Category Archives: Library

MFDJ 03/26/24: Pressing in India

Today’s Pointed Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Few instances of peine forte et dure (pressing to death) have been reported as having taken place in America, though doubtless they occurred. One incident was recorded in Salem when, in 1692, Giles Cory was charged with witchcraft, and subsequently pressed to death.

A macabre variation of peine forte et dure was practised in India in the 19th century. A small sharp stone was tied on top of the criminal’s head, and a larger, heavier stone was then secured on top of it. Even weightier boulders were then added, until eventually the combined weight drove the pointed stone into the victim’s skull.

Culled from: Rack, Rope and Red-hot Pincers


Arcane Excerpts: The Consequences of Self-Pollution!

Here’s some more sound advice from What A Young Boy Ought To Know (1897) by Sylvanus Stall.  Throughout the book, Sylvanus is having a conversation with a young boy named Harry.

Part III.

What are the Consequences in Boys of the Abuse of the Reproductive Organs.


Origin of the Different Names of the Sexual Sin.—Tell of the Character of the Sin.—The Class of Boys in Greatest Danger.—Need of Proper Information.—An Important Safeguard.—The Moral Sense the First to Suffer.—Vice Begets in the Heart Rebellion against God.—The Vicious Most Liable to Doubt God and Become Infidels.—Unbelief and Infidelity Symptoms of Sexual and other Sins.

MY DEAR FRIEND HARRY: No boy can toy with the exposed portions of his reproductive system without finally suffering very serious consequences. In the beginning it may seem to a boy a trifling matter, and yet from the very first his conscience will tell him that he is doing something that is very wrong. It is on this account that a boy who yields to such an evil temptation will seek a secluded, solitary place, and it is because of this fact that it is called the “solitary vice.” Because the entire being of the one who indulges in this practice is debased and polluted by his own personal act it is also called “self-pollution.” It is also called “Onanism,” because, for a similar offense, nearly four thousand years ago, God punished Onan with death (Genesis xxxviii. 3–10). This sin is also known by another name, and is called “masturbation,” a word which is made from two Latin words which mean “To pollute by the hand.”

Each of these words tells something of the vile character of this sin. But words are scarcely capable of describing the dreadful consequences which are suffered by those who persist in this practice. I do not believe, my dear friend Harry, that you have become a victim of this destructive vice, and I would be glad to believe that you have never accidentally learned or have been deliberately taught to engage in it. Knowing, however, the dangers to which, like all boys, you are exposed, and also appreciating the fact that intellectual boys, because of a more highly wrought nervous organization and because of keener sensibilities, are much more liable to become addicted to this vice than boys of a lower grade of intellect and with less sensitive bodies, I regard it important that you should be as intelligent and well informed upon this subject as upon any other. This is necessary so that, by knowing in advance the character and consequences of such a course, you may avoid the evil into which even men, as late in life as twenty-five and thirty years of age, sometimes fall because of ignorance. In this as in other things, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” Every young boy should be properly informed upon this subject, for even those who may be safely guarded from defilement of thought and life from outward influences are nevertheless exposed to those inward physical conditions which may produce local irritation and disease, and where such a diseased condition is ignorantly permitted to continue, masturbation soon becomes a fixed habit, and is likely to be practiced with such violence that idiocy, and even death, may, and often does come speedily. Nothing so much favors the continuance and spread of this awful vice as ignorance, and only by being early and purely taught on this important subject can the coming boys and men be saved from the awful consequences which are ruining morally, mentally, and physically thousands of boys every year.

As I have already said, one of the first things which a boy does who undertakes to practice this vice is to seek solitude. From the very first his conscience disapproves, and so he cannot engage in the evil which he proposes to himself without violating his moral sense. Indeed, his moral nature is the first to suffer. This, my dear boy, is an important fact, and if you were ever to fall a victim to this vice, you would find that even with the first sense of guilt there would come a spirit of rebellion against God and against your parents. You would soon begin to call into question the wisdom and goodness of God. Your pleasure in good books, in religious instruction, in the Sunday-school, the Bible, the Church, and all holy things would rapidly diminish. You would soon find in your heart a rebellious feeling which would lead you to be disobedient, cross, irritable, and reproachful. You would begin to lose faith in all that is good, and as you persisted in your sin, you would grow less and less like Jesus and more and more like Satan. In other words the moral nature is the first to suffer from sexual vice, and whenever you hear a boy or man boasting of his doubts and railing against God, against the Bible, against purity and virtue, you may rest assured that his feeling grows out of some solitary or social, some secret or open sin or vice which has affected his moral nature, and is degrading and debasing his heart.

If this effect upon the moral nature were the only result of this solitary vice, the consequences would be sufficient to turn any intelligent and thoughtful boy from the practice. But its effects upon the mind and body are also of the most serious nature, and of these I will speak to you to-morrow night.

Anticipation!  – DeSpair


Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the continuation of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).

Here’s today’s entry:

November 20th. More sick were examined and passed out. At midnight the cry went around “Fall in 1st and 2d divisions,” and they packed up and went way.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

MFDJ 02/13/24: Japanese Depravity in China

Today’s Depraved Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

During the 1937-8 Japanese Rape of China, every imaginable depravity occurred.

Japanese officer Enomoto-san stated the following many years after the war:

We ran out of food. We only had these withered seed potatoes. We soaked shoes in water and ate the leather. We could find water, but little food.

We came to an empty village. All the villagers had fled because they were afraid. There was just one woman left in this village. She could speak Japanese. She told me her parents told her to flee. But she told them, “The Japanese people aren’t such bad people.”

This was the enemy zone. And I hadn’t been to a comfort station for three months. So when I saw a woman, the first thing that came to my mind was to rape her. I had no hesitation.

She resisted. But her resistance didn’t affect me. I didn’t listen to her. I didn’t look at her face. I raped her. Then I killed her.

I stabbed her. On television, you see a lot of blood flow out, but that’s not the reality. I’ve cut people with swords, and you’re not covered with blood. It doesn’t splash like you see in movies. If you cut the neck, you see a bit of blood, but it’s not like the films. I don’t know how many people I’ve killed, but I’ve never experienced anything like that. When I killed that woman, I wasn’t covered with blood. There was just a little blood flowing out from her heart.

After I killed her, I thought of eating her. I was thinking of how to feed my soldiers.

I didn’t need much force. It went very smoothly. I used a sharp Chinese kitchen knife. It only took me about ten minutes. I didn’t cut the bones. I just cut where there was a lot of meat—mainly the thighs, bottom, and shoulder. When I cut her up into meat, there wasn’t that much blood.

I took her meat back and gave it to one of my soldiers to cook. If you cut it up into slices, you can’t recognize what sort of meat it is. He didn’t ask where the meat came from. I told them this was special distribution of food.

We had a barbecue and we ate her meat. There were only a few slices per soldier. There were sixty people in my company. They were happy to have this meat. They said it tasted very good.

Massacred Chinese civilians in Nanking

Culled from: Flyboys

Arcane Excerpts

Here’s an excerpt from Inter-Marriage or the Reason Beauty, Health and Intellect Result from Certain Unions and Deformity, Disease and Insanity from Others by Alexander Walker, 1839 discussing the sad effects of “Unnatural Indulgence”.   (We began this chapter on the 4/20/21 MFDJ if you’d like to revisit it.)

Long previous to these severe effects, the losses which have been described arrest the increase of stature, and stop the growth of all the organs, and the development of all the functions. It is an earlier puberty which renders the southern people shorter than the northern.  [I believe the author just said that southern people are short because they masturbate too much. – DeSpair] And a sense of this seems to have prevailed from the remotest times. Amongst the Germans, according to Julius Caesar, the act of reproduction was not permitted to adolescents before twenty without incurring infamy; and to this he attributes the stature and strength of that simple people.

An incapability of ever giving life to strong and robust children, is another effect of these losses, which precedes the total ruin of the individual.

Intelligent instructors will know both how to divine the bad habits of their pupils, and how to avoid all excitement of them.

Much attention has recently been paid to the nature of punishments. There are few of them that should not be avoided; but to punish a child by shutting him up alone in a room, is a sad error, if there be any reason to suspect him of bad habits.

Medicinal remedies, astringents, sudorifics, &c., are weakening and injurious in other respects; and mechanical means directly applied to the organs, are likely to draw the attention, and determine the blood, to the part whence it should be diverted.

Moral means consist of good habits previous to puberty, the influence of fear and respect, and that of the nobler feelings predominating over the baser passions.

This assuredly will be more easily accomplished in well-directed private education, than in public schools.

When conviction of the existence of bad habits is acquired, it becomes necessary to speak to the subject of them mildly and rationally respecting his injurious practice.—It is feared that the works on the subject, if they have cured some, have made others acquainted with vice of this kind. But there can be no danger in placing such works in the hands of children whose conduct has given rise to suspicion.

In such cases, exciting and superabundant food is highly injurious. The diet should be chiefly or altogether vegetable; and no vinous or spirituous drinks should be permitted. The latter are indeed, of themselves, quite sufficient to produce, at any time, the worst habits; and the parent who has suffered their use, has no right to complain either of precocious puberty, or of unnatural indulgences.

As it is well known, that the almost unremitting employment of his muscles diverts the labourer from this vice, whilst shepherds, who watch their flocks in sequestered places, have been generally accused of it, it is evident that if, in youths, the superabundance of nervous power were carried off by exercise, they would be rendered more tranquil and more attentive to instruction, and would consequently make greater progress in knowledge.

When boys suffer nocturnal affections of this kind, involuntarily produced, similar care and treatment are required. All that heats the imagination and is likely to recur in dreams must then be avoided, as should every physical circumstance tending to assist it—suppers, down beds, hot bed-clothing, &c.

Such affections when awake, are the results of confirmed disease, requiring the union of medical treatment with physical and moral education.

The vice which has now been described in boys, appears among girls, and produces similar symptoms. [God, no! – DeSpair]

In general, the victims of this depravity are announced by their aspect. “The roses fade from the cheeks; the face assumes an appearance of faintness and weakness; the skin becomes rough; the eyes lose their brightness, and a livid circle surrounds them; the lips become colourless; and all the features sink down, and become disordered.”

If the depravity be not arrested, general disease and local affections of the organs of reproduction ensue—acrid leucorrhea, ulcerations of the vulvo-uterine canal, falling and various diseases of the matrix, abortions, and sometimes nymphomania and furor uterinus, terminate life amidst delirium and convulsions.

Sapphic tastes form another aberration of love, of which Sappho and the lovers of their own sex were accused by Seneca, St. Augustine, &c. “Her ode, breathing the languor, abandonment, delirium, ecstasy, and convulsions of love, was addressed, not to a lover, but to one of her female companions [A female companion can’t be a lover?  – DeSpair]; and, amongst the fragments of her poetry, are some voluptuous verses addressed to two Grecian girls, her pupils and lovers.” As there were many women at Lesbos who adopted the habits of Sappho, the term Lesbian habits was used to express these. —The women of Lesbos also fell into other errors, which gained them the epithet of Fellatrix.

These turpitudes, as if they were natural but unfortunate compensations to women subject to polygamy, are said to be still well known to the Turkish and Syrian women at their baths. And it is not improbable, that this occasioned, in southern countries, the excision of the clitoris.

It is evident that the victims of this depravity demand the most active vigilance of mothers, if they desire to preserve either the morals or the health of their daughters. It is evident, also, that the same practices are scarcely less injurious at a more advanced age.

Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the continuation of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).

Here’s today’s entry:

November 2d. Storms commenced before midnight, and rained hard about twelve hours; fortunately for us our tent was kept quite dry, while most of the others were flooded. This is about the last of Andersonville for us, and it is a general abandoning of this horrid place. Orders came for us all to be ready to start at eleven A.M., but transportation did not arrive, and we did not start until ten at night, when we were roused out of a sound sleep, and went through the gates in perfect darkness and in a pelting rain, thus passing out of a place which, however long we live, will always combine more of the realities to be expected in that dark and terrible region of despair of the future world known as “hell,” than any other can to us. In the pitchy darkness we were packed into old freight cars (eight-three in a car), the doors were shut and secured, and we were soon moving towards Macon.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

MFDJ 02/05/24: Chicago Blackhanders

Today’s Murderous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The Black Hand was essentially an extortion racket practiced by Sicilian and Italian gangsters (many of whom were members of the Mafia and Camorra) for approximately thirty years—1890 to 1920—against the unschooled, superstitious immigrants of the “Little Italy” settlements sequestered in major Eastern, Southern, and Midwestern cities.

Chicago’s history of the Black Hand, like New York’s, dated back to about 1890. The violence displayed by Chicago Blackhanders against their victims was devastating; it consisted mostly of bombings that destroyed whole buildings and several families in each attack. Little Italy—the area contained within Oak and Taylor Streets and Grand and Wentworth Avenues—was a Black Hand playground, more appropriately a slaughterhouse.

For years, it seemed that Blackhanders were more interested in annihilating their victims than in extorting money from them. Black Hand killings reached a peak around 1910-11 in Chicago. At one intersection, Oak and Milton Streets, which the Italians named “Death Corner,” thirty-eight Black Hand victims were shot to death between January 1, 1910 and March 26, 1911. At least fifteen of those killed were dispatched by a professional Black Hand assassin referred to by the residents as “Shotgun Man.” This killer, never apprehended, walked about openly in Little Italy and was well known. He had no loyalty to either victim or Blackhander. He hired out his gun and would murder without flinching, carrying out death sentences decreed by Blackhanders who could not collect. Blackhanders paid him handsomely for his services.

“Death Corner”

One criminal historian estimated that close to eighty Black Hand gangs terrorized Chicago’s Little Italy during the first two decades of the present century. Some of these gangs, wholly unrelated to each other, signed their notes as “The Mysterious Hand,” or “The Secret Hand,” but it meant the same thing: Pay or Die.

The notes Chicago Blackhanders sent their victims were couched in unbearably polite words, making them all the more sinister. The letter received by a wealthy Italian businessman typified the courteous but deadly Blackhander of this era:

“Most gentle Mr. Silvani: Hoping that the present will not impress you much, you will be so good as to send me $2,000 if your life is dear to you. So I beg you warmly to put them on your door within four days. But if not, I swear this weeks’ time not even the dust of your family will exist. With regards, believe me to be your friends.”

This letter was not signed but police still managed to trace it to one Joseph Genite (who was discharged for lack of evidence), in whose house they found a stockpile of dynamite, two dozen revolvers, several sawed-off shotguns, and other assorted weapons.

Other Black Hand notes were less formal:

You got some cash. I need $1,000. You place the $100 bills in an envelope and place it underneath a board in the northeast corner of Sixtyninth Street and Euclid Avenue at eleven o’clock tonight. If you place the money there, you will live. If you don’t, you die. If you report this to the police, I’ll kill you when I get out. They may save you the money, but they won’t save you your life.”

The police in most instances were helpless; the notes were all but impossible to trace. When witnesses did come forward they quickly retracted their statements after being contacted by Black Hand enforcers. In desperation, police raided Chicago’s Little Italy in January, 1910, and rounded up close to two hundred known Sicilian gangsters suspected of running Black Hand extortion rackets. All were released within twelve hours for lack of evidence.

For a five-year period—1907 to 1912—upstanding business leaders of the Italian community banded together to form the White Hand Society which actually supplied its own police force and money to prosecute Black Handers. Many extortionists were put in prison, but were shortly paroled through contacts with corrupt local and state officials. Dr. Joseph Dimiani, one of the White Hand leaders, explained why the Society threw in the sponge. “They [the White Handers] were so discouraged by the lax administrations of justice that they were refusing to advance further money to prosecute men arrested on their complaints.”

A rash of bombings came next. Experts used by the Black Hand were brutal enforcers such as Sam Cardinelli, his chief lieutenant, eighteen-year-old Nicholas Viana, known as “The Choir Boy,” and dim-witted Frank Campione. The three, all later hanged for murder, were responsible for at least twenty bombings in which dozens of Italians were killed. One police estimation reported that more than 800 bombs were directed against Black Hand victims in Chicago between 1900 and 1930, most of them during the period from 1915 to 1918.

A whole generation of professional bombers who had once worked for Black Hand gangs found heavy-duty work in the dawn-of-the-1920s bootleg wards between gangs in Chicago. Many of these were used in Chicago union wars, as well. The Italian and Sicilian Black Handers in earlier days preferred to use non-Italian bombers to prevent identification. When the Black Hand operations fell off in the early 1920s, these non-Italian bombers went to work for union gangsters. One of these, Andrew Kerr, was arrested in 1921 and boasted that he employed the best bombers in the business to enforce his edicts over the Steam and Operating Engineers union.

Kerr named Jim Sweeney as a boss bomber. Sweeney’s group of killers included “Soup” Bartlett and “Con” Shea, who had murdered whole families with bombs for decades. Shea, Kerr swore, had been a professional bomber since he was sixteen years old.

Boss of the barber’s union in Chicago, Joseph Sangerman took Sweeney’s position as king of the bombers after Sweeny was arrested and sent to prison. Sangerman’s top bomber was George Matrisciano (alias Martini) who manufactured his own “infernal machines” of black powder. This berserk bomber, who had terrorized Black Hand victims for twenty-five years, always walked about with two sticks of dynamite in his pockets. Before Sangerman had him killed, Matrisciano could be seen approaching total strangers in Little Italy and proudly showing them a newspaper clipping which described him as “a terrorist.”

A sharp decline of Black Hand operations followed Matrisciano’s death, and finally the racket cased to flourish. Police had failed to snuff out the Black Hand terror; it was the coming of Prohibition and its big-moneyed rackets which ended the terrible extortions. Like stock market investors, almost everybody happily plunged into bootlegging—even the courteous murderers of Little Italy, much to the gratitude of its hounded residents.

Culled from: Bloodletters and Badmen

Arcane Excerpts: Delusions and Stupor Edition

A Compendium of Insanity is a book written by John B. Chapin, M.D., LL.D. and published in 1898.  Chapin (1829-1918) was an American physician and mental hospital administrator. He was an advocate for the removal of mentally ill patients from the almshouses in New York State to a hospital setting and helped to pass a state law that provided hospital care for the patients.  Here is an excerpt from the book which answers the question that I often ponder:  am I suffering from Melancholia with Delusions and Stupor?  (It turns out, no – no, I am not!)

Melancholia with Delusions and Stupor

A patient may pass from the condition of simple melancholia into a more aggravated form of the same disease, characterized by an appearance of stupor. The stuporous condition is mainly due to the domination of delusions and to a partial or complete suspension of will-power, which may amount to a cataleptoid state. When a patient is presented for examination suffering from stuporous melancholia, there is usually a long history of invalidism or of progressive depression, with a comparatively sudden transition to a stuporous condition. It is not to be understood that a patient necessarily passes first through an attack of melancholia with agitation before entering upon the stage under consideration, as both forms of disease appear to continue along the lines of their respective development till the end is reached in recovery or in terminal dementia. When a patient is presented for observation suffering from stuporous melancholia, the appearance will be in striking contrast with the other forms of this disease. There will be offered a history of physical ill-health, insomnia, and worry, or possibly of some profound moral shock. The prodromal stage is not usually prolonged. The more aggravated mental symptoms may appear at an early stage. The patient is disposed to be absolutely silent, and the only response to questions may be monosyllabic. The eyes have a fixed and downcast appearance or are entirely closed.  The facial muscles are immobile. The countenance is pale or sallow, and has a smooth, oleaginous appearance. A fixed and rigid position is maintained, and whether sitting or standing there is a reluctance to any change, accompanied often by actual resistance. There is an unwillingness to rise from the bed, to dress, or to undress. Food is not desired, or absolutely refused, and only administered by placing liquids in the mouth, or often by overcoming the resistance of the patient by the use of force. The bodily functions are performed unconsciously or are in a state of apparent suspense. Saliva is retained in the mouth, giving rise to an offensive odor. The tongue when examined seems flabby, enlarged, and shows indentations produced by pressure of the teeth. The pulse is not accelerated, and the temperature is normal or subnormal. There is an apparent indifference to surroundings, to heat or cold or bodily comforts. Every effort to arouse the patient is without avail. There is an appearance of stupidity and stupor; but, as a matter of fact, the mind of the patient is intently engrossed with delusions which are of centric origin or wholly subjective. The intense will-power necessary to maintain fixed positions for long periods, the resistance offered to all changes proposed, the expression of the eyes, all indicate that the mind is intently absorbed in some controlling delusion. This condition might be confounded with the stupid state that characterizes mental enfeeblement or dementia, but the history of the case will usually furnish the right clue. It is important, however, to the proper treatment that a distinction be made. A person may pass rapidly into the stuporous stage of melancholia, but dementia, as will appear, is the usual terminal stage of several forms of mental disease of long standing. Patients have stated on recovery that while in this state they believed they were fragile, like glass, and would go to pieces if jarred or moved; that they were transformed into another state of existence, and could subsist without food; that the world had come to an end, and all human operations were suspended. The patient believes he is incapable of making any exertion to extricate himself from some terrible fate awaiting him—conditions showing the power exerted by dominating delusions. An experience with some dreadful dream furnishes the nearest approach to what may be conceived to be the mental state of these wretched persons. The nature of the delusions of a stuporous melancholiac are usually unknown, and their consequent actions so uncertain that it is never safe to act upon any presumption. Some outbreak of violence directed against the patient himself, his attendants or surrounding objects may occur at an unexpected time, so that it is not wholly safe to leave a patient unattended.

Melancholia with Stupor

Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the continuation of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).

Here’s today’s entry:

October 25th. The wood detail has been stopped because some of the men have escaped. Salt is very scarce.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

MFDJ 01/24/24: Disposing of Bodies

Today’s Tidy Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

To get away with gruesome murder again and again, a serial killer has to possess a fairly high degree of fiendish cunning. Snaring a victim is the first challenge he has to meet. Once he has perpetrated his atrocities, he is faced with another, even more pressing problem—what to do with the remains. The solutions of this grisly dilemma range from the straightforward to the diabolically elaborate.

Some serial killers simply leave their victims where they lay, occasionally taking the time to wreak some grotesque indignity on the remains.  For example, Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler,” liked to tie big ornamental bows around the throats of his female victims, as though he were leaving a gift-wrapped present for the police.

DeSalvo’s bizarre bow-tying practice made for an unmistakable “signature.” Understandably enough, many other homicidal maniacs prefer to leave no trace of their identities at all. For some sociopaths, the simplest approach to corpse disposal is the best. Ted Bundy, the Hillside Stranglers, and the Green River Killer, for example, simply dumped the bodies of their victims out in the open—in forests, along riverbanks, on the slopes bordering freeways. Others made perfunctory attempts at concealment, burying the bodies in shallow graves or shoveling dead leaves over the remains. John Wayne Gacy didn’t even bother to leave home. He simply stuck the dead bodies of his young male victims under the crawl space of his house—at last until he ran out of room, at which point he began tossing them into a nearby river.

By contrast, there are some serial killers who go to great lengths to obliterate every trace of their victims, often by immersing the bodies in acid, covering them with Quicklime, or incinerating them in ovens.

Then there are those serial killers whose disposal methods can best be described as wildly (if not insanely) unorthodox. Joe Ball, for example, got rid of his murdered mistresses by feeding their flesh to his pet Alligators, while the monstrous Fritz Haarmann chopped up his victims and sold their flesh to his neighbors, passing it off as black-market beef.

The longer a serial killer remains on the loose, of course, the more proficient he tends to become. With corpse disposal, as with most human skills, practice makes perfect. Special agents of the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit describe one serial killer who was thrown into a state of almost panicky confusion when faced with the ravaged remains of his first victim. By the time he committed his second homicide, he had already worked out a sophisticated disposal method, taking four painstaking hours to dismember the body in his bathroom before bagging up the parts and depositing them in supermarket dumpsters.

Of course, there are some serial killers who prefer not to dispose of their victims at all. Both Dennis Nilsen and his American counterpart, Jeffrey Dahmer, were so desperate for companionship that they went to great, highly deranged lengths to keep the corpses close by. Of course, since both men occupied cramped apartments, even they had to face up to the fetid reality after a while and get rid of their rotting house guests. Nilsen’s solution was sublime in its simplicity, if not entirely practical—he chopped up the bodies and flushed the chunks down the toilet, a method that eventually led to his arrest when the plumbing in his apartment building became clogged with gobs of decomposing human flesh.

Jeffrey Dahmer victim

Culled from: The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers


Wretched Recommendations!

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

This book was an excellent read which is kind of an unnecessary thing to say because it’s a book by Erik Larson so of course it’s an excellent read! The book follows the pattern that Larson perfected in his masterpiece, The Devil in the White City, as he simultaneously follows two storylines: The tale of the German U-boat U-20 and the daily life of its crew, and the story of the passengers and crew aboard the luxury liner Lusitania. And much like Devil in the White City, I was surprised to find myself more interested in the story I initially thought would be boring: the tale of the U-boat. I now find myself fascinated with the idea of living on a submarine for weeks at a time. Just imagine it. Stale air filled with body odor, cooking smells, and diesel fumes. Crammed into quarters with no privacy, no fresh air, and knowing that there was a not small likelihood that you would die in that tube.

The story of the Lusitania was fascinating too, of course. There are two facts that will stick with me:
1) It only took 18 minutes for the Lusitania to sink. When I get up in the morning, it takes me about 15 minutes to get to work and I work from home. So in the time that it takes me to get up, pee, tell my cat how cute he is, get dressed, brush my teeth, tell my other cat how cute she is, walk downstairs, feed the cats, make a coffee, make a bowl of cereal, and go to my computer, the Lusitania is almost completely underwater. I can’t even imagine that kind of pandemonium. Well I kind of can because I just read about it. The one difference with the Titanic is that the water was balmy compared to the frigid ice water of the North Atlantic so at least some people were able to survive IF, and that’s a really big if, they didn’t put on their life jackets backwards. That’s something else I learned—never put your life jacket on backwards. It will hold you underwater.
2) Captain Turner, the doomed captain of the Lusitania, tried to go down with the ship by staying on the deck as it went down, but the ship spit him back up to the surface so he didn’t get the martyrdom of death he wanted and instead lived to be scapegoated by the incompetent – no, the murderous – military intelligence who knew fully well the U-boat was in that area and had already sunk several ships but did absolutely nothing about it. Presumably because they wanted the ship to sink so that the US would get involved in the war. Bastards! The captain certainly did not deserve the blame he received.
Altogether, this is another excellent read from Larson.  5/5

Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the continuation of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).

Here’s today’s entry:

October 13th. More arranging and moving about. We now lie very compact; about three thousand men occupying about three acres, two thirds of which space is included in the streets. I have been peddling coffee at the hospital sheds, made from burnt meal.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

MFDJ 01/22/24: Killer Priest

Today’s Priestly Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On Friday afternoon, September 5, 1913, across the Hudson River from Morningside Heights in Manhattan, three children from Cliffside Park, New Jersey, were swimming off a dock. Eleven-year-old Mary Bann noticed what appeared to be a brown-colored bundle bobbing in the water between the pilings. Curiosity got the better of her, and with help from her little brother and her girlfriend, she managed to drag the waterlogged parcel onto shore. Upon closer inspection they saw that the bundle was secured with baling wire, and under the sodden brown paper was a blue bedsheet. To find out what was inside, they pulled the wire off. Mary grabbed one end of the linen and tugged to release the contents. To their shock, the upper half of a female torso, naked, gray, and pasty, and without arms, legs, or head tumbled out of a pillowcase along with some rocks and waterlogged pages of newspaper. The children stood motionless for a moment before running off screaming for help.

The Hudson County Police responded to the scene. As the officers examined the grisly remains, they traded theories on what might have happened to the woman. It was true that swimmers occasionally got decapitated by the gigantic propellers of ocean liners, but they never washed ashore trussed in bedsheets. No, it was evident that this woman’s body had been skillfully cut in half and dumped into the river. The rocks had been meant to keep her submerged.

Why she was killed they had no idea. Who she was, given her condition, would be hard to determine. But there were clues. The newspaper was legible enough for the police to make out the date, August 31. Then there was the bloodstained linen and pillowcase that still had the manufacturer’s label attached: “Robinson-Broder Company, Newark, New Jersey.” Unfortunately, they assumed, the company sold thousands of pillowcases each year.

Two days later and two miles south of where the woman’s torso had washed up, two fishermen, Joseph Hagmann and Michael Parkman, rowed out into the Hudson River to retrieve the crab traps that they had set along the piers the day before. It was a good morning for crabbing and, as it turned out, for finding human body parts.

The coroner determined that the lower portion of the torso the fishermen discovered and the upper section the children recovered came from the same woman. In fact the two body parts fit together so perfectly that the medical examiner declared it one of the neatest pieces of surgical work he had seen in years. A leg belonging to the same body and a nightgown with pronounced bloodstains around the collar were found in the river on September 10. By then the Hudson County Police had been in contact with a representative from Robinson-Broder and were informed that twelve pillowcases similar to the one recovered had been sold to a retailer in New York. Since it was possible that the victim had been killed in New York and dumped into the Hudson River, New Jersey authorities alerted the NYPD.

Inspector Joseph Faurot, chief of detectives for Manhattan, took charge of the case. Faurot had joined the department in 1896 and made a name for himself early on as a proponent in the use of fingerprints as a form of identification. In this instance, however, his area of expertise would be of little value, as neither hand had been recovered.

Fortunately Faurot was also a skilled investigator. He directed two of his detectives to pay a visit to George Sachs, the furniture store owner who bought linen from the Robinson-Broder Company. Mr. Sachs recalled having sold a pair of pillowcases two weeks before, along with a secondhand mattress and bedspring, to a Mr. A. Van Dyke. They were delivered to 68 Bradhurst Avenue in Harlem. [No, the building doesn’t exist anymore, alas…  – DeSpair] The detectives hurried to the address and talked to the superintendent of the building, Carlton Booker. Mr. Booker told them a married couple rented the vacant third-floor apartment on August 26 and that the husband paid for it in cash, nineteen dollars. The new tenant called himself H. Schmidt. The detectives knocked on the door, but there was no answer.

When informed of the development, Faurot ordered a stakeout of the apartment, but after three days of inactivity, he decided to wait no longer. Accompanied by an officer from Hudson County, his men climbed the backyard fire escape and pried open the rear window. They let Faurot in through the front door. The apartment was vacant, but there were bloodstains everywhere—on a knife, a saw, the area rug, the wood floor, the bathroom tile, and the iron bed frame. There was also evidence that the killer had tried to mop up the blood.

Although the mattress was missing, the receipt for delivery was on top of the icebox. Detectives found a half spool of baling wire, the same kind used to tie up the floating bundles. Among the clothes still hanging in the closet was a man’s overcoat that had the name A. Van Dyke stitched into the lining. But the most important lead came when detectives recovered a metal box atop a small chest in the close. Inside were dozens of letters handwritten in German from Anna Aumuller to Hans Schmidt at St. Boniface Church.

After speaking to people in the New York area that some of the letters were addressed to, detectives learned that Anna had immigrated to the United States from Germany five years ago, when she was sixteen, to pursue a career in music. When that did not pan out, she took a job as a domestic at the rectory of St. Boniface Church on East Forty-Seventh Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan. Those who knew her well described her as popular and pretty, a girl who had little trouble attracting young men.

Faurot paid a visit to St. Boniface and found out that Anna was no longer employed by the parish. Father John Braun told him that she was particularly fond of a German-born priest who had transferred to St. Joseph’s on West 125th Street little over a year ago. Although the monsignor did not think much of the priest, Anna followed him there. Braun identified the cleric as Father Hans Schmidt.

Although it was well past midnight, Inspector Faurot and Detective Frank Cassassa raced to St. Joseph’s to have a talk with Father Schmidt. When they arrived it took several minutes of banging on the rectory door before Father Daniel Quinn answered. Faurot flashed his inspector’s shield and explained that he was there on a serious police matter that involved Father Schmidt. Father Quinn rushed upstairs to wake him.

A few minutes later Schmidt appeared in Father Quinn’s office wearing his cassock and collar. He was a handsome man, thirty-two years old. Faurot showed him a photograph of Anna Aumuller. For the next thirty minutes the priest denied that he knew her, but Faurot knew otherwise. He waited for just the right moment and then accused Schmidt of killing her, even though his evidence was entirely circumstantial.

To his surprise, Schmidt broke down and began to sob. “I killed her because I loved her.” Before asking for a lawyer, he admitted that he married her (after having performed the ceremony himself in February 1913) and that he was torn between his love for her and his love of the priesthood. In the end he decided that he could not be married and decided to end the unholy union by slashing Anna’s throat after being commanded by God’s voice. Then he dismembered her and disposed of her body parts in the Hudson River.

Priest Schmiest.

Catholics throughout the diocese took up a collection to pay for Father Schmidt’s defense. They looked upon him as a sinner more than a murderer, and therefore worthy of their pity. But as more facts came to light, they began to regret their decision.

Further investigation revealed that he stole money from the church poor box, impersonated a doctor, and ran a counterfeiting operation from an apartment he rented on St. Nicholas Avenue. The police arrested Schmidt’s partner in the money scheme, a dentist named Ernest Muret, who ended up doing time in a federal penitentiary. There was even speculation that in 1909, shortly after his first posting in the United States, Schmidt had murdered a nine-year-old girl in Louisville, Kentucky, although in that case the parish janitor was convicted.

After speaking to Schmidt, his lawyers became convinced that an insanity plea was the only way to save him from the electric chair. Both the defense and the prosecution hired their own teams of alienists to examine Schmidt at length. Each side agreed that the priest was mentally unbalanced, as did a number of witnesses who told tales of his bloodlust. But in New York State, to prove insanity, a killer must not know that what he was doing was wrong at the time of commission. The prosecutor argued that Schmidt, despite his admissions about his past conduct, must have known what he did was wrong, or he would not have taken such drastic measures to dispose of Anna’s body and conceal his identity. The prosecutor even pointed out that Father Schmidt said Mass the morning after the murder so as not to arouse suspicion.

The first trial in December 1913 resulted in a hung jury: ten in favor of guilt, two who held out, believing he was insane. The second trial took place just a month later, and the testimony was almost identical in nature, except for the introduction of a surprise witness by the prosecution, Miss Bertha Zech. She testified that she met Father Schmidt through the dentist a year ago, and that she accompanied him when he bought a $5,000 life insurance policy for Anna Aumuller, in which he was the sole beneficiary. Anna never knew about it, because Bertha forged her signature.

The doomed Anna Aumuller

This time the jury took only seven hours to reach a guilty verdict. Father Schmidt was remanded to Sing Sing prison to await execution by the electric chair. While there, Schmidt tried to change his story. On appeal he said that he was not insane, but that Anna had died during a botched abortion. He claimed he covered it up only because he was a priest who should not have been involved with a woman in the first place. He insisted that he had not killed his wife and provided the name of the doctor whom he alleged performed the operation.

Although the doctor denied it, Schmidt’s lawyer arranged to have Anna’s body exhumed. The second postmortem indicated that Schmidt might have been telling the truth. There were indications that Anna had been pregnant, but the court ruled against him, because his statements alone did not constitute new evidence. Schmidt’s last hope for a reprieve was dashed when the Manhattan district attorney who oversaw his case, Charles Witman, was elected governor.

As  he was being strapped into the electric chair shortly before dawn on February 18, 1916, Father Schmidt begged forgiveness and forgave all who offended him. He was reciting the Lord’s Prayer as the state executioner turned the dial that sent 1,700 volts of electricity pulsating through his body. After the coroner confirmed Schmidt was dead, the chaplain at Sing Sing claimed his body. The burial plot of Father Schmidt, the only Catholic priest to be executed in the United States, remains a secret to this day.

Culled from: Undisclosed Files of the Police


Wretched Recommendations!

In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS JeannetteIn the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by Hampton Sides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1879, a group of explorers led by American George W. DeLong set off from San Francisco amid much fanfare and salutes on their way to explore the North Pole. They had been misled by misinformation that was commonly believed at the time: that there was a warm current of water that rushed northward to provide a track to the open sea just beyond the ice.  If they could just make it through that outer crust of ice, they could sail to the North Pole!

Sadly, just after they left on their journey, scientists disproved the notion of a warm waterway heading north, so they left the world behind on a fool’s errand. The world wouldn’t learn of their fate for several years as the ship became locked in ice and a brutal escape across the “kingdom of ice” was attempted.

I came into reading this book not knowing how the story would turn out, and that made it so much more suspenseful, so I highly suggest that you avoid reading spoilers and just pick up this book and experience the drama. Once I got past the inevitable slow start (where we meet the key characters), and got to the actual voyage, I couldn’t put the book down. It’s truly amazing what humans can accomplish when they have no other choice.

Andersonville Prisoner Diary Entry Du Jour!

This is the continuation of the 1864 diary of Andersonville prisoner Private George A. Hitchcock (see the archived version for all entries up until now).

Here’s today’s entry:

October 11th. Mild. Spent a more comfortable night. The sick at the sheds get hard tack. Three hundred prisoners from Sherman came in, captured between Atlanta and Marietta.

Culled from: Andersonville: Giving Up the Ghost

MFDJ 8/1/2022: That’s Entertainment!

Today’s Outrageous Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Given their bizarre psychological makeup, it’s no wonder that when serial killers are brought to trial, they sometimes create outrageous scenes. After spending their lives in the shadows, like bugs under a rock, they suddenly find themselves thrust onto center stage, with an audience that (in the media age) can number in the millions. With the whole world watching, some of these psychos proceed to put on quite a show.

During his 1924 trial, Fritz Haarmann – the infamous “Vampire of Hanover,” who murdered at least twenty-eight young boys by chewing through their throats – carried on like a talk show host. Puffing on a fat cigar, he heckled the witnesses and made frequent quips about his appalling crimes.

Fritz Haarman: The Entertainer

Haarmann’s countryman, the German sex-murderer Rudolph Pleil, used his trial as a platform for establishing his lethal pre-eminence. Pleil was charged with the rape-murder of nine women. Possessed of a perverse vanity, Pleil was indignant at these accusations, insisting that he was actually responsible for twenty-eight homicides. At his trial, he demanded that the official transcript refer to him as “der beste Totmacher” – “the best death-maker”.

Rudolph “I’m Number One!” Pleil

At roughly the same time in America, the “Lonely Hearts Killers,” Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, were on trial for a trio of killings, including the murder of a two-year-old child. At one point, the mountainous Beck – determined to demonstrate her undying love – detoured on her way to the witness stand to hurl herself into the arms of her skinny Latin lover (a scene not unlike the one in Walt Disney’s Fantasia when the hippo ballerina dives into the arms of her reptilian dance partner).

Love is a many-splendored thing!

Few trials, however, have been as outrageous aw that of Charles Mansion and his “family” of drug-crazed hippie assassins. Manson began the proceedings by marching into the courtroom with a big X carved into his forehead. “I have X-ed myself out of your world,” was his lucid explanation for this bizarre self-mutilation. At the height of the trial’s madness, Manson lunged at the judge and tried to assault him.

X marks the spot!

Culled from: The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers


Arcane Excerpts!

Here’s an excerpt from the fabulous Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine by George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle (1896) which begs the question: why would any woman ever choose to have children???

Combined Intrauterine and Extrauterine Gestation.Many well-authenticated cases of combined pregnancy, in which one of the products of conception was intrauterine and the other of extrauterine gestation, have been recorded. Clark and Ramsbotham report instances of double conception, one fetus being born alive in the ordinary manner and the other located extrauterine. Chasser speaks of a case in which there was concurrent pregnancy in both the uterus and the Fallopian tube. Smith cites an instance of a woman of twenty-three who became pregnant in August, 1870. In the following December she passed fetal bones from the rectum, and a month later gave birth to an intrauterine fetus of six months’ growth. McGee mentions the case of a woman of twenty-eight who became pregnant in July, 1872, and on October 20th and 21st passed several fetal bones by the rectum, and about four months later expelled some from the uterus. From this time she rapidly recovered her strength and health. Devergie quotes an instance of a woman of thirty who had several children, but who died suddenly, and being pregnant was opened. In the right iliac fossa was found a male child weighting 5 pounds and 5 ounces, 8 1/2 inches long, and of about five months’ growth. The uterus also contained am ale fetus of about three months’ gestation. Figure 4 shows combined intrauterine and extrauterine gestation. Hodgen speaks of a woman of twenty-seven, who was regular until November, 1872; early in January, 1873, she had an attack of pain with peritonitis, shortly after which what was apparently an extra-uterine pregnancy gradually diminished. On August 17, 1873, after a labor of eight hours, she gave birth to a healthy fetus. The hand in the uterus detected a tumor to the left, which was reduced to about one-fourth the former size. In April, 1874, the woman still suffered pain and tenderness in the tumor. Hodgen believed this to have been originally a tubal pregnancy, which burst, causing much hemorrhage and the death of the fetus, together with a limited peritonitis. Beach has seen a twin compound pregnancy in which after connection there was a miscarriage in six weeks and four years after delivery of an extrauterine fetus through the abdominal walls. Cooke cites an example of intrauterine and extrauterine pregnancy progressing simultaneously to full period of gestation, with resultant death. Rosset reports the case of a woman of twenty-seven, who menstruated last in November, 1878, and on August 5, 1879, was delivered of a well-developed dead female child weighing seven pounds. The uterine contractions were feeble, and the attached placenta was removed only with difficulty; there was considerable hemorrhage. The hemorrhage continued to occur at intervals of two weeks, and an extrauterine tumor remained. Two weeks later septicemia supervened and life was despaired of. On the 15th of October a portion of a fetus of five months’ growth in an advanced stage of decomposition protruded from the vulva. After the escape of this putrid mass her health returned, and in four months she was again robust and healthy. Whinery speaks of a young woman who at the time of her second child-birth observed a tumor in the abdomen on her right side and felt motion in it. In about a month she was seized with severe pain which continued a week and the woman afterward gave birth to a third child; subsequently she noticed that the tumor had enlarged since the first birth, and had a recurrence of pain and slight hemorrhage every three weeks, and distinctly felt motion in the tumor. This continued for eighteen months, when, after a most violent attack of pain, all movement ceased, and, as she expressed it, she knew the moment the child died. The tumor lost its natural consistence and felt flabby and dead. An incision was made through the linea alba, and the knife came in contact with a hard gritty substance, three or four lines thick. The escape of several quarters of dark brown fluid followed the incision, and the operation had to be discontinued on account of the ensuing syncope. About six weeks afterward a bone presented at the orifice, which the woman extracted, and this was soon followed by a mass of bones, hair and putrid matter. The discharge was small, and gradually grew less in quantity and offensiveness, soon ceasing altogether, and the wound closed. By December health was good, and the menses had returned.

MFDJ 1/15/2022: Green Mill Hotel Fire

Today’s Wretched Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On April 28, 1955, Chicago awoke to another in a series of fire tragedies involving a transient hotel.  Eight men and three firefighters died in a four-alarm fire at the Green Mill Hotel at 518 N. Green St., an older brick building that featured a combustible interior, open stairways, and no sprinkler system. The blaze erupted just after midnight, when many of the hotel’s 85 residents were asleep. Flames originated beneath a staircase on the first floor and spread so quickly that, by the time the first firefighters arrived, they were already exploding out the rear windows. Some 35 residents, including several women and children, hanging from the front windows, were taken down with ground ladders. In the back of the building a father dangled his two small children from a fourth-floor bay window while his wife stood next to him clutching ;a third child. As smoke billowed from the window, firefighter Karl Scheel of Truck 14 shouted to them not to jump. Scheel climbed up a drainpipe to the second-story roof of an adjacent building, butting him directly beneath the trapped family. “Throw me the kids,” he yelled to the parents who dropped them in his outstretched arms. Firefighters then threw a ladder up to Scheel, who wedged it against the bay window and climbed up to rescue the mother. By this time smoke had overcome the husband and he fell back into the room unconscious. With flames searing his eyebrows, the determined Scheel reached over the sill, pulled the father up, threw his limp body over his shoulders and brought him down the ladder. For this rescue, Scheel was awarded the fire department’s highest award, the Carter Harrison Medal.

A firefighter (presumably Scheel) carries an injured man to safety

As the fire continued to burn, an interior stairway between the second and third floor collapsed, plunging several firefighters advancing a hoseline into the flames. One captain was killed instantly while a second firefighter died four days later. A deputy fire marshal suffered a heart attack and succumbed the following week. Another firefighter was burned over 75 percent of his body after being trapped in the collapse. He remained in a coma for two months while undergoing numerous skin grafts to rebuild his face, shoulders, and ears. Though he recovered, he never returned to work. Because the Green Mill fire was listed as suspicious, the 11 deaths resulting from it were ruled homicides. No arsonist was ever apprehended, and the case remains unsolved.

Culled from: Great Chicago Fires: Historic Blazes That Shaped a City


Arcane Excerpts: Fetus Edition

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

Discharge of the Fetus through the Abdominal Walls.—Margaret Parry of Berkshire in 1668 voided the bones of a fetus through the flesh above the os pubis, and in 1684 she was alive and well, having had healthy children afterward. Brodie reports the history of a case in a negress who voided a fetus from an abscess at the navel about the seventeenth month of conception. Modern instances of the discharge of the extrauterine fetus from the walls of the abdomen are frequently reported. Algora speaks of an abdominal pregnancy in which there was spontaneous perforation of the anterior abdominal parietes, followed by death. Bouzal cites an extraordinary case of ectopic gestation in which there was natural expulsion of the fetus through abdominal walls, with subsequent intestinal strangulation. An artificial anus was established and the mother recovered. Brodie, Dunglison, Erich, Rodbard, Fox, and Wilson are among others reporting the expulsion of remnants of ectopic pregnancies through the abdominal parietes. Campbell quotes the case of a Polish woman, aged thirty-five, the mother of nine children, most of whom were stillborn, who conceived for the tenth time, the gestation being normal up to the lying-in period. She had pains followed by extraordinary effusion and some blood into the vagina. After various protracted complaints the abdominal tumor became painful and inflamed to the umbilical region. A breach in the walls soon formed, giving exit to purulent matter and all the bones of a fetus. During this process the patient received no medical treatment, and frequently no assistance in dressing the opening. She recovered, but had an artificial anus all her life. Sarah McKinna was married at sixteen and menstruated for the first time a month thereafter. Ten months after marriage she showed signs of pregnancy and was delivered at full term of a living child; the second child was born ten months after the first, and the second month after the second birth she again showed signs of pregnancy. At the close of nine months these symptoms, with the exception of the suppression of menses, subsided and in this state she continued for six years. During the first four years she felt discomfort in the region of the umbilicus. About the seventh year she suffered tumefaction of the abdomen and thought she had conceived again. The abscess burst and an elbow of the fetus protruded from the wound. A butcher enlarged the wound and, fixing his finger under the jaw of the fetus, extracted the head. On looking into the abdomen he perceived a black object, whereupon he introduced his hand and extracted piecemeal the entire fetal skeleton and some decomposed animal-matter. The abdomen was bound up, and in six weeks the woman was enabled to superintend her domestic affairs; excepting a ventral hernia she had no bad after-results. Kimura, quoted by Whitney, speaks of a case of extrauterine pregnancy in a Japanese woman of forty-one similar to the foregoing, in which an arm protruded through the abdominal wall above the umbilicus and the remains of a fetus were removed through the aperture. The Accompanying illustration shows the appearance of the arm in situ before extraction of the fetus and the location of the wound.

Bodinier and Lusk report instances of the delivery of an extrauterine fetus by the vagina; and Matheison relates the history of the delivery of a living ectopic child by the vagina, with recovery of the mother. Gordon speaks of a curious case in a negress, six months pregnant, in which an extrauterine fetus passed down from the posterior culdesac and occluded the uterus. It was removed through the vagina, and two days later labor-pains set in, and in two hours she was delivered of a uterine child. The placenta was left behind and drainage established through the vagina, and the woman made complete recovery.

MFDJ 12/31/2021: The Army Disease

Today’s Traumatized Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

The mental conditions attributed to those admitted to the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston, West Virginia from its opening in 1864 until it was completed in 1881 bordered on the bizarre, to say the least. The most common was “chronic mania,” an all-inclusive diagnosis meaning that it was not known what was wrong with these people or why, but whatever it was necessitated their removal from society [i.e. women who had a mind of their own! – DeSpair].  A significant number of the new patients were mentally traumatized by what they experienced during the Civil War, such as “death of sons in war,” “decoyed into the army,” “excitement as officer,” “explosion of a shell nearby,” “exposure in the army,” “fall from horse in war,” “gunshot wound,” or just, simply, “The War”.

Opium abuse was another newly acquired vice that can be largely attributed to the Civil War. There was a massive upswing in narcotics addiction in the latter part of the 19th century due to the liberal use of morphine to ease pain. Drug addiction was rare at the beginning of the 19th century but common at the end of it, at least in the United States. By conservative estimate the U.S. had some 200,000 drug addicts in the latter half of the 19th century. Long after the Civil War was over morphine addiction was still commonly referred to as “the army disease.”

Narcotics were handed out like candy by Civil War army doctors. Overwhelmed by so much suffering they had few remedies to offer other than pain killing drugs. Nearly ten million opium treated pills were ingested by Union soldiers along with another 2.8 million ounces in other forms. Opiates were used not only to numb pain but also for chronic soldier maladies like dysentery and malaria, which reached nearly epidemic proportions during the Civil War.

Drug use remained prevalent well after the war as many veterans still suffered from the lingering effects of old wounds.  In addition, physical and emotional drug dependency was not understood at the time and when wounds healed and medication abruptly withdrawn it induced psychosis in many former soldiers.

“Just a minute and I’ll make it all better.”

Culled from: Lunatic: The Rise and Fall of an American Asylum 


Arcane Excerpts: Idiot Edition

A Compendium of Insanity is a book written by John B. Chapin, M.D., LL.D. and published in 1898.  Chapin (1829-1918) was an American physician and mental hospital administrator. He was an advocate for the removal of mentally ill patients from the almshouses in New York State to a hospital setting and helped to pass a state law that provided hospital care for the patients.  Here is an excerpt from the book:

Idiocy; Imbecility

Definition.—A person born without mental faculties or capacity is an idiot. Idiocy is a congenital condition due to arrested or abnormal development, prenatal conditions, disease, or accident. It is accompanied by physical defects, as short stature, deformity, irregular gait, or defective articulation. Many idiots show evidence of cerebral meningitis in infancy. An idiot does not become insane, though he may have psychical explosions, because the mental faculties are not sufficiently developed to pass into a state of disorder or disease. He is one who requires the consideration of, and who is both by legal fiction and in fact, an infant throughout the whole life-period. The terms idiocy and imbecility are frequently used as synonyms, but by general agreement it is an aid to regard both as meaning a congenital defect, differing rather in degree, as might be expressed by the words partial and complete. The term imbecility has been applied with great convenience to partial or arrested development which begins to show itself early in life and before the age of puberty. The child may be well formed and the mental faculties seem to be developing in a normal direction, but when he reaches a period when new and enlarged relations are usually established, and an advance might be expected, he shows an incapacity to receive instruction, falls behind his fellows, has an ungovernable temper, is not amenable to discipline, is cruel to dumb and helpless animals, is devoid of affection, has no capacity for any business, and may have even criminal instincts from an apparent lack of all normal faculties.  Though he may reach an adult age, yet it comes to appear that he has not advanced beyond the capacity of a child of six or eight years.  Idiocy and imbecility, which imply deficiency of mind, are regarded as instances of congenital defect. They are not, however, to be confounded with or brought within the category of insanity, which is rather recognized as a disease or disorder of the mind. An imbecile may have an attack of insanity, depending on the degree of mental development. The several classes are treated and cared for in institutions that are quite unlike, although in a legal sense the insane, idiots, and imbeciles are regarded as persons of unsound mind.

A child may grow to manhood and then show an irregular development, as a strong will and vacillating judgment; a vigorous understanding and be destitute of affection, have peculiarities of dress and manner, a disposition to walk in certain fixed directions, to touch person and places in passing, to talk aloud when alone and gesticulate in periods of abstraction, or to assume unusual modes of dress and living. Channels of thought are formed which become habits from frequent repetition. None of these peculiarities amount to insanity, but may be strictly in the line of a normal growth and development. They are the characteristics that normally belong to some individuals, and are regarded as eccentricities, but do not in themselves amount to a state of insanity, and need not have consideration here further than to place them properly as indicating a degree of degeneration inherited or acquired.

MFDJ 10/28/2021: Lonely Hearts Club Killer

Today’s Pig-like, Blackened Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Harry F. Powers (born Harm Drenth; November 17, 1893 – March 18, 1932) was a Dutch-born American serial killer who was hanged in Moundsville, West Virginia.

Powers lured his victims through “Lonely Hearts” advertisements, claiming he was looking for love, but ultimately murdering them for their money. Davis Grubb’s 1953 novel The Night of the Hunter and its 1955 film adaptation were based on these crimes. Jayne Anne Phillips’s novel Quiet Dell (2013) examined the Powers case anew.

Harm Drenth was born in 1893 in Beerta, in the Netherlands. He immigrated to the United States in 1910 and lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His family came to the U.S. in 1911. Harm moved to West Virginia in 1926.

In 1927, he married Luella Strother, an owner of a farm and grocery store, after responding to her lonely hearts advertisement. Though now married, Powers took out his own lonely hearts advertisements. Many women wrote in response to his advertisement. “Postal records later indicated that replies to Powers’ advertisement poured in at a rate of 10 to 20 letters per day.” Powers constructed a garage and basement at his home in Quiet Dell; the garage was later discovered to be the scene of the murders, of which he was convicted.

After his 1931 arrest, police investigation using fingerprints and photographs revealed that he had been incarcerated for burglary under his birth name in Barron County, Wisconsin in 1921–1922. Although not charged, Powers was suspected of involvement in the 1928 disappearance of Dudley C. Wade, a carpet sweeper salesman with whom he had once worked, and the unsolved murder of a Jane Doe in Morris, Illinois.

Using the alias “Cornelius Orvin Pierson,” Powers began writing letters to Asta Eicher, a widowed mother of three residing in Park Ridge, Illinois. Powers went to visit Eicher and her children—Greta, Harry, and Annabel—on June 23, 1931, and soon left with Eicher for several days. Elizabeth Abernathy cared for the children until she received a letter saying that “Pierson” was going to come pick up the children to join him and their mother. When he arrived, he sent a child to the bank to withdraw money from Eicher’s account. The child returned empty-handed because the signature on the check was forged. Powers and the children then hastily departed. He told neighbors concerned about their disappearance that they were on a trip to Europe.

Who could resist this man???

Some time later, Powers courted Dorothy Pressler Lemke from Northborough, Massachusetts, who was also looking for love through lonely hearts advertisements. He brought her to Iowa to marry her and persuaded her to withdraw $4,000 from her bank account. Lemke did not notice that instead of sending her trunks to Iowa, where Powers claimed to be living, he sent them to the address of “Cornelius O. Pierson” of Fairmont, West Virginia. Asta Eicher, her children, and Dorothy Lemke had disappeared with no explanation.

In August 1931, police began investigating the disappearances of Asta Eicher and her children, beginning with “Pierson”, who was discovered emptying Eicher’s house. They found love letters, which led them to Quiet Dell, where “Pierson” lived under the name Harry Powers with his wife. Powers was arrested and his house in Quiet Dell was searched. Police found the crime scene in four rooms located under Pierson’s garage. Bloody clothing, hair, a burned bankbook and a small bloody footprint of a child were discovered. Citizens of the town began to arrive at the scene to watch the investigation unravel. A 15-year-old bystander informed the sheriff that he had recently helped Powers dig a ditch on his property. The freshly filled-in ditch was then dug up, and the bodies of Asta Eicher, her children, and Dorothy Lemke were uncovered.

Poor Asta Eicher and her children.

Evidence and autopsy results showed that the two girls and their mother were strangled to death while the young boy’s head was beaten in with a hammer. Lemke was the last victim uncovered; she had also been strangled, with a belt still wrapped around her neck. Love letters were found in the trunk of Powers’ automobile. He had written back to many women with the intention of stealing their money and killing them, just as with his most recent victims.

Shortly following his arrest, Powers received two black eyes and bruising, allegedly from falling down a staircase during his questioning. On September 20, 1931, a lynch mob attempting to take Powers from the jail was dispersed with fire hoses and tear gas. Powers was then moved to the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville.

“Tell ’em you fell down a staircase, or else!”

Powers’ five-day trial was held at a local opera house because of the large number of spectators. Numerous witnesses testified to the evidence in Powers’ home, that he had been with the victims and picked up their luggage, and so on; Powers also testified for himself. On December 12, 1931, he was sentenced to death, and he was hanged on March 18, 1932.

Culled from: Wikipedia

So the entire reason I selected this story as a fact is because the next image I was going to share in the New York Noir book features this stunning photo and description of Harry.

September 1, 1931
Daily News photo

His pig-like eyes, bruised, blackened by his captors, are the only spots of color in the pasty, cruel face of Harry F. Powers, the heartless Butcher of Clarksburg, as he recites to a detective in his cell the grisly details of how he strangled two women and three pitifully helpless children in his charnel house garage near Clarksburg, W. Va.

Can you imagine if newspapers still used descriptions like that?  What would they have said about the likes of Brian Laundrie?

“His weasel-like face betrays the lack of conscience that only the lowest miscreant possesses…”


Arcane Excerpts!

I have an exciting new addition to my Arcane Book Collection!  The Perfect Woman by Mary R. Melendy, M.D., Ph.D. (1903)

Here’s the full title for you:

My cover is illegible but this is what it looks like when it’s in decent condition:

Anyway, I need to share some sage advice from the pages of this remarkable book.


Self-abuse is practiced among growing girls to such an extent as to arouse serious alarm. Many a girl has been led to handle and play with her sexual organs through the advice of some girl who has obtained temporary pleasures in that way, or, perchance, chafing has been followed by rubbing until the organs have become congested with blood, and in this accidental manner the girl discovered what seem to her a source of pleasure, but which, alas, is a source of misery, and even death.

As in the boy, so in the girl, self-abuse causes an undue amount of blood to flow to those organs, thus depriving other parts of the body of its nourishment, the weakest part first showing the effect of want of sustenance. All that has been said upon this loathsome subject in the chapter for boys might well be repeated here, but space forbids.

Read that chapter again, and know that the same signs which betray the boy, will make known the girl addicted to this vice. The bloodless lips, the dull, heavy eye surrounded with dark rings, the nerveless hand, the blanched cheek, the short breath, the old, faded look, the weakened memory, and silly irritability tell the story all too plainly.  [Wow, I feel bad for people who suffered from illness back then – everyone thought they were orgasm addicts! – DeSpair] The same evil result follows, ending perhaps in death, or worse, in insanity. Aside from the injury the girl does to herself by yielding to this habit, there is one other reason which appeals to the conscience, and that is, self-abuse is an offense against moral law — it is putting to a vile, selfish use the organs which were given only for a high, sacred purpose.

Let them alone, except to care for them when care is needed, and they may prove the greatest blessing you have ever known. They were given you that you might become a mother, the highest office to which God has ever called one of His creatures. Do not debase yourself and become lower than the beasts of the field.

If this habit has fastened itself upon any one of our readers, stop it now. Do not allow yourself to think about it; give up evil associations, seek pure companions, and go to your mother, older sister, or physician for advice.

And you, mother, knowing the danger that besets your daughters at this critical point, are you justified in keeping silent? Can you be held guiltless if your daughter ruins body and mind because you were too modest to tell her the laws of her being? There is no love that is dearer to your daughter than yours, no advice that is more respected than yours, no one whose warning would be more potent. Fail not in your duty. As motherhood has been your sweetest joy, so help your daughter to make it hers.

MFDJ 04/20/2020: The Galveston Disaster

Today’s Steadily Rising Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

On September 8, 1900, Galveston—a low-elevation sand island just off Texas’s Gulf coast—was struck by a category 4 hurricane that decimated the island and killed thousands of people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

On the day before the hurricane struck, heavy swells were noticed in the Gulf, and by the early morning of the 8th, coastal areas of Galveston had begun to flood. Rain showers started later that morning, with heavy rains beginning by noon. By 3:30 p.m. water covered half the city, and it continued to steadily rise until about 8:30 p.m. In total, the storm surge rose about 15-20 feet, completely submerging the island (which sat just 9 feet above sea level). In addition to the flood of water, hurricane-velocity winds started around 5 p.m., topping out at an estimated 140 miles per hour and turning debris into deadly projectiles. The storm center passed over around 8:30 p.m., and finally, around 11 p.m., the wind began to subside.

The next morning, survivors discovered the hurricane had left mass devastation in its wake. The lowest estimate of those killed is 6,000, though estimates of 8,000 or 12,000 are also common. More than 3,600 houses (about half of the residence portion of the island) were totally destroyed, with all remaining structures suffering varying levels of damage.

The vast number of dead, combined with the heat and humidity, quickly created a horrible stench across the island. Residents originally tried to bury many of the dead at sea, but when the tide washed the bodies back to shore, they began to burn the bodies instead.

A victim lies beneath the wreckage.

A nationwide relief effort was launched to help Galveston’s devastated population, and in the months and years following the hurricane, Galveston rebuilt. Between 1902 and 1904 a 3-mile-long seawall was built to try to mitigate the damage of future storm surges. Likewise, from 1904 to 1910, sand was used to raise the city’s elevation 17 feet near the seawall, with a gradual downward slope toward the bay.

Men recovering bodies.

At the time of the hurricane, Galveston had been a major port and a leading city in Texas and the Gulf region. However, afterward, Galveston never regained its former glory, and Houston became the powerhouse in the region instead.

Preparing to cremate a rotting body.

Culled from: Newspapers.Com


Arcane Excerpts

Parents would be wise to heed this timeless advice from Sex Searchlights and Sane Sex Ethics: An Anthology of Sex Knowledge by Dr. Lee Alexander Stone (1926):

Prevention of the Habit of Masturbation. 

The keynote of preventing the habit is, carefully to watch the child from its earliest infancy. We know that not infrequently stupid or vicious nursemaids, wet-nurses, and even governesses, ignorantly or deliberately induce the habit in children under their charge. This, of course, must be prevented. Even children of the age of nine, ten, eleven years should not be left alone, but always be under supervision. Too close friendship between boys or girls, particularly of different ages, should be looked upon with suspicion.

A number of children should never sleep in the same room without supervision by an older person.

The sleeping together of two in the same bed, whether it be two children or a grown person and a child, should not be permitted under any circumstances. I admit of no exceptions to this demand. It makes no difference whether the other person is a mother, a father, a brother or a sister. Leaving out of the question any deliberate element, the thing is dangerous; for, very often, unintentionally, unwittingly, masturbation, is initiated by this intimate contact.

The child – boy or girl – should sleep alone, on a rather hard mattress. The covering should be light. A coverlet may be put over the feet. The child should always sleepi with the arms out upon the cover or blanket, never under the same. If this is done from childhood on, it is very easy to get used to this way of sleeping, and many a case of masturbation will thus be obviated. The child should not be permitted to loll in bed; it must be taught to get up as soon as it awakes in the morning. The general bringing up must be of a strengthening, hardening character; and this applies both to the body and the will.

Every factor liable to give rise to the habit should be removed. Thus, for instance, eczema about the genitals, strongly acid urine, seatworms, and the like, should be treated until cured. That anything having a tendency prematurely to awaken the sexual instinct should be rigorously avoided, goes without saying.

[I had to look up ‘seatworms’ – it’s an old term for pinworms. – DeSpair]