July 1997

July 1, 1997
James Camb was a 31-year-old steward on the ship Durban Castle who was convicted of murdering an attractive young actress named Gay Gibson on October 17, 1947. He trapped her in a cabin, attempted to rape her, then strangled her and threw her body through a porthole into shark-infested waters.

July 2, 1997
On Sunday, October 21, 1638, a tornado struck a church full of worshippers in the small village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon, England. There was a tremendous explosion, which wrecked the church. It is recorded that the congregation 'fell down into their seats and some upon their knees, some on their faces, and some on each other, with a great cry, they all giving themselves up for dead'. The tornado was accompanied by ball lightning. People were hurled into the air, some having their brains battered out on stone pillars, others surviving unhurt. One lady, a Mistress Ditford, 'Had her gowne, two waistcoates, and linen next to her body burned clean off.' About 60 people were killed and for a long time afterwards, it was believed that the Devil haunted Widecombe.

July 3, 1997
A case of rather harsh, yet poetic, justice: Robert Puelo, 32, was apparently being disorderly in a St. Louis market. When the clerk threatened to call police, Puelo grabbed a hot dog, shoved it in his mouth, and walked out without paying for it. Police found him unconscious in front of the store: paramedics removed the six-inch wiener from his throat, where it had choked him to death.

July 4, 1997
In celebration of Independence Day, here's a little Revolutionary War era historical tidbit on the Boston Massacre: An armed clash between the British and American colonists was almost intevitable from the time that British troops were introduced in Boston. Brawls were frequent between the British and the colonists, who were constantly insulting the troops. On March 5, 1770, a crowd of sixty townspeople surrounded British sentries guarding the customs house. They began pelting snowballs at the guards. Suddenly, a shot rang out, followed by several others. Ultimately, 11 colonists were hit. Five were dead, including Crispus Attucks, a former slave.

July 5, 1997
In what must surely be the most extreme case of homophobia on record, a New York man who claimed an intruder cut off his penis actually clipped it himself to discourage a male suitor. Earl Zea, 34, cut off his own penis with pruning shears so that an unnamed man would find another target for his affections. Zea told police an intruder maimed him while he slept in his living room. Police became suspicious after finding no bloodstains there. Zea will be charged only with falsely reporting an incident. "It's not against the law to remove your own penis", Fulton County District Attorney Polly Hoye said.

July 6, 1997
Shortly after his return from the Trojan War, the Greek hero Agamemnon was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra, who struck him twice with an ax while he was relaxing in the tub.

July 7, 1997
One of the more savage methods of capital punishment, utilized primarily in tropical regions, was to bury the victim up to his neck in the ground and leave him to the mercies of the sun and thirst. An even more wicked twist to this punishment was to build a small shelter of straw above the head - to keep out the sun - and to smear sweet material on the hair to attract ants and other insects

July 8, 1997
Rene Fonck was a French aviator who, in 1925, took up businessman Raymond Orteig's offer of a $25,000 prize to the first person to fly non-stop from New York to Paris. He was provided with an S-35 triple engine airplane - the most advanced of its day - which he had "beautified" with Spanish leather and mahogany walls. The plane exceeded its recommended maximum by 10,000 pounds but Fonck ignored pleas that it be stress-tested. To make matters worse, the plane was loaded down even further with souvenirs from well-wishers. Crippled by thousand of pounds of hubris, the plane's landing gear collapsed during takeoff, causing it to cartweel inot a gully at the end of the field and burst into flames. Although Fonck and his navigator survived the crash, the plane's mechanic and radio operator were killed. Fonck appeared unaffected by the destruction of a $105,000 airplane and the loss of human life. Eight months later, Charles Lindbergh accomplished the feat that Fonck had dreamed of...

July 9, 1997
Dishwashing can be dangerous: In March, a busboy at a Key West, Fla., Marriott resort allegedly shot and killed a supervisor who had apparently made some constructive criticism of the busboy's loading of the dishwasher. And in May, police in Helena, Ark., detained a 15- year-old boy they suspect shot his older sister to death after a dispute over which one would wash the dishes.

July 10, 1997
In Edgar Allan Poe's 1838 story, "The Narrative Of Arthur Gordon Pym Of Nantucket," three starving shipwreck survivors murder and consume their companion, named Richard Parker. In 1884, three real-life shipwrecked sailors were tried for the murder of the fourth sailor. His name was also Richard Parker and he was also eaten.

July 11, 1997
From the Amazing Coincidences Department: Stopping by chance at a restaurant outside Milan on July 28, 1900, Italy's King Umberto I was astonished to encounter his dead-ringer double - the restaurant's owner, who was also named Umberto and who had been born in the same town with the same birthday. Both men had married women named Margherita on the same day - April 22, 1868 - and both sired sons named Vittorio. Both had twice been decorated for bravery, and both times at the same ceremonies - once in 1866 and again in 1870. When he asked about his double the next day, the king was shocked to learn that he had just been killed in a shooting accident. The very next moment, the royal Umberto also died - shot three times by an assassin.

July 12, 1997
An Egyptian teenager who complained of stomach pains was found to have his underdeveloped twin fetus lodged above his abdomen where it had been slowly feeding off him for the past 16 years. Doctors found an 18-cm long fetus weighing two kg with a head, an arm, a tongue and fully-formed teeth when they operated on Hisham Ragab, 16. An X-ray had shown a swollen sac had been pressing against his kidneys. Medical examination of the teeth found in the fetal mouth cavity revealed that they were those of a 16-year old, indicating that the fetus had been feeding off Ragab's cells for survival.

July 13, 1997
A 23 year old man who had been receiving therapy for depression tried to kill himself in the South-East town of Maidstone (England) by jumping off a bridge over the river Medway and a busy two lane road. The only gap in the wiring was above the river, but the 23 year old thought he could make the concrete. By jumping side ways he just made contact with the edge of the concrete 50 feet below. On impact he broke both his legs and fell backwards and head first into the river and drowned, not being able to swim with two broken legs.

July 14, 1997
On December 24, 1717, a major storm struck the European coastline, causing flooding in England, Holland, Germany, Belgium, France and Sweden. Winds are believed to have reached over 100 mph and severe coastal flooding occurred. The German coast was disastrously affected and hundreds of people were drowned in their beds in the early hours of Chiristmas morning. In Holland there were reports of up to 2,000 people drowned and many thousands of homes inundated and severely damaged. In all, 11,000 people died in this flood, as well as perhaps as many as 100,000 cattle, and the economy of the whole area was severely disrupted for years.

July 15, 1997
A 24-year-old, unidentified woman was arrested in Waukesha, Wis., in April on suspicion of child abuse. Her son had complained of a nose infection, which she said was caused by acid from a wristwatch battery that he had put in his nose several months earlier but which she had declined to help him remove until the battery started leaking.

July 16, 1997
Another Darwin Award Winner: "A young man killed himself utterly by accident after he dressed himself up as a vampire, to go to a Halloween party. He wore a shirt stained with fake bloodstains, and beneath his shirt he had placed the end panel of a wooden apple crate, made of soft pine. As a final touch, for gory effect, he planned to appear at the party with a 'stake' driven into his own heart. The stake would be transfixed in the soft pine underneath his shirt. Unfortunately, things did not work out as planned. The youth opted to use a sharp-pointed knife in lieu of a stake, and to tap the knife into the pine panel with a hammer. Obviously he believed the hidden wooden crate panel would shield him from harm. It didn't. The soft wood split easily beneath the hammer-driven knife point, and the blade plunged deep into the young man's heart. His last words, as he staggered out of his room, were a gasp of disbelief: "I really did it!" Then he toppled forward, dead. This was no true suicide, but instead an absurd and tragic accident."

July 17, 1997
A 76-year-old man died after the ambulance stretcher he was strapped to rolled down a grade and overturned. Edward Juchniewicz of Canonsburg was being transported from a nursing home to a doctor's office for an appointment. The ambulance attendants left the stretcher in the parking lot at the doctor's office and went to talk with the doctor's staff. The cot rolled away and turned over, injuring the man in the head.

July 18, 1997
Derrick L. Richardson, 28, was charged in April in Minneapolis with third-degree murder in the death of his beloved cousin, Ken E. Richardson. According to police, Derrick suggested a game of Russian roulette and put a semiautomatic pistol to Ken's head instead of a revolver. (For the gun-unschooled: There is much less mystery to the game if played with a semiautomatic, in which the one bullet automatically goes to the firing chamber.)

July 19, 1997
Many of those firefighters who battled the fire that resulted from the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant died. Fire fighters who had been on the roof of the neighboring Reactor number 3 suffered later from acute radiation sickness, but most survived.

July 20, 1997
During the Roman Empire, cremation was widely practiced, and cremated remains were generally stored in elaborate urns, often within columbarium-like buildings. Prevalent though the practice was among the Romans, cremation was rare with the early Christians who considered it pagan and in the Jewish culture where traditional sepulcher entombment was preferred. However, by 400 A.D., as a result of Constantine's Christianization of the Empire, earth burial had completely replaced cremation except for rare instances of plague or war, and for the next 1,500 years remained the accepted mode of disposition throughout Europe. Modern cremation, as we know it, actually began only a little over a century ago, after years of experimentation into the development of a dependable chamber. When Professor Brunetti of Italy finally perfected his model and displayed in at the 1873 Vienna Exposition, the cremation movement started almost simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic.

July 21, 1997
In 453 AD, the notorious villian Attila the Hun married a young girl named Ildico. Despite his reputation for ferocity on the battlefield, he tended to eat and drink lightly during large banquets. On his wedding night, however, he really cut loose, gorging himself on food and drink. Sometime during the night he suffered a nosebleed, but was too drunk to notice. He drowned in his own blood and was found dead the next morning.

July 22, 1997
Elizabeth Bathory, a.k.a "The Bloody Countess," one of the most infamous murderesses in history, was very vain and afraid of getting old and losing her beauty. One day in 1600, a servant girl accidentally pulled her hair while combing it. Elizabeth slapped the girl's hand so hard she drew blood, which fell onto her own hand. She immediately thought her skin took on the freshness of that of her young maid. She was sure she found the secret of eternal youthful skin!!! She had her major-domo strip the maid, cut her and drain her blood into a huge vat. Elizabeth bathed in it to beautify her entire body. Over the next 10 years Elizabeth's evil henchmen provided her with new girls for the blood-draining ritual and her blood baths. But one of her intended victims escaped and told the authorities about what was happening at Castle Csejthe. King Mathias of Hungary ordered Elizabeth's own cousin, Count Cuyorgy Thurzo, governor of the province to raid the castle. On December 30, 1610 they raided Castle Csejthe. They were horrified by the terrible sights in the castle - one dead girl in the main room, drained of blood and another alive whose body had been pierced with holes; in the dungeon they discoverd several living girls, some of whose bodies had been pierced. Below the castle, they exhumed the bodies of some 50 girls. The Countess was sentenced to life in prison.

July 23, 1997
A Yugoslavian professional basketball player named Jankovic was paralyzed from the waist down when, during a game in which he had failed to score and at the same time had reached his fifth foul, he attempted to relieve himself from the stress by hitting his head against the basket post. He thought it had sponge around it. He was wrong...

July 24, 1997
Marcus Licinius Crassus was a Roman financier and politician who lived from 115-53 B.C. According to one story, this notorious Roman leader and moneylender met his death at the hands of Parthian soldiers who poured molten gold down his throat.

July 25, 1997
Seth Haglund, Mike Palmer and Michael Halsell, three Southern California teenagers, wanted to practice rappelling skills. Not wanting to drive all the way to the Santa Rosa Valley or Santa Paula to climb cliffs they drove to a Southern California Edison Tower which carries 200,000 volt power lines. Halsell either touched the wires or simply got to close to them. The jolt of electricity ignited Halsell's clothing, blew the change out of his pocket and welded the coins to the beam, blew off his gloves and shirt and melted his watch. The flaming gloves and shirt floated to the ground and started a brush fire. He received second and third degree burns over 70% to 80% of his body. He later died from these burns. "We just heard a huge explosion" Mike Palmer stated.

July 27, 1997
Two teenagers died when they sat down on an oil tank and lit fireworks, setting off an explosion that could be seen for miles. Authorities found the bodies in a field, about 250 feet away from where the 20,000-gallon tank exploded just after 1 a.m. about 50 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. "We believe they were on top of the tank when it ignited," said Seminole County Sheriff Charles Sisco. Authorities had not positively identified the victims by yesterday evening but believed they were Tim Choate, 15, and his best friend, Michael Untersee, 13. One of the boys had fireworks and house matches in his pocket, authorities said. "They liked to hang out there, get on top because it's out of the weeds, sit there and talk in the night," Sisco said. "This was their little clubhouse, so to speak."

July 28, 1997
On September 26, 1959, Typhoon Vera struck Honshu, Japan's largest island holding its main cities and ports, with tremendous winds registering up to 135 mph. The winds swept huge waves up to 15 feet high inland, drowning low-lying areas, while continuing to batter houses where the sea could not reach. The typhoon was accompanied by torrential rain causing very serious flooding. Nearly 300 ships and boats were sunk and hundreds more damaged,. Thirty thousand homes were destroyed, another 80,000 were badly damaged. Three days after the typhoon struck the death toll passed 3,000 and was still rising. Many people were stranded on rooftops without food and water for several days. Disease, particularly dysentery, began to add to the casualty figures as desperate people drank polluted water. Disease contributed to the final death toll figure of 4,000 with 15,000 injured.

July 29, 1997
The Curse Of Tutankhamun is believed by many to have caused misfortune to several individuals who worked on the excavation of the ancient king's tomb. The first death belonged to Lord Carnarvon, one of Howard Carter's patrons, who suffered a mosquito bite that became infected when he nicked it shaving. It developed into pneumonia and he died one month after the opening of the tomb. Then other deaths began piling up: professors Breasted and LaFleur died after visiting the tomb, as did the American millionaire George Jay Gould. Carter's assistant A.C. Mace was stricken with fever and eventually died. Another assistant, Richard Bethell, died at the age of 45. Lord Carnarvon's nurse died, even younger, at 28. In all, death claimed some 23 people linked to the tombs, while many others suffered various misfortunes. Of course, the greatest argument against the concept of a curse is the fact that Howard Carter, the leader of the expedition, himself suffered no ill effects.

July 30, 1997
Two thieves tried to steal valuable copper wire from an electricity cable in eastern Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, they did it when it was switched on. The authorities had no one to prosecute, as both were killed by the transmission line's massive 10 kilovolt charge. One of the thieves did not need to be cremated. The cable conveniently left him as a pile of ashes.

July 31, 1997
In October, the Washington Supreme Court reversed on a technicality the conviction of Benjamin R. Hull, who had been found guilty of defrauding the state worker compensation office. Hull admitted that he got a friend to help him blast a hole in his left leg below the knee with a shotgun, but insisted it was not to get compensation (he received $96,000) but because the knee has been so painful to him since 1973 after it was injured in an accident. (Five years earlier, he had tried to take the leg off with a chain saw, but got only part-way through because the saw kept malfunctioning.)