in 2008 – get it together, Google!) was an obvious memorial to the victims: a statue of one of the buses that transported the victims to the killing centers where they were gassed.  

I looked it up and sure enough, a memorial has been built on the spot. Next time I’m in Germany, I will have to visit.  

T4 – Memorial and Information Centre for the Victims of the Nazi Euthanasia Programme

Morbid Fact Du Jour for June 15, 2017

Today’s Anesthetizing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The greatest gift of the United States to surgery was probably the discovery of general anesthesia, the use of which was first publicly demonstrated in 1846 by personnel from Harvard Medical School at Massachusetts General Hospital.  Four years earlier, however, an unassuming doctor in rural Georgia, Crawford Williamson Long, M.D. (1815-1878), had used sulfuric ether for general anesthesia when operating on a patient with a tumor. Not until 1849 did Long, prodded by friends, announce his deed; the reason for his delay remains unknown; perhaps, being out of medical school only three years, he may not have recognized the importance of anesthesia.

Surgery in rural practice was uncommon even in those days; patients who needed operations were sent to major medical centers just as they are today. Few doctors performed surgery unless presented with emergency circumstances, as the lack of anesthesia made undergoing the procedure excruciatingly painful. Patients had to be forcibly restrained by attendants, and the trauma of surgery was enough to make some go into fatal shock. Thus, one measure of the surgeon’s skill was how quickly he could operate; great surgeons could remove an arm in thirty seconds, and a leg in about a minute. Anesthesia was a great boon in that, in addition to its obvious ability to remove pain from the process, it also permitted lengthy and precise operations.

Dr. Long had used general anesthesia seven times before the Harvard demonstration. Nevertheless, the honors normally bestowed by Congress and other organizations for such an accomplishment never materialized, owing to his own delay in reportage as well as to infighting among the three Massachusetts pioneers, who spent their lives competing for primary recognition. Horace Wells, D.D.S., became a chloroform addict and killed himself with an overdose in a jail cell in New York City. With Wells dead, William T.G. Morton, D.D.S., and Charles Thomas Jackson, M.D., continued to battle for attention and acceptance as the discoverer of general anesthesia. Destitute, battle weary, and embittered, Morton died of a stroke in 1868 after reading an article on primacy by Jackson claiming credit. Jackson himself had a mental breakdown, and died in 1880 at the McLean Asylum in Somerville, Massachusetts. Wells was ultimately declared the prime discoverer of general anesthesia; however, neither he nor the other two men received public recognition or financial benefit for this in their lifetime.

By contrast, after Dr. Long had put in his claim, he simply went back to work in his rural practice. For this tintype (below) Long held the knife for an amputation while his younger brother gave the patient anesthesia and an attendant held surgical paraphernalia. The scene is accurate to its era, the surgeon’s street dress and the overall lack of sterility having been standard. Shy of notoriety, Dr. Long did not have many photographs taken during his lifetime. 

With the exception of daguerreotypes made at Massachusetts General in 1846 and 1847, this is the only extant photograph of an operation taken prior to the Civil War. Thus, it is an important record of the state of surgery in the United States during the nineteenth century.

Culled from: A Morning’s Work: Medical Photographs from the Burns Archive & Collection 1843-1939

 

What Deadly Diseases Look Like On Your Body

It’s probably silly of me to share this because…  if you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you sickos already know what deadly diseases look like!  You’ve probably spent a fair amount of time gawking over horrible images doing your own research, haven’t you? But, in any event, I found this an entrancing little video with convincing makeup – and a great message to anti-vaxxers to boot!  (Thanks to Kimberly for the link.)

Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 14, 2017

Today’s Politically Charged Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On the afternoon of April 15, 1920, outside a shoe factory in South Braintree, Massachusetts, security guards Frederick Parmenter and Alessandro Berardelli were engaged in transferring the company’s $15,777 payroll when two men approached. Without warning, one of the strangers opened fire, mortally wounding both guards. His partner, who wore a dark handlebar mustache, pumped yet more rounds into the helpless victims. Heaving the payroll boxes into a waiting car that contained three other men, the killers made their escape. Eyewitnesses described the gang as “Italian looking,” but of more use to investigators were the empty shells recovered from the sidewalk. All were manufactured by three firms: Peters, Winchester, and Remington.

Two days later, a stolen Buick thought to be the getaway vehicle was found abandoned in some woods. Evidence linked it to an abortive payroll robbery at another shoe factory in nearby Bridgewater the previous Christmas Eve. It was believed to have been masterminded by an Italian named Mike Boda, but when police raided Boda’s suspected hideout, he had already fled.

However, two other men were arrested: Nicola Sacco, twenty-nine, and his mustachioed companion, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, thirty-two. Both denied owning any guns, yet each was in the possession of a loaded pistol, and Sacco’s was a .32, the same caliber as the murder weapon. Also, Sacco was carrying twenty-three bullets, all made by Peters, Winchester, and Remington. Vanzetti was a fish peddler; Sacco – significantly – worked in a shoe factory. Both were members of anarchist cells that openly espoused violence, a fact that inflamed public opinion against them. 


Sacco and-a Vanzetti.  No, wait – Vanzetti and-a Sacco.

Eleven months later, on May 31, 1921, their trial opened in Dedham, Massachusetts, amid the hysteria of America’s first “Red Scare,” a time when anyone whose politics even hinted of radicalism was considered to be dangerously subversive.  The court heard dozens of identification witnesses, fifty-nine for the prosecution and ninety-nine for the defense, a welter of testimony that produced only confusion. Similar ambiguity surrounded the question of whether Sacco’s .32 had actually fired the bullet that killed Berardelli. Whereas one prosecution expert declared that it was indeed the murder weapon, another would only concede the possibility. Two defense experts harbored no such doubts, being adamant that Sacco’s gun could not have fired the fatal bullet.

Any ambiguity raised by the gun paled in the face of one incontrovertible and damning fact: the bullet that killed Berardelli was so outdated that the prosecution’s expert witnesses could locate none like it to test Sacco’s gun – except the equally obsolete bullets from Sacco’s pockets. On July 14, 1921, the jury returned a guilty verdict, and Judge Thayer sentenced the defendants to death.

The outcome touched off a firestorm of protest. Around the globe, left-wing parties lionized Sacco and Vanzetti, portraying them as innocent victims of capitalist justice.

In June 1927, a committee appointed to review the case contacted the man who would become America’s leading firearms expert, Calvin Goddard, at the Bureau of Forensic Ballistics in New York. Armed with two recent inventions, the comparison microscope and the helixometer, Goddard traveled to Dedham. The helixometer, invented by physicist John H. Fisher, was a hollow probe fitted with a light and a magnifying glass for examining the insides of gun barrels. With defense expert Augustus Gill acting as witness, Goddard fired a bullet from Sacco’s revolver into cotton wool, then placed it beside the murder bullet on the comparison microscope. The outcome was unequivocal – the murder bullet had been fired from Sacco’s revolver. Gill, peering through the microscope, had to agree. He exclaimed, “Well, what do you know about that?” When his fellow defense expert, James Burns, also changed his opinion, Sacco and Vanzetti’s last hopes were dashed. On August 23, 1927, over worldwide protests, they died in the electric chair.


Death masks of Sacco and Vanzetti.  As my mother’s Italian friend used to say, “Nana babies!”

Culled from: The Casebook of Forensic Detection

 

Aztec Death Whistle*

Leave it to those clever Aztec kids to come up with a whistle that can recreate the sound of your favorite horror movie scene at will!  And to make it so damned pretty too!  We all want one, right?  (Thanks to Marco for the link.)

The Horrifying Sound of an Aztec Death Whistle

* Death Metal Band Name???