Category Archives: Garretdom

Morbid Fact Du Jour for January 11, 2018

Today’s Executed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culled from: American Mafia History


Garretdom: Another Drunkard Gone!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morbid Fact Du Jour For April 30, 2017

Today’s Coffin-like Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

By the early nineteenth century, the city of Boston was already two hundred years old. The great Yankee trades to Europe, the Caribbean, and the Far East were pouring money into the counting houses of India Wharf and into the vaults of new banks springing up on State Street.  Boston, given to calling itself the “Athens of America,” was locked in a grand rivalry with Philadelphia and New York and hooked on new construction. The society architect Charles Bulfinch was remaking the face of the city, planting his distinctive, boxy, brick, federalist mansions along Boston’s main thoroughfares, culminating in his gold-domed masterwork, the Commonwealth’s State House atop Beacon Hill. The city had just built five bridges spanning the Charles River. The first interurban railroad, the Boston and Albany line, was about to begin service. The city fathers trained in 7,700 tons of marble from Quincy quarries to erect the 220-foot-tall Bunker Hill monument, commemorating the famous battle, and imposed upon the doddering Marquis de Lafayette to lay the cornerstone.

And yet Boston lacked a hospital.

New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and even Williamsburg, Virginia, had been operating large public hospitals for more than fifty years, all of which accepted mental patients as well as the sick and infirm. But Boston maintained only a quarantine station on nearby Rainsford Island and the public dispensary, which gave outpatient care to the poor. The mad or delirious were either cared for at home, packed off to the (Bulfinch-designed) Almshouse for the destitute, or farmed out to specialized boarding houses. In his book The Mentally Ill in America, Albert Deutsch mentions a: 

Dr. Willard, who, about the beginning of the 19th century maintained a private establishment for the mentally ill in a little town between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. One of the fundamental tenets in his therapy was to break the patient’s will by any means possible. On his premises stood a tank of water, into which a patient, packed into a coffin-like box pierced with holes, was lowered by means of a well-sweep. He was kept under water until the bubbles of air ceased to rise, after which he was taken out, rubbed, and revived – if he had not already passed beyond reviving!

Culled from: Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental Hospital


Garretdom: A Fitting End

Here’s another bit of olde news.  Ah, the old days – can you imagine a modern newspaper suggesting that a murder-suicide was a “fitting end” for the participants?  

December 6, 1886
A Gambler Shoots the Woman Who Cast Him Off and Then Himself.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 6.—A double tragedy occurred to-night in the “Division,” a disreputable part of the city, which, by reason of the prominence in their respective lines of the parties concerned, created quite a little excitement among certain of Washington’s inhabitants. About eighteen months ago John Rowe, a gambler of New York City, came to Washington with a full pocket book. He was accompanied by Minnie Raymond, his mistress, whom he soon established as proprietress of a bagnio south of the avenue. About six months ago he encountered a streak of bad luck and lost all his money. He was discarded by his paramour in favor of another man, said to be the son of a prominent dry goods merchant.

Rowe went on to the house and asked her for money. On being refused, he upbraided her for her ingratitude, and was ejected from the house by the police. He threatened the woman’s life at the time. Luck still ran against him, and to-night, mad with jealousy and his reduced circumstances, he went to the dive and shot the woman through the head immediately on seeing her. He then shot himself through the head causing almost instant death. The woman is still alive, but will probably die. 

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1886 Morbid Scrapbook

Morbid Fact Du Jour For April 24, 2017

Today’s Anarchic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Strikes by industrial workers were increasingly common in the United States in the 1880s, a time when working conditions often were dismal and dangerous, and wages were low. The American labor movement during this time also included a radical faction of socialists, communists and anarchists who believed the capitalist system should be dismantled because it exploited workers. (Ah, those were the days… – DeSpair)  A number of these labor radicals were immigrants, many of them from Germany.

The May 4, 1886, rally at Haymarket Square in Chicago was organized by labor radicals to protest the killing and wounding of several workers by the Chicago police during a strike the day before at the McCormick Reaper Works.

Toward the end of the Haymarket Square rally, a group of policemen arrived to disperse the crowd. As the police advanced, an individual who was never identified threw a bomb at them. The police and possibly some members of the crowd opened fire and chaos ensued. Seven police officers and at least one civilian died as a result of the violence that day, and an untold number of other people were injured.

The riot set off a national wave of xenophobia, as scores of foreign-born radicals and labor organizers were rounded up by the police in Chicago and elsewhere. In August 1886, eight men, labeled as anarchists, were convicted in a sensational and controversial trial in which the jury was considered to be biased and no solid evidence was presented linking the defendants to the bombing. Judge Joseph E. Gary imposed the death sentence on seven of the men, and the eighth was sentenced to 15 years in prison. On November 11, 1887, four of the men were hanged.

Of the additional three who were sentenced to death, one committed suicide on the eve of his execution and the other two had their death sentences commuted to life in prison by Illinois Governor Richard J. Oglesby. The governor was reacting to widespread public questioning of their guilt, which later led his successor, Governor John P. Altgeld, to pardon the three activists still living in 1893.

In the aftermath of the Haymarket Square Riot and subsequent trial and executions, public opinion was divided. For some people, the events led to a heightened anti-labor sentiment, while others (including labor organizers around the world) believed the men had been convicted unfairly and viewed them as martyrs.

Culled from: History.Com


And Speaking of the Haymarket Anarchists… 

Before I share today’s Garretdom newspaper clip (below), I figured you needed some background on the Haymarket Riot (above) and one particularly wicked anarchist, Henry Jansen (right here, right now):

In November 1886, Henry Jansen, a member of the anarchist “North Side Group”… was arrested after attacking his wife.  It was the second time he had stabbed her, having slashed her in the stomach years earlier. But this time her wounds were deeper and she lingered near death for four days before succumbing. Weak and struggling for breath, Mrs. Jansen told police that her husband took part in the Haymarket Riot and that he had stood near the man who threw the bomb and had told her the man’s name. She couldn’t remember the name distinctly but thought it sounded like “Shurbeld”. 

Culled from: The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age


Garretdom: The Starving Anarchist

Which brings us to today’s Garretdom entry:

December 8, 1886
Jansen Placed in an Asylum for the Insane and Forced to Take Food.

CHICAGO, Dec. 8—Henry Jansen, the wife-murderer, was transferred from the jail proper to the insane ward yesterday and his fast, which had continued for some days, was abruptly broken off. He was very weak from lack of nourishment, and could not have survived his course of abstinence many days longer. Superintendent Kiley determined to compel the man to take food, and to that end he prepared a very palatable concoction of brandy, sugar, milk, and eggs. As was expected, Jansen refused to take it. A muscular attendant pinioned the patient, and his clinched teeth were pried apart with a spoon. A spoonful of the mixture was poured into his mouth, and as he spattered and spat in an effort to eject it, a clasp was put down on his nose and as he gasped for breath, down went the life-giving fluid. In this painful fashion, while he writhed and roared between breaths, Jansen was compelled to swallow a gill of the fluid. Twice, later in the day, his heroically-administered meal was given him. His strength rapidly grew, although this improvement put him in an ugly frame of mind, and he denounced his saviors in the most bitter terms.

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1886 Morbid Scrapbook

Morbid Fact Du Jour For April 23, 2017

I know, I’ve been away so long, haven’t I?  Mostly work has kept me away, but busy personal life hasn’t helped.  I’m going to try to get back to the regular morbidity now, but I can’t guarantee I’ll get one out every day.  But I will do my best, and I guess that’s all you can ask of a decrepit old Comtesse, right?  

Today’s Compulsory Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In Japan the honor suicide was mainly recourse to committing hari-kiri, the ancient practice of self-disembowelment. There were two types of hara-kiri: compulsory and voluntary. When a nobleman was found to have broken the laws or to have been disloyal, the usual punishment was to commit hara-kiri using a jeweled dagger sent for that very purpose by the mikado (emperor). In an elaborate and dignified ceremony, the suicide would kneel on a red felt carpet raised a few feet above the ground in order to afford the audience a good view. Dressed for the occasion, the victim would take the mikado’s dagger and plunge it up to the hilt into his left side, just below the waist. Slowly the blade would be moved to the right inside the abdomen, being first turned and then drawn upwards. Added honor was bestowed on the suicide if he managed to inflict the fatal wound without flinching. When it was clear that the dagger had pierced the stomach, a friend of the victim would put the man out of his agony by swiftly decapitating him. The practice of hara-kiri was once so common that Montesquieu could comment wryly that the Japanese ‘rip open their bellies for the least fancy’. Compulsory hara-kiri was made illegal in 1868, but the voluntary type has never been completely eliminated from Japanese culture and continues to be a method of dispatch even in our own time – especially to avoid disgrace or humiliation. 

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


Garretdom: Shot Him While Asleep

For those who are unfamiliar, Garretdom is a feature of the Asylum Eclectica where I share old newspaper clippings that I find suitably grim.  Today we look back to 1886 and a tragic tale of a husband who never used his wife right!

December 7, 1886
A Buffalo Woman Sends a Bullet Through Her Husband’s Heart.

BUFFALO, N. Y., Dec. 7A deliberate and cold-blooded murder was committed in this city at an early hour this morning. At about eight o’clock a boy rushed into No. 8 police station and stated that a man had been shot by his wife in rooms occupied by Emil Penseyres and his wife in the Miller block. Officers immediately proceeded to the place. They were met by a woman who appeared to be in a high state of excitement. She said her husband was in a bedroom , the door of which stood partly open. A cloth had been nailed up over the window. In the bed lay the body of Emil Penseyres. A bullet had penetrated his heart. The shooting occurred at about 6 A.M., according to the best reports, and the man was evidently lying asleep in bed when the murderess fired the fatal shot.

 There were no evidences of a struggle and every indication was that the woman deliberately shot the man in his sleep. The discovery of her terrible deed seemed to drive her into a frenzy of rage. The pistol she had used had been thrown under the bed, and she managed to regain possession of it before the officers were aware of her purpose. She flourished the revolver in the faces of the officers and screamed that she would never be arrested. They rushed at the furious woman and felled her to the floor, and after a severe struggle succeeded in getting the revolver away from her. She still resisted, but in vain, and was informed that she was under arrest and must go to the station-house.
She gave her name as Hattie F. Penseyres, and her age as thirty-three years. Her occupation, she said, was that of a housekeeper. The only remark she made on the way to the station was that her husband “never used her right.” He was some years her junior, and was a wood-worker by trade. It appears that he married the woman who took his life in February, 1885. They had no children, but the woman has a son and daughter by a former marriage. It is said that her reputation was not good, and that she was formerly an inmate of a house of ill-fame.

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1886 Morbid Scrapbook

Morbid Fact Du Jour For September 13, 2016

Today’s Fishtailing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On June 14, 1986, the Galaxyland Amusement Park, located inside the huge West Edmonton Mall in Alberta, Canada, was packed. A concert was in progress and the Mindbender, the world’s largest indoor roller coaster, was doing a brisk business.

Twice during that day, a ride operator heard metallic banging noises coming from the coaster, but when the four 16-passenger trains were run empty, maintenance crews couldn’t locate the source of the noise, and the ride was again opened to the public.

Ron Chayko and his best friend David Sager were visiting the park that day and had wanted to go on the Mindbender, but when they first arrived, the ride was shut down, so they visited the nearby arcade till an announcement was made that the Mindbender was back up and running. They sat in the final, yellow car of the train, which then began its looping, climbing and diving ride.

No one knew that some bolts on the left side of the final car had fallen off, and this suddenly caused the final car to derail. The yellow car fishtailed wildly, knocking the lap-bars loose and hurling passengers out and down. The train was still running, heading into an uplift for the next drop, but had lost momentum and slid back down the incline, crashing into support pillars along the way.

Ron Chayko remembers flying over David Sager and falling below the track, behind a pillar. When he tried to sit up he saw that both his legs were broken, he was unable to move his left arm, and he had great difficulty breathing due to a punctured lung. He lay in agony for 15 minutes till a man jumped down to him, calling to other rescuers “I found him!” When paramedics lifted him onto a stretcher, Chayko’s entire left side folded in on itself due to his broken shoulder, pelvis and ribs. He survived, though he suffers from chronic pain as a result.

David Sager, Tony Mandrusiak and Cindy Sims were all killed instantly, and a more than a dozen others were injured. The Mindbender was shut down for seven months while investigations were made. It was determined tthat the axle assembly was faulty, and that the problem was exacerbated by problems translating the ride’s maintenance and repair instructions from German into English and the fact that the
manufacturer went bankrupt during installation of the coaster.

When the Mindbender was reopened in 1987, it had been redesigned to have only three 12-passenger cars, and safety belts and over-the-shoulder padded head restraints were added in addition to the standard lap bars. The ride has been completely accident-free ever since.

Culled from: Wikipedia
Submitted by: Aimee

And here’s a nice little clip about the accident.  It’s worth it just to hear Canadians describe the incident: “It was pretty scary cuz we were sitting upside down and we didn’t know what was happening and like we seen people laying on the ground, eh.”


Garretdom: Frightfully Mangled Edition

More proof that newspapers were better before.  Check out the detail in that final paragraph!  Oh, if only modern papers were so colorful…

July 22, 1865
Shakopee Argus

Fatal Accident.

Fatal Accident. — On last Monday a most shocking accident occurred at Spring Lake, in this county. The victim was a Mr. Ringrose, who was employed in the sawmill at that place, while engaged in adjusting a belt on one of the wheels, was caught and dragged into the machinery and instantly crushed to pieces. — There was no one near at the time, and he was found a few minutes afterwards by another of the employees of the mill, a frightfully mangled corpse. He was a returned soldier, and had been at home but a few days when he was thus torn from family and friends, just as his security from death seemed to have become the most perfect. He leaves a wife and several children to mourn his untimely fate.

Since the above was in type we have learned some of that particulars of the sad affair. — It appears that the belt wheel had no flange and the belt frequently ran off the wheel as it did in this instance, and had to be put on again while in motion; the deceased upon seeing the belt come off, went to put it on, and did so, but just as it snapped on to the wheel it caught his left arm, when he was instantly rolled in between the belt and the wheel, which was going at the rate of sixty revolutions per minute. The owner of the mill, Mr. Turner, was upstairs at the time, and noticed a curious action in the machinery and heard an occasional thud, but attributed it to some trifling cause; in about fifteen minutes after he had first noticed it he determined to go below and see the occasion of the noise, when he found the body in the position described. —  He immediately stopped the mill and, with assistance, extricated the body of the unfortunate man. His arms and legs were broken into twenty or thirty pieces, and the flesh literally stripped therefrom, pieces of which were found in every direction; his body was ground to a pumice and blood was thrown thirty feet. One of his feet was found the next day, and pieces of flesh were picked up for several days after in and about the mill.

Culled from Coffee Made Her Insane

More frightfully mangled news stories can be read at Garretdom.



Morbid Fact Du Jour For March 8, 2016

Today’s Misguided Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On May 31, 2013, an EF1 tornado touched down near Oklahoma City and traveled on the ground for 10 minutes. KFOR-TV meteorlogist Mike Morgan warned viewers to head for shelter, recommending that they go underground.

Timothy Shrum, 21, had survived a tornado three years earlier by hiding in the drainage tunnel behind his apartment building, and he urged his friends and family to accompany him there now. His sister Virginia had a bad feeling about the tunnel, and friend Alvin Hennington told Shrum “No, no, no, let’s go in the closet. I don’t trust the tunnel.” But eventually they all agreed to leave the apartment.

The eleven people were in the half-mile-long tunnel, which runs from behind their building, under a parking lot and empties into the Oklahoma River. And that river was now flooding. In an instant, the water in the tunnel rose from knee-high to waist-high, and adults and children alike were unable to resist its tremendous force and were swept away into the river.

Virginia Shrum’s two daughters, Destiny Love Shrum, 4, and Terra, 3; her adoptive mother’s two children, Cory Johnson Jr., 4 and Alexis Johnson, 5 months; and Timothy Shrum, were all drowned. Alexis’s body has never been found.

And the apartment building they’d fled was undamaged.

The Tunnel of Doom

Culled from: NewsOK
Submitted by: Aimee

And you just have to go to the NewsOK website and watch the interview with Virginia Shrum. I’ve never seen anyone so nonchalant while discussing the death of her children. Something ain’t right about that woman…


Garretdom: Baby in a Basket Edition!

Years ago, some scrapbooks were sold on Ebay. They had been discovered at an estate sale and had been compiled in the 1880’s by a morbid kindred soul.  He or she had cut articles out of newspapers and pasted them over old textbooks (“The Latin Reader,” etc.). Each article was about death or mayhem. The collection was magnificent, but each individual book sold for huge sums on Ebay. I  was able to convince the seller to make copies of the scrapbooks for me before he sold some of them.  This article is taken from one of the books – hence the lack of an attributable newspaper.  I store these crazy articles at Garretdom.  I hope you enjoy today’s weird little story.

December, 1886


How a Wretch Abandoned a Helpless Infant Yesterday Afternoon.

“Say, there’s somebody left a basket in the cabin here.”

It was Billy Hughes, the handsome deckhand of the ferryboat Wenonah, on the Camden and Philadelphia Ferry, to whom these words were addressed by a woman who was leaving the boat early yesterday afternoon. Billy dropped the rope with which he had just pulled the gang-plank down from the Camden slip, and dove for the cabin.

“Look here. There’s a basket some one has left on one of the seats.”

It was a man who spoke to Hughes this time, and he paused in his plunge for the cabin just long enough to wonder how it happened that there were two honest folks on one ferryboat. Then he stepped into the cabin and picked up a little split basket over which a towel was carefully spread and without examining its contents took it to the ticket collector’s office and left it, in the full expectations that somebody would come tearing down through the slush and mud in about two minutes and ask for it. But nobody came.

David Moore, the genial collector, hadn’t time to spare from hauling in little bronze shekels for the company to examine the package, even if he had been disposed to do so.

“Kee-wah, kee-wah.”

Mr. Moore’s face assumed a more surprised look than usual.

“Look into that basket and see what’s there,” he said in as off-hand a manner as possible. “I believe it’s a poll parrot.”

Nobody wanted to look, but in a minute someone plucked up the courage to turn the towel down, and there was the face of a new-born baby. It was already growing purple with cold. Examination showed that the little thing was carefully wrapped up in very plain garments.

“I’m absolutely unable to perform the duties of a wet-nurse!” shouted the collector, as he began to make frantic passes at imaginary pennies in order that it might be seen that he had no time to nurse the baby.

“Anybody that would do such a thing ought to be tarred and feathered,” growled Johnnie Middleton, as he tugged ferociously at his strawberry blonde moustache. Then the telephone was put in operation and arrangements were made to send the little thing to the Almshouse.

“I’ll bet that man and woman had something to do with that,” remarked Hughes as the boat pulled out from the slip, and a passenger sat in the cabin and told blood-wodling [sic] tales all the way over of how he had seen seventeen babies’ bodies taken from the Fairmount reservoir when it was cleaned, and how he had seen blood on the sumps there, where the little bodies had been sucked in and crushed to fragments.

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1886 Morbid Scrapbook

Morbid Fact Du Jour For February 11, 2016

Today’s Jealous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On September 10, 1978, Sandy and Duane Johnson hosted an informal gathering at their home in Omaha, Nebraska. Sandy’s parents, two sisters, brother-in-law and nephew were in attendance.

That night, the nephew, Chad Shelton, became violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea. His parents, Sallie and Bruce Shelton, took him to the emergency room, where his condition continued to deteriorate rapidly; he began hemorrhaging from every orifice of his body and his platelet count was far below normal. His liver was failing, and he was dead less than a day later.

He was only eleven months old.

Duane Johnson, 25, was brought to the hospital while his nephew was being treated. Johnson was also vomiting and had an uncontrollable nosebleed. He too died, aged 25. His two-year-old daughter Sheri was admitted with similar symptoms, but a blood transfusion saved her life.

Sallie and Bruce Shelton and Sallie and Sandy’s youngest sister Susan were also sickened but survived.

Doctors suspected poisoning of some kind but were at a loss to pinpoint the source of the poison. One doctor, looking through medical literature, came across a photograph of a damaged liver that looked exactly like the livers of the two victims. The liver pictured had been that of a German woman poisoned by her husband.

The poison in question was dimethylnitrosamine, a powerful carcinogen used in cancer research and not available to the general public. The Johnson/Shelton family were asked if they knew anybody who worked in a cancer research setting who might have access to DMN and who might want to poison them, but drew a blank. On a hunch, a police officer did a search of Duane Johnson’s name in the records and learned that in 1975, there had been a confrontation and shooting incident outside the Johnsons’ home. An ex-boyfriend of Sandy’s, Steven Roy Harper, had been angry over Sandy’s jilting him and marrying Duane, and had reacted badly. He served a year in prison and upon his release got a job at the Epley Institute, a cancer-research lab in Omaha.

Harper was an odd character. He’d been burned badly in a house fire as a child and was very sensitive about his resulting scarring. In high school he was known as a shy, quiet loner who made good grades and hoped to become a veterinarian. He must have been beyond thrilled when pretty, popular Sandy Betten became his girlfriend, and was heartbroken and angry when she left him for somebody else.

Harper had access to DMN at his workplace, and a veterinarian there remembered treating Harper’s dog and cat for unexplained bleeding. Both animals had died. Their symptoms were consistent with having been poisoned with DMN.

The case against Steven Harper was beginning to add up but there was one major problem: DMN breaks down quickly once ingested and excreted, leaving behind no trace. The supposition was that lemonade served at the Johnsons’ house had been doctored with DMN, as only those people who’d drunk it had been sickened; Sandy’s parents drank coffee and Sandy herself had drunk something else. But the lemonade was all gone and the pitcher had been washed and put away.

A scientist in California agreed to try a test that had never been done before on human tissue. DMN was used to induce cancer in lab animals because it acted on DNA in their tissues. A selection of ten different liver and kidney tissue samples was sent to him for DNA analysis; unbeknownst to him, one of those samples was from Duane Johnson’s organs. He performed the test and reported that Johnson’s tissue samples and none of the others showed a characteristic pattern of DNA changes consistent with DMN toxicity.

Harper was arrested and charged with two counts of first-degree murder and three of attempted murder. It’s believed he had taken the DMN from a locked refrigerator at the Epley Institute, tried it out on his own pets, and once he saw that it would be fatal, slipped into the Johnsons’ house a few days before the party and added the chemical to a pitcher of lemonade he found in their fridge.

Harper was convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair, but he never had to face his punishment: he committed suicide in his cell.

Sheri Johnson survived her brush with death, but sustained permanent liver damage as a result. Bruce and Sallie Shelton also recovered, but Bruce Shelton was so distraught over his son’s death and his own fears that he would develop cancer that he descended into alcoholism and died homeless at the age of 38. Sallie remarried but refused to have any more children, fearing that she would die of cancer and leave them motherless.

The final irony is that Sandy Johnson, Harper’s presumed intended target, did not become ill. Harper was clearly obsessed with her, but apparently either didn’t know or had forgotten that she didn’t like lemonade.

Here are the victims –

Duane Johnson:

Chad Shelton:

And here’s the killer, Steven Roy Harper:

Culled From: Forensic Files
Submitted by: Aimee

Jealousy is maybe the ugliest of human emotions. – Aimee

You can watch the Forensic Files episode here.












Garretdom: Dreadful Intoxication Edition!

If I was this man’s wife, I would be sooooooooo pissed, for a number of reasons. You too?

December 9, 1887

A Dreadful Result of Intoxication.

NEW YORK, Dec. 9.–The wife of James Colbourne, a painter, living at 119 Sullivan street, gave birth to a child last night and at midnight Colbourne came in drunk. He stumbled about, and finally fell across the bed where the child lay. The child was crushed so that it died, and the father was arrested and to-day was held for examination.

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1887 Morbid Scrapbook

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 25, 2015

Today’s Infected Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

During the American Civil War, much was written on wound care, and the information provided during the war showed physicians adhered to the miasmatic rather than bacterial theory of infection. Nearly all wounds were “probed,” not only to find the projectile but to define the extent of the injury. Clothing, bullets, or shell fragments were removed from wounds. Secondary to this probing, contamination of all wounds occurred. This makes it impossible to compare infection rates and mortality between various treatment techniques. Sometimes wounds were cleaned with solutions that had mild antiseptic qualities such as bromine. The use of ligatures, rather than tourniquets, to stop major vessel hemorrhage was soon practiced by all surgeons and was a major advancement during the war. Nearly all wounds became infected, and white, creamy “laudable” pus was felt to be a good prognostic sign and part of the normal healing process. Wounds that healed without suppuration were essentially considered abnormal and were reported as curiosities.

Dressings were usually kept wet. Unfortunately, some dressings were reused and infrequently washed, which led to a dramatic spread of infections. Ice was a valuable adjuvant to the cold water dressings and was even supplied in the heat of July following Gettysburg by the United States Sanitary Commission. Suppurating wounds were sometimes treated with a dilute chlorinated soda called Labarraque’s solution, a forerunner of Dakin’s solution, a commonly used antiseptic.

Surgical infections were the leading cause of death after surgery. Tetanus, pyemia, erysipelas, and especially gangrene were feared by patient and doctor alike. Various antiseptic agents were tried. Middleton Goldsmith’s study of washing wounds with bromine instead of nitric acid in cases of gangrene was a major achievement in the treatment of gangrene during the war. The number of cases of erysipelas were reduced in a Louisville hospital by spraying bromine vapor in the hospital wards. Other antiseptic agents used included potassium permanganate, sodium hypochlorite (Dakin’s solution), iodine, and creosote. Carbolic acid was sporadically employed but with mixed results. The problem with the use of these agents was that they were utilized at the wrong time, usually when an infection was in full bloom. Men were further ravaged by disease and malnutrition. J.S. Billings, writing on the operation of excising a hip joint, conceded: “Operating, as I did, upon men whose vital force had been diminished by scorbutus and malaria, and exhausted by transfer from a distance, I had little hope of successful results.”

“My vital force is diminished.”
Culled from: Orthopaedic Injuries of the Civil War: An Atlas of Orthopaedic Injuries and Treatments During the Civil War


Garretdom: Asphyxiation Edition

On this Christmas Day, let us all reflect on a dark time when literally everything could kill you. 

December 12, 1887




Mother and Children Asphyxiated by Coal Gas Through Carelessness.

CHICAGO, Dec. 12.–Mrs. McClure and her grown daughter and son were asphyxiated by coal gas last night at their residence in the suburbs of the town of Maplewood. They closed all doors and windows tightly on retiring and forgot to replace a stove-lid after replenishing the parlor fire. Mrs. McClure appeared to have fallen senseless while trying to get out to the open air. Her daughter was lying lifeless across a chair a few feet from her bed. The son was on his knees before the door and evidently had become unconscious during a stupefied search for the knob of the door.

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1887 Morbid Scrapbook

More tales of asphyxiation and woe can be devoured at Garretdom.

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 29, 2015

Today’s Swampy Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On the afternoon of May 11, 1996, ValuJet Flight 592 pushed back from gate G2 in Miami after a delay of 1 hour and 4 minutes due to mechanical problems. There were 105 passengers, mainly from Florida and Georgia, on board, as well as a crew of two pilots and three flight attendants, bringing the total number of people on board to 110. At 2:04 pm, 10 minutes before the disaster, the DC-9 took off from runway 9L (now runway 8R) and began a normal climb.

At 2:10 pm, the passengers started to smell smoke. At the same time, the pilots heard a loud bang in their headphones and noticed the plane was losing electrical power. The spike in electrical power and the bang were eventually determined to be the result of a tire in the cargo hold exploding. Seconds later, flight attendant Jennifer Stearns entered the cockpit and informed the flight crew of a fire in the passenger cabin. Passengers’ shouts of “fire, fire, fire” were recorded on the cockpit voice recorder when the cockpit door was opened. Though the ValuJet flight attendant manual stated that the cockpit door should not be opened when smoke or other harmful gases might be present in the cabin, the intercom was disabled and there was no other way to inform the pilots of what was happening. The CDR indicated a progressive failure of the DC-9’s electrical and flight control systems due to the spreading fire.

Kubeck and Hazen immediately asked air traffic control for a return to Miami due to the increasing smoke in the cockpit and cabin, and were given instructions for a return to the airport. One minute later, Hazen requested the nearest available airport. Kubeck began to turn the plane left in preparation for the return to Miami. At that time, flight attendant Jennifer Stearns entered the cockpit asking why the pilots didn’t lower the oxygen masks for the passengers. The pilots had refused; they knew that oxygen would only make the fire worse.

Flight 592 disappeared from radar at 2:13:42 pm. Eyewitnesses nearby watched as the plane banked sharply to the left, rolled onto its side and nosedived into the Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area in the Everglades, a few miles west of Miami, at a speed in excess of 507 miles per hour (816 km/h). Kubeck lost control of the plane less than 10 seconds before impact. Examination of debris suggested that the fire burned through the floorboards in the cockpit, resulting in structural failure and damage to cables underneath the instrument panels; however, it was just as likely that the crew had also become incapacitated by smoke and fumes. As power had been lost to the cockpit voice recorder about 55 seconds before impact, it was impossible to pinpoint either scenario with certainty.[1]

Kubeck, Hazen, the three flight attendants, and all 105 passengers aboard were killed instantly. Recovery of the aircraft and victims was made extremely difficult by the location of the crash. The nearest road of any kind was more than a quarter mile (400 m) away from the crash scene, and the location of the crash itself was a deep-water swamp with a floor made out of solid limestone. The DC-9 was destroyed on impact, with no large pieces of the fuselage remaining. Sawgrass, alligators, and risk of bacterial infection from cuts plagued searchers involved in the recovery effort.

A group of fishermen witnessed the crash and reported that “The plane was flying in a steep right bank, after which it turned so that the nose was facing downward in a nearly vertical angle. It plummeted into the swamp followed by an explosion, shock wave, and a massive geyser of water.” They reported seeing no external damage to the DC-9 or any sign of fire or smoke other than the engine exhaust. A group of sightseers in a small private plane also witnessed the crash and provided a nearly identical account, stating that Flight 592 seemed to “disappear” after impacting the swamp and they could see nothing but scattered small debris and part of an engine near the crash site.

What a mess.

As with all such incidents, the flight manifest makes tragic reading. The ages of those who were killed ranged from four to 84, with many children being orphaned; for instance, the San Diego Chargers running back Rodney Culver died with his wife Karen, leaving behind two young children, Bree and Jada. More unusually, one DelMarie Baker, a 38-year-old waitress, almost certainly escaped the electric chair by dying on the crippled DC9. Baker’s disabled friend, Catherine Holmes, had recently been tortured to death by a would-be thief; the unfortunate woman – who was bound hand and foot, stabbed 20 times and suffocated with a sock – had died clutching a handful of hair, pulled out by its roots from the head of her attacker. Virtually as the flight took off, the police had received the report which matched the hair by DNA analysis to Baker. After her death, they closed the case.

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


Garretdom: Paranoid Man With A Gun Edition

Here’s another tale of 19th Century Woe – and one that actually sounds quite familiar. It seems paranoid Americans have always been shooting one another.

December 12, 1887

Shot His Daughter for a Burglar.

PITTSBURG, Dec. 12.–J. C. Hill, a prominent resident of Edgewood, a wealthy suburb of this city, mistook his daughter for a burglar early yesterday morning, and shot her through the neck, inflicting a dangerous and it is feared fatal wound. Mr. Hill made collections of about $5000, which he took to his home to keep over night. His daughter, who had a bad toothache, arose early yesterday morning , and went down to the library to the fire to warm herself. Her father, hearing the noise, thought burglars were in the house, and taking his revolver followed her down stairs. When he reached the door of the library he fired, the ball striking his daughter in the back of the neck and passing through to the front. The young lady is in a critical condition, and her father is almost crazed with grief.

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1887 Morbid Scrapbook

Morbid Fact Du Jour for December 27, 2015

Today’s Deeply Betrayed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

In May, 1925, a twenty-one-year-old White Plains, New York woman had been rushed to the hospital after eating a fig from a box that her grandmother had sent her as a gift. The sick girl had been carried into treatment still clutching the box of fruit.

Doctors recognized signs of an acute poisoning – the skin of her mouth was corroded, and she was vomiting blood. The hospital sent the figs directly to the medical examiner’s office. The next day New York toxicologist Alexander Gettler reported that he’d found a silvery-white powder rubbed into the fruit. The figs were loaded with mercury bichloride.

Detectives discovered that the grandmother had quarreled with the young woman’s parents over money. The daughter had supported her parents and refused to visit her grandmother again; her six-year-old brother had continued to visit. The older woman evidently regarded her granddaughter’s behavior as a deep betrayal. She had bought the figs, laced a basketful with mercury bichloride, and given it to the boy, telling him it was a gift for his sister and “not to eat any himself.”

When detectives came to arrest the grandmother, she’d been waiting for them. “All right” was all she said, as she gathered up her handbag and hat. She was lucky, they told her – the girl would recover, and the charge would be only attempted murder. She didn’t answer them.

Culled from: The Poisoner’s Handbook


Garretdom: Frothing For No Reason Edition

December 12, 1886



A Man and Boy who Bark and Bite Without Any Apparent Cause.

CHICAGO, Dec. 12.–About two weeks ago Harry Gibson, a hotel bell-boy, was taken to the insane department of the county jail suffering from a malady which seemed at times to resemble hydrophobia. It cannot be ascertained that young Gibson was ever bitten by a dog, either rabid or otherwise, yet he snapped his teeth and growled at people, frothed at the mouth, and in every way gave evidence of suffering from rabies. It was at first supposed that his malady was brought on from a serious injury he received from falling and striking his head on an iron staircase. A new and mysterious phase of the case has developed, and is worrying the physicians. Before Gibson’s removal to the jail he was cared for at the hotel, and a porter named John Heilland was detailed to watch him. He would argue with the attendant in a most rational manner, saying there was no necessity for his being watched, but the moment the attendant turned his back Gibson would leap upon him and endeavor to bite him.

After Gibson’s removal Heilland was relieved from the duty of caring for the patient. He went to his room, and spent the next forenoon in sleep. When he went to work he complained to his fellow-porters of feeling ill, but thought nothing serious of it. The day following, however, he was attacked with the same symptoms manifested by young Gibson, and became violently mad and unmanageable. He frothed at the mouth and acted like a person having hydrophobia, though at times he was perfectly rational. He declares he was not bitten by Gibson, and had not been bitten by a dog. The attacks recur at regular intervals each day. The cases will be thoroughly investigated.

From the Collection of The Comtesse DeSpair
The 1886 Morbid Scrapbook

I tried finding a follow-up article about this case but couldn’t.  If anyone out there can track this one down to find out that they probably both died of rabies, I will send you a special morbid gift.