Category Archives: Cool & Odd-Mostly Odd

Life Imitating Art? Murder or Accident?

It’s been said that art imitates life and that often life imitates art? Is the death of “spy” Gareth Williams a murder or a tragic case of autoerotic asphyxia? Is it a true mystery anticipated by an author’s question?




The Story:

The Question:

Two other posts on autoerotic asphyxia:



Surgery For Criminal Tendencies

The belief that altering the brain and its function can either lead to or ameliorate criminal tendencies has been around for a long time. It might date back thousands of years to when trepanning was used. Skulls found in Central America tend to point to the use of this technique by the Mayans and the Aztecs and some have postulated that it might’ve been done to treat madness or other behavioral abnormalities. Of course it could have been part of religious ritual also or even used for medical treatment after head injury. We just don’t know for sure.


Trepanning involves the drilling of holes through the skull

Trepanning involves the drilling of holes through the skull


In the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in February, 1913, the case of a criminal who underwent surgery to correct his behavior was reported. It seems that a young man who was incarcerated for his criminal activity had been a normal child until approximately age 14 when he suffered a head injury. After that he became “morose, sullen and a thief.” Examination revealed that he had a “thickening underneath the scalp at the point where he had been injured.” Surgery was then performed to remove this section of bone and apparently his behavior immediately changed. It changed so much that the governor offered him parole and he was released.

Unfortunately, recidivism being what it is, he returned to his criminal ways and was again arrested. The article goes on to point out that during the Civil War there were many soldiers who suffered penetrating head wounds and yet only rarely did they suffer from “perversions of character.”

Indeed there have been cases where individuals have had brain tumors and their personality has changed dramatically, even to the point of violent acting out. In such circumstances removal of the brain tumor has often resulted in a resolution of the personality change. But the search for a surgical solution to social traffic behavior remains elusive and indeed there is no evidence that any procedure makes much difference. At least as far as we know in 2013. Who knows what the future will hold.




Perhaps the most famous use of a surgical technique to alter behavior comes from the fictional world. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the movie as well as the excellent book by Ken Kesey, is the story of McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a man who fights the system and is determined to be a threat to society, or at least the inner workings of the mental hospital where he is housed, and is ultimately subjected to a personality altering frontal lobotomy. The fact that this type of surgery was also going on in the real world is well-documented.




Prosopagnosia: I See You But Who Are You?



Heather Sellers doesn’t know who she is. I mean she knows, but she can’t recognize her own reflection in the mirror. Or the faces of others. She suffers from Prosopagnosia, or face blindness. It’s not as uncommon as you might think, but most often it is mild and only slightly aggravating.

Acquired prosopagnosia often results from head trauma, stroke, or developmental prosopagnosia (as Heather Sellers has) seems to genetically determined and begins at a young age, before the development of normal facial recognition abilities. How do these folks recognize family and friends? And themselves? Usually by some combination of voice, clothing, hair style, mannerisms, walking gate, body language, or some combination of these and other cues.

Here is an interesting video of someone who has this malady.


I Smell Your Fear

The most primitive of our senses is olfactory–the sense of smell. It is also the most emotionally powerful. Once we have smelled something it is filed in our brains forever, and if we ever encounter the odor again, it is almost instantly recalled. Often with memories of that first encounter. A certain food, perfume, chemical, you name it, can pull us back in time more deeply than can any sight or sound.




But can you smell another’s emotion? Can you detect fear, or anger, or disgust with your nose? Animals can. If one dog or gazelle or wildebeest in a group senses fear, the other members of the group immediately sense the same danger. Herd mentality. Some of this might be transmitted through body language or certain movements, even facial expressions, but pheromones released by the concerned group member play a big role. So why shouldn’t we humans have the same ability?

Apparently, we do.

If the results of a recent study done by Gün Semin and colleagues from Utrecht University and published in Psychological Science can be believed, humans possess the ability to communicate emotions through chemical signals. This is an interesting study that used sweat to analyze these chemical transmitters.


Cheetos: A Cop’s Best Friend?

You have to admit, Cheetos are simply the best junk food ever invented. Hands down, no contest. I don’t mean those fake puffy ones. The crunchy ones. Real Cheetos.



19 year old Austin Westfall Presler might beg to differ.

It seems Austin pilfered beer, cigarettes, energy drinks, and Cheetos from the Cassatt Country Store in Cassatt, SC. But he screwed the pooch when he broke open the Cheetos bag and left a trail right to his front door. Police followed the bright orange tid bits to Presler’s home and found the stolen items inside.

A waste of good Cheetos but at least the crime was solved.

Chalk one up for Chester.




Drug Smuggling Gets Creative

Criminals are for the most part not all that bright but sometimes their creativity is amazing. Drug traffickers notoriously go to great lengths to slip their product past inspectors and detection devices at airports and border crossings. Last year I posted about diamond and drug smugglers swallowing their booty in an often misguided attempt to avoid detection. Condoms filled with cocaine are one trick that can result in death if one of the condoms breaks.


X-ray of swallowed cocaine-filled balloons

X-ray of swallowed cocaine-filled balloons


Now two other clever methods have popped up:

A Panamanian woman was recently arrested in Barcelona, Spain as she attempted to smuggle 3 pounds of cocaine secreted inside her breast implants. I wonder if she got the idea from watching re-runs of NIP/TUCK, where this was one of the story lines in the quirky series.


BReast Implants

Breast Implants


The other is a very unique pneumatic-powered canon that fires barrels packed with marijuana over the border near Yuma, AZ. It didn’t work, at least this time, but you have to give them an A for creativity.


Barrels of marijuana scattered like unexploded mortar shells

Barrels of marijuana scattered like unexploded mortar shells


Sleeping Beauty Syndrome: Ever Feel Like You Could Sleep Forever?

Ever feel as if you could lie down, fall asleep, and not get up for days? Maybe after a bad week or some very stressful event? Or maybe work, or writing, has interfered with sleep for a few weeks and it all catches up?

We’ve all experienced that feeling.

So did Sleeping Beauty.


But what if you fell asleep for many weeks, or months? You could suffer from “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome.” Also known as Kleine-Levin Syndrome, this odd neurological condition typically occurs in teenagers, particularly males. It often follows some infectious process such as the flu. The sufferer might sleep 20 or more hours a day and only awaken to eat or visit the bathroom. But even in the “more awake” periods, he or she seems “out of it” and highly irritable.

Examples are the situations with Nicole Delien, Stacey Comerford, and Louisa Ball.


Be Careful What You Eat

People eat some fairly odd things. There’s even a medical term for some of these foreign-substance ingestions: Pica. Some people eat their own hair (hair pica) and rarely this leads to hair ball formation–just like your cat. People eat coins, starch, paint flecks, and even dirt. In the South there is a long tradition of chalk pica and clay pica (the eating of the red clay dirt that is so common in that region). The belief, passed down generation to generation, is that the red clay offers minerals that the body needs. It doesn’t. In truth, the clay can bind iron and remove it from the body and lead to iron deficiency anemia.



In two odd cases the ingestion of foreign substances has lead to serious health consequences and even death.

Apparently a new fad is to drink cocktails that contain Liquid Nitrogen (N). Sounds delicious I know but the problem is that Liquid N hovers between -196 degrees F. (its boiling point–the temp at which it converts to its gaseous form) and -346 degrees F. (its freezing point–the temp at which it becomes solid). This can literally freeze the stomach and lead to tissue death.

This is what happened to Gaby Scanlon. She ingested the drink as part of her 18th birthday celebration at a local bar only to end up in the hospital with her stomach surgically removed after it perforated. Not the best of birthdays, I imagine, and definitely not what she expected. Her story should be a cautionary tale for others.

Then there is 32-year-old Edward Archbold. He entered a “roach and worm” eating contest run by a local pet store. The grand prize? A python. Afterwards he became ill (you think?), vomited, and died.

It is unclear what exactly killed him. Was it a toxin in the roaches and worms? Was it a rip or rupture of the esophagus from his vomiting? Tearing of the esophagus with vomiting is called Mallory-Weiss Syndrome while esophageal rupture in this circumstance is termed Boerhaave’s Syndrome. Hopefully the medical examiner’s determination will sort this out.


I Hear You . . . But You Sound Funny

Most hallucinogenics cause visual distortions and altered perceptions. Remember Lucy’s kaleidoscopic eyes? Users often misinterpret what they see (marmalade skies) or see things that aren’t really there (pink elephants). DiPT (Diisopropyltryptamine), while it can also cause visual and perceptual problems, primarily causes auditory distortion. For you guitar players out there, it can sound like a flanger or phase shifter. A wobbling or swirling of the sound.

One form of this drug, 5-Methoxy-diisopropyltryptamine, is sold on the streets as “Foxy” or “Foxy Methoxy.” In addition to auditory distortions, it can also cause euphoria, hypersexuality, emotional lability, hyperactivity, anxiety, and even out-of-body experiences.

Sounds like a Van Halen or ZZ Top concert to me.


I know all you creators of fictional villains out there are constantly looking for ways your bad guys can cause harm and aggravation to other characters. Employing this drug in your story could produce some interesting scenes.


Sasquatch Lives!! Maybe

Sasquatch has been a Pacific Northwest mythical creature for many decades. Sitings and even videos have routinely been knocked down and proven to be hoaxes. Not so fast. Now, anthropologist Jeff Meldrum has analyzed some new tracks and has found evidence that they might indeed be real.


His evidence?

The toes, as revealed by analysis of the tracks, seem to grip rocks, curl to grab the soil on inclines, and at times splay out presumably for better balance. Things a rubber or plastic fake foot couldn’t easily do. But more importantly, many of the tracks revealed friction ridge patterns. This is important since only primates have such ridges.


Another interesting finding was that there appeared to be scars from old injuries on the soles of the feet. When such injuries heal, the dermal ridges tend to curl inward as part of the healing process. Such healing was found here. Something that would be very difficult to fake.

So does this mean that Sasquatch lives? Maybe, maybe not. Hopefully there is more to come.


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