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The Little Book of Death
By Neil R. Storey
The History PressCopyright © 2013 Neil R. Storey
All rights reserved.
WHAT A WAY TO GO!
In 1856, unfortunate East Sussex resident Matthew Gladman entered the Lewes High Street water closet after dark, unaware that the floorboards had been removed for cleaning. He fell into the cess pit and died of asphyxiation by methane gas.
Lord Palmerston, twice Prime Minister of Great Britain, died of a heart attack while having sex with a young parlourmaid on his billiard table on 18 October 1865.
Jazz trumpeter Joe 'Poolie' Newman was always known as a ladies' man. In 1989, Newman determined to maintain his reputation with a penile implant. All seemed to go well – until, during a visit to a restaurant, a build-up of pressure caused his member to explode. He bled to death.
In 1984, Jimmy Fixx, the man credited with starting the jogging craze, died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-two, shortly after his return from his daily run.
Radium pioneer and double Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie died, in 1934, from aplastic anaemia contracted due to her long-term exposure to radiation.
Mr Walter Morgan of Morgan's Brewery on King Street, Norwich, met his death by falling into a vat of beer in May 1845.
Jasper Newton 'Jack' Daniel, founder of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey Distillery, died from blood poisoning in 1911 after a run-in with his safe: he forgot the combination and kicked it, cutting his toe. The wound became infected, and killed him shortly afterwards.
A wedding-party guest in South Carolina, USA, was killed in 1992 when he was struck by the aircraft carrying the bride and groom as he mooned at them from the runway.
Distinguished mountaineer Gerard Hommel, a veteran of six Everest expeditions, died after falling off a ladder: he slipped and cracked his head on a sink as he was attempting to change a light bulb in the kitchen of his home in Nantes, France, in 1993.
In August 1848 Thomas Ireson thought it would be a good idea to tie himself to the tail of a cow at Mattishall in Norfolk. The infuriated animal kicked him to death.
A seventy-two-year-old grandmother from Birmingham was delighted to accept a jelly sweet from her two-year-old great-grandson in 1992. However, he then pulled off his hat to reveal a new short hair do: the poor lady found the new haircut so hilarious that she burst into uncontrollable laughter and choked to death on the sweet.
Internationally renowned escapologist Harry Houdini proudly claimed he could withstand any blow to the stomach. However, when he was challenged by McGill University student J. Gordon Whitehead in Montreal in 1926 he did not have time to prepare himself to receive the blow. He died of acute peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix.
A sixty-two-year-old man living in East Sandwich, Massachusetts, was found dead from carbon-monoxide poisoning in his home in 2008: a racoon had died in the chimney flue and blocked it, allowing poisonous gases to build up.
George Conklin, one of the keepers for Barnum's show at Olympia in London in 1889, was going about his daily business of cleaning out the animals when he heard a cry of, 'Take him away!' It was coming from another stall. Rushing over, he saw two elephants standing together. He seized a broom and set about separating them, and, as he did so, he spotted fellow keeper George Stevens sitting up against the wall in a crouching position; blood was coming from Stevens' mouth. The injured man died moments later. The inquest concluded he had perished after being sat on by an elephant.
Street vendor Igor Roskny of Perth, Australia, was beaten to death by an irate customer in 1994 after he mistakenly put mustard on the customer's tuna sandwich. The murderer argued he had clearly stated that he wanted mayonnaise.
Jamie Ward was enjoying a relaxing time sunbathing at Leland, North Carolina, in August 2008 when a pool umbrella broke loose and impaled his head, killing him instantly.
On 15 January 1919, a huge storage tank of molasses blew up: 2.3 million gallons of molasses were sent careering down the streets of Boston, Massachusetts, in a 30ft tidal wave, leaving twenty-one people dead and 150 injured.
In June 2003, New Jersey landscaper Rigoberto Martinez kicked a tree branch to force it into a wood chipper. Tragically, he was pulled into the shredder with it and received fatal injuries.
French President Félix François Faure died in 1899 whilst in the throes of a sexual act with his mistress, Marguerite Steinheil, in the salon bleu in the private quarters of the presidential Palais de l'Élysée. The exact nature of the act is not known for sure, but, if rumours are to be believed, Steinheil was performing oral sex upon the President at the time of his death: the rigor he suffered caused his fingers to tangle in her hair, to the degree that assistance had to be called to remove them.
Alexander Douglas-Hamilton, 10th Duke of Hamilton, had a long interest in Ancient Egypt. He acquired a sarcophagus and asked that upon his death he be mummified. The Duke's wishes were complied with when he died in 1852, but the sarcophagus was found to be too small for him: his feet had to be broken at the ankles and folded inwards so that he could fit.
James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton, introduced 'The Maiden', a predecessor of the guillotine, while he was regent of Scotland. Found guilty of complicity in the murder of the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1581, Douglas was executed on the very device he had introduced.
Recorded in the Proceedings of the Royal Society is the case of Mr John Davis of Birmingham, who, in 1862, fed a piece of tobacco, wrapped in bread, to an elephant. Davis laughed so much at the animal's displeasure that he fell dead from heart failure.
Allan Pinkerton, the founder of the world-famous Pinkerton National Detective Agency, died in 1884 after tripping over: the fall caused him to bite his tongue, and he died of the gangrene that set in as a result.
South African Victor Villenti was keen on health and healthy eating – indeed, he and his family were all vegetarians. While out jogging in 1991, he met a surprising fate: an 8lb leg of frozen lamb – which was being placed on a third-storey window ledge to defrost – dropped on Victor and killed him.
An American statesman (and one of the founders of the United States), Gouverneur Morris died in 1816 after pushing a piece of whale bone through his urinary tract to relieve a blockage.
Experienced skydiver Lester McGuire of Durham, North Carolina, was so preoccupied with the video equipment he was going to use during his latest skydive in 1988 that he apparently forgot to put on his parachute. He got wonderful pictures of his initial freefall; jerking motions then reveal his frantic attempts to reach around for the rip cord that was not there, and acceleration to the final impact with the ground at 150mph.
A London man died of a ruptured spleen in 1989 after a fatal encounter with a vegetable: his rib was shattered by a turnip, thrown out of a speeding car, which struck him whilst he was out walking near his home in Leytonstone.
Two women were sheltering under a tree during a thunder storm in Hyde Park in 1999 when, tragically, a lightning strike was drawn to the metal in their underwired bras. It killed them both instantly. Coroner Paul Knapman stated that, of over 50,000 deaths he had reviewed, it was only the second such occasion he had encountered such injuries.
In 2002 a Croatian man was killed when he took a chainsaw to a hand grenade – he was attempting to get the gunpowder out so that he could make some fireworks for New Year.
In 1923, Mrs Ruth Evans of Billington, Bedfordshire, was knocking a perambulator spring back in with a hammer when the spring caused the hammer to rebound: it struck her on the head, and she was killed by her own blow.
Elderly Andrew Berry of Wickford, Essex, changed an electric light bulb in his house in 1930. In doing so, he placed the old bulb on his armchair, promptly forgot about it – and sat down on it later that same day. The bulb shattered into Mr Berry's leg and cut him so badly that he died shortly afterwards in Southend Hospital.
Forty-one-year-old Maltese man Paul Gauci died in 1981 after welding a Second World War butterfly bomb to a metal pipe and using it as a mallet, thinking it was just a harmless can.
Multi-award-winning American author Tennessee Williams died in February 1983 when he choked on an eye-drop bottle-cap in his room at the Hotel Elysée in New York. Apparently, the author would routinely place the cap in his mouth and lean backwards before applying the drops. On this fatal night the cap fell down his throat.
In April 1985, twenty-two-year-old David Cooper was preparing to work on a 500,000-gallon slurry tank of liquefied cow manure on his family farm near Fombell, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, however, David fell in. He drowned in the effluvia, his body only being retrieved after a rescue effort involving over 100 farmers and volunteer firemen.
Joseph LaRose was killed while delivering ice cream to a supermarket in Tampa, Florida, in 1991. The cause of his demise was a 500lb rack of 'Nutty Buddies' which toppled over onto him, breaking his leg and crushing his skull.
Kenneth 'Mr Hands' Pinyan, a resident of Gig Harbour of Seattle, Washington, died of acute peritonitis in 2005 after suffering a perforated colon while receiving anal intercourse from a stallion.
In 2008, a Manchester inquest concluded that a sixty-three-year-old resident of Ladybarn, Didsbury, had died as a result of picking his nose, causing it to bleed so severely that he bled to death.
A fifty-year-old Southampton man did not want to move out of his condemned block of flats in Bishopstoke. He held out here until the bitter end. In 2008, now the last resident in the building, he cut off his own head with a chainsaw to highlight what he saw as the injustice of forcing him to move out.
Wigan window cleaner Mark Fairhurst suffered a heart attack while working at the home of a customer in June 2006. Unfortunately she was out at the time: she returned to discover the window cleaner dead, with his head in his bucket. The inquest returned a verdict of accidental death.
Twenty-eight-year-old Jennifer Strange of Sacramento, California, was determined to win a Nintendo Wii console in a KDND 107.9 'The End' radio station's 'Hold Your Wee for a Wii' contest in 2007. The competition involved drinking large quantities of water without urinating, and poor Jennifer died of water intoxication during her attempt.
In August 2012, the Telegraph reported that 'a man who dressed up as Bigfoot to try to provoke reports of a sighting of the ape-like creature in Montana' had been run over as he stood in the road. A second car then ran over his body. The man, who had been wearing 'a military-style Ghillie suit consisting of strips of camouflage fabric' (used to camouflage snipers), was identified by Flathead County officials as Randy Lee Tenley, forty-four. Trooper Jim Schneider said that 'alcohol may have been a factor'. 'You can't make it up,' he continued. 'Obviously, his suit made it difficult for people to see him.'
THE STUFF OF NIGHTMARES
As surgical resident Dr Hitoshi Christopher Nikaidoh followed physician's assistant Karin Steinau into an elevator in the George W. Strake building at St Joseph Medical Centre in Houston, Texas, USA, in August 2003, the doors closed, pinning his shoulders fast. Nikaidoh appeared to struggle, attempting to shrug himself free from the grip of the doors (or possibly pull himself inside) but the elevator kept moving upward. What happened next was the stuff of nightmares: in seconds, his head hit the ceiling, and the majority of his head was sliced off. His left ear, lower lip, teeth and jaw were still attached to his body, which fell to the bottom of the elevator shaft. The elevator, containing the rest of the doctor, continued moving ever-upward as the horrified Steinau hammered at the panel of buttons. The accident was blamed on improper maintenance.
According to the Orkneyinga saga, Viking leader Sigurd the Mighty challenged a native ruler, Máel Brigte the Bucktoothed, to a forty-man-a-side battle in AD 892. Sigurd actually brought eighty men to the fight and put the opposition to a bloody end. Having defeated Máel Brigte, Sigurd beheaded him and strapped the head to his saddle as a trophy. However, Sigurd was not to have the last laugh for as he rode Máel Brigte's buck-tooth grazed his leg. The leg became infected, and as a result Sigurd died too.
THE FICKLE FINGER OF FATE
Thirty-seven-year-old cafeteria cook William Curry of Boston, Massachusetts, was overjoyed when he won $3.6 million in the state lottery in 1990. He decided not to give up his day job, though he did take a short holiday to celebrate the win. He then collected the first instalment of his winnings – and dropped dead on his first day back at work.
THE STUFF OF URBAN LEGEND
Twenty-one-year-old John Kemper Hutcherson of Marietta, Georgia, USA, drove off a road soon after leaving a bar at about midnight in August 2004. As he sped along, Hutcherson struck a kerb and hit the support wire to a telephone pole. The guide wire tore off the wing mirror and severed the head of his friend, Franky Brohm, who was sitting in the seat beside him. Hutcherson drove the 12 miles to his home and went inside to bed. At about 8.30 a.m. a neighbour walking his one-year-old daughter discovered the decapitated body in the truck and called the police. Brohm's head was recovered by the police later that same morning near the crash site. When police arrived at Hutcherson's house he claimed that he had not noticed the accident.
David M. Grundman went out into the desert in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1982 and used one of the giant saguaro cacti for target practice. Not the cleverest or the most legal thing to do – the cactus is a protected species – for, as he was firing off his last round, the massive upper section of the particular 26ft cactus he was blasting away at toppled over onto Grundman, causing him a very prickly death.
THE HASTE OF A PETULANT CHEF
François Vatel, the chef credited with the creation of Crème Chantilly, was very precious about his creations. In April 1671 he was charged with creating a banquet to honour King Louis XIV. On the evening in question there was a minor hitch with the preparations: a small seafood delivery arrived, but the rest was delayed. Under the misapprehension that the first delivery represented all the fish that was available, Vatel broke down. Dramatically exclaiming, 'I cannot endure this disgrace!' Vatel stomped off to his chamber, closed the door upon the handle of his sword and threw himself upon the point of the blade. His body was discovered by a cook who came to tell him that the rest of the fish had arrived.
Gourmet Chef Le Hung Cuong plucked a venomous sea snake from a tank at a restaurant in Haiphong, Vietnam, in 2002, ready to turn it into that night's special: 'porridge with snake's blood'. The snake, however, had other plans: it lashed around and bit Cuong's left hand. He died on his way to hospital. Restaurant owner Nguyen Lien commented sympathetically: 'It was bad luck for him and for our restaurant; he was careless and did not put on the plastic gloves as required.'
General Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson, one of the most gifted tactical commanders of the American Civil War, was probably the best chance the Confederate states had to lead them to victory – but then came Major John D. Barry of the 18th North Carolina Infantry Regiment. Jackson and his staff were returning to camp under cover of darkness on the night of 2 May 1863 when they were challenged by a sentry. Jackson's staff gave the correct reply but before they knew what had hit them, Barry declared, 'It's a damned Yankee trick! Fire!' And fire they did. Jackson was badly wounded as a result. It is thought Stonewall was already suffering from pneumonia and had little chance of recovery. He died on 10 May.
At the inquest into the death of Mrs Elizabeth Alice Gregory, held at Stepney in 1934, Mr A.S. Weston, medical officer for the Mile End Hospital, stated that Mrs Gregory's work as a cleaner at the London Hospital, carried out over the previous ten years, had given her 'housemaid's knee'. This in turn had been the cause of her demise. Dr Guthrie, the coroner, queried this opinion: 'It is very rare to get a death from it, is it not?'
'Yes, very rare,' replied Weston.
The coroner thus recorded 'death by misadventure', adding that it was 'consequent upon her kneeling on the floor to do her work as a scrubber.'
FREAK OF NATURE?
Cleethorpes boiler-maker George Beeson was killed in 1923 as a result of what witnesses described as 'a ball of fire, probably three feet in diameter' that they saw 'rolling across the sky' until it struck a chimney stack: an explosion ensued, the stack shattered, the roof of the building tore open and the windows blew out. The unfortunate Mr Beeson was discovered amongst the debris, his skull fractured by a falling tile.
Excerpted from The Little Book of Death by Neil R. Storey. Copyright © 2013 Neil R. Storey. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. What a Way to Go!,
2. Mysterious Deaths,
4. At the Hands of the Physician,
5. Crime and Punishment,
6. Saints, Devils and Incorruptibles,
7. Mummwies, Bog People and Body Retention,
8. Celebrity Body Parts,
9. That's Entertainment,
10. Terrible Transport,
11. A Deadly Game of Sports,
12. Portends of Death,
13. Death Rites,
14. In Memoriam,
15. Strange Epitaphs,