Category Archives: Facts

MFDJ 05/13/24: Charley Peace, Romantic Outlaw

Today’s Unruly Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Charles Peace was one of the most popular and romantic outlaws in his day. Born in Sheffield, England in 1832, Charley spent his boyhood in the show business atmosphere of Wombwell’s Menagerie, where his father was a wild-animal trainer. Unfortunately, the elder Peace had less success taming his unruly son. If earning a living honestly had ever been his intention, Charley gave it up following an accident in a mill that crippled his left hand and a leg. The resulting limp combined with his short stature (five feet, four inches) and a face that he was able to contort into grotesque shapes to give him an apelike appearance that he made even more intimidating by extending his maimed arm with a false one that ended in an iron hook.


Charley Peace – Would you trust this man?

Despite a visage that demanded attention, Charley began his criminal career as a pickpocket at fairs. If harvests were slim, he billed himself as “the modern Panini,” adding to his income by entertaining in pubs with jaunty tunes on a homemade single-stringed fiddle. A naturally dark complexion was enhanced occasionally with makeup that allowed him to advertise himself as the “Great Ethiopian Musician.” But musicianship was to never be more than a sideline. His real talent lay in creeping into someone else’s home and taking what didn’t belong to him.

Victorians called such people “portico thieves.” While he was one of the first of the breed, he was not the best. Between 1854 and 1872 he was in prison more than he was out—and when he wasn’t in, he was the subject of Scotland Yard “Wanted” posters.

In 1876, one of the posters attributed a new crime to him: the murder of Arthur Dyson. Charley had lived next door to Dyson and his wife in Sheffield, but the couple found him so bothersome that they went to court to seek an order against his unwanted visits. In the face of frightening threats they moved away, only to find that Charley had traced them. As soon as he laid eyes on Dyson, he carried out the threats by shooting him to death.

Although eyewitnesses provided the police with descriptions and Mrs. Dyson identified him by name, Charley appeared to have vanished from the face of the earth. Actually, he was all over the place. In Hull he burglarized a gentleman’s home of silver and jewelry. In Nottingham he emptied a warehouse of silk. In London’s Lambeth he was so busy that Scotland Yard attributed his burglaries to a gang. When a rash of Charley Peace thefts broke out downstream in Greenwich, another “gang” was suspected.

From Greenwich Charley moved to Peckham, got himself a grand house that he furnished with only the best purloined items, and assumed the name of Thompson. Perceived as a fine gentleman by neighbors, he shared the house with his “wife,” a housemaid named Mrs. Ward, and her son. In reality, Mrs. Ward was Peace’s wife, her son was Peace’s stepson, and the “wife” was Peace’s girlfriend. Unknowing neighbors doted on them and found great delight in being invited for musical evenings. At these cultural gatherings the highlight was performances by their host on the violin.

Presently, residents of Peckham began reporting burglaries, many of which had one thing in common: if a violin were in the house, it was stolen. Coincidentally, Thompson’s collection of violins was growing. Eventually, he acquired so many superb new instruments that he asked a neighbor to allow him to store some of the overflow in her home. She did so not with suspicion but pleasure, and looked forward to being invited to Thompson’s next musicale.

The invitation was for Wednesday, October 9, 1878. Thompson played, accompanied by his “wife’s” singing and Mrs. Ward at the piano. A marvelous time was had by all. As usual, Mr. Thompson bade his guests a pleasant good night. For him, however, the night was just beginning. He had plans for burglarizing homes around St. James’s Park in Blackheath. The venture did not go well.

Attracted by a light in a window, a pair of constables on routine patrol suspected a crime was afoot. Taking cover in the bushes, they waited for the arrival of a sergeant and then waited a while longer. Patience paid off around two in the morning. “Just a moment,” shouted Constable Robinson at a hastily retreating man in the garden.

Charley Peace’s answer was two shots from a pistol. “Keep back or I’ll shoot you,” he yelled, running as fast as his gimpy leg permitted.

As Robinson gave chase, three more shots rang out. Despite bullets nicking his head and arm, the policeman closed on the fleeing figure and wrestled him to the ground. Searching the man, who said his name was Mr. Ward, the arresting officers found the gun, a set of housebreaking tools, and a pocketknife. In the days following they also discovered Ward’s true identity. With that known, Charley was charged, tried, and convicted of the two-year-old Dyson murder.

Then came a real shock. Awaiting his date with the hangman’s noose, Charley astounded the police by confessing that he was the murderer of Constable Cock in Manchester. “Sometime later I saw in the papers that certain men had been taken into custody for the murder of this policeman,” he said. “That interested me. I thought I should like to attend the trial.”

With an impunity that enhanced his image as a daredevil, he’d done just that, sitting in the courtroom as an innocent man was convicted.

“But what man would have done otherwise in my position?” he asked. “Could I have done otherwise, knowing, as I did, that I should certainly hang for the crime?” The unfortunate William Habron was promptly set free and given 800 pounds, with apologies from the Crown.

But that wasn’t Charley’s only amazing revelation. To the embarrassment of the Metropolitan Police he bragged that he had visited Scotland Yard on several occasions to examine the “Wanted” posters bearing detailed descriptions of his unique physiognomy, his presence going unnoticed by the surrounding officers.

Charley stook in the prisoner’s dock for the last time, his entire adult life having been spent in crime. Sentenced to hang, he sent his wife a funeral card:

In
Memory
of
CHARLES PEACE
who was executed in
Armley Prison,
Tuesday, February 25th,
1879. Aged 47.
For that I don but never intended.

Culled from: Bloody Business: An Anecdotal History of Scotland Yard

 

Asylum Inmate Deaths Du Jour!

The book Angels in the Architecture contains Accounts of the First Twenty Patient Deaths of the Northern Michigan Asylum at Traverse City between November 30, 1885 and September 30, 1886.  Here are a few of the deaths:

Female, age 36, single, native of Michigan
Occupation: domestic

“[She] was admitted to the institution in very delicate bodily health. Her mind was greatly impaired. She was extremely bronzed, and Addison’s disease was suspected. Her lungs were also found to be diseased. She only lived a few weeks. The autopsy revealed tubular degeneration of the lungs, enlargement of the liver, atrophy of the right kidney, and extreme wasting of the suprarenal capsules.”

Died: August 25, 1886
Cause of Death: tuberculosis

Male, age 29, single, native of Finland
Occupation: laborer

“[He] was admitted to the asylum suffering from delusions of suspicion. It was found that he had tuberculosis. The disease ran its usual course. The post mortem verified the diagnosis. The lungs were extremely diseased.”

Died: August 26, 1886
Cause of Death: tuberculosis

 

Female, age 80, married, native of Pennsylvania
Occupation: none

“[She] was admitted to the asylum suffering from senile dementia. She died a few months after. No cause for her death  can be assigned other than old age, as she presented no sign of acute disease.”

Died: September 2, 1886
Cause of Death: senility

MFDJ 05/08/24: Angel’s Glow

Today’s Glowing Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

One of the most interesting aspects of the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War battle of Shiloh involved a strange visual phenomenon observed at night. Many soldiers were forced to lie in the mud and muck for two days while waiting for the medics to get to them. When the sun went down, an eerie blue-green glow began to be seen in several areas of the darkened Tennessee battlefield. Strangely, the wounds of some of the stranded soldiers were emitting this glow. No one had any idea what this phenomenon might portend, but the doctors and nurses noticed that those whose wounds had glowed brightly in the dark had a significantly higher survival rate than those whose wounds were not illuminated. Additionally, the wounds healed at a faster rate, and more cleanly. Because of these seemingly magical properties, the coloration became known as “Angel’s Glow”.


“The Angel’s Glow”

In 2001, two high school students finally solved this 139-year-old mystery. Bill Martin and his family were visiting the Shiloh Battlefield Park. They heard the stories about the strange glow, and Martin asked his mother, a microbiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Center, if this phenomenon might have something in common with the micro-luminescent bacteria she had studied. Martin and his friend, Jon Curtis, researched the luminescent bacterium Photorhabdus luminescens, which lives in the guts of parasitic nematodes, a type of invertebrate also known as roundworms. When nematodes vomit up the glowing bacteria, P. luminescens kills other microbes living in the nematode’s host, which at Shiloh would have been the body of a soldier.

Martin and Curtis studied the historical records and nighttime conditions at Shiloh during the battle. Normally P. luminescens dies at human body temperature, but the students found that temperatures on the battlefield in 1862 were low enough for soldiers to develop hypothermia. This allowed the bioluminescent bacteria to live and multiply in the bodies of wounded soldiers, to kill off competing parasitic bacteria, and to help save the lives of their human hosts. The eerie “Angel’s Glow” surrounding the wounds of some soldiers at Shiloh—and later, Gettysburg—was the bioluminescence of P. luminescens.

For solving this mystery, Bill Martin and Jon Curtis received first place in the 2001 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

Culled from: The Aftermath of Battle by MFDJ Patron Meg Groeling

 

Legend  Du Jour!

In their assaults on the living, some spirits worked in quiet ways, relying on persistence rather than violence or chaotic energy. A haunting of this kind took place in the late 18th Century on a British slaver, bound from Liverpool to the Slave Coast of Africa to load its hapless cargo. Within a few days of leaving port, the ship was racked with discord. The captain was harsh and quick-tempered, and in his general displeasure with the crew he nursed a particular hate for a man named Bill Jones—aging, stout and slow at his tasks, but uncowed when the captain bellowed and cursed at him.

One day as the wind freshened, the captain gave orders to shorten sail. As always, Jones puffed and sweated with effort but worked at half the speed of his comrades. The captain took relish in berating him mercilessly when he returned to the deck—although most captains rarely spoke at all to the humbler crew members. The old sailor bore it for a time. At length, however, he turned on the captain, his face twisted with fury, and loosed a barrage of insolence that left the crew dumbstruck.

The captain, pale with rage, stumbled down the companionway that led to his cabin and returned with a blunderbuss. Its muzzle was packed with nails and iron slugs, and the captain took deadly aim and fired. Jones was flung backward, his chest horribly torn. He sighed as his life slipped away, but when he saw the captain regarding him contemptuously, his gaze grew fierce. “Sir,” he gasped, “you have done for me now, but I will never leave you.” He died without saying another word.

Fearful of mortal authorities, the captain swore his crew to silence, but he had more to contend with than the collective memory of the sailors. For the murdered man’s spirit walked. Unheard and for the most part unseen, it joined the crew in the daily round of duty, a stolid toiler whose progress was marked by casks that seemed to shift themselves and a solitary rag that mopped the decks and polished the fittings without the urging of mortal hands.

Only up on the yards did the phantom show itself to the crew. A man busy wrestling with the canvas would feel the spar shudder beneath him, he would glance to one side and gaze aghast at the bulky figure of Jones sitting beside him, as deliberate and painstaking in death as ever he had been in life. But when the man blinked, or turned away to gesture to a sailor on deck, the apparition would vanish—although the telltale trembling continued.

The captain alone never ceased to see the ghost. He confessed to the first mate that the spirit hovered by him every minute of the day. Even at night, when he tossed and woke, he found himself fixed by the ghost’s steady gaze. He beseeched the mate to take command of the ship while he fended off his spectral tormentor.

But he captain’s sufferings dragged on, and his figure grew gaunt and his eyes bright with fever. By day he paced the decks, seemingly alone. His glance, however, flickered from side to side, and he rarely raised it to eye level, for there were eyes he did not care to meet. Sleep became impossible, and he spent his nights sitting up, groaning softly from time to time.

At last the captain could stand no more. One day the mate, giving orders from the afterdeck, heard a splash. He rushed to the taffrail to see the face of the captain, a scrap of white on the dark water receding in the ship’s wake. The captain flickered in and out of view behind the wave crests, slipping bit by bit to an easeful death. Suddenly, however, he began to thrash. He half-rose from the water, and even at that distance, the mate discerned his terror. “He is with me even now!” came the hoarse cry over the hiss of the foam. Then the captain vanished beneath the waves, and with him went the ghost of Bill Jones—it was never again encountered on board.

Culled from: The Enchanted World: Ghosts

MFDJ 05/06/24: Dr. Jekylls

Today’s Hippo-critical Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

From Dr. Jekyll to Dr. Lecter, the fiendish physician has long been a staple of horror fantasy. Unfortunately, this nightmarish figure is not just a figment of the pop imagination. The annals of crime contain notable examples of psychopathic M.D.’s who stand the Hippocratic Oath on its head by using their skills to do harm.

Given his dexterity at dissection, there has always been speculation that Jack the Ripper—the first and most famous of modern serial killers—was someone with surgical training. “Ripperologists” have come up with several candidates: a Russian doctor and homicidal maniac named Michael Ostrog, who ended up in a mental asylum; another Russian, Dr. Alexandr Pedachenko, described as a “criminal lunatic” exiled to London by the tsar’s secret police; and an English surgeon named Stanley who allegedly confessed to the Whitechapel murders on his deathbed.

Jack’s contemporary, H. H. Holmes, was America’s original M.D.—i.e., Medical Deviate. After receiving his degree from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Holmes made his way to Chicago, where he constructed his notorious “Murder Castle,” complete with a basement dissection lab. Though Holmes worked as a pharmacist, not a physician, he was able to put his surgical training to profitable use by selling the stripped and mounted skeletons of his victims to local anatomy schools.


H. H. Holmes

At roughly the same time, a British psychopath named Thomas Neill Cream—who received his medical degree from Montreal’s McGill University and did postgraduate work at the prestigious Royal College of Physician and Surgeons at Edinburgh—was busily dispatching victims on both sides of the Atlantic. After killing several women through botched, illegal abortions, Dr. Cream—who was residing in Chicago at the time—poisoned his mistress’s husband by lacing the man’s epilepsy medicine with strychnine. Released after a ten-year stint in Joliet, he sailed for England, where he embarked on a career as a serial killer of prostitutes—poisoning five London streetwalkers before he was caught, tried, and hanged in 1892. Dr. Cream is regarded as another Ripper candidate, since he is reputed to have cried, “I am Jack the—” just as he plunged through the trapdoor of the gallows.


Thomas Neill Cream.  I’m sensing a theme here.  Don’t trust men with mustaches?

Fifty years later and across the English Channel, residents of the Rue Le Sueur in Paris were assaulted by an overpowering stench issuing from a neighborhood building. When firemen broke in, they were horrified to discover a stack of dismembered bodies decomposing in the basement. The building, it turned out, belonged to Dr. Marcel Petiot, who claimed that the corpses were those of Nazi collaborators killed by the Resistance. It wasn’t until the war ended that the appalling truth emerged: the victims were actually wealthy French Jews, desperate to flee Nazi-occupied France. Posing as a Resistance member who would smuggle them to freedom—for a fee—Petiot arranged to have the unsuspecting victims arrive at his house with all their valuables. Then he would administer an “immunization shot”—actually a lethal injection of strychnine—lock them in a chamber (where, through a peephole, he could watch them die in agony), appropriate their belongings, and dispose of their remains in his furnace. Unrepentant to the end, Dr. Petiot went to the guillotine with a smile in 1946.


Dr. Marcel Petiot – Okay, maybe it’s not the mustache…

One of the most remarkable of medical monsters is the Swedish physician Dr. Teet Haerm, who killed and dismembered at least nine women in the mid-1980s. In a horrifically ironic twist, Dr. Haerm—who served as the medical examiner for the Stockholm police—actually performed autopsies on several of his own victims.


Dr. Teet Haerm – yeah, definitely not the mustache.  Maybe the smirk?

Culled from: The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers

Vintage Asylum Inmate Du Jour!

In The Library Eclectica, I have a book entitled The Faces of Madness: Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography (edited by Sander L. Gilman), 1977.  It contains a wonderful collection of photographs of asylum inmates taken in the 1850’s by pioneering medical photographer and psychiatrist Dr. Hugh W. Diamond, along with engravings that were made of them and used in teaching. There are also several case studies by Dr. John Conolly (the leading British psychiatrist of the mid-nineteenth century) for some of the patients.  The portraits are beautiful and sad and the text reveals the psychiatric thought processes of the mid-19th century.

Here’s today’s lovely melancholic soul.  I want to be her friend.

MFDJ 05/05/24: The Jersey Rapist

Today’s Apologetic Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Undoubtedly, one of the most curious cases of a Jekyll and Hyde personality is that of the Jersey (an island between England and France) rapist, Edward Paisnel. Just before midnight on Saturday, July 10, 1971, two Jersey policemen were sitting in their patrol car at a traffic light when another car hurtled across the road in front of them against the amber light. They decided to give chase to the car, which was heading towards St. Helier: they suspected it might have been stolen for a joyride by local youths. The driver ignored their signals to stop, struck an oncoming car a glancing blow, and roared off at 70 miles an hour. He began weaving from side to side to prevent the police from overtaking. Finally, after a chase of many miles, he turned into a private road, ran though a fence and across a garden, and into a field of tomatoes. The occupant leapt out and ran; one of the policemen brought him down with a rugger tackle.

At the police station they discovered that the man—who was middle-aged—had rows of nails, their points outward, sewn to the lapels of his jacket. In his pockets they found a wig, a rubber face mask, and adhesive tape. The police realized suddenly that they had at last caught the man who had been committing rape on the island for many years—perhaps as many as 14.

He was Edward John Louis Paisnel. Back at his home—a farmhouse called Maison du Soleil—they discovered a secret room behind a bookcase; it contained a raffia cross, more masks, coats with nails, and black magic paraphernalia. When asked about this, Paisnel replied: “My master would laugh very long and loud about this.” His “master” was the devil, and it later turned out that Paisnel was obsessed by Gilles de Rais, burned in 1440 for the murders of more than 50 children.

The pattern of the crimes had been peculiar. In November 1957, three women had been attacked by a man with a knife, and one was sexually assaulted. In April 1958, a man threw a rope round the neck of a girl, dragged her into a field and raped her. In October 1958, a girl was dragged from a cottage and raped. The attacks ceased until 1960, and police hoped they had stopped. But then, in January 1960, they took an altogether more alarming turn. A 10-year-old girl woke up to find a man in her bedroom. He warned her that if she cried out he would shoot both her parents. He then sexually assaulted her in her own bed, and left by the window, driving off in her father’s car. When she told her brothers the next morning, they were inclined to believe that she had dreamed it all—a feature that recurred in some of the later cases.

A month later, a man entered the bedroom of a 12-year-old boy, made him go out with him to a field, and committed a sexual assault. The rapist then took the boy back to the house and back to his bedroom. This was perhaps the oddest feature of all. Why should he risk being caught? It seemed that, once he had committed his assault, the rapist became apologetic.

For the next 11 years, Jersey became an island of terror. Householders had bolts and bars put on windows. In March 1960 a 24-year-old air hostess, waiting at a bus stop, was dragged into a field and raped. On April 27, a woman whose husband was in hospital heard a noise in the middle of the night and found a man in her kitchen. The woman’s 14-year-old daughter came downstairs, and a rope was thrown around her throat. She was dragged out to a nearby field and raped, then allowed to go home.

In this, as in many succeeding attacks, it became clear that the rapist had studied the house, and knew how to achieve his object with the minimum of risk. He often wore the terrifying rubber mask. Usually the children were too frightened to scream; the man would commit a sexual assault and then courteously escort them back to their bedrooms. In some cases, penetration was minimal—he was evidently worried about hurting his victims—but at least one girl became pregnant. When 11-year-old Joy Norton was found stabbed to death in September 1965, it was feared that the rapist had at last turned to murder; but it was discovered that she had been sexually abused over a period of years, and her elder brother was charged with her murder.

And so the rape and assault continued, usually at the rate of one or two a year, until Paisnel was caught. One man who was generally suspected of the assaults had been so ostracized that he had been forced to leave the island. Altogether, Paisnel was charged with seven sexual assaults, including rape and sodomy. Found guilty, he was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. But what baffled all those who knew him was that the kind Edward Paisnel, the man who genuinely loved children, and often played Father Christmas at parties, should also be the rapist who had terrorized the island.


Edward Paisnel: The Beast of Jersey

Culled from: Crimes and Punishment, the Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 1 

 

Vintage Crime Scene Du Jour!

No caption. The body is that of a black man, who is lying in the front hallway of a tenement. A crowd has gathered outside, in the rain, holding umbrellas. The cigarette butt on the floor might have been thrown there by anyone, including the cops.

Culled from: Evidence

MFDJ 05/04/24: Death from Shock

Today’s Shock-Induced Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The New London School explosion occurred on March 18, 1937, when a natural gas leak caused an explosion and destroyed the London School in New London, Texas, United States. The disaster killed more than 300 students and teachers. As of 2021, the event is the third-deadliest disaster in the history of Texas, after the 1900 Galveston hurricane and the 1947 Texas City disaster.  The following is an account of the aftermath of the disaster.

George L. Hardy of Arp heard the explosion, and soon afterward, he saw emergency vehicles streaming east in front of his house. “The London school!” somebody shouted from a car. Hardy grabbed his hat and coat, jumped into his car, and started for the school. By the time he reached the outskirts of New London, he was sweating profusely. Hardy, sixty-three, loosened his collar and took off his coat. After he’d gotten as close to the school as possible, he parked the car in the weeds on the side of the road. Then he set out in a trot. He was too old and out of shape to make a full run.

When Hardy saw chalky white men coming out of the collapsed building carrying dead children drenched in blood, he clutched his chest and collapsed next to a fallen piece of wall. George Hardy died later that evening , felled, a doctor said, by a heart attack induced by shock.

Culled from: Gone at 3:17

Some people just aren’t cut out for morbidity!

Malady Du Jour!

The Dr. Ikkaku Ochi Collection is a fascinating cluster of medical photographs from the late 19th and early 20th century that had been collected by Dr. Ikkaku Ochi in Japan and were found in a box many years later.  There was no detailed information available for most of the photos, but the images are compelling because they show composed portraits of people suffering through intense pain caused by conditions that in most cases would be resolved through treatment today. There’s a sense of overwhelming sadness that comes through in these pictures, but also dignity and strength.

MFDJ 05/03/24: Death of Irene Rudolph

Today’s Luminous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Radium Girls were female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning from painting radium dials – watch dials and hands with self-luminous paint. The incidents occurred at three factories in United States: one in Orange, New Jersey, beginning around 1917; one in Ottawa, Illinois, beginning in the early 1920s; and one in Waterbury, Connecticut, also in the 1920s.

After being told that the paint was harmless, the women in each facility ingested deadly amounts of radium after being instructed to “point” their brushes on their lips in order to give them a fine tip;  some also painted their fingernails, faces, and teeth with the glowing substance. The women were instructed to point their brushes in this way because using rags or a water rinse caused them to use more time and material, as the paint was made from powdered radium, zinc sulfide (a phosphor), gum arabic, and water.

Five of the women in New Jersey challenged their employer in a case over the right of individual workers who contract occupational diseases to sue their employers under New Jersey’s occupational injuries law, which at the time had a two-year statute of limitations, but settled out of court in 1928. Five women in Illinois who were employees of the Radium Dial Company (which was unaffiliated with the United States Radium Corporation) sued their employer under Illinois law, winning damages in 1938.

Here is the sad story of one of the Radium Girls.


Radium girls at work

As 1923 drew on and Szamatolski ran his tests, Irene Rudolph, who had been sent home from the hospital, continued to endure the horrific ulcers and sores that had tortured Mollie Maggia. Irene’s anemia grew more serious, as did Helen Quinlan’s. They were pale, weak creatures, with no energy to them, no life. Doctors treated them first for one thing and then another—but not a single treatment helped. And they weren’t the only ones who were sick. Since George Willis, the cofounder of the Orange radium firm, had been ousted from his company, things had deteriorated for him. It seemed a long time ago that he had thoughtlessly carried tubes of radium with his bare hands every day at work—but all time is relative. With a half-life of 1,600 years, radium could take its time to make itself known.

As the months had passed since his departure from the company, Willis had sickened, and in September 1922, the same month Mollie Maggia died, he’d had his right thumb amputated; test revealed it was riddled with cancer.

“We used to paint our eyebrows, our lips, and our eyelashes [with the remaining radium paint], and then look at ourselves in the darkroom,” recalled Marie. The girls would always get fresh jars of material for the afternoon’s work, so they had carte blanche to use up the surplus paint from the morning. Marie used to dab the glowing mixture freely around her nostrils and along her eyebrows, and then give herself an elaborate mustache and a comedy chin. The girls would all make faces at each other; they thought it was hilarious. Charlotte Nevins remembered that they would “turn the lights off and then [we] could look in the mirror and laugh a lot. [We] glowed in the dark!” Yet for all the laughter, it was a strangely spooky vision. In the darkroom, no daylight shone. There was no light at all—except for the glowing element the girls had painted on their bare skin. They themselves were completely invisible. All you could see was the radium. But, as Marie herself said, it was all “just for fun.”

Irene Rudolph died on July 15, 1923 at twelve noon, in Newark General Hospital, where she’d been admitted the day before. She was twenty-one. At the time of her death, the necrosis in her jaw was said to be “complete.” Her death was attributed to her work, but the cause was given as phosphorus poisoning, a diagnosis admitted by the attending physician to be “not decisive.”

Culled from: Radium Girls

 

Arcane Excerpts!

Here’s another bizarre excerpt from the fabulous Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle (1896):

Parvis mentions an instance of the influence of maternal impression in the causation of a large, vivid, red mark or splotch on the face: “When the mother was in Ireland she was badly frightened by a fire in which some cattle were burned. Again, during the early months of her pregnancy she was frightened by seeing another woman suddenly light the fire with kerosene and at that time became firmly impressed with the idea that her child would be marked.” Parvin also pictures the “turtle-man,” an individual with deformed extremities, who might be classed as an ectromelus, perhaps as a phocomelus, or seal-like monster. According to the story, when the mother was a few weeks pregnant her husband, a coarse, rough fisherman, fond of rude jokes, put a large live turtle in the cupboard. In the twilight the wife went to the cupboard and the huge turtle fell out, greatly startling her by its hideous appearance as it fell suddenly to the floor and began to move vigorously.

 

Copeland mentions a curious case in which a woman was attacked by a rattlesnake when in her sixth month of pregnancy, and gave birth to a child whose arm exhibited the shape and action of a snake, and involuntarily went through snake-like movements. The face and mouth also markedly resembled the head of a snake. The teeth were situated like a serpent’s fangs. The mere mention of a snake filled the child (a man of twenty-nine) with great horror and rage, “particularly in the snake season.” Beale gives the history of a case of a child born with its left eye blacked as by a blow, whose mother was struck in a corresponding portion of the face eight hours before confinement. There is on record an account of a young man of twenty-one suffering from congenital deformities attributed to the fact that his mother was frightened by a guinea-pig having been thrust into her face during pregnancy. [Women! They’re so damn weak! – DeSpair] He also had congenital deformity of the right auricle. At the autopsy, all the skin, tissues, muscles, and bones were found involved. Owen speaks of a woman who was greatly excited ten months previously by a prurient curiosity to see what appearance the genitals of her brother presented after he had submitted to amputation of the penis on account of carcinoma. The whole penis had been removed. The woman stated that from the time she had thus satisfied herself, her mind was unceasingly engaged in reflecting a sympathizing on the forlorn condition of her brother. While in this mental state she gave birth to a son whose penis was entirely absent [Thanks a lot, Mom! – DeSpair], but who was otherwise well and likely to live. The other portions of the genitals were perfect and well-developed. The appearance of the nephew and the uncle was identical. A most peculiar case is stated by Clerc as  occurring int he experience of Küss of Strasburg. A woman had a negro paramour in America with whom she had had sexual intercourse several times. She was put in a convent on the Continent, where she stayed two years. On leaving the convent she married a white man, and nine months after she gave birth to a dark-skinned child. The supposition was that during her abode in the convent and the nine months subsequently she had the image of her black paramour constantly before her.  [Nice story! – DeSpair] Loin speaks of a woman who was greatly impressed by the actions of a clown at a circus, and who brought into the world a child that resembled the fantastic features of the clown in a most striking manner. [Oh no!! Not the dreaded Harlequin Fetus!? – DeSpair]

Mackay describes five cases in which fright produced distinct marks on the fetus. There is a case mentioned in which a pregnant woman was informed that an intimate friend had been thrown from his horse; the immediate cause of death was fracture of the skull, produced by the corner of a dray against which the rider was thrown. The mother was profoundly impressed by the circumstance, which was minutely described to her by an eye-witness. Her child at birth presented a red and sensitive area upon the scalp corresponding in location with the fatal injury of the rider. The child is now an adult woman, and this area upon the scalp remains red and sensitive to pressure, and is almost devoid of hair. Mastin of Mobile, Alabama, reports a curious instance of maternal impression. During the sixth month of the pregnancy of the mother her husband was shot, the ball passing out through the left breast. The woman was naturally much shocked, and remarked to Dr. Mastin: “Doctor, my baby will be ruined, for when I saw the wound I put my hands over my face, and got it covered with blood, and I know my baby will have a bloody face.” The child came to term without a bloody face. It had, however, a well-defined spot on the left breast just below the site of exit of the ball from its father’s chest. The spot was about the size of a silver half-dollar, and had elevated edges of a bright red color, and was quite visible at the distance of one hundred feet. The authors have had personal communication with Dr. Mastin in regard to this case, which he considers the most positive evidence of a case of maternal impressions that he has ever met.

 

MFDJ 04/29/24: The Dangerous Narrows

Today’s Concentrated Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Virgin River sculpts a dramatic and compelling corridor through the heart of Zion National Park, one that lures otherwise cautious hikers to take on a challenge entirely different from the ones they find on dry land. Here sandstone walls stretch upward for a thousand feet or more, allowing a glistening ribbon of water to find its way between them with only twenty or thirty feet of tolerance on either side. Sunlight generally forsakes this slim waterway, making this a dim or even murky journey— but when a shaft of natural light casts a momentary glow on a towering wall, the effect can be so remarkable that hikers pause to admire the play of sun and shadow against the folds of sandstone glowing in shade so vermillion, white gold, and mahogany.


Hiking the Narrows

While hiking the Narrows at its most shallow may result in an unplanned dunking into the water or at worst, a twisted ankle, there’s a greater danger from the middle of July to the end of August. Just as Zion’s shuttle buses become jammed with passengers and the trails are crowded with day-trippers and visitors from around the world, torrential thunderstorms begin to pop up regularly in the mountains north of the park. Hikers in the Narrows report looking up past the canyon walls to see bright blue sky even as rain drenches the land twenty or thirty miles away.  As the rain falls and the runoff from the desert and mountain swells the volume of the Virgin River, all that water flows into Zion Canyon.

Once inside, the volume of water becomes concentrated as it squeezes between the monolithic walls. The water level rises instantly, racing down the canyon at rates as high as four thousand cubic feet per second—and as the canyon becomes even narrower, the water level rises again. What may have begun as a few extra inches of water high in the mountains now speeds down the center of the canyon, reaching well over hiker’s heads and creating a deadly situation for people who have been lulled into a sense of security by the patches of clear blue sky they see above them. If they are caught on low ground, they may be swept away by the current’s force.

So on Monday afternoon, July 27, 1998, when 0.47 inches of rain fell at Zion National Park headquarters and the Lava Point area west of the Narrows received 0.37 inches, parties of hikers— fourteen people in all—became trapped overnight about two miles upriver from the Temple of Sinawava parking area. They managed to scramble to higher ground as the water level rose three feet in a matter of minutes, and as the flow increased from 110 cubic feet to 740 cubic feet per second, making wading in the roiling river impossible. They made makeshift camps, getting as comfortable as they could while keeping a close eye on the current for any sign that the depth might become passable once again.

That’s how the hikers spotted the body.

It floated by them at about 5:00 p.m., battered significantly by rocks it had encountered in the swift current. No medical expertise was require to determine that the person had most likely drowned in the flash flood.

Immediately seeing the need to retrieve this person’s remains, several of the hikers worked together to reach the body, bring it to a patch of ground, and secured it there. It remained in place until early Tuesday morning, when the river had returned to a manageable level and the hikers could make their way out of the canyon. They reported their find to the first ranger they could locate.

When Zion’s search and rescue squad entered the Narrows, it located the body where the hikers had secured it. Determining who the victim was, however, became a tricky process. “There was no identification on the man, and we haven’t heard any reports about a missing person,” park spokesman Denny Davies told the Salt Lake Tribune. The recovery team ventured an educated guess that the man was in his forties, and that he weighed between 230 and 250 pounds. Washington County sheriff Glenwood Humphries noted that the body had taken a severe beating in the swiftly flowing current, making it that much harder to achieve a solid identification. Whoever this person was, he had not obtained a permit from the park to hike the canyon, and he had not made an advanced reservation for a campsite. His identity was a complete mystery.

On Tuesday evening, however, park investigators found a an unlocked vehicle parked in Zion Canyon with two wallets in it, and they matched one of the driver’s license photos with the unidentified body. They determined that the victim was twenty-seven-year-old Ramsey E. Algan of Long Beach, California. Two other hikers who had emerged from the canyon after the flash flood confirmed what seemed to be the case: Algan had been hiking with another man, and that man had not returned to his car either. Park search and rescue teams now had to face the fact that they had another hiker to find—and the chances were slim that they would find him alive.

On Wednesday, July 29, Acting Chief Ranger David Buccello coordinated the second search along the Virgin River, breaking the searchers into teams to explore five sectors of the park. He also engaged the assistance of Rocky Mountain Rescue Dogs from Salt Lake City.

On Wednesday morning, July 30, searchers discovered the body of the second man about a mile and a half upstream from where Algan’s body was first spotted. Paul Garcia, a thirty-one year-old man from Paramount, California, was located in a debris pile where his body had snagged during the flash flood.

Park officials were quick to use this tragedy to reinforce the message that those planning to hike the Narrows need to check with park rangers at a visitor center or ranger station before venturing up or down the Virgin River. “We cannot stress too strongly that visitors need to heed these flash  flood warnings and plan alternate trips that don’t include slot canyons,” acting park superintendent Eddi Lopea told the Salt Lake Tribune.  He urged hikers to get updated weather information before venturing into any narrow or slot canyon, and to delay their hike if thunderstorms are predicted.

Culled from: Death In Zion National Park

 

Dissection Photo Du Jour!


School unknown. The cadavers in these photographs almost always rest directly on the wooden or metal dissecting table, but in this tableau a sheet has been placed under the body. As in most scenes, none of the dissectors is wearing gloves.

Culled from: Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine: 1880-1930

MFDJ 04/28/24: Bison Danger

Today’s Tame Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On March 22, 1902, Dick Rock, 49, a well-known Yellowstone-area poacher and animal keeper, was killed by one of his own bison near Henry’s Lake, just outside the park. He was attempting to show a friend how “tame” they had become. Several people had warned Dick that the bison would kill him, but he did not listen. One Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m. when Dick was feeding a bison, it became enraged and charged him, pinning him against the corral. His screams brought Mrs. Rock and several people from a nearby ranch. What they saw horrified them. Over and over the bison pitched Dick’s body up into the air and gored him with hits horns every time it hit the ground. The bison ripped all the clothes from Dick’s body and left him with twenty-nine horn holes. Mrs. May Garner remembered that when they got Dick out of there, “his eyelids twitched a time or two and he was gone.”


Dick Rock.  No wonder the bison was mad.

Culled from: Death In Yellowstone

 

Suicide Du Jour!

One of my favorite books is Death Scenes: A Homicide Detective’s Scrapbook.  It is exactly what it says it is: a bizarre and oft-disturbing scrapbook collected over the years by Los Angeles area police detective Jack Huddleston, whose career spanned from 1921 to the early 1950’s. Here’s a strange entry:


Pat Gorman “Suicide” Denatured, Alc.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any additional information on this incident… because it certainly needs an explanation!

MFDJ 04/24/24: Family Witch Affairs

Today’s Amply Illustrated Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The way in which family relationship triggered witchcraft charges is amply illustrated in Offenburg, a strongly Catholic free city near Strasbourg. Five mother-daughter groups, three mother-son, one father-son, one husband-wife-son, and two groups of three generations of women suffered from trials. In Offenburg and the immediate vicinity, 102 persons were killed and one banished between 1557 and 1630. Reaction to witches was vicious from the start: in 1557 two women were burned alive, and a confession was often extracted by placing the accused in the witch chair, a metal seat heated from beneath. One woman died from torture; another had her right breast torn by hot pincers; still another committed suicide in prison; a fourth went mad.

Culled from: Witchcraze: A New History of the European Witch Hunts

 

Crime Scene Du Jour!


MOB HIT IN A STORE

Extortion and “protection” were routine businesses of organized crime. Resisting efforts to cooperate with the mob resulted in brutal beatings or simply murder, as seen here. It usually took only one example for a string of other businesses to cooperate with organized crime enforcers. After orchestrating perhaps as many as a thousand murders, Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the head of Murder, Inc., was convicted and executed for orchestrating the 1936 murder of Brownsville candy store owner Joseph Rosen. Rosen had been a former garment industry trucker and had refused to cooperate with “Lepke” and Jacob “Gurrah” Shapiro in their labor racketeering business. They controlled the trucking industry, the life-blood of the garment district. Rosen gave up trucking and opened a candy store in exactly the wrong place: Brownsville, home of Murder, Inc. He remained defiant of “Lepke” and paid with his life. This was a classic hit—a shot to the head.

Other hit men, such as Abe “Kid Twist” Reles, perfected the icepick into the ear murder technique, perforating the brain. This was usually administered to a victim in a car who was held down by accomplices. The ice pick wound often fooled coroners, who thought the victim had had a cerebral hemorrhage.

Culled from: Deadly Intent

MFDJ 04/23/24: Hammurabi’s Warning to Doctors

Today’s Written Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

An early king of Babylon (c. 1925 B.C.) left behind his famous Code of Hammurabi.


The top of the stele of Hammurabi

“Concerning the wounds resulting from operations it is written… If a physician shall make a severe wound with an operating knife and kill him or shall open an abscess with an operating knife and destroy the eye, his hands shall be cut off.

“If a physician shall make a severe wound with a bronze operating knife on the slave of a free man and kill him, he shall replace the slave with another slave.”

Culled from: An Underground Education

 

Sing Sing Death House Prisoner Du Jour!


NAME: Edmund Sileo aka William Hague
NUMBER: 100-664
AGE: 27
OCCUPATION: Bookmaker
PHYSICAL: 5’10-1/4″, 127 lbs.
EDUCATION: 2 yrs. college
CRIME: Shot and killed 2 men in bar and grille, night, automatic pistol, 8-3-40
CLAIMS: Claims innocence
SENTENCED: 2-2-42
RECEIVED: 2-6-42
EXECUTED: 1-14-43

Culled from: Condemned: Inside the Sing Sing Death House