Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Dog Days of DNA

No one doubts that DNA has become an incredibly useful tool for the forensic scientist and for law enforcement. It has helped solve cases that are many decades-old, helped expose the fraud of a woman who claimed to be Anastasia, and helped track down more than one serial predator, including Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer.

DNA can now be found on the lips of discarded coffee cups and on the butts of cigarettes. It has been found inside the mask used by a predator to hide his identity.  It has been found on postage stamps and envelopes. It is been found in the hair or toothbrush of a young child and used to establish the identity of her skeletal remains. It has been picked up from fingerprints left at crime scenes and of course from virtually every bodily fluid.

Now it’s being used to solve the most heinous of crimes: What can only be called The Dog Poop Caper.

It seems that the residents at an upscale condo community in Baltimore have become upset because someone’s dog has been making deposits all over the neighborhood. Unable to track down the culprit, and with no one coming forward with a mea culpa, they have resorted to DNA testing of dog poop. This is every forensic scientist’s dream, I’m sure.

The community voted that each owner must submit his pet for testing and must bear the $50 cost of the DNA testing. But rest assured, that once the testing is done, the culprit will be identified and suffer grievous punishment, either incarceration at the local dog pound or perhaps the embarrassment of wearing doggy diapers.

As one of the dog owners put it: “I feel like I’m living in a Seinfeld episode.”

Well put.


Posted by on May 28, 2010 in Cool & Odd-Mostly Odd, DNA



Here is another cool cross post from Jay Smith and the folks at Criminal Justice University. Their original posting was on 4-17-10.

There’s something about an unsolved murder that grabs our attention, whether it’s the air of mystery surrounding the proceedings or the shock at learning the brutal details behind a high-profile slaying. Here are just a few of the most notorious unsolved cases of all time:

1. The Black Dahlia (ca. January 15, 1947)

Elizabeth Short was 22 years old when she was brutally murdered in Los Angeles in the late 1940s. A woman with a troubled past and no fixed path through life, she was in L.A. visiting an old boyfriend and bouncing from one apartment to the next at the time of her death. She was found in a vacant lot, her body severed at the waist and her face slashed from the edge of her mouth toward the ears, creating a ghastly smile. Reporters nicknamed her the Black Dahlia after the 1946 noir film The Blue Dahlia. The murder sparked the largest LAPD investigation to that point, and the news media ran with the frenzy. Despite many theories put forth over the years, the case was never solved.

2. Boy in the Box (February 25, 1957)
One of the most gruesome unsolved murders involves an unknown child referred to as the Boy in the Box. Approximately 4-6 years old, the boy’s naked body was found in a cardboard box in Philadelphia 1957. Pictures of the boy were distributed with gas bills throughout the city in hopes of finding someone who knew what happened, but no lead ever materialized. One theory speculated that the boy belonged to the stepdaughter of the man who ran the foster home near the site the body was found; another theory, put forth by a woman with a history of mental illness, claimed that the boy was bought and used as a sexual slave before being murdered and discarded. No direct evidence was found for either theory.

3. Bob Crane (June 29, 1978)
Best known for his leading role on “Hogan’s Heroes,” Bob Crane was also involved with an underground sex scene in which he and friend John Henry Carpenter, an audio-visual pro, would film themselves having sex with women. Crane’s body was found in an Arizona apartment complex, bludgeoned to death by an unknown weapon that police reasoned was a film tripod. Smears of blood that matched Crane’s blood type were found in Carpenter’s car, but the lack of forensic technology at the time (like DNA testing) made it impossible to determine if the blood belonged to Crane. The case went cold from a lack of evidence, and though it was reopened in 1992 and Carpenter arrested, evidence from the murder hadn’t been properly preserved and was thus unusable. Carpenter was acquitted and maintained his innocence until he died in 1998. The case is officially unsolved.

4. Raymond Washington (August 9, 1979)
Raymond Washington was the founder of the Los Angeles gang that would come to call itself the Crips, but many say that his unique moral code approved only of fighting and theft as a means of survival, and that he frowned on the use of handguns and the growing level of homicides associated with gangs. He was shot and killed when he was just 25, and no one was ever arrested for the crime. People have speculated that his murder was carried out by a rival gang member or perhaps by someone with whom he was involved in a personal dispute.

5. Dian Fossey (December 26, 1985)
Immortalized in the Oscar-nominated film Gorillas in the Mist, Dian Fossey as an American zoologist who devoted her professional career to studying gorillas in Africa and protecting them from poaching and exploitation. She was found dead in her cabin in 1985, killed by a machete that had been hanging decoratively on her wall. With her valuables still present, her death appeared to be politically or personally motivated. Although many suspects were questioned, the killer was never found.

6. JonBenet Ramsey (December 26, 1996)
JonBenet Ramsey was killed only a few months after she turned 6. Her mother discovered the girl was missing and found a ransom note, at which point police were contacted. A search of the house found the girl’s body in a wine cellar, strangled to death. The case ignited a media firestorm involving the parents, accused of neglect and implicated in the crime, and the investigators, who didn’t properly seal the crime scene. The Ramsey family was officially cleared from suspicion in 2008, and though police have been able to put together a DNA composite of the killer, the crime remains unsolved. (John Mark Karr confessed to the crime in 2006 but was cleared.)

7. Tupac Shakur (September 13, 1996)
Rap artist Tupac Shakur was a top-selling performer when he was shot in Las Vegas after the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon fight at the MGM Grand on September 7, 1996. After a minor brawl with a member of the Crips in the Grand’s lobby, Shakur was shot in a drive-by while riding with Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight. Although he seemed to make a comeback in the hospital, Shakur died of internal bleeding on September 13. Law enforcement officials made slow progress in the ensuing investigation, and though the shooting occurred on a public and crowded street, no one has ever been arrested for the crime.

8. Notorious B.I.G. (March 9, 1997)
Christopher Wallace, better known as the Notorious B.I.G. or Biggie Smalls, was a gifted MC known also for his involvement in the hip-hop feud between the East and West Coasts. He was even rumored to be involved in the death of Tupac Shakur, though that was never proven. Following a party held after the Soul Train Music Awards in March 1997, Wallace was shot while riding in an SUV and pronounced dead that night at the hospital. Many theories have been floated about the killing, from retaliation over money owed to various conspiracy theories, but the shooter was never identified.

9. Jack the Ripper killings (1888)
One of the most infamous serial killers in history, Jack the Ripper is the name given to the unknown murderer who slaughtered a series of prostitutes in London at the end of the 19th century. Scotland Yard and local media outlets received letters from the killer (or possibly killers) included body parts from the victims. The slayings have inspired a host of fictional works as well as dozens of theories about the identity of Jack the Ripper, but the true identity of the killer has never been determined.

10. Oscar Romero (March 24, 1980)
Oscar Romero, the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated in 1980 while celebrating mass at a tiny chapel in El Salvador. A U.N. report posits that his killers were members of a death squad, and though Álvaro Rafael Saravia was eventually found guilty of conspiring in the murder, the actual killer remains unknown. Romero’s death came a day after he’d pleaded with his countrymen to stop carrying out their government’s orders to oppress basic human rights.

11. Andrew and Abby Borden (August 4, 1892)
Everyone knows the name Lizzie Borden from the children’s rhyme about her taking an ax to her parents, but though the young woman was tried for the double homicide, there wasn’t quite enough evidence to convict her of the crime.

12. Zodiac killings (1968-1972)
Seven people were killed throughout Northern California by an unknown man who came to be known as the Zodiac killer because of the taunting letters he sent to police. The letters also included cryptograms, some of which still haven’t been decoded. The first killings came in December 1968 and July 1969, and the first letters claiming responsibility for those killings were sent to three newspapers in August 1969. Some victims were shot and others stabbed, setting the Zodiac apart from serial killers that stick to one method of execution. San Francisco police detective Dave Toschi was one of those who worked the case, and would later become the basis for the fictional character Dirty Harry. Despite a prime suspect in Arthur Leigh Allen — identified years later by an early surviving victim as the shooter — the case was never solved. Allen died in 1992, but a film positing him as a likely killer was released to acclaim in 2007.

13. William Goebel (January 30, 1900)
William Goebel is the only U.S. governor to be assassinated in office. After winning a hotly contested election for the governorship of Kentucky, was shot walking to the Old State Capitol. He was sworn in a day later and died three days later. Political rival William S. Taylor was suspected of having knowledge of who pulled the trigger, but he fled to Indiana to avoid extradition and became a lawyer there. Some men were convicted of a conspiracy to kill Goebel, but the murderer’s identity remains a mystery.

14. William Desmond Taylor (February 1, 1922)
William Desmond Taylor was an actor in the early years of Hollywood whose death was one of the many lurid affairs that led to sensationalistic coverage by a thirsty media. His body was found inside his home in the early hours of February 1, 1922. He had been shot in the back. More than a dozen people were held up by the public as suspects, including friends and employees of Taylor’s, but most of the physical evidence needed to secure a conviction was lost because of crime scene mismanagement and threads of corruption in the LAPD. Actress Margaret Gibson is alleged to have confessed to the murder in 1964, but no hard evidence has even been able to produce the identity of the killer.

15. Harry Oakes (July 8, 1943)
Sir Harry Oakes, an American-born Brit who owned a gold mine, was found murdered in 1943 in his Nassau mansion. Instead of flying in detectives from Scotland Yard, the islands’ governor, the Duke of Windsor, brought in a pair of Miami detectives. They arrested Oakes’ son-in-law, but the man was acquitted when it was found that the detectives had fabricated evidence. The murderer was never found, though theories abounded. Some say Oakes’ son-in-law really was the guilty party, while others claim Oakes was killed as a result of his dealings with organized crime.

16. Barbara and Patricia Grimes (December 28, 1956)
The Grimes sisters disappeared shortly after Christmas 1956 in Chicago and were found dead on January 22, 1957. They were seen at a movie theater on December 28, but subsequent sighting claims are less reliable. An autopsy concluded that they died of shock and exposure to the cold, but that statement ignores the bruises and wounds on their bodies, including holes that could have come from an ice pick. The Chicago Police Department crime lab also found that Barbara Grimes had been sexually molested before her murder. A drifter named Benny Bedwell was suspected and eventually confessed, though he then said his confession was coerced by officers.

17. Deanna Cremin (March 30, 1995)
Seventeen-year-old Deanna Cremin was found strangled behind a senior housing complex in Middlesex, Massachusetts, shortly after her birthday. After going out with friends and visiting her boyfriend, the two walked back to her home, though the boyfriend left her at the halfway point. He is considered the last person to have seen her alive. The boyfriend and two other men were investigated, but no charges pressed. New forensic evidenced was announced in 2005, thanks to technology, and the case also received a boost in 2009 when Middlesex district attorney pleaded for people to come forward with information. Her murder, however, remains unsolved.

18. Amber Hagerman (January 15, 1996)
Amber Hagerman was only 9 years old when she died. Abducted while riding her bike in Arlington, Texas, her disapperance ignited a huge search that brought in the FBI. Her body was found by a man walking his dog four days after she’d gone missing. Her throat had been cut, and evidence showed that she’d been alive fow two days before being killed. The high-profile case and ensuing call from Amber’s parents for tougher laws for sex offenders, including a national offender registry, led to the creation of the AMBER Alert, a national bulletin distributed via TV and radio when a child goes missing. The alert’s name is technically “America’s Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response,” but it was named after Amber.
19. Suzanne Jovin (December 4, 1998)
Yale University senior Suzanne Jovin was stabbed to death near campus in New Haven, Connecticut. After chatting with a fellow student and continuing on her way, Jovin’s body was later that night found stabbed 17 times in the head and neck with her throat slit. Witnesses saw a brown van parked nearby, but nothing came of that lead. One of professors was suspected, a move that damaged his career, though he was eventually cleared. The killer has never been found.

20. The Somerton Man (December 1, 1948)

Also known as the Taman Shud case, the mystery of the Somerton Man is one of the most baffling unsolved murders in history. A man in his 40s was found on the Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia, on December 1, 1948. He carried no identification, and the labels had been removed from his clothes. The cause of death was determined to be poison, though the type wasn’t known. Attempts to identify the body proved fruitless, and the growing pile of clues, including a suitcase of the man’s possessions, only added to the confusion. A slip of paper with the words “Taman Shud” was found in a hidden pocket in the man’s trousers, leading police to a collection of poems called The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam. The book was found by a man in his car near the scene of the crime, and contained a phone number and portion of jumbled letters that might have been a code, though it’s never been cracked. The phone number led to a woman who said she didn’t know anything about the man and who police omitted from future searches, thereby eliminating one of the case’s best leads. It’s been more than 60 years, and no one has ever discovered the killer or the identity of the Somerton Man.


Posted by on May 23, 2010 in Interesting Cases


Sickle Cell Disease and Death

Bennie Abram had a promising football career at the University of Mississippi. Until he was felled by his genetics. The 20-year-old junior was going through conditioning workouts when he suddenly collapsed and died. His autopsy has now been completed and the medical examiner has attributed his death to sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell disease occurs predominantly in those with an African ancestry. There is some evidence that this is the case because this genetic abnormality might afford some protection against malaria that is so common in the African continent. Regardless, it is not a rare problem in Americans of African descent.

So what is sickle cell disease?

It is a problem of hemoglobin, which is the molecule within our red blood cells (RBCs)that carries oxygen (O2) from the lungs to the tissues and brings carbon dioxide (CO2) from the tissues back to the lungs. It is essential for life. The type of hemoglobin that we have depends upon our genetic makeup. Our genes and our chromosomes are paired and we receive one of each pair from each of our parents. Normal hemoglobin is called hemoglobin A. The normal individual will receive a hemoglobin A gene from each parent and therefore his genetic makeup, as far as hemoglobin production is concerned, would be called AA.

Abnormal hemoglobin of the sickle variety is designated as S. An individual who received one normal hemoglobin gene and one sickle hemoglobin gene would then have a genetic profile designated as SA. A person who received a sickle gene from both parents would have no hemoglobin A but only hemoglobin S genes and would be designated SS.

Sickle cell disease comes in two varieties: Sickle Cell Anemia and Sickle Cell Trait. The former is associated with SS hemoglobin and is more severe than the latter which is associated with an SA genetic pattern. Sickle Cell Trait is the milder form of the disease and has fewer symptoms and fewer medical problems than someone with full blown Sickle Cell Anemia.

In sickle cell disease the red blood cells will often take on a sickled form in that they look like crescent moons. They are not round and plump like normal red blood cells but rather take on this unusual form and it is the physical shape of the red blood cells that causes the problems. These sickled cells can plug up blood vessels and block blood flow, which can then lead to ischemia — a big word meaning poor blood supply — in the organs affected. This could be the spleen and indeed the spleen can die and lead to a medical crisis where it would has to be removed are emergent basis. It can lead to plugging of vessels to the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the liver, the joints, the gastrointestinal tract, and the brain. This can lead to extreme pain in the joints and even death from a heart attack or stroke. It can lead to severe kidney and liver damage and to an infarction (death of tissue due to lack of blood supply) of the bowel.

These episodes of vascular occlusion are called a Sickle Crisis and it is a true medical emergency. Treatment includes pain medications to relieve the discomfort and and large amounts of IV fluids to lessen the sludging of the sickled cells within the small blood vessels. Oxygen is also given since this helps supply more O2 to the tissues that are being deprived by the slow blood flow. Most of these crises last a few days to a week and then resolve. They resolved faster and with less complications if aggressively treated early on.

Any situation that leads to dehydration or an elevation of body temperature or if an infection is present within the victim’s body can lead to a Sickle Crisis. In the case of Bennie Abram, who apparently had Sickle Cell Trait, it is likely that the dehydration that accompanied his training session helped precipitate this event. These crises are unpredictable and occur in a seemingly random pattern. Staying well hydrated helps, but even then a crisis can occur. This is the reason Bennie had gone though similar training exercises in the past without problem. This time he wasn’t so lucky. That’s the unpredictable nature of this disease.

There’s a great deal of research underway regarding genetic therapy for this disease. If the genetic makeup of the individual can be altered to do away with the S hemoglobin gene and replace it with a hemoglobin A gene then this disease could be cured. Hopefully that won’t be far down the road.


PTSD and Morphine

My new medical thriller STRESS FRACTURE deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) titled “Morphine Use after Combat Injury in Iraq and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” offers some interesting insights into the genesis of this poorly understood psychiatric disorder. The gist of the article is that injured soldiers who received morphine seem to have a reduced incidence of PTSD when compared to those that were not treated with this analgesic medication. The authors of the article and the author of the editorial in the same publication felt that this was due to the reduction in pain felt by the soldiers during their time of injury. This is likely true but I have a slightly different take on it. Let me explain.

PTSD is often associated with war but the truth is it can occur under many other circumstances. Things such as an abusive household relationship, severe illness, and virtually any other situation where there is prolonged and unrelenting or frequent intermittent stress of a significant nature. The victim is constantly vigilant, constantly waiting for the next shoe to drop, constantly waiting for the next wave of pain or fear or stress. This has a tendency to cause psychological damage and fatigue and will also ingrain certain pathways of response within the individual. It can be almost Pavlovian in nature.

The so-called flashbacks that occur among war veterans are examples of PTSD. Maybe a soldier who had been in Vietnam hears a helicopter overhead and all those old feelings of fear and anxiety arise. His heart rate elevates and he begins to sweat and in some sufferers a full-blown panic attack follows. The trigger, the sound of the helicopter blades, causes the response, the flashback to a very fearful time.

So it would seem that anything that blunted the initial response, that is anything that relieved the soldier’s fear at the time of the original events, would also lessen or even eliminate the later Pavlovian response to anything that reminded him of that situation. In the case of the injured soldiers, the reduction of pain after the traumatic event and during the healing phase should serve to lessen future anxiety events surrounding similar injuries or fear of similar injuries. So far so good.

But why is morphine singled out in this circumstance? It brings me back to my days in medical school. One of my professors in Birmingham at the University of Alabama was without a doubt one of the true giants of medicine. Dr. Tinsley Randolph Harrison is hands-down the greatest physician I’ve ever known and is known by physicians throughout the world. He literally wrote the book. Harrison’s Textbook of Internal Medicine is read by every medical student, intern, resident, and practicing physician in the country. In fact, virtually every one of them has a copy on the shelf. I’m looking at one of my several copies right now.

Dr. Harrison taught us many things and he had so many pearls of wisdom that he imparted to us on a daily basis that I can’t even begin to recount them all. We called them “Tinsleyisms.” One of those was his belief that you should use morphine rather than another analgesic such as Demerol when someone was having a heart attack — a myocardial infarction or MI. His belief was as usual on very firm ground and came from years of experience.

Back in those days we didn’t jump into the middle of a heart attack and try to abort it. We simply did not have the knowledge or the means. We did not have thrombolytic drugs or angioplasty balloons or cardiac stents. We simply allowed the heart attack to happen and dealt with the aftermath. All he could do was make the patient comfortable and reduce his anxiety as much as possible and then treat the complications as they arose. Hard to believe it was done that way but it was.

Dr. Harrison rightly believed that fear killed as many of these patients as anything else. We now know that to be true but at the time it was a rather novel idea. He also authored along with Dr. T. Joseph Reeves another important book in the history of cardiology. This was titled Principles and Problems of Ischemic Heart Disease. It was published in 1968 and one of my proudest possessions is a copy of this book signed by both Dr. Harrison and Dr. Reeves, who was my old chief of medicine. The point relevant to this discussion is that they closed this book with a paraphrase of Corinthians 13:13:

And now abideth pain, breathlessness, and fear, these three;
But the gravest of these is fear.

When someone is having a heart attack they almost invariably have these three: pain, breathlessness, and fear.

Dr. Harrison said that you can use any analgesic medication to relieve pain but only morphine has a profound euphoric effect so that the patient is not only pain free but fear free. Seen it a 1000 times. You give someone morphine and they absolutely do not care anymore. They’re not concerned about their heart attack attack or broken leg or whatever is going on. They are simply giddy and happy.

In a heart attack the most dangerous chemical in the body is epinephrine, also called adrenaline. This is the fight or flight chemical within the body. If a bear crashes into your bedroom you better pump up the adrenaline and get the hell out. Under those circumstances this chemical is life-saving. But in a heart attack it can cause deadly cardiac arrhythmias that can result in death and indeed this is the most common cause of death in heart attacks even today. So anything that relieves pain, lessens fear, and lowers the epinephrine levels in the body is beneficial. Morphine scores on all counts.

The same mechanism is likely operative in PTSD when this drug is used. A victim whose pain is relieved but he is still left with fearful memories and his brain completely engaged in the circumstances of his injury is still under stress. A victim whose pain is not only relieved but he is euphoric does not suffer the same level of stress and this might be critical in the later development of PTSD. I’m not sure this is true but it certainly makes sense and I would bet that Dr. Harrison, were he still with us, would say the same thing.



Here is a cool cross post from Jay Smith and the folks at Criminal Justice University. Their original posting was on 5-9-10.

“Old Sparky.” The words instantly call to mind the electric chair, a method of execution that’s fallen from favor but for a while was the United States’ main method of carrying out death sentences for criminals. It remains an option for execution in a handful of states, all southern: Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida, and Alabama. It’s a practice with a storied and often gruesome past. Here are 20 of the men and women put to death in the most notorious method of the 20th century, the electric chair:

1. Ted Bundy (January 24, 1989)

One of the most notorious serial killers in American history, Ted Bundy is estimated to have killed 35 people in the late 1970s. He escaped from prison twice before his final apprehension, and was sentenced to death for his brutal crimes. As his appeals were exhausted and execution drew close, he confessed to more and more killings. He was strapped into the electric chair at Florida State Prison on the morning January 24, 1989, and his final words before being killed by electrocution were: “I’d like you to give my love to my family and friends.”

2. Ruth Snyder (January 12, 1928)

Queens resident Ruth Snyder began plotting her husband’s murder shortly after she began having an affair with a corset salesman. She even tried several times to kill him and collect on a forged insurance policy before she and her lover killed her husband and attempted to make it look like he’d been killed in a robbery. She and her lover were both sentenced to death, but Snyder’s execution in the chair became one of the most famous to date when newspaper photographer captured an image of her at the moment of execution using a hidden camera he’d smuggled into the viewing chamber. The picture made front-page news.

3-4. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (June 19, 1953)

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the first American citizens ever executed for committing espionage. They were convicted of passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union, but in years since, the levels of Ethel’s involvement have come into question. The dual execution, in New York State’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility, was a controversial one, and eyewitness accounts of the electrocutionssaid that though Julius died quickly, it took three rounds of electrocutions to finally stop Ethel’s heart. Witnesses say smoke rose from her head.

5. Leon Czolgosz (October 29, 1901)

The name might not be remembered much today, but Leon Czolgosz is in the small, disturbed group of men who’ve killed a president. Czolgosz, a recluse interested in anarchism, assassinated President William McKinley on September 6, 1901. He was quickly tried and convicted, and he was killed by three rounds of electrocution at 1,800 volts each at Auburn Prison in Auburn, New York. His haunting final words: “I am not sorry for my crime.”

6. Giuseppe Zangara (March 20, 1933)

Giuseppe Zangara attempted to kill President Franklin Roosevelt in February of 1933, but his shots went wild and he wound up striking and killing Anton Cermak, mayor of Chicago. Interestingly, Zangara was convicted of first-degree murder solely for having intent to kill, even though his victim wasn’t his intended target. He was quicklytried and convicted, spending only 10 days on death row before being put to death in the electric chair. His last words were, “Viva Italia! Goodbye to all poor peoples everywhere! Push the button!”

7-8. Sacco and Vanzetti (August 23, 1927)

Ferdinando Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a pair of Italian immigrants, were tried and convicted of a double-murder that took place during an armed robbery in 1920. The highly politicized case has long been regarded as controversial by historians, who maintain that the men were denied basic civil liberties at several key points throughout the legal process. They were executed by the electric chair in August 1927.

9. Hans Schmidt (February 8, 1916)

Hans Schmidt holds the dubious honor of being the only Roman Catholic priest to receive the death penalty in the United States. He began a secret relationship with his New York rectory’s housekeeper that continued after he was transferred, and they even got married in a secret ceremony. However, when she revealed that she was pregnant, Schmidt cut her throat, dismembered her, and dumped her in the Hudson. He was put to death for his crime at Sing Sing Prison. He was also suspected in other crimes, including the murder of a 9-year-old girl at his former church in Kentucky.

10. Bruno Hauptmann (April 3, 1936)

The kidnapping and killing of the infant son of Charles Lindbergh and his wife, Anne, was called the “crime of the century,” so it’s little surprise that the man responsible received a death sentence carried out in the electric chair. Bruno Hauptmann was caught when he spent a gold certificate from the ransom money he’d extorted in the kidnapping. In recent years, though, some have come to question his guilt.

11. Louis “Lepke” Buchalter (March 4, 1944)

Lepke Buchalter was a mob boss whose heyday in the 1930s included protection rackets and multiple orders of murder. Eventually caught and convicted, Buchalter was killed in the electric chair in 1944, and he remains the only major mob boss in American history to receive the death penalty.

12. Charles Starkweather (June 25, 1959)

Charles Starkweather, barely 20 years old, killed 11 people on a murder spree throughout Nebraska and Wyoming in the late 1950s, accompanied by his 14-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fulgate. The killings took place during a two-month road trip, and the events would go on to inspire such films as Badlands and Natural Born Killers. Fulgate served 18 years and was paroled in 1976, but Starkweather received the death penalty and was executed in June 1959. Fulgate refuses to speak of the murders.

13. John Arthur Spenkelink (May 25, 1979)

A pair of Supreme Court cases meant that the death penalty was suspended in the United States from 1972-1976. John Spenkelink was the second person to be executed after capital punishment was reinstated. (The first, Gary Gilmore, died by firing squad in 1977.) Already an ex-con, Spenkelink travelled from California to Florida with a fellow inmate and was convicted of murdering a travelling companion. Spenkelink’s Florida death warrant was overturned the first time by the Supreme Court, but the second one stuck, and he was executed in the electric chair in May 1979.

14. Donald Henry Gaskins (September 6, 1991)

A brutal serial killer, Donald Gaskins actually didn’t start committing murders until in prison for lesser crimes. His first victim was a fellow inmate, though it was ruled he acted in self-defense. After escape, rearrest, and eventual release, Gaskins committed more crimes and rapes, bouncing in and out of prison before killing a series of hitchhikers beginning in September 1969. These victims were often tortured and mutilated. He was eventually convicted on eight charges of murder and sentenced to death, though that was commuted to life in prison in 1974 to follow temporary Supreme Court guidelines on capital punishment. However, once in prison, he killed again, on orders from someone else, and it was this final killing that earned him a death sentence that would be carried out. He confessed to more than 100 murders while waiting on death row, and was put to death in the electric chair in September 1991. His finals words: “I’m ready to go.”

15. Martha Place (March 20, 1899)

Martha Place was the first woman ever executed in the electric chair. In 1898, her husband came home to find Martha wielding an ax, and though he escaped and brought help, Martha managed to murder her 17-year-old stepdaughter via asphyxiation. Teddy Roosevelt, then the governor of New York, was asked to commute the death sentence, but he refused, and thus Martha Place was put to death.

16-17. Linwood and James Briley (October 12, 1984; April 18, 1985)

Brothers James and Linwood Briley, along with younger brother Anthony, were bad seeds from youth, and in 1979 they took on accomplice Duncan Meekins and went on a seven-month killing spree in and around Richmond, Virginia. Eventually captured and arrested, Meekins turned on the brothers to avoid the death penalty, and Anthony Briley also received life with possible parole because of his limited role in the murders. Linwood and James were both sentenced to death but led four other men in a prison break in May 1984. Recaptured soon after, their appeals quickly ran out, and they were put to death in the electric chair shortly thereafter. To date, Anthony has yet to earn parole.

18-19. Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck (March 8, 1951)

Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, his common-law wife, became infamous as the “Lonely Hearts Killers” after they were arrested and tried for a killing spree in the late 1940s. Fernandez had wife and four kids in Spain while he was in the U.S. committing robberies by answering personal ads in the paper from lonely women, taking them out on the town, and then stealing their money. Already mentally unstable from a head injury, he answered an ad placed by the equally disturbed Beck, after which they hit it off and teamed up to commit their crimes. Caught after a killing in Michigan, Fernandez confessed, assuming he and Beck wouldn’t he extradited to their home state of New York, since Michigan didn’t have a death penalty but New York did. He guessed wrong. They were promptly extradited, tried, and convicted for three murders, and they both received death in the chair. Their story was retold in the films The Honeymoon Killers and Lonely Hearts.

20. Peter Kudzinowski (December 21, 1929)

Polish immigrant Peter Kudzinowski killed three people in New Jersey in the 1920s, including a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. He also tried to accost other kids, but they were able to run away. He was also suspected in the disappearance of other children. Captured in Michigan, he was brought back to New Jersey for his trial, and subsequently convicted and sentenced to death. He was put to death in the electric chair at the end of December, 1929.
Criminal Justice University Post


The Hundred-Year-Old Baby Mummy: A Family Heirloom?

File this under YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS UP.

But it does open intriguing doors for mystery writers.

A grave has been robbed. A 100-year-old mummified baby has been stolen. Whether you call the missing corpse Baby John or Great Great Uncle John, the 18-inch mummy has gone missing from its burial place of two years in Concord, NH.

I wonder if the thieves are continuing the tradition of giving Baby John holiday cards and pets?


How Long Could You Survive in Space?

A recent New Scientist article discussed this issue. It reminded me of a question I received from a writer and included in my book Forensic & Fiction: Clever, Intriguing, and Downright Odd Questions From Crime Writers. Here is the question:

Q:    What sort of damage does the human body suffer in the vacuum of space? How long can one survive and what will happen to the person who does survive? (My scenario involves an astronaut whose faceplate blows out, but not before he depressurizes his suit sufficiently to prevent immediate death — if that’s even a threat.)

A;    First of all the victim would not explode as in the movie 2010. But some really bad things do happen internally and they happen very quickly. Whether he depressurizes somewhat beforehand or not, his survival would likely be measured in seconds.

Space decompression is similar to that of a scuba diver that rises too rapidly after a prolonged exposure to the pressures of the deep. In this case he is going from excess pressure to normal pressure. In space the victim goes from normal pressure to zero pressure. Same thing physiologically.

Though studies on the effects of exposure to a vacuum have been done on chimpanzees, there are no real data on what happens to humans exposed to zero pressure except for a couple of incidents where an astronaut or a pilot was accidentally exposed. Of course, rapid decompression has caused deaths in both high-altitude flights and in June, 1971 when the Russian spacecraft Soyuz 11 suddenly lost pressure and killed the 3 cosmonauts on board, but survivors are few and far between.

On August 16, 1960, parachutist Joe Kittinger ascended to an altitude of 102,800 feet (19.5 miles) in an open gondola in order to set a world record for high-altitude parachute jumping. He lost pressurization in his right glove but proceeded with his ascent and jump. He experienced pain and loss of function in his hand at high altitude but all returned to normal once he descended via chute to lower altitudes.

In 1965 at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center near Houston, TX, a trainee suffered a sudden leak in his spacesuit while in a vacuum chamber. He lost consciousness in 14 seconds, but revived after a few seconds as the chamber was immediately re-pressurized. He suffered no ill effects—due to his very brief exposure—but stated that he could feel water boiling on his tongue. I should point out that in chemical and physical terms boiling simply means the changing of a liquid to a gas. This can be accomplished by adding heat or by lowering the ambient pressure. So in this case it wasn’t that his tongue became hot or anything like that but rather that the pressure was so low the water in his mouth changed to its gaseous phase.

A case of partial, prolonged exposure occurred during an EVA (space walk) in April 1991 on the US space shuttle mission STS-37. One astronaut suffered a 1/8 inch puncture in one glove between the thumb and forefinger. He was unaware of it until later when he noticed a painful red mark on his skin in the exposed area. It appeared that the area bled some but that his blood had clotted and sealed the injury.

So, what happens to a human exposed to zero pressure? Since there is no oxygen in such an environment, loss of consciousness occurs in a matter of seconds. Also, if the victim held his breath (don’t do this during scuba diving when coming up from depths either), the air in his lungs would rapidly expand and his lungs could be damaged, bleed, or rupture. Better to open his mouth and exhale the rapidly expanding gas from the lungs.

Water in his blood stream would immediately begin to “boil.” That is, it would turn to its gaseous state. This is similar to popping the top on a soft drink. With the release of the pressure the carbon dioxide dissolved in the drink immediately begins to turn to its gas form. Same thing happens in the blood at zero pressure. This causes pressure to build in the blood system and the heart stops. Bubbles may appear in the blood stream and these can cause damage to the body’s organs, particularly the brain. As a result, the brain and nerves cease to function. This increased pressure also causes the tissues of the body to swell but they will not explode.

Exposure to heat or cold or radiation might also occur but it will do little harm since the victim would already be dead.

But what if the exposure is brief and the person is rescued? Treatment would be to immediately return him to a pressurized environment and give him 100% oxygen. He may survive unharmed or may have brain and nerve damage which could be permanent.

For your scenario, the victim’s faceplate would rupture and he would begin to exhale air. He would lose consciousness in 10 to 20 seconds and would then die in short order. If he were quickly rescued, he would be returned to the spacecraft, which would be pressurized, and he would be given 100% oxygen via a face mask. He could survive intact or with brain damage. It’s your call. Either way works.


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