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.

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???

Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 13, 2017

Today’s Psychopathic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The “Sydney Mutilator”, William MacDonald, is considered Australia’s first serial killer. Between 1961 and 1962 MacDonald terrorized Sydney with a string of gruesome murders before being apprehended while working as a porter at Melbourne’s Spencer Street railway station on May 13, 1963. His modus operandi was to select his male victims at random (mostly derelicts), lure them into a dark place, violently stab them dozens of times about the head and neck with a long bladed knife, and finally sever their penis and testicles. 

The Sydney Mutilator.  Doesn’t slip off the tongue quite as nicely as the “Boston Strangler,” does it?

MacDonald described the murder of his last victim, Patrick Hackett, picked up while drinking at a Melbourne hotel. He woke up in the middle of the night and picked up a knife. “As I stood looking at him, with the knife grasped firmly in my hand, a mad rage came over me. I knelt down and stabbed him in the neck… I struck down at him again and again. During the stabbing, I accidentally struck my own hand, and then I lost count of how many times I thrust the knife into his body. Even after I knew he was dead, I kept on plunging the knife into him.”

This description certainly suggests that Macdonald may have had some form of seizure. Many criminal activities are associated with a brain-wave known as the theta rhythm. These waves were first noticed in young children [I’m not surprised – DeSpair], and they became pronounced when the child experienced emotions of pleasure or pain.

Theta rhythms could be easily evoked in a small child by offering a sweet and then snatching it away. [Can I sign-up to run this study? – DeSpair] In adults, these rhythms play a very small part – except in aggressive psychopaths. Dr. Grey Walter comments about this sudden murderous violence towards other people in animals: “These destructive or murderous episodes are often almost or completely unmotivated by ordinary standards.”

This is not, of course, to suggest that psychopathic violence – like Macdonald’s – is caused in some way by theta waves as an epileptic attack is caused by an electrical discharge. Possibly the theta waves appear when the psychopath induces a certain state of mind in himself. Macdonald had decided to kill the man before he went to sleep, and the “blind rage” came over him after he had picked up the knife. He had somehow triggered the attack in the way that a normal person can trigger sexual excitement by directing the thoughts towards sex. 

But all this – like the discoveries about the amygdaloid nucleus in the brain, the source of our aggressive instincts – suggests that many violent killers may be suffering from some physical imbalance of the same kind that makes some people abnormally active and others sluggish and dull [You called? – DeSpair]. And it could be connected with the kind of hormone activity that turns some women into nymphomaniacs and some men into “satyrs”.

Culled from: Crimes and Punishment: The Crime Encyclopedia, Vol 1


Brains Du Jour!

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

Unlabeled teaching brains from unknown donors separated by gauze wrappings.

Morbid Fact Du Jour For June 12, 2017

I apologize for being away longer than intended.  I had a computer failure that contributed to this particular absence, but I think everything should be fixed now, and I should be able to provide a continuous stream of facts for awhile. Knock on desiccated wood!

Today’s Demonically Howling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On the morning of November 2, 1942, Fridolph Trieman was exercising his German shepherd in a remote part of Central Park. As the dog disappeared into some tall grass, Trieman ran to keep up. Puffing and panting, he paused for breath, then stopped abruptly. Ahead of him, beneath the low hanging branches of a dogwood tree, lay the fully clothed body of a young woman. She looked ominously still.

At first the police were uncertain how the woman had died. Apart from a trace of blood at the nose and a faint welt around the neck, there were no other obvious signs of assault. It might even have been natural causes. then a sleeve torn from the coat at the shoulder was found several feet from the body. This raised the prospect of some kind of struggle.

An autopsy carried out by Gonzales confirmed strangulation as the cause of death. Her larynx was fractured, but other than that there was no sign of injury, nor had she been raped. The fact that she had no handbag or money strongly suggested that this was a mugging gone tragically wrong – except the woman still wore a gold chain bearing a crucifix around her swollen neck. No self-respecting thief was going to leave that.

Later that same night, detectives Joseph Hackett and John Crosby of the Missing Persons Bureau identified the woman as Louise Almodovar, a twenty-year-old waitress and Sunday school teacher, who lived with her parents in the Bronx. They had reported her missing the previous day. According to tearful parents, Louise’s recent home life had been abusive and turbulent. Against their wishes, she had married Anibal Almodovar, a diminutive Puerto Rican ex-sailor, just five months earlier, only to leave him after a few weeks because of his insatiable womanizing.

When tracked down and told of his wife’s fate, the twenty-one-year-old Almodovar just shrugged. She had made his life hell, he said. The bitch even had the nerve to beat up one of his girlfriends and swear at another! Good riddance, was his verdict, though he vehemently denied any involvement in her death. And the facts seemed to bear him out. According to Gonzales, Louise had met her death most probably between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m. on the night of November 1, at which time Almodovar had been carousing in a dance hall called the Rumba Palace with the very woman whom Louise had attacked. Furthermore, there were dozens of other witnesses who could testify to his presence. In the fact of such an iron-clad alibi, detectives understandably began widening their search for suspects, until Louise’s parents produced several threatening letters that Almodovar had written to their daughter. The bile that dripped off every page convinced detectives to hold the amorous former seaman as a material witness.

Still, they couldn’t get past that seemingly impregnable alibi. Only when detectives visited the dance hall, just a few hundred yards from the murder scene, did they realize that it would have been possible for Almodovar to have sneaked unnoticed out of a back door, gone to Central Park where he might have previously arranged to meet his wife, killed her, and crept back into the Rumba Palace without anyone being the wiser. It was theoretically possible, nothing more. Without a scrap of solid evidence against Almodovar, he was released.

Given the absence of any alternative suspects, this was one of those cases that looked destined for the “Unsolved” cabinet, until Gettler had a flash of inspiration. More out of curiosity than anything else, he happened to glance at the crime scene photographs. He noticed that the body was lying in some very tall grass. This set him thinking. At the time of Almodovar’s arrest, his clothes had been given to Gettler for analysis, and in the trouser cuffs and jacket pockets, he had found some tiny grass seeds. Gettler now sent the crime scene photographs off to be enlarged. When they came back, this higher magnification allowed him not only to identify the individual strain of grass but also to declare it identical to the seeds found in Almodovar’s clothing. When confronted with this evidence, Almodovar blustered that he had not visited Central Park for over two years. Any seeds in his pockets, he said, must have been picked up on a recent visit to Tremont Park in the Bronx. 

Gettler decided to test this story. He forwarded the seeds to Joseph J. Copeland, formerly professor of botany and biology at City College. It didn’t take Copeland long to identify the grasses in question all were exceptionally rare and grew only at two spots on Long Island and three places in Westchester County. The only place in New York City where such grass occurred was Central Park. Moreover, it could be further isolated to the very section where Louise’s body had been found.

Almodovar panicked, suddenly recalling a walk he had taken in Central Park two months previously, in early September. Copeland shook his head. The grass in question was a late bloomer, mid-October at the earliest, therefore Almodovar could not possibly have picked up the seeds in September. But on November 1 … ?

After nearly two months of parrying questions, Almodovar was utterly floored by Copeland’s intervention. On December 23, he broke down and confessed. He had arranged to meet his wife in Central Park on the night of November 1; they had quarreled again, and he had killed her in a fit of rage. Later in court, he recanted this confession, saying it had been beaten out of him in the interviewing room. But the jury did not believe a word and after just three minutes’ deliberation, they found him guilty of first-degree murder. When sentence of death was passed, Almodovar, despite being shackled from head to toe, fought like a madman. No fewer that nine guards were needed to restrain him. Howling demonically, he was dragged off to Sing Sing. Six months later, on September 16, 1943, he died in the electric chair.

Culled from: Blood on the Table: The Greatest Cases of New York City’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner


Ghastly!  Baroness Edition

Here’s a ghastly image of the corpse of Baroness Dellard and her killer, Louis Anastay, from a French crime scrapbook used as the basis of fictional tales in the book Crime Album Stories. (The poor quality is in the source material.)

And here’s a newspaper article from the Chicago Tribune (April 9, 1892) detailing the fate of her murderer:


Efforts to Stay the Execution Are in Vain -The Prisoner Down-Hearted.

PARIS, April 8.– Louis Anastay, the ex-Lieutenant who has been sentenced to death for the murder of the Baroness Dellard on the Boulevard du Temple, will be guillotined at daybreak to-morrow (Saturday) morning. 

The condemned man, aware of his fate, is very down-hearted. He has had a long interview with the chaplain of La Roquette prison, but at the same time writes long letters about his positivist theories. His father made a last attempt on Friday to delay the execution by calling for a new medical examination as to his son’s sanity, but in vain.

Anastay has requested his brother, who is a medical student, to experiment on his head as soon as it is decapitated by the executioner. He promised to reply by movements of his eyes to certain questions which his brother will ask regarding the sensations which he experienced when the knife cut his head from his body and matters of a physiological nature. The object of this proposed grewsome [sic] conversation is to afford a test as to whether any vestiges of life remain in a human head immediately after it has been severed. 

(Sadly, it is not believed that Anastay’s brother actually attended the execution.  Darn. – DeSpair)