April, 2000

April 2, 2000
Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died. William G. Shepherd was an eyewitness to the atrocity: "As I reached the scene of the fire, a cloud of smoke hung over the building. . . . I looked up to the seventh floor. There was a living picture in each window--four screaming heads of girls waving their arms. "Call the firemen," they screamed... One girl climbed onto the window sash. Those behind her tried to hold her back. Then she dropped into space. Then came that first thud. I looked up, another girl was climbing onto the window sill; others were crowding behind her. She dropped. I watched her fall, and again the dreadful sound. Two windows away two girls were climbing onto the sill; they were fighting each other and crowding for air. Behind them I saw many screaming heads. They fell almost together, but I heard two distinct thuds. Then the flames burst out through the windows on the floor below them, and curled up into their faces. The firemen... took out a life net and, while they were rushing to the sidewalk with it, two more girls shot down. The firemen held it under them; the bodies broke it; the grotesque simile of a dog jumping through a hoop struck me. Before they could move the net another girl's body flashed through it. As I looked up I saw a love affair in the midst of all the horror. A young man helped a girl to the window sill. Then he held her out, deliberately away from the building and let her drop. He held out a second girl the same way and let her drop. Then he held out a third girl who did not resist. I noticed that. They were as unresisting as if her were helping them onto a streetcar instead of into eternity. Undoubtedly he saw that a terrible death awaited them in the flames, and his was only a terrible chivalry. He brought another girl to the window. Those of us who were looking saw her put her arms about him and kiss him. Then he held her out into space and dropped her. But quick as a flash he was on the window sill himself. His coat fluttered upward--the air filled his trouser legs. I could see that he wore tan shoes and hose. His hat remained on his head. Thud--dead, thud--dead--together they went into eternity." (The Triangle Fire, donated by Fearless Freya)

April 3, 2000
Part 2 of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Disaster:
Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died. William G. Shepherd was an eyewitness to the atrocity: "The firemen raised the longest ladder. It reached only to the sixth floor. I saw the last girl jump at it and miss it. And then the faces disappeared from the window. I heard screams around the corner and hurried there. What I had seen before was not so terrible as what had followed. Up in the [ninth] floor girls were burning to death before our very eyes. They were jammed in the windows. No one was lucky enough to be able to jump, it seemed. But, one by one, the jams broke. Down came the bodies in a shower, burning, smoking--flaming bodies, with disheveled hair trailing upward. They had fought each other to die by jumping instead of by fire. The whole, sound, unharmed girls who had jumped on the other side of the building had tried to fall feet down. But these fire torches, suffering ones, fell inertly, only intent that death should come to them on the sidewalk instead of in the furnace behind them. On the sidewalk lay heaps of broken bodies. A policeman later went about with tags, which he fastened with wires to the wrists of the dead girls, numbering each with a lead pencil, and I saw him fasten tag no. 54 to the wrist of a girl who wore an engagement ring. A fireman who came downstairs from the building told me that there were at least fifty bodies in the big room on the seventh floor. Another fireman told me that more girls had jumped down an air shaft in the rear of the building. I went back there, into the narrow court, and saw a heap of dead girls... The floods of water from the firemen's hose that ran into the gutter were actually stained red with blood. I looked upon the heap of dead bodies and I remembered these girls were the shirtwaist makers. I remembered their great strike of last year in which these same girls had demanded more sanitary conditions and more safety precautions in the shops. These dead bodies were the answer." (The Triangle Fire, donated by Fearless Freya)

April 4, 2000
A real-life Hannibal Lecter turned his jail cell into a sickening slaughterhouse when he gutted and gouged a convicted child abuser in a Cardiff, Wales prison. The crazed prisoner tore out his cell mate's eye, filleted his stomach - and sat his liver on a chair. The killer used a sharpened metal comb or a spoon for his evil work. One prison insider said: "It was horrific... One of his eyes had been gouged out and his stomach had been gutted. A couple of prison officers who went into the cell after the alarm was sounded were physically sick at what they saw. It was a horrible scene. There was blood everywhere." They found the gouged-out eye placed on top of a clothes locker and the liver on a chair. The alleged killer - serving five years for robbery, assault and breaching a probation order - then calmly pressed the alarm button and waited for prison staff to arrive. The victim was Colin Bloomfield, 35, just one week into a six-month sentence for child neglect after being jailed at Newport Crown Court on March 24. The heroin addict had been put straight into the two-man cell in the jail's vulnerable prisoners' unit, where inmates at risk of attack from fellow prisoners are housed. The Newport man was declared dead at 10:30pm, 30 minutes after the alarm was raised on Sunday night. (MegaStar - News, donated by Jake)

April 5, 2000
Dark Ages tyrant Ibrahim ibn Ahmed, prince of Africa and Sicily in the second half of the ninth century delighted in committing horrible atrocities. On one occasion, when one of his three hundred eunuchs had by chance been witness of the tyrant's drunkenness, Ibrahim slaughtered the whole band. He is said to have put an end to sixty youths, originally selected for his pleasures, burning them by gangs of five or six in the furnace, or suffocating them in the hot chambers of his bath. Eight of his brothers were murdered in his presence and when one, who was so diseased that he could scarcely stir, implored to be allowed to end his days in peace, Ibrahim answered, "I make no exceptions". His own son Aghlab was beheaded by his orders before his eyes. But his fiercest fury was directed against women. He seems to have been darkly jealous of the perpetuation of the human race. Wives and concubines were strangled, sawn asunder, and buried alive if they showed signs of pregnancy. His female children were murdered as soon as they saw the light; sixteen of them, whom his mother managed to conceal and rear at her own peril, were massacred on the spot when Ibrahim discovered whom they claimed as father. (The Mammoth Book Of The History Of Murder)

April 7, 2000
An elderly woman lived at home with her husband lying dead in bed for four months before he was found by police alerted by a worried relative. Munich police said Thursday (April 6, 2000) the 76-year-old man had apparently died of natural causes in December. His sister had finally turned to the police after his wife had repeatedly told her by telephone he did not want to see visitors. The gruesome find followed the discovery last month of an elderly couple and their dog in their Munich apartment weeks after they had died. The woman died of a heart attack. Her husband -- who was wheelchair-bound -- broke his neck while apparently coming to her aid. Their pet Yorkshire terrier had starved. (Reuters, donated by Bruce Townley

April 8, 2000
A 42-year-old man killed himself watching the August, 1999 solar eclipse while driving near Kaiserslautern, Germany. A witness driving behind him stated that the man was weaving back and forth as he concentrated on the partially occluded sun, when he suddenly accelerated and hit the bridge pier. He had apparently just donned his solar viewers, which are dark enough to totally obscure everything except the sun. (The Official Darwin Awards, donated by SuperMatt)

April 10, 2000
The first celebrity hangman was Derrick, the hangman of James I's reign (early 1600's). He gave his name to the derrick crane which is the same shape as the gallows. He would have died on them if it had not been for the intervention of his patron, the Earl of Essex. On the famous raid on Cadiz, Derrick hanged 23 people and was then himself sentenced to death for rape. Fortunately, Essex pardoned him, which he must have regretted later, because a few years later Derrick cut off Essex's head for treason. (Crimes And Punishment: The Illustrated Crime Encyclopedia, Volume 11)

April 11, 2000
Nannie Doss - dupped the "Giggling Granny" by the press because she chuckled with amusement while confessing her crimes - became incensed when police accused her of killing four husbands for their insurance policies (which were, in fact, pretty paltry). An avid reader of true-romance fiction, Nanny insisted that she had murdered for love, not money. "I was searching for the perfect mate, the real romance of life." When a husband didn't measure up, she simply dispatched him (slipping liquid rat poison into his corn whiskey or stewed prunes), then went in search of another Prince Charming. Of course, her explanation was not entirely convincing, since her victims also included her mother, two sisters, two children, one grandson, and her nephew. Nannie Doss was sentenced to ife in prison, where she died of leukemia in 1965 after writing her memoirs for Life magazine. She murdered neither for love nor money. She killed because she enjoyed it. (The A To Z Encyclopedia Of Serial Killers)

April 12, 2000
Nearly blind for the last third of his life, Irish author James Joyce was wearing thick glasses at age six. As a young, unpublished writer, he was destitute, surviving on cocoa, which resulted in illness and severe toothaches. He couldn't afford a dentist, and his tooth condition worsened, eventualy causing iritis of both eyes. In 1907 he suffered an attack of rheumatic fever. Ten years later the attacks of iritis were so acute that he once spent five weeks recovering from one. Then he devloped glaucoma. In 1923 he was advised to have all of his abscessed teeth extracted. This brought some relief from the iritis attacks, but between 1923 and 1926 he underwent seven eye operations, including one to remove the lens in his left eye. His eyes grew steadily worse. After his 10th eye operation (he was to have one more), he was able to see just enough to read newspaper headlines. On January 10, 1941, suffering from severe stomach pains, he was rushed to the hospital "writhing like a fish." X rays revealed a perforated duodenal ulcer. An operation was initially successful, but Joyce weakened and finally fell into a coma, awakening only once before he died. His last words were "Does nobody understand?" (The People's Almanac #2)

April 13, 2000
The Age Of The Despots was the period in the Middle Ages when Italy was dominated by small feudal lords whose power depended upon sheer brutality. The worst of these was a minor princeling called Ezzelino da Romano, who was born in 1184. By 1250, Ezzelino had turned into a sadistic madman. He seemed to have a peculiar horror of sex, which led to a kind of morbid obsession with organs associated with love or reproduction. He had young men castrated; girls had their breasts and lips removed. When he captured Friola he ordered a massacre accompanied by torture. Everybody was to be blinded, have their noses removed and have arms and legs chopped off. After this, they were left to die in the open. He walled up a whole family of his enemies in their castle, and left them to starve to death. It appealed to his grim sense of humor to leave corpses in the prisons, so that his captives had to live in an odor of rotting flesh. Chroniclers describe how he would walk through the city with a strange, mad look in his eyes, searching for victims. It is estimated that about a quarter of the population of Padua (5,000) were executed on his orders. (The Mammoth Book Of The History Of Murder)

April 14, 2000
Sixteen-year-old Sylvia Likens was found dead on October 26, 1965. An emergency call was recieved about a girl who had stopped breathing. When the police got to the house, Sylvia was found lying on a mattress on a second-story bedroom. She was half-naked laying on a urine soaked bed. Her body was covered with scars, burns, and welts, and on her stomach was the words "i am a prostitute and proud of it" carved into her skin. The woman that owned the home was Gertrude Baniszewski who claimed that Sylvia had been staying in the house for the summer, along with her sister Jenny. She said Sylvia had brought the torture and death onto herself by running away. While own her own, she was attacked by a pack of boys, and died shortly after returning home. But Jenny's story was different. Gertrude was given $20.00 a week to watch the Likens' children from their parents who were traveling with the Florida circus. They moved in with Baniszewski in July 1965. When the Likens girls' parents were late with their first weeks payment for the babysitting, Baniszewski decided to give Sylvia and Jenny a beating. While beating them she shouted "I took care of you bitches for nothing!" Even though they paid the next day, it didn't phase Gertrude a bit. Her brutality escalated over the next three months. From beatings by hand she moved to paddles, belts, and wooden boards. She singled out Sylvia for the harder punishment. She also recruited others to help her beat the children. Her first helpers were two of her own children, they were joined by some of the neighborhood children. One of them used her as a human punching bag by flinging her into concrete walls and down flights of stairs as a way to practice his martial arts throws. They would also assist Baniszewski. They would, at her direction, ground the glowing tips of cigarettes into her flesh inflicting over 150 burns. The worst still was yet to come. When Sylvia urinated on the mattress one night, the basement was made her prison. She was starved of any food and forced to eat and drink her own feces and urine. Then she was forced to stick a coke bottle in her vagina as a part of a grotesque strip tease. Baniszewski proceded to etch the words into Sylvia's belly with a heated needle. She died when she was knocked down onto the concrete floor when she was trying to get the attention of the neighbors. At Gertrude's trial she was given a life sentence. In 1985, she was released on parole. (Serial Killer Central, donated by Nina)

April 15, 2000
An early instance of premature burial is Johannes Duns Scotus, grammarian and metaphysician, who 'died' in Cologne around 1308 and whose body was placed in a vault. Some time later, when the vault was reopened, he was found outside the coffin, having torn his hands in a futile attempt to prise open the doors of his subterranean prison. (Death: A History Of Man's Obsessions And Fears)

April 16, 2000
In the Paris of centuries past, the living and the dead had long existed in close proximity. During the smallpox epidemic of 1418, some 50,000 corpses had to be disposed of within one six-week period. Back then, those who were not nobility had little expectation of a plot eternal. The dead of 20 parishes were brought to the Cemetery of the Innocents, a common burial site near a central marketplace, and wrapped in sheets and placed indecorously in the ground. But it was not be their final resting place. The soil of the Cemetery of the Innocents was said to be mange-chair, or "flesh-eating". Within a matter of weeks, flesh began to fall off the bones. Soon after, the remains were exhumed to make way for still more bodies. These skeletal remains eventually ended up among those lining the catacomb walls underneath the streets of Paris. (Smithsonian)

April 22, 2000
He is a cheerful old farmer who jokes as he serves rice cakes made by his wife and then he switches easily to explaining what it is like to cut open a 30-year-old man who is tied naked to a bed and dissect him alive, without anesthetic. "The fellow knew that it was over for him and so he didn't struggle when they led him into the room and tied him down," recalled the 72-year-old farmer, then a medical assistant in a Japanese army unit in China in World War II. "But when I picked up the scalpel, that's when he began screaming. I cut him open from the chest to the stomach and he screamed terribly and his face was all twisted in agony. He made this unimaginable sound, he was screaming so horribly. But then finally he stopped. This was all in a day's work for the surgeons, but it really left an impression on me because it was my first time." Finally, the old man, who insisted on anonymity, explained the reason for the vivisection: The prisoner, who was Chinese, had been deliberately infected with the plague as part of a research project, the full horror of which is only now emerging, to develop plague bombs for use in World War II. After infecting him, the researchers decided to cut him open to see what the disease does to a man's inside. That research program was one of the great secrets of Japan during and after World War II: a vast project to develop weapons of biological warfare, including plague, anthrax, cholera and a dozen other pathogens. Unit 731 of the Japanese Imperial Army conducted research by experimenting on humans and by "field testing" plague bombs by dropping them on Chinese cities to see whether they could start plague outbreaks. They could. Scholars and former members of the unit say that at least 3000 people and by some accounts several times that number were killed in the medical experiments; none survived. No one knows how many died in the "field testing". (The New York Times)