February, 2001


February 1, 2001
Somewhere around 1650 or 1660, a Dutch professor of chemistry called Sylvius discovered that a powerful spirit could be made by distilling the fermentation of juniper berries; this drink was called "geneva" (the French for juniper). It became popular in Holland, and when William of Orange became King in 1689, geneva began to flow into England in large quantities, and the name was shortened to "gin". Gin was cheap and easy to make. The English quickly realized that an even cheaper and stronger spirit could be distilled from low-grade corn, and an Act of Parliament in 1690 allowed anyone to brew and sell spirits without a license, with the consequence that every town in England was suddenly full of gin shops, many of which carried the famous advertisement: "Drunk for a penny, dead drunk for twopence, clean straw provided." Beer, wine and sherry had been too expensive for most labourers, but gin was within the reach of anybody who could earn or beg a penny. Inevitably, the crime rate rose; people in the slums had a great deal they wanted to forget, and twopence assured forgetfulness for at least 12 hours. In 1734, a dipsomaniac named Judith Dufour was executed for the murder of her baby. She had collected it from a workhouse, where it had been newly clothed, and strangled it, throwing the body into a ditch. She sold the clothes and spent the money on gin. On July 6, 1750, one Elizabeth Banks was hanged at Tyburn for "stripping a child" - no doubt with the same motive. (The Mammoth Book Of The History Of Murder)

February 3, 2001
A court in Niger handed a man who dismembered his cousin and ate bread soaked in his blood the minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, saying the gruesome killing had spared other people's lives (2/1/2001). The victim, Souley Halidou, had killed two of his relatives and threatened to murder more over a land dispute in the West African country. Witnesses said the village of Moli, some 40 miles from the capital Niamey, had lived in terror since Halidou hired a town crier to announce that he would kill again. On January 13, 1996, his cousin Hassan Salou, who said he feared for his own mother's safety, decided to take the law into his own hands and beat Halidou to death with a stick. Salou then cut him to pieces with a machete and ate a blood-soaked piece of bread before going to the police with the left arm of his victim. The court accepted the defense argument that "mitigating circumstances" were behind the killing when sentencing Salou on Tuesday. "I was perfectly sane, I wanted to protect my mother and the others in the village, because everyone wondered who would be Souley's next victim," Salou told the court. "Why did I dip the bread in his blood? I wanted to feel that he was dead, to convince myself that he wouldn't bother anybody anymore." (Reuters, donated by The Mourner)

February 4, 2001
On October 30, 1838, segments of the Missouri militia attacked a settlement of Latter-day Saints at Jacob Haun's mill, located on Shoal Creek in eastern Caldwell County, Missouri. Because the attack was unprovoked in a time of truce, had no specific authorization, and was made by a vastly superior force with unusual brutality, it has come to be known as "The Haun's Mill Massacre." It was one incident in the conflict between the Missourians and the Latter-day Saints that resulted in the LDS expulsion from the state in 1839. Tensions had been building up ever since the Latter-day Saints began moving into Caldwell and Daviess counties in central Missouri in 1836. From August to October 1838, incidents of overt conflict had grown dramatically. Rumors abounded that the Mormons planned to "despoil" the Missourians and take their land. Outbursts of violence led Governor Lilburn W. Boggs on October 27 to issue an "Extermination Order," demanding that the Latter-day Saints leave the state or be exterminated. It is uncertain whether this order was a catalyst for the attack, but it is clear that both the Latter-day Saints and the Missourians believed that their rights had been violated and their existence threatened. Thirty to forty LDS families were at Haun's Mill when some 200 to 250 militia from Livingston, Daviess, and Carroll counties, acting under Colonel Thomas Jennings, marched against the village. Assuming that an earlier truce still held, the residents were surprised by the late afternoon attack. Church leader David Evans' call for "quarter" was ignored, and the villagers were forced to flee for safety. The Mormon women and children fled south across a stream into the woods, while the men gathered in the blacksmith shop, but found it a poor place for defense because the Missourians were able to fire through the widely spaced logs directly into the group huddled inside. Seventeen Latter-day Saints and one friendly non-Mormon were killed. Another thirteen were wounded, including one woman and a seven-year-old boy. No Missouri militiamen were killed, though three were wounded. Certain deaths were particularly offensive to the Saints. Seventy-eight-year-old Thomas McBride surrendered his musket to militiaman Jacob Rogers, who shot him, then hacked his body with a corn knife. William Reynolds discovered ten-year-old Sardius Smith hiding under the bellows and blew the top of the child's head off. While women cared for the wounded, the men remained in hiding during the night. The dead were thrown into an unfinished well and lightly covered with dirt and straw. A few Missourians returned the next day, took plunder, and warned the remaining Saints to leave Missouri. (Mormons.Org)

February 5, 2001
A woman snapping photographs in the California desert appears to have stumbled onto the remains of a 5-year-old Missouri girl who was murdered in 1993 for failing to recite the alphabet. Angel Hart was killed in 1993 by Gary Christian, her mother's boyfriend, who drowned her in the bathtub of a motel in Kansas City, Mo., and encased the girl's body in concrete. Two months after the slaying, he and Angel's mother, Angela Melton, and the woman's two other children drove West with the body. Near the California-Arizona line, Christian dumped the concrete block. Angel's disappearance came to light after Melton applied for food stamps in California and a caseworker determined that one of her children was missing. Christian admitted killing the girl. Prosecutors let him plead guilty to second-degree murder in 1996 in exchange for helping them find the body. He led investigators to the rural area, but searches failed to find her. Then on Saturday afternoon, a woman who spends her winters in the desert was out taking photographs of the marsh when she noticed a concrete block. She pushed it with her foot, and it popped open, said Gary Hayes, Imperial County's deputy coroner. In the concrete, the woman could see skeletal remains. "It appears to be Angel's remains, based on the location and the entombment of the corpse, and even the position of the corpse and the mold of the body and everything from the cement," Hayes said. A fire in recent years had cleared the area of vegetation and probably fractured the concrete block, making the discovery possible, Chief Deputy Coroner Rick Macken said. (The Associated Press, donated by Neil Langdon Inglis)

February 7, 2001
In September 1972, an entire panel of state-appointed psychiatrists interviewed Edmund Kemper to determine how well he had adjusted to life since his release from a mental hospital three years earlier. The doctors were unanimous in their judgement — Kemper was no longer a threat to society. Kemper drove away from the interview free from any further psychiatric supervision. Inside the trunk of his car was the head of a fifteen-year-old girl he had decapitated the previous day. (The A to Z Encylopedia of Serial Killers)

February 8, 2001
In 1948, a man claiming to be Dr. Jiro Yamaguchi of Japan's Welfare Department visited the Shiinimaki branch of the Tokyo Imperial Bank shortly before closing time. He explained that occupying Americans were worried about a dysentery epidemic. Doctor Yamaguchi gave the manager and 14 clerks a liquid dose of medicine. In fact, the liquid was potassium cyanide and 12 of the bank employees died. The doctor escaped with a grand total of $400 that was left out at the bank. The attack was the second such crime in Japan and authorities pulled out every stop to find the perpetrator. Eventually, a stray business card was tracked back to artist Sadimacha Hirasawa, a local painter and the head of an art association. Although he seemed to be a particularly unlikely suspect, Hirasawa confessed to impersonating a doctor and committing the awful murders. (The History Channel, donated by Niko Nuriko)

February 9, 2001
Along the California Trail during the American Westward Expansion of the 1840's, hardships were rampant and the death rate was high. Disease was the number one killer: scurvy, smallpox, tick-borne fever, but mostly cholera. In 1850 cholera felled at least 2,000 even before they could reach Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Drownings took a heavy toll at the river crossings, especially on the Platte and on the Green, which swallowed 37 travelers that year. Death was also frequent by accidental gunshot. One man near Scotts Bluff, Nebraska had his jaw "shot away when a loaded pistol fired from his breast pocket". Of the travelers in John Bidwell's 1841 company the only one to perish on the trail was a young man aptly named Shotwell, who, in the act of drawing a rifle muzzle first from his wagon, managed to trip its hammer. The eponymous Shotwell "lived about an hour," Bidwell noted, then "died in the full possession of his senses". By one estimate 20,000 people died on the California Trail between 1841 and 1859 — an average of ten graves for every mile. What probably put down most of the unlucky ones or made them susceptible to accidents and disease was a combination of contaminated water, inadequate food, and exhaustion from the constant toil. (National Geographic)

February 11, 2001
When suicidal Golden Gate Bridge jumpers land on open water, the result does not appear particularly grisly, at least on initial inspection. "If you look at these people," says Gary Erickson, the Marin County coroner's investigator whose job is to do just that, "they don't look like there's a whole lot wrong with them." Depending on what position they were in when they hit, very few bones may be broken. Bodies that enter the water feet first or lying flat tend to emerge with the skeleton largely intact. Of the 169 Golden Gate Bridge suicides in a research paper by Richard Snyder, 17 had no fractures at all, and two had no injuries. If you manage to enter the water feet first and close to vertical, it's possible to survive a leap from the bridge. But it's not very likely: At the time of Snyder's paper, the death rate was 99.3 percent. Ironically, according to another of Snyder's papers, suicides are more likely than accidental plungers to survive extreme impacts -- perhaps because they wish to die and are thus more relaxed when they hit. Usually what kills you is your ribs. According to Snyder's research, 85 percent of the jumpers had broken ribs. (By comparison, only 15 percent emerged with fractured vertebrae, and only a third with arm or leg fractures.) These jagged pieces of rib "macerate," to use Erickson's verb, the heart, lungs and/or major arteries. Of the bodies in Snyder's paper, 76 percent had punctured lungs, and 57 percent had heart or "great vessel" ruptures. Dying in this manner is akin to death by gunshot or a stab wound to the heart: It's not always instantaneous, but it's very fast. When a major artery is severed, the brain quickly shuts down for lack of oxygen-bearing blood. "When a vessel the size of the carotid artery has been cut wide open," writes Sherwin Nuland, author of "How We Die," "the entire sequence can take less than a minute." One thing is known: It happens fast enough that few people drown. Only 45 of the 169 suicides in Snyder's paper lived long enough to inhale much water. ( Salon.Com, donated by Jennifer)

February 13, 2001
While taking classes at the famed Sorbonne in 1981, Issei Sagawa, invited fellow student Renee Hartevelt to his apartment to discuss literature. Once the unsuspecting "dinner guest" arrived,Sagawa shot her in the back of the neck, had sex with her dead corpse, and ate portions of her body over the next two days. "It had no smell or taste, and melted in my mouth like raw tuna," he wrote in "In the Fog," his post-cannibal best-selling account of his dinner with Renee. "Finally I was eating a beautiful white woman, and thought nothing was so delicious!" In custody Sagawa was found incompetent to stand trial and placed in the Paul Guiraud asylum in Paris. Through family connections he was transferred to a hospital in Tokyo. And within fifteen months of hospitalization his influential father secured his release. By then, Sagawa had become a national celebrity. He has written four books and writes a weekly column for a Japanese tabloid. He often appears on television , and recently stated: "The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism, and I am happy about that. I will always look at the world through the eyes of a cannibal." ( The Japanese Cannibal, donated by skye)

February 15, 2001
As the Black Death spread through Europe in the 1300's, it devastated whole populations. By 1348 millions were dying in England, France, Germany, and Austria. The stench of decaying bodies filled the air in cities and entire families sickened and died. Half the population of Florence perished within six months. 50,000 bodies were buried in one mass grave in London. In Vienna 1,200 people died each day. As the space available for burial was taken up, the pope had to consecrate the Rhone River at Avignon so that bodies could be thrown into it. Church bells tolled day and night for funerals. The government of Florence tried to prevent widespread despair by prohibiting ringing of bells for funerals and banning the publication of the numbers of dead. (The Pessimist's Guide To History)

February 20, 2001
A body was found in the wheel well of a US Airways jet at San Francisco International Airport, but authorities were not immediately sure how the man died or whether he was a stowaway. The man was discovered a few minutes after landing late Monday (2/19/01). His body was found by a mechanic checking a possible hydraulic leak on Flight 741, which originated at London's Gatwick Airport. The flight stopped in Pittsburgh before landing in San Francisco at 8:45 p.m. The San Mateo County coroner's office was awaiting information from England, and expected an identification might come by Wednesday morning. London authorities believe the man may be the same person who was arrested at Gatwick on Sunday for breaching security regulations. The mechanic found the man in the 767-200's center wheel well, which is about 15 feet wide and 20 feet long. Stowing away in an airliner wheel well often is fatal. When the wheels retract, the area is enclosed, but it's not pressurized, so there is limited oxygen and extremely cold temperatures. "If he thought he could survive a trip like that in that part of the airplane, he was sadly mistaken," said San Francisco airport spokesman Ron Wilson. "At higher altitudes you can get to almost minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit with no oxygen. So the chances of surviving something like that are totally remote," Wilson said. (The Associated Press)

February 23, 2001
A 28-year-old man has given up using the internet after finding his new-found love was a pensioner with a corpse in the freezer. Trevor Tasker flew to America to meet Wynema Faye Shumate who posed as a sexy thirty-something on the web. Shumate was jailed for one year while Mr Tasker is back home in Selby, North Yorkshire. Mr Tasker flew to South Carolina after 65-year-old Shumate hooked him with sexy chat and sent him a semi-naked photo taken 30 years ago. His shock at the airport turned to horror when he discovered Shumate had put her dead housemate Jim O'Neil in the freezer. She kept him there for a year while she lived in his house and used his money. He had died of natural causes. She had also lopped off one leg with an axe because the body was too big for the freezer. Trevor, home with his mum in Selby, said: "I'll never log on again. When I saw her picture I thought 'Wow.' But when she met me at the airport I almost had a heart attack. I certainly won't go near that internet." Shumate pleaded guilty to fraud and unlawful removal of a dead body and was given a year in prison (Ananova, generously donated by KSHOhio)