Category Archives: Facts

MFDJ 05/27/24: Taeko After the Bomb

Today’s Damaged Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

At exactly 8:15:17 a.m. on August 6, 1945, the ‘Little Boy’ atomic bomb was released from the bomb bay of the Enola Gay as it passed over Hiroshima.  The following is an eyewitness account of the aftermath of the bombing.

Taeko Teramae had the Tsurumi Bridge and Hijiyama Hill on her mind from the moment she jumped out of the second-floor window of the telephone exchange 600 yards from the hypocenter. Taeko, fifteen, had just returned from her 8 a.m. tea break and was waiting in line to resume her 8:15 shift along with some of the 120 teenage students rotating as switchboard operators in the concrete building. She had put her earphones and speaker around her head when she saw a blue flash. Boxes of telephone equipment tumbled on her. She crawled to the stairs. They were blocked by the bodies of other operators. A few cried, “Mother!”  Most were dead.

From the window facing City Hall, Taeko saw that the entire city was being engulfed by flames. Only the Hijiyama Hill area to the east seemed unaffected. If the Tsurumi Bridge was standing she could reach the hill and save herself. She climbed on the window sill, jumped without hesitating into the street, scampered across some burning telephone poles, and ran toward the Bridge. She became aware that she was barefoot, that blood was streaming from her right arm and face, and that she could not see out of her left eye. But she felt no pain.

No one else seemed to be running. The street was packed with charred, swollen bodies, shuffling slowly, silently, sometimes vomiting, away from the flames, away from the city, arms and hands aloft, patches of skin flapping in the rising wind. Taeko ran past two school friends, neither she nor they giving any sign of recognition. Out of breath, she stopped and saw a boy of about ten bending over a much smaller girl. “Mako! Mako! please don’t die!” cried the boy. The little girl remained silent. “Mako, are you dead?” The boy cradled his sister’s body in his arms.

Nobody paid attention. The fires were closing in. Taeko resumed running. All her life she would feel that she should have given help to less fortunate survivors that morning; she blamed herself for having shown no kindness, no ordinary humanity.

Hiroshima, post-bomb

When Taeko reached the Tsurumi Bridge toward 11 a.m., it was packed solidly with people, some lifeless, some sitting, some crawling toward Hijiyama Hill. No one was pushing them along because fires were blocking the bridge entrance.

At the seawall Taeko found one of the two female teachers who supervised the student operators in the telephone exchange. The teacher, who had stayed behind to help any of her charges who might yet reach the bridge, showed shock at Taeko’s left eye and her face wounds, and tried to staunch them with the only material at hand: cigarette tobacco. Still Taeko felt no pain.

Since the heat of the spreading fires was constantly rising, the teacher decided to help Taeko swim across the river. Taeko was an excellent swimmer and they were able to dodge the bodies and debris floating in the water. But soon Taeko was exhausted and called out that she felt herself sinking. “Take courage, child!” her teacher said. “You can’t die here!” With the teacher pulling at one arm she was able to continue. On the Hijiyama side of the river the teacher told Taeko, “Be strong!” Then she plunged into the water and swam back toward the fires in search of other students. Taeko never saw her again.

Trudging up Hijiyama Hill sometime after noon, Taeko still felt no pain. The asphalt was very hot and soft under her feet. Bodies of people, living and dead, lined the roadside, but the first sign of civilization was in evidence. Bodies no longer littered the road where the fleeing masses would step on them. Fewer people were on the move now and they were advancing very slowly, quietly, like sleepwalkers, occasionally urged on by a policeman.

Halfway up the Hill, Taeko, her face now so swollen that she could only peek through a tiny slit of her right eyelid, found a long line of injured people sitting in front of an emergency aid station under a suspension bridge. They were shouting, “Mizu! Mizu! Water! Water! Give me water!” and “Hot! Hot! I’m hot!” Several kept screaming, “Kill me! Please kill me!” The nurses and soldiers who ran the aid post were bent over the wounded and paid no attention to the waiting line.

Taeko sat down with the others. Her face was beginning to be painful. She could no longer see anything, but she heard people call weakly, “Go back! Go back!” Evidently some of the people in line were trying to cut in ahead of their turn. The line seemed hardly to move at all. When Taeko’s turn finally came, the soldiers stitched her cuts without giving her a painkiller and bandaged her head so only her nose and mouth remained uncovered. When she winced one of the men said, “You should be stronger, otherwise we cannot win!”

Taeko survived and recuperated at home. She suffered from all the radiation symptoms, including bleeding gums. Her mother treated her condition with a dried weed, a home remedy that had to be burned on the back of Taeko’s neck. Her family had hidden all mirrors in the house, but when her bandages were removed and she saw her deformed face reflected in a plateful of soup, Taeko learned that she had lost her left eye. She did not cry. Her hatred for Americans did not abate for many years, but Taeko slowly recovered reasonably good health.

Taeko Teramae

Culled from: Day One: Before Hiroshima and After


Arcane Excerpts: Lithotomy Edition

Sometimes it’s good to put things into perspective and realize no matter how bad things are, they probably aren’t 1812 lithotomy bad.  This article about a most unfortunate man is full of colorful and mysterious phrases and was culled from the 1813 Eclectic Repertory and Analytical Review.

An Account of a Case of Lithotomy; with Practical Remarks
by James Barlow, Surgeon, Blackburn, Lancashire.

[From the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, for July 1812.]

… About five years ago, I was consulted by Richard Holden of this neighbourhood, a stout, corpulent, robust man, then about sixty years of age, on account of great pain when passing his urine, accompanied with very frequent provocations to propel it. He informed me, that, for some years past he had occasionally discharged both blood and mucus from the urethra, and that any violent bodily exercise was usually the forerunner of the former indication of calculous affection. These, together with other ordinary symptoms, led me to suspect a stone in the bladder, and I proposed passing a sound into that viscus, in order to adjust the opinion I had preconceived on the nature of the case; this proposal was, however, rejected, from an idea entertained by the patient of the pain which the introduction of an instrument into the bladder must unavoidably occasion. In this state of incertitude my patient absented himself from me, and continued with frequent intermissions of pain till the sixth of November 1811, a lapse of five years, when I was requested to visit him. On my arrival, I was informed that he had not been able to evacuate his urine for nearly two preceding days and nights. On laying my hand on the abdomen, the patient complained of a considerable degree of pain in the region of the bladder, which was connected with tension, and the scrotum and ambient parts were of a dark livid colour. The catheter was immediately introduced, and my former opinion fully confirmed by the instrument striking against a stone, as was also notified by the sound emitted to the ear very distinctly. Nearly two quarts of dark-coloured urine were drawn off, which afforded temporary relief; the warm bath was recommended, a laxative glyster was administered, and an aperient mixture directed to be taken in divided doses, which produced several copious evacuations by stool, and reduced the tension, and considerably relieved the soreness of the abdominal region. Nevertheless, the retention of urine still continued, caused, I apprehend, by a calculus lodged in the vicinity of the neck of the bladder; for every time the catheter was passed it was resisted by the presence of a stone, and little or not water could be extracted without first pushing the point of the instrument against it, and raising the stone from its situation, and keeping the instrument in this position till the bladder was emptied. By this manoeuvre the impediment was surmounted, and the urine evacuated once or twice every twelve hours during several succeeding days, by the use of the common silver catheter, until I prevailed on my patient to be removed to the town (Blackburn) where I had an opportunity of paying more particular attention to the urgency of the case. On his arrival, I introduced a small flexible metallic catheter into the bladder, fitted with a small cork to plug up the end; the fore-finger being passed into the rectum, served to bend the apex of the instrument under the arch of the pubes, where it was permanently fixed, so that he could evacuate his urine ad libitum.

The indispensableness of the finger in the rectum, while passing the instrument, afforded me an opportunity of ascertaining the morbid indurated state of the prostate gland, which was greatly enlarged, and in a very rigid condition.

Notwithstanding the antiphlogistic regimen was rigorously adhered to, there remained a considerable degree of soreness on the region of the pubes, attended with quick pulse and fever, insomuch that I did not then propose the operation of lithotomy, being aware of the consequences that might ensue from the attendant symptoms, excited by consequent irritation, the frequent effects of calculi, and a long distended state of the bladder; nevertheless, these unfavourable symptoms gradually abated, together with the tension of the abdomen, and the operation became admissible; and after being determined on, and the preparatory regimen adopted, I performed it on the seventeenth instant (November), in the presence of two assisting surgeons and the necessary attendants. The patient being placed and secured in a horizontal position upon a steady table of commodious height, and supported by pillows with the breech projecting over the edge of the table, the first stages of the operation were conducted in the usual manner, and with tolerable facility. On the membranous portion of the urethra being laid open with the scalpel to the commencement of the prostrate gland, the beak of the bistouri caché was inserted into the groove of the staff, the handle of the staff was taken hold of with the left hand, and raised from the right groin of the patient to nearly a right angle with the body; the bistouri was then carried gently forwards into the bladder and the staff taken out; the cutting edge of the bistouri being turned laterally towards the left ischium of the patient, and raised from its sheath, it was withdrawn nearly in a horizontal direction; and in executing this step of the operation, I perceived an unusual resistance and grating sensation, as if cutting through a cartilaginous substance. The fore-finger of the left hand was now passed as high as possible into the bladder, through the opening made by the bistouri, and with difficulty the surface of a stone was felt; for owing to the man’s state of corpulency, the greatest part of the hand became buried in the wound. The forceps were then carefully introduced by the side of the finger, which served as a guide to detect the stone. The finger being withdrawn, the stone was seized by the blades; but from the great expansion of the handles, I was led to believe that the calculus was either very large, or otherwise taken hold of in an unfavourable direction. To ascertain this incident, I endeavoured to reach the stone by insinuating the finger betwixt the extended blades of the forceps, but was opposed by the bulk of the prostate gland; for it appeared to occupy so considerable a space, that its extent could not be wholly traced by the finger in any direction. I therefore judged it expedient to let go the stone, and attempt to seizes it in a less diameter, and after using every possible means in my power, I was obliged to abandon this project; and the extent and rigidity of the prostate, and its unyielding condition, induced me to enlarge the incision; for on every attempt to extract the stone, the body of the gland was brought forwards into sight, and appeared to completely wedge up the space betwixt the two rami ischii. Thus situated, and whilst the left hand was employed in gently drawing forwards the forceps along with the stone, the right was engaged in dilating the wound with the scalpel in a line with the external incision, where the resistance opposed the chief obstacle; in this manner sufficient room was made, and the transmission of the stone effected. It was of an oval shape, and its long diameter 2.25, and its short 1.75 inches. A female sound was immediately passed into the bladder, and another stone detected larger than the first, and which was extracted with proportionate difficulty. It was also oval, but measured 2.6 inches one way, and 2.1 the other. From the different situations in which I had an opportunity of recognizing the prostate gland of this patient, both by the finger passed up the rectum and through the wound in perineo, its lateral lobes evidently projected considerably on the rectum, and it appeared the shape and size of the gizzard of a goose. Several arteries were divided in the operation, which required the ligature; and there was a considerable oozing of blood, which appeared to come from the divided edges of the prostate gland. A canula was introduced into the wound, which by its pressure on the incised portions of the gland, prevented the blood from making its way into the bladder, and soon stopped the bleeding.

A plaster of lint, spread with cerate, was applied to the wound; the patient was then conveyed to bed, and his knees brought together, and secured by means of a tape passed round his thighs. A draught composed of sixty drops of tintc. opii was administered, and the patient left to take repose. On calling in the evening, I was informed that the medicine had not produced sleep; he appeared restless, with a quick pulse. There was no tension or pain about the region of the bladder, nor any hæmorrhage from the wound, and the urine flowed guttatim through the canula without interruption.

A warm bath was immediately procured in the room, into which he was put and remained twenty-five minutes, which afforded some temporary relief, but without producing syncope or diminishing the vibratory force of arterial action. On being removed to bed the opiate draught was repeated, but did not induce the least inclination to sleep the whole of the night. In the morning the canula was removed and the wound dressed as before. A saline mixture, with antimonial wine, was directed to be taken. An aperient glyster was administered. for several succeeding days, and occasional purgatives exhibited to stimulate the torpid disposition of the intestines, all which produced their desired effects. The warm bath was repeated twice every twenty-four hours for ten days successively, and the antiphlogistic plan was strictly enjoined till the symptoms of fever and irritation subsided.

On the 20th instant, three days after the operation, a degree of soreness and tension manifested itself in the lower part of the abdomen, which extended along the urethra, and which assumed the appearance of peritoneal inflammation. But, on a minute investigation I was convinced, that the tension of the abdomen was caused by the parts of the wound connected with the operation being distended with inflammation, which wholly prevented the action of the bladder and voluntary power of the abdominal muscles from propelling the urine through the aperture. Without hesitation I passed a female catheter up the wound in perineo into the cavity of the bladder, and evacuated more than a quart of limpid urine of healthy appearance. This unusual mode of assisting nature in relieving herself, was found necessary to be repeated every eight or ten hours for several succeeding days, until the tension and inflammation of the parts connected with the wound had subsided; after which the urine returned through the artificial aperture with comparative freedom. About three weeks from the time of the operation, a little urine made its way, at intervals, by the channel of the urethra, and the man seemed gradually recovering; when on a sudden a new train of symptoms came on, accompanied with inflammation and swelling of the right testicle, attended with violent obtuse pain, which produced a slight degree of fever and constitutional irritation of the system. Ten leeches were applied to the inflamed scrotum, and cloths moistened in a solution of ammonia muriata in vinegar and water were kept constantly applied to the affected part; a brisk purgative draught was administered, and a scanty regimen enjoined: yet every precaution used to disperse the swelling and inflammation proved unavailing, and suppuration was announced by frequent rigours, and the stricture of the testicle becoming less tense. A poultice was then applied, and renewed three times a-day, till a fluctuation of matter became perceptible, which was let out through an opening made with a lancet; the part soon healed, and the tension of the testicle gradually subsided; soon after which the left testicle became enlarged and painful, and assumed the appearance of a smooth solid substance. Leeches and other topical applications were assiduously applied, as in the former affection, and a mixture, apparently of pus and urine, was regurgitated by the urethra which continued for the course of eight or ten days, and then the inflammation and swelling gradually disappeared. From this period the wound in perineo assumed a granulating and healthy appearance, and the urine was voided voluntarily through the urethra in increased quantity; and in the space of ten weeks, from the time of the operation, the wound was completely healed, and the man returned home in a state of apparent good health, being able to retain his urine in considerable quantity, and propel it at pleasure. On a minute examination of the state of the prostrate gland at this period, by the finger in ano, its size appeared very much diminished from what it was prior to the operation.

I have lately had an opportunity of conversing with my patient, and he informs me, that some weeks past he parted with two small pieces of rough calculi by the urethra, and there is a deposit of sabulous matter in his urine, from which it appears probably that the disposition to the formation of stone still exists.

MFDJ 05/25/24: Minnesota’s Frozen Son

Today’s Frostbitten Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Civic disaster requires a hero. Minnesotans found or created one in a young storm survivor they christened “Minnesota’s Frozen Son.” Michael J. Dowling was fifteen when he came within an inch of freezing to death in one of the blizzards of the winter of 1880-81 (known as the “Snow Winter” because of the immense and frequent snowstorms). Dowling’s frostbite was so advanced that he lost both legs below the knees, his left arm below the elbow, and all the fingers and most of the thumb on his right hand. But Dowling was a fighter. He lived on to become a teacher, newspaper editor, and eventually speaker of the house of the Minnesota State Legislature. “It is what one has above the shoulders that counts, ” he always told his fellow amputees.

Culled from: The Children’s Blizzard


Vintage Medical Photo Du Jour!

“A Morning’s Work,” 1865
Reed Brockway Bontecou, M.D., Washington D.C.
Albumen print, 6 x 4 1/2 in.

This photograph graphically documents the devastation of the Civil War. More than 625,000 men died (one of every four who fought), and more than 400,000 were wounded. Chronic diarrhea and infections such as dysentery killed tens of thousands of people in the years following, as a ravaged generation and a young nation continued to pay the costs of the war.

Reed Brockway Bontecou, M. D. (1824-1907), Surgeon in Charge at Harewood United States Army General Hospital in Washington, D.C. was an avid proponent of photography and documented his cases for inclusion in the newly established United Sates Army Medical Museum. This image, labeled “A Morning’s Work” by Dr. Bontecou himself, reflects the typical number of amputations he performed in a single morning.

Culled from: A Morning’s Work

MFDJ 05/24/24: Great Lisbon Earthquake

Today’s Trembling Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

By the mid-18th century, Lisbon was at the center of a considerable Portuguese empire, with possessions in Africa, South America and the Far East. It was a city of some 275,000 people with a major port on the estuary of the Tagus River and had many fine buildings including the royal palace and a splendid new opera house.

Earth tremors were not unusual in Portugal, but there was no reason for the people to fear a major disturbance as they went to Mass on All Saints Day in the great cathedral and the many churches in the city. At 9:30 must have seemed as though the wrath of God had descended upon them: for several minutes the earth shook with a loud sound like thunder. The noise of falling buildings added to the uproar.

After a pause there was a second tremor, then a third. By this time a dense cloud of smoke had risen, darkening the city and alarming the survivors even further. This was bad enough, but there was worse to follow. Fires broke out in many parts of the city, destroying buildings that had survived the earthquake, and shortly afterwards people in the harbor areas were terrified to see the waters rush out, exposing the seabed for over half a mile offshore. This phenomenon has become well-known in earthquakes affecting coast areas.

Those watching this awful unnatural scene had worse to face, however. The retreating waters stopped, turned around and raced back to shore with exceptional force as a vast wave. The Lisbon wave was said to be 50 feet high when it smashed into the waterfront area of the city, destroying everything in its path and drowning hundreds if not thousands of people who had not the slightest hope of escape.

The great writer Voltaire used the Lisbon earthquake as the basis for a scene from Candide. His description is by no mean overstated: “… they felt the earth tremble beneath them. The sea boiled up in the harbor and broke the ships which lay at anchor. Whirlwinds of flame and ashes covered the streets and squares. Houses came crashing down. Thirty thousand men, women and children were crushed under the ruins… the terrified Candide stood trembling with fear and confusion. ‘If this is the best of all possible worlds’ he said to himself, ‘what can the rest be like?'”

Although there is no exact measurement for it, this was clearly a very substantial earthquake. Its shock waves were felt as far away as Scotland, where water levels on major lochs rose and fell by several feet. The same happened in Switzerland, and on the canals of the Netherlands, the disturbance was great enough to cause large barges to snap their anchor cables. Considerable damage was caused to towns and cities in North Africa, particularly around the town of Fez in Morocco, where death and destruction on a large scale was reported. A tsunami wave crossed the Atlantic and struck the islands of the Lesser Antilles, reaching over 20 feet high in places.

Following the main tremors came a whole series of aftershocks lasting for many months. It is estimate that there were as many as 500 of these shocks, keeping the Portuguese people in a state of fear and alarm. In July 1756 the British Ambassador in Lisbon received a letter from his counterpart in Madrid asking: “Will your disturbed earth never be quiet?”

In Lisbon, the effects were catastrophic. Of the 20,000 or so houses in the city, less than 3,000 were left standing. The palace and the opera house were both destroyed by fire. Churches and other public buildings were flattened, and warehouses full of fine goods were burnt to the ground, ruining their owners. The city had virtually to be rebuilt from scratch. Many people were burned alive. Numbers of dead were never accurately recorded, but it is thought that Voltaire’s figure is some way out and that at least 60,000 people failed to survive the disaster—over a fifth of the entire population. Large numbers died in churches where they were attending Mass. Lisbon’s great cathedral was reduced to a ruin, and hundreds died there when huge pillars and sections of roof fell on them.

As it happened on a Sunday, and All Saints Day at that, questions were raised as to how a merciful God could have allowed such a thing to happen, killing so many innocent  people, including children. Many pamphlets, tracts and even books on the subject were produced. The priests, naturally, were telling their congregations that God was angry with them for their sinful lives—Lisbon had been a rich city of many pleasures, Candide’s “the best of all possible worlds”—and that they must repent.

The earthquake was extensively studied by scientists, who tried to point out—without total success—that earthquakes were natural phenomena. In Candide, Voltaire has the character Pangloss pontificating on the subject, saying “the earthquake is nothing new. The town of Lima in America experienced the same shock last year. The same causes produce the same effects. There is certainly a vein of sulphur running under the earth from Lima to Lisbon.”

Lisbon has suffered a number of tremors in the past 240 years, but none nearly as severe as the quake which caused such fearful damage on All Saints Day in 1755.

Depiction of the Great Lisbon Earthquake by Granger

Culled from: Catastrophes and Disasters


Sideshow “Freak” Du Jour!

Unidentified Living Skeleton

Culled from: Monsters: Human Freaks in America’s Gilded Age

MFDJ 05/23/24: Death by Insulin

Today’s Arduous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

At around midnight on May 3, 1957, a doctor was summoned to the Yorkshire home of thirty-eight-year-old Kenneth Barlow. When the doctor arrived, Barlow had a tragic tale to tell. All night long, his wife, Elizabeth, had been ill. At 9:20 p.m., while in bed, she had vomited. Barlow had changed the sheets, then joined his wife in bed. Some time later, she had complained of “feeling too warm” and got up to take a bath. Barlow dozed off to sleep. When he awoke at 11 p.m., he found that Elizabeth was not beside him and hurried to the bathroom. There he had found her submerged in the water. At first he had tried to pull her out, but she was too heavy for him. So he had removed the plug and tried to revive her with artificial respiration.

Elizabeth still lay in the empty bath on her right side. Although there were no signs of violence on the body, the pupils were strangely dilated, a feature that the doctor thought worthy of investigation. For this reason, he listened with interest, all the while wondering how someone who claimed to have made “frantic efforts” to haul his wife from the bath had managed to keep his pajamas so dry and avoid splashing the bathroom floor. Another incongruity was spotted by Dr. David Price, the medical examiner—Elizabeth Barlow still had water in the crooks of her elbows, hardly likely if she had received artificial respiration.

Two hypodermic syringes were found in the kitchen, which Barlow, a nurse, explained by saying he had been giving himself injections of penicillin to treat a carbuncle. He denied giving his wife any injections. Traces of penicillin in the needles seemed to bear out Barlow’s story.

An autopsy revealed that Elizabeth Barlow had been a normal, healthy woman, and there were no visible injection marks on the skin. She was two months pregnant, but Price could find nothing to account for the sudden onset of fainting in the bath. Analysis of the bodily organs told much the same tale: no trace of poison or any other metabolic weakness likely to result in loss of consciousness.

On May 8, still dissatisfied, Price took a magnifying glass and went over every inch of the dead woman’s skin, looking for injection marks of a hypodermic needle. Mrs. Barlow’s freckly complexion made this an arduous task, but after two hours of painstaking inspection, Price found two tiny puncture marks on the left buttock and another two in a fold of skin under the right buttock. Cutting into the skin and tissue around the marks, Price saw the minute inflammation consistent with recent injections.

But what substance had been injected? A council of doctors and scientists from around the country, headed by Dr. Alan S. Curry of the Home Office Forensic Science Service, was convened to consider the baffling facts. Barlow, the nurse, had efficiently described his wife’s symptoms—vomiting, sweating, weakness, and pupil dilation. After much debate the panel agreed that everything pointed to hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, a disorder that can, in extreme cases, lead to death. Had Barlow injected his wife with a massive overdose of insulin, then her blood sugar could have plummeted to a lethal level. All of which sounded plausible, except that Elizabeth Barlow’s heart blood had registered a sugar level way above average— completely opposite what might have been expected.

Despite this setback, the panel would not be dissuaded from its belief that insulin—for the first time—had been used as a murder agent. They knew that Barlow frequently injected insulin at work and that he had once joked to a patient: “If anybody ever gets a real dose of this, he’s on his way to the next world.” Another comment was even more enlightening. Barlow had confidentially advised a fellow nurse that insulin was the ideal choice for a “perfect murder,” because it dissolved in the blood and could not be traced.

He was right, there were no prescribed tests for detecting insulin in the body, but eventually the panel was able to solve the conundrum of Elizabeth Barlow’s high sugar level. In several cases of violent death, biochemical research had shown that the liver often flooded the bloodstream with sugar in the last few moments before death as a survival aid. If this reached the heart before circulation stopped, then the blood there would register an unusually high blood sugar level. Which meant that Mrs. Barlow could have been given an insulin overdose.

To confirm their hypothesis, the team conducted an unusual experiment. First, a number of mice were injected with insulin. They trembled, made feeble noises, became comatose, and died. Then, other mice were injected with extracts of the tissue surrounding the injection marks on Mrs. Barlow’s body. Exactly the same reactions were observed. It was noted that mice injected with matter from the left buttock died more rapidly than those given tissue from the right, suggesting that the left injection had been administered last. The data gathered from this experiment confirmed that the quantity of the insulin remaining in the body was eight-four units, although the actual dosage must have been much higher.

But what of the commonly held belief among doctors—and Barlow—that insulin disappeared very quickly from the body? Once again, new research came to the aid of the examiners. it was known that acidic conditions preserved insulin, and it now appeared that formation of lactic acid in Mrs. Barlow’s muscles after death had prevented its breakdown.

Bradford police had already discovered that Barlow was no stranger to sudden death: just a year earlier, his first wife had died in mysterious circumstances at the age of thirty-three. The cause of death was never satisfactorily explained, and he had married Elizabeth soon afterward.

On July 29, 1957, Barlow was arrested and charged with murder. At first he persisted in denying that he had injected his wife at any time, until presented with the evidence. Then he admitted injecting her with ergonovine to induce an abortion. In fact, the forensic experts had already anticipated that very defense—no abortifacient drugs were found.

At Barlow’s trial, the defense suggested that as Mrs. Barlow fainted and slid under the bath water, her body had reacted by releasing a massive dose of insulin into the bloodstream, causing coma and death. This theory was briskly dealt with by Dr. Price. He reckoned that to account for the eighty-four units of insulin found in Mrs. Barlow’s body, her pancreas would have had to secrete an incredible—and unheard of—fifteen thousand units!

Barlow was found guilty and imprisoned for life.

Culled from: The Casebook of Forensic Detection


Vehicular Suicide Du Jour!

A twenty-five-year-old divorced man drowned in his own auto after it plunged into Lake Erie. He had been seen stopping his vehicle by the water and then driving into the lake at a high rate of speed. Despite the fact that the auto floated for a few minutes, the driver did not attempt to escape. Postmortem toxicological studies were negative for alcohol or common drugs. He was suspected of slaying his twenty-two-year-old girlfriend who had been found stabbed to death in their home just before his immersion in the lake. The man also had a police record of juvenile manslaughter, traffic violations, and aggravated robbery.

Culled from: Car Crash Culture

I searched but I couldn’t find this story in the newspaper archive.  If anyone tracks it down, please send it my way!

MFDJ 05/21/24: The Doctor’s Wife

Today’s Bungled Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The homes along the 12000 block of Presilla Road would be impressive anywhere. Tastefully ornate iron gates guard the long asphalt driveways leading to spectacularly large homes that cling to the side of the Santa Rosa Valley in Camarillo, California. Doctor Xavier Caro, a renowned expert in rheumatology with a successful practice in nearby Northridge, lived in his five-bedroom, four-bathroom mansion with his wife Socorro, who was known to everyone as Cora. They lived there with their children, eleven-year-old Xavier Jr., eight-year-old Michael, five-year-old Christopher, and Gabriel, their one-year-old. The University of California, Los Angeles, graduate bought the home in 1993 and it was said to be worth over five-million dollars in 2000. Xavier and Cora married in 1986 and enjoyed the success that enabled them to live in luxury.

Dr. Xavier Caro 

Cora worked as the office manager at Dr. Caro’s medical complex for fifteen years, but in 1998 Cora got sticky fingers. She began siphoning money from the business and giving it to her parents, Greg and Juanita Leon. The Leons, who lived in nearby Granada Hills, were a fixture at the house on Presilla Road, and even had their own room at the estate. The couple acted the role of grandparents, with Juanita watching the kids and Greg, a retired bricklayer, puttering around the compound.

When the doctor discovered his wife had embezzled over a hundred thousand dollars from his practice, he fired her from her position, just as he would any employee. She no longer had access to the company’s funds. It is not like she needed the job. Needless to say, the marriage was wobbly, and that was compounded by Cora’s alcohol consumption and a brief affair the handsome doctor had with a colleague. The two worked on their relationship and seemed to be doing much better.

Cora Caro

On November 22, 1999, the Caro family had a light dinner and settled in for a quiet evening at home. Xavier Jr., now twelve, made a sarcastic comment about his parents having an extra Margarita, which angered the doctor.  For punishment, Xavier took away his son’s computer games, which angered Cora, and the couple started bickering. Xavier decided it would be more constructive to head over to his practice to catch up on paperwork, and let Cora cool down.

While at the office, Cora telephoned him three different times, crying so hysterically he could not understand her. He told her he would be home shortly. He left his office around 10:30 p.m., the surveillance cameras at his building’s parking lot dutifully recording his departure in his Mercedes-Benz. When he arrived at his spectacular home he found Cora on the floor of their bedroom. He called police and while talking to the dispatcher discovered a bullet wound on the right side of Cora’s head, and her .38 caliber revolver underneath her body. Panicking, he ran to his son’s bedrooms, only to find Xavier Jr. and Michael in their beds, both shot once in the head. Five-year-old Christopher must have woken up when he heard the gunshots, as it took two bullets to the head to kill him. Cartoon sheets and superhero-themed pillows were soaked in blood and brain tissue. Xavier got back on the telephone to the emergency dispatcher and mournfully cried that his children were all shot, except for the infant Gabriel. For some reason, Cora did not have the nerve to kill her baby.

Cora’s attempt at suicide was bungled. The bullet did not pierce the skull; it instead zipped around under her scalp, leaving her bloody but not seriously injured. A blood test revealed Cora had twice the legal amount of alcohol to be considered intoxicated in the state of California. Also in her blood was Prozac, an anti-depressant prescribed to her. Police arrested Cora and charged her with three counts of first degree murder.

The four-month-long trial started on August 23, 2001, in Ventura County Superior Court, almost twenty months after the murders. Cora’s defense was completely implausible. Her attorneys originally tried to place the murders on the doctor, a theory easily destroyed by Deputy District Attorney Jim Ellison, who established a timeline with phone records and surveillance photos from the doctor’s office and parking garage. Xavier’s hands and clothing had no trace of gunpowder. The prosecution also provided witnesses who described seeing Cora’s violent side on multiple occasions, once giving her husband a black eye. Another witness told the court on one occasion Cora told her she wanted to commit suicide.

Socorro took the stand and blamed Xavier for the murders and that he was framing her for the crimes. Cora cried during her testimony, and twice was removed by the court because of her sobbing. After twenty-four minutes of testimony, Cora was dismissed from the witness chair. Her attorneys changed her plea to “Innocent by Reason of Insanity.”

The jurors deliberated for five days before reaching a guilty verdict. A judge later sentenced her to death for her crimes and she is currently sitting on death row in San Quentin State Prison.

Doctor Xavier Caro and his surviving son, Gabriel, moved to a new house where they have attempted to return to as much of a normal life as they possibly could.

Culled from: California’s Deadliest Women by my friend David Kulczyk


Malformed Brain Du Jour!

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

M. Alzheimeri,

The few brains in the collection affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia were heavily decayed.

MFDJ 05/20/24: Lawless Jim McKinney

Today’s Lawless Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

If Jim McKinney were alive today, he would certainly still be behind bars, serving life without parole from the time he was twenty years old. McKinney was a psychotic punk from Farmersville, a small town ten miles southeast of Visalia, California. When McKinney was a young man, he pistol-whipped a schoolteacher who had paddled his younger brother. After he had beaten the hapless teacher to the ground, he pulled out his Bowie knife and cut off a piece of the unconscious man’s ear. A deputy sheriff witnessed the violent act and ran to stop it. The deputy was successful in arresting McKinney, but was slashed on the arm while apprehending him.

Good for nothing Jim McKinney

Nowadays, McKinney would likely serve a twenty-year stretch in San Quentin for such a crime, but McKinney was acquitted in this incident. In the 1880s, it wasn’t uncommon for a criminal to be acquitted of such straight-out violence, even with a police officer as the witness. California justice was much more arbitrary in the 1800s than it could ever be now, no matter how much politicians and media complain about the current legal system.

After the incident, McKinney wisely left Farmersville and became  aa drifter. There were rumors that he had ridden with the Wild Bunch, of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame. He was also thought to have killed a couple of men in Arizona. One thing is certain: Jim McKinney was never a law-abiding citizen.

McKinney had a hard time staying away from California. He came back often, and he invariably caused trouble while there. In Visalia, he shot a woman in the buttocks when she wasn’t interested in his affections. In 1899, he shot Long Tom Sears because McKinney’s girlfriend told him that Sears had mistreated her. McKinney approached Sears in a Bakersfield alley and tried to provoke him into a fight. Sears, who had been a friend of McKinney, didn’t want to fight, and he threw his gun onto the ground. It didn’t matter to McKinney whether Sears was unarmed or had been a friend. The ferocious killer shot him down in cold blood.

As a bullet passed through Long Tom’s body, Deputy Sheriff John Crawford was relieving himself in a nearby outhouse. Hearing the gunshot, Deputy Crawford ran out of the privy with his pants hanging down and ran directly into McKinney. The psycho shot him twice in the butt. McKinney was arrested and tried, but astonishingly he was acquitted of Long Tom Sears’s murder and of shooting Deputy Crawford.

McKinney next appeared in the police ledger in April 1902, when he got drunk in Porterville and started taking target practice in Zalaud’s Saloon. He shot the slowly revolving ceiling fan and, after becoming bored, he started shooting the liquor bottles behind the bar. A town marshal ran into the saloon and cracked McKinney over the head with a club. Getting whacked in the head wasn’t enough to put McKinney down, and the marshal was shot through his mouth, cheek-to-cheek. As the lawman laid on the floor in agony, McKinney stalked out of the saloon, but he soon returned, this time armed with a shotgun. He then fired with both barrels at the first person he saw through his booze-clouded eyes. Unfortunately, it was Billy Lynn, one of McKinney’s few remaining friends. McKinney got onto his horse and rode out of town, shooting two men along the way.

McKinney hid out with his friend Al Hulse, who should have known by this time what happens to people who befriended McKinney. They hid out in a Chinese joss house in Bakersfield. It is hard to imagine a couple of hulking Caucasians going unnoticed in a Chinese temple for a year, but McKinney and Hulse managed to do just that.

On April 19, 1903, the police learned that McKinney was hiding out at the L Street joss house. Along with a posse of policemen, City Marshal Jeff Packard and Deputy Sheriff Bill Tibbet raided the joss house. Packard and Tibbet went from room to room while the rest of the posse guarded the exits. When Packard and Tibbet kicked down the door of the room where McKinney and Hulse were hiding, they were greeted by hot lead and gunsmoke. Packard and Tibbet were seriously wounded.

Rifle in hand, McKinney sprinted for the exit, only to run directly into the shotgun barrel of Deputy Bert Tibbet, the brother of Deputy Bill Tibbet. McKinney fired off a couple of wild shots before Bert Tibbet cut him down with his shot gun. Another deputy finished him off with a shot as he hit the ground.

Packard and Tibbet died of their wounds before the day was over. Hulse was arrested for harboring a fugitive. Seeing that most of McKinney’s friends ended up dead. Hulse got a good deal.

Culled from: California Justice by my friend David Kulczyk


Malady Du Jour!

Man with deformed feet, Wendt, New York City, c. 1885

Culled from: Harms Way

MFDJ 05/19/24: Horrible Victorian Hospitals

Today’s Overcrowded, Grimy Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Here’s an excerpt from “The Butchering Art” about groundbreaking Victorian surgeon Joseph Lister (for whom “Listerine” is named):

After the first year of medical school, Lister began his residency at University College Hospital in October 1850. Several months later, the medical committee offered him the position of surgical dresser to John Eric Erichsen, the hospital’s senior surgeon. Lister accepted.

The best that can be said about Victorian hospitals is that they were a slight improvement over their Georgian predecessors. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement when one considers that a hospital’s “Chief Bug-Catcher”—whose job it was to rid the mattresses of lice—was paid more than its surgeons.

Admittedly, a number of London hospitals in the first half of the nineteenth century were rebuilt or extended in line with the demands placed upon them by the city’s growing population. For instance, St. Thomas’ Hospital received a new anatomical theater and museum in 1813; and St. Bartholomew’s Hospital underwent several structural improvements between 1822 and 1854, which increased the number of patients it could receive. Three teaching hospitals were also built during this time, including University College Hospital in 1834.

Despite these changes—or because these enlargements suddenly brought hundreds of patients into proximity with one another—hospitals were known by the public as “Houses of Death.” Some only admitted patients who brought with them money to cover their almost inevitable burial. Others, like St. Thomas’, charged double if the person in question was deemed “foul” by the admissions officer. The surgeon James Y. Simpson remarked as late as 1869 that a “soldier has more chance of survival on the field of Waterloo than a man who goes into hospital.”

In spite of token efforts to make hospitals cleaner, most remained overcrowded, grimy, and poorly managed. They were breeding grounds for infection and provided only the most primitive facilities for the sick and the dying, many of whom were housed on wards with little ventilation or access to clean water. Surgical incisions made in large city hospitals were so vulnerable to infection that operations were restricted to only the most urgent cases. The sick often languished in filth for long periods before they received medical attention, because most hospitals were disastrously understaffed. In 1825, visitors to St. George’s Hospital discovered mushrooms and maggots thriving in the damp, dirty sheets of a patient recovering from a compound fracture. The afflicted man, believing this to be the norm, had not complained about the conditions, nor had any of his fellow ward mates thought the squalor especially noteworthy.

Florence Nightingale visiting a Victorian hospital

Worst of all was the fact that hospitals constantly reeked of piss, shit, and vomit. A sickening odor permeated every surgical ward. The smell was so offensive that doctors sometimes walked around with handkerchiefs pressed to their noses. It was this affront to the senses that most tested surgical students on their first day in the hospital.

Berkely Moynihan—one of the first surgeons in England to use rubber gloves—recalled how he and his colleagues used to throw off their own jackets when entering the operating theater and don an ancient frock that was often stiff with dried blood and pus. It had belonged to a retired member of staff and was worn as a badge of honor by his proud successors, as were many items of surgical clothing.

Pregnant women who suffered vaginal tears during delivery were especially at risk in these dangerous environments because these wounds provided welcome openings for the bacteria that doctors and surgeons carried on them wherever they went. In England and Wales in the 1840s, approximately 3,000 mothers died each year from bacterial infections such as puerperal fever (also known as childbed fever). This amounted to roughly 1 death for every 210 confinements. Many women also died from pelvis abscesses, hemorrhaging, or peritonitis—the latter being a terrible condition in which bacteria travel through the bloodstream and inflame the peritoneum, the lining of the abdomen.

Because surgeons saw suffering on a daily basis, very few felt any need to address an issue that they saw as inevitable and commonplace. Most surgeons were interested in the individual bodies of their patients, not hospital populations and statistics. They were largely unconcerned with the causes of diseases, focusing instead on diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment. Lister, however, would soon form his own opinion about the parlous state of hospital wards and about what could be done to address what he saw as a growing humanitarian crisis.

Culled from: The Butchering Art


Wyoming Territorial Prisoner Du Jour!

The Wyoming Territorial Prison is a former federal government prison near Laramie, Wyoming. Built in 1872, it is one of the oldest buildings in Wyoming. It operated as a federal penitentiary from 1872 to 1890, and as a state prison from 1890 to 1901.

Today we feature prisoner #58, from the Warden’s record book:

#58 Michael O’Brien (real name, John Reddy) – December 12, 1875 – Grand Larceny – Laramie County – 7 years – age 27 – Bartender – Ireland and London, England. Conduct was indifferent and quarrelsome. Remarks: Convict’s second time in the penitentiary, having served a term in 1874, Convict #30 (Assault with intent to kill)/99***-. Taken to Nebraska State Prison on June 24, 1878, Wyoming Convict #15. Comments: Convict was involved in a fight on June 14, 1879, with another Wyoming prisoner #66, Thomas Smith in the stone quarry at Lincoln Prison and was shot by a guard, seriously wounded, but finally recovered. Convict served full time and was released on December 10, 1882.

Michael O’Brien – He just ain’t no good!

Culled from: Atlas of Wyoming Outlaws at the Territorial Penitentiary

MFDJ 05/18/24: Pins Below the Nails

Today’s Curious Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The great plague of Marseilles raged from 1720 until 1722 and claimed about fifty thousand victims, half the city’s population. The streets were cluttered with corpses, and mass graves were dug all around the town. One of them, at the Observance monastery, was excavated in 1994 when a housing development was being built. The excavation process brought a curious discovery: in two of the corpses discovered, an inch-long bronze pin was found in contact with the big toe, in a position as if it had been deliberately driven underneath the nail of the big toe. Pin implantation under the toenail as a means of verifying death had been suggested in books but this is the first historical evidence of the actual use of this method.

Plague pit of Marseilles

Culled from: Buried Alive


Sexual Deviant Du Jour!

The following case study is culled from classic book Psychopathia Sexualis (1931):

Case 16.  Alton, a clerk in England, went for a walk out of town. He lured a child into a thicket. Afterwards at his office he made this entry in his note-book: “Killed to-day a young girl; it was fine and hot.” The child was missed, searched for, and found cut into pieces. Many parts, and among them the genitals, could not be found. A. did not show the slightest trace of emotion, and gave no explanation of the motive or circumstances of his horrible deed. He was a psychopathic individual, and occasionally subject to fits of depression with tædium vitæ. His father had had an attack of acute mania. A near relative suffered from mania with homicidal impulses. A. was executed.

So I had to find this case in the newspaper archives – and here is the full story. And what a story it is!


A murder, unparalleled for its brutality, was committed in the quiet market town of Alton, in Hants, on Saturday evening. About half-past one o’clock on the afternoon mentioned, a little girl named Fanny Adams, eight years of age, left her home, near the church, in company with a younger sister and a playmate, named Minnie Warner, for the purpose of playing in the meadow adjoining Amery Farm, which is situated a few yards distant from the home of the deceased. The meadow is crowned by a hop-garden of considerable extent, approached by a grassy and sequestered lane, from the entrance of which a charming view of the quiet old town is obtained.  It was in the hop-ground referred to that the crime was committed. It appears that at two o’clock the children, having partaken of dinner, were engaged in play near the entrance to the secluded lane, when a man, described as wearing a black coat, with light vest and trousers, and who was sitting on the gate, beckoned Fanny Adams, the unfortunate deceased, towards him. All the children approached, and singling out the deceased, he offered her a half-penny to accompany him for a walk in the adjacent hop-garden. Seeing that the other children were disposed to follow, he distributed amongst them three half-pennies, telling them to run away and buy some sweets. They accordingly did so, and, as they were leaving, saw that the man had taken hold of the girl’s hand and was leading her up the lane. They also saw that the poor child began to cry, and heard the man say these words: —”Don’t cry, my dear; keep quiet, and if you will come up into the hop-garden I will give you some more money.” From this time until seven o’clock in the evening nothing more was heard of the deceased. The child not coming home to tea, her mother became alarmed at her absence, and made inquiries, but nothing was elicited beyond the statement of her companions, that she had been seen going up the lane with a strange man. Between seven and eight o’clock the same evening a labourer named Thomas Gates, returning from work, had occasion to cross the hop-ground, when he was horrified at beholding the dissevered head of a child resting upon two hop-poles placed at the foot of the hedge, and lying horizontally on the ground. The man took up the head and ran with it to the row of cottages at the foot of the meadow, in one of which the parents of the unfortunate child reside. [Was this common practice at the time?  Seems a bit, errr, WRONG! – DeSpair]  The neighbours, who were standing in groups talking about the missing child, on seeing the head immediately declared it to be that of Fanny Adams. With a coolness which would seem almost incredible, the man Gates took the head to the father’s cottage. All doubts were then set at rest, the poor mother identifying the head as that of her daughter, and immediately falling into hysterics, from which she has scarcely since recovered. The police were at once communicated with, and search was made for the remaining portions of the body. The larger portion of the population of the town having speedily become acquainted with the barbarous fate of the child, scoured the hop ground and adjoining fields to discover, if possible, the body of the deceased. Within about twenty yards east of the hedge, and between the growing hops, were found a leg and thigh, with a stocking and boot on, and near the same spot the right arm and hand severed from the elbow, were discovered. A little further to the right, the left hand, severed from the wrist was found, and some distance below were the mutilated remains of the trunk. The other foot, which was the left, was picked up by a young man named Henry Allen in a field adjoining the hop plantation, where it had evidently been thrown with sufficient force to carry it over two high hedges and an intervening lane. The left arm was also picked up in this field. Horrible to relate, the eyes had been gouged out with almost scientific skill. At this time the intestines and heart were missing, but on the following (Sunday) morning further search was made when both these portions were discovered, the former not far from the spot where the trunk had been found, and the heart in an adjoining field where it had been thrown. The body displayed several fearful stabs and gashes, the ribs being severely puncture, the calves of the legs and thighs had been completely ripped up, and the intestines entirely removed, leaving the mere frame of the body only. The right ear was picked up in a corner of the hop-ground by itself, and the eyes were found in the adjacent river Wey, but the right breast is missing. In consequence of the disjointed and mutilated condition of the whole of the body, it is impossible for the medical gentlemen who have examined the remains to determine whether the poor child had been violated. In the meantime, Superintendent Cheyney obtained a description of the man in whose company the ill-fated girl was last seen, and, aided by local knowledge, he concluded that the person described exactly answered to a young man named Frederick Baker, whom he knew as in the employ of Messrs. Clements, solicitors, of the town. He thereupon proceeded to the office of Messrs. Clements about nine o’clock in the evening, and saw the accused sitting apparently engaged in his ordinary avocation. Superintendent Cheyney then inquired if he had heard of the murder, to which the accused replied “Yes; and they say its [sic] me, don’t they?” Leaving Baker in charge of a police constable, for the purpose of making further inquiries, the superintendent shortly afterwards ascertained that the prisoner was the man who had given some coppers to the children, as previously alluded to, and on returning to the office, accompanied by one of the children, he asked him if the statements were true. He admitted the fact, but said he was innocent of the crime of murder. He was identified by the child, and the superintendent removed him to the police-station, on suspicion of being the murderer.

In searching the prisoner’s desk at the office on Monday, a well-kept diary, in the prisoner’s handwriting, was discovered. Under the date “Saturday, August 24:” the following entry was written in a bold and unfaltering hand, “Killed a young girl; fine and hot.” The prisoner is a native of Guildford, and for some years was in the office of Messrs. Smallpiece, the eminent solicitors of that town. He was afterwards employed by Mr. P. W. Lovett, solicitor, of the same place, and during his period of service was found to be guilty of embezzlement. He then absconded from the town, but on the intervention of his father, a respectable master tailor, who paid the amount of his defalcations, he escaped prosecution. The prisoner subsequently obtained an engagement with Messrs. Clements, of Alton, with whom he has been for about twelve months. Although every search has been made for the weapon with which the crime was committed, it has not been found.

At the inquest on Tuesday the chief facts above recorded were proved by various witnesses. It was shown that the prisoner had been lounging about the place where he met the children, and that he returned to his office about two hours after. There were no scratches on his person when he was examined by a surgeon, but his trousers, socks, and boots were very wet. There was also blood on both his wristbands. On the afternoon of the murder he mentioned to an acquaintance that he was going to leave Alton on the following Monday, and he said something as to his ability to “turn butcher.” At the conclusion of the evidence, in answer to the usual question by the coroner, Baker said, “he had nothing to say, only that he was innocent.” The jury at once returned a verdict of wilful murder, and the prisoner was formally committed for trial. After the inquest a determined attempt was made by an infuriated mob to “lynch” the wretched man. Large bodies both of men and women posted themselves around the inn where the inquest was held and the lock-up, and two hours elapsed before it was deemed safe to attempt the removal of the prisoner. At length he was smuggled out at the back of the house, and, surrounded by policemen, had to run at the top of his speed in order to reach the prison before the crowd, which, having detected the manoeuvre, followed also at a racing pace, uttering the fiercest threats and the most hideous yells. The culprit himself escaped, but several of the police suffered from the missiles hurled at him.

— The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries and South Wales Advertiser, Saturday, August 31, 1867


On Tuesday morning Frederick Baker was executed at Winchester for the murder of the little girl Fanny Adams under the atrocious circumstances detailed fully in the report of the trial of the criminal. Unsuccessful efforts had been made to obtain a commutation of the capital sentence on the ground of insanity. The execution took place at eight o’clock, in front of the gaol in the presence of 5,000 people. He displayed great firmness. He was pinioned without betraying the least emotion, and walked to the drop unaided. After Calcraft had put the cap on him and adjusted the rope, the prayers were prolonged for two minutes, during which Baker’s knees began to tremble, and his hands were clutched. When the drop fell he struggled slightly for a minute. He confessed to the chaplain that he murdered the child, but said that he did not violate her. He stated that he mutilated the body with his small knife, and then carefully washed and oiled it. The crowd at the execution was very orderly. The father of the child received a letter from Baker, confessing to the murder. The murderer in his communication begged the forgiveness of the parents of his victim, saying if he obtained that he would die happy.

– North Mail, Newcastle Daily Chronicle, Thursday, December 26, 1867

Here’s poor Fanny Adams:

And the despicable Baker:

There’s so much to unpack here – but three thoughts:

  1. The guy who found the head seriously picked it up and carried it to the parents’ house????  That poor mother must have never recovered!
  2. The friends just left her crying with a strange man because they wanted candy?  Some friends!
  3. They found the eyes in the river?  How is that even possible?

MFDJ 05/16/24: Civil War Anesthesia

Today’s Shattered Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Wounds of Gettysburg were a microcosm of all battlefield wounds. Most were caused by projectiles from rifles or muskets, called minié balls. These lead bullets were heavy (.45 and .69 caliber) and traveled relatively slowly, tearing tissue and organs when they struck a body. Bones hit by a minié ball were usually so shattered that they could not be saved. As a result, the shattered limb was typically amputated.

Minié balls

After bullet wounds, injuries from shell fragments caused the second most common type of battle injury. The last wound category, saber blows and bayonets, caused relatively few wounds compared with bullets and shell fragments.

When a soldier was wounded, his first line of care was at a field dressing station. There, a bandage or lint dressing was applied, and whiskey was given for shock and morphine for pain. The injured man was then either returned to battle [wouldn’t that suck? – DeSpair] or transported to a field hospital.

At the field hospital, usually a barn or tent but sometimes just an open field, the wounded were triaged. Wounds to the chest or abdomen usually were considered mortal and treatment consisted of keeping the unfortunate victims as comfortable as possible (usually with opium) until they died.

For those needing surgery, laudanum would often be given before the operation. When laudanum was not available, brandy became an acceptable substitute. The injured was then placed on a makeshift table, the bleeding was controlled, and the wound was probed, usually with the surgeon’s fingers, to remove any foreign objects, including bullet fragments, bits of clothing, or pieces of splintered  bone. With no knowledge of sepsis, surgeons rarely washed their hands during extremely busy times, and instruments were rinsed with bloody water. Sponges and cloths were reused. There was little attempt at sanitation as we know it today. Feces, urine, vomit, amputated limbs, and removed internal organs all littered the operating floor.

Anesthesia, which was used in 95 percent of Civil War surgeries, would then be administered. Despite the romantic notion of having the patient bite down on a bullet, it actually was a rare occurrence. Chloroform was the preferred anesthetic, although ether was also used. Smaller dosages of chloroform were needed as opposed to ether, and it had a much more rapid effect. It was also more stable than ether and could be safely used around open flame.

The chloroform was administered by placing the anesthetic on a sponge at the top of a cone and placing the open end of the cone over the patient’s nose and mouth. It was administered gradually to avoid shock. Once the patient was unconscious, the cone was removed. The average time needed for the administration of chloroform was nine minutes.

Ether, on the other hand, took an average of seventeen minutes to work. When it was used, the preferred method of administration was to use a folded towel or bell-shaped sponge that was large enough to cover the nose and mouth. This was then soaked with the anesthetic.

Administering anesthesia

Only a low dose of anesthetic was used during the Civil War, just enough to make the patient insensitive to pain. In some cases, men did not lose consciousness despite the anesthesia. Witnesses reported patients thrashing wildly and shrieking in pain throughout the operation. Adding to the chaos were soldiers begging to be taken next, to relieve their suffering. At the same time, many of those requiring amputation protested vehemently, all adding to the stress of the surgeons.

Three of every four surgeries required amputation, leading to the unfair characterization of surgeons as butchers. As previously noted, the minié ball did such devastating damage that saving a limb, particularly under battlefield hospital conditions and time constraints, was virtually impossible.

Preparing for amputation

Culled from: Bullets and Bandages: The Aid Stations and Field Hospitals at Gettysburg


Holocaust Victims Du Jour

When I visited Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany a few years ago, one of the most poignant exhibits was a wall featuring these intake photographs of Polish prisoners of war from the Warsaw Uprising.  The ones that hit the hardest are the smiling women. My thought at the time was they didn’t know what was to come.  They still had hope.  And it broke my heart.

But now, understanding that they were mostly lieutenants of the uprising, I think they probably knew fully well what was to come but smiled anyway.  And that is Defiance.

These photographs were taken on October 10, 1944 at Stalag XI B in Fallingbostel. After the liberation, French POW André Matton, who had worked at the office where the camp register was kept, took the negatives with him to France and gave them to an archive in Auxerre. From there they eventually found their way to Warsaw. This series of photographs shows mostly female officers (marked by an “O” before their registration number). Most of the prisoners wore civilian clothes.

Culled from: Bergen-Belsen

MFDJ 05/14/24: Merciful Seamen

Today’s Merciful Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Bryan Edwards, an adventurer who travelled extensively in the Americas in the late eighteenth century, was lodging in St. Domingo during a rebellion that took place there in 1791. His inn overlooked the street, so he had a good view of an execution enacted in the square [talk about a room with a view! – DeSpair], where two men were being broken on ‘two pieces of timber placed crosswise,’ the traditional St. Andrew’s cross. One of them, after having each leg and arm broken in two places, was finished off with a blow to the stomach.

The Dreadful St. Andrew’s Cross

The second prisoner was not so lucky. The executioner, after breaking the man’s arms and legs, was about to deliver the final blow when the mob forced him to desist—not for humane reasons, however, for they tied the suffering victim on a cartwheel, which they then hoisted into the air by fixing the other end of the axle in the ground. Gloating over the terrible agonies he was enduring, they left him there.

How long this suffering would have continued one can only guess for, ‘at the end of some forty minutes, some English seamen, who were spectators of the tragedy, strangled him in mercy.’

Culled from: The Book of Execution

There’s got to be a quip about the mercy of seamen, but it’s eluding me…


Vintage Court Case Du Jour!

In 1662 a Massachusetts court heard a case in which the husband admitted his impotence. Mary White sought a divorce from her husband, Elias White, because he “cannot performe the duty or office of a husband to hir.” The court “perused the evidence” and did not see sufficient cause to separate the couple. Instead, the court advised them to work harder at their marriage. The husband appended a note to the court documents attesting to the truth of his wife’s charges. He explained that when he first married he though himself “sufficient: otherwise I neuer would have  entered into that estate.”  Later he came to discover that he was “Infirmous not able to performe that office of marriage,” though he could not determine the cause. Two men questioned Elias and Mary about the husband’s sexual performance. When White lay with his wife, they asked, was “there any motion in him or no?” He answered that sometimes, after lying together four or five hours, there was, but “when he turned to hir It was gonn againe.” Mary White asked her husband “whither or no he had euer made use of hir,” and he answered “no.” Here, too, the court ruled against the divorce, perhaps because White agreed that when he married, he considered himself “sufficient.” In other words, his infirmity became known only after the couple had been married for several years. As there was no fraud in the initial contract, a divorce on these grounds would not have been warranted.

Culled from: Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex

Let me just guess that if it were the other way around, and the woman was the one refusing sex or infertile, the verdict might have been different?