Category Archives: On This Day

The King Is Dead; Long Live The King

Today is the 35th anniversary of the death of The King: Elvis Presley. You don’t get to be The King of Rock and Roll by accident. What a voice. From Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right” in 1954 to the 1976 “Jungle Room Sessions” recoded at Graceland, he was one of a kind. His catalog of recordings is simply astounding.


Elvis Returns to Tupelo, 1956

On a personal note, my father, like Elvis, is from Tupelo, MS and as a kid knew Elvis’ mother and her sister very well. My cousin Bobby and Elvis were great friends. My Dad has a photo of Bobby, Elvis, and their 4th grade class–maybe a dozen students total. Bobby and Elvis are sitting together in the front row, each with a facial expression that screams mischievousness.

RIP, Elvis.


Posted by on August 16, 2012 in On This Day


On This Day: Josef Mengele Identified

Few names in history evoke a more visceral response than that of Josef Mengele. If there can be such a thing, Mengele would easily win the award as “Worst Nazi.” After World War II, he escaped to South America where he disappeared for decades despite many ongoing searches for his identity and location. But on this day in 1992 all speculation regarding his rumored death were put to rest as his remains were conclusively identified.

Josef Mengele was born in Germany on March 16, 1911. A member of the military for many years, he was finally discharged in 1934 because of chronic kidney problems. Unfortunately this didn’t suppress his rise to power. In 1937 he was appointed as a research assistant at the Third Reich Institute for Heredity, Biology, and Racial Purity at the University of Frankfurt. I think the name of this Institute pretty much says it all.

In 1938 he received his medical degree from the University of Frankfurt and then reentered the Wehrmacht. He became very outspoken about his beliefs on Aryan superiority. He rose quickly up the ranks of the National Socialists and became a member of the elite Waffen SS. But it wasn’t until he arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943 that he became the “Angel of Death.”

His experiments at Auschwitz became the stuff of nightmares. He immersed prisoners in the freezing waters until they died so that he could learn about the effects of hypothermia, presumably to help German pilots who were shot down in the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea. He experimented with eye color, to of course produce blue-eyed Aryans, by operating on and injecting various materials into the eyes of the children. His work on twins was equally atrocious.

As with many Nazis at the end of World War II, he escaped from Europe as Germany fell to the Russians and the Allies and found his way to South America, where he lived in several countries but predominantly in Brazil. He then disappeared. Many people, in particular the famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, spent a great deal of time and effort tracking him. Sightings would occasionally pop up but each would evaporate almost as quickly as they appeared.

The big break came in 1985 when Lisolette Bossert confessed that Wolfgang Gerhard had drowned and that she had buried him in 1979. She also confessed that Wolfgang was actually Josef Mengele. The remains were exhumed and examined by forensic anthropologist in order to determine if this was indeed the skeletal remains of the infamous Angel of Death.

The initial investigations included x-rays, anthropological examinations, and reconstruction of the shattered skull. Using known dental records and photos of Mengele it was concluded that the remains were likely him but this could not be proven beyond a doubt. That all changed in 1992. Using DNA obtained from Mengele’s son and DNA obtained from the remains, forensic scientist proved once and for all that Wolfgang Gerhard was indeed Josef Mengele.

Adios Mother…….well you know the rest.


On This Day: Muddy Waters is Born

On this day in 1913 blues great McKinley Morganfield was born in the tiny town of Rolling Fork in the Mississippi Delta just off the famous Highway 61. He could not have been born anywhere else. Had to be the Delta. Had to be near Highway 61.

His mother began calling him Muddy because of his habit of playing in the rich Delta mud and later his friends added Waters to his moniker, one that would stick with him throughout his life. He began playing music around age 4 and by 12 entertained folks with his harmonica playing at picnics and fish fries. He watched and learned from blues legends such as Robert Johnson, Son House, and Robert Nighthawk. He devoured recordings by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Minnie, Tampa Red, and other blues greats.

He came across an electric guitar and added that to his harmonica playing and his gritty falsetto voice. The great Muddy Waters was born. He moved to Chicago and became the Father of Chicago Electric Blues. The people who played in his band over the years are a who’s who of the blues: Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Baby Face Leroy Foster, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, Luther Johnson, the incomparable Willie Dixon, and the great Buddy Guy. And many more. He became Chess Records’ leading blues talent and did more to spread the blues than virtually anyone else.

His song Rolling Stone gave the Rolling Stones their name and Bob Dylan his hit Like a Rolling Stone. His recordings fill the lexicon of blues music: Got my Mojo Working, Hoochie Coochie Man, Mannish Boy, She Moves Me, I Just Want To Make Love To You, I’m Ready, You Need Love, and so many others. Many of his most famous songs were written for him by the prolific Willie Dixon, arguably the greatest writer of blues tunes ever.

The guitarists who cite Muddy Waters as having influenced their playing also reads like a who’s who of blues rock: Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Bob Dylan, Angus Young, Johnny Winter, and others. The artists and bands that have covered his tunes include The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Allman Brothers, AC/DC, Canned Heat, Foghat, Humble Pie, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Etta James, and Buddy Guy.

He died from a heart attack on May 1, 1983 at the age of 68 but he left us a catalog of blues recordings that might never be equaled. If you’ve never sat and listen to Muddy play and sing, you’re missing one of life’s great pleasures. Check him out here.


Posted by on April 4, 2010 in On This Day


On This Day: Sarin Gas Released in Tokyo Subway

On this day in 1995, the Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway, killing 12 people. The body count could have been much higher but they used a relatively impure form of Sarin. Sarin gas is one of the most toxic substances known. It has its origins in Germany in 1938 when two scientists came up with a formula. Initially developed as a pesticide, its profound toxic effects soon led it being used as a weapon of chemical terrorism. It was used as recently as 2004 by terrorist factions in Iraq. They attempted to make a binary weapon in which two precursor chemicals were placed in artillery shells where the chemicals would mix as the shell spun during flight, creating Sarin gas. It didn’t work very well and only a small amount of gas was released.

Sarin and its close relatives Tabun, Soman, and VX are potent neuromuscular toxins. They belong to the group known as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors. In medicine, there are several useful medications that belong to this family, but these toxic gases represent a serious terrorist threat.

Here’s how they work: Many of the things that go on inside our bodies are the result of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. In the case of something like wiggling your finger, your brain sends an impulse down the nerves. The impulse causes the end of these nerves to release acetylcholine into a synaptic junction between the nerve and muscle. The acetylcholine then stimulates receptors on the muscle side that tell it to contract. Other chemical reactions within the muscle then causes the contraction to occur. The acetylcholine is then rapidly destroyed by an enzyme we call acetylcholinesterase. This removes the acetylcholine from the muscle receptor site and the muscle relaxes. If the acetylcholine is not destroyed in this fashion, the muscle would continue to contract and that is not a desired situation.

These toxic gases interfere with, or inhibit, the acetylcholinesterase enzymes so that indeed the acetylcholine reaction continues. This leads to widespread dysfunctions throughout the body. The muscles can contract in powerful convulsive reactions. The nose and eyes can water severely and drooling is profound. Nausea and vomiting can occur. Constriction of the pupils to pinpoints as well as loss of control of bowel and bladder can follow. Chest pain, shortness of breath, collapse, seizures, and death is the end result. It is an extremely unfortunate way to die.


On This Day: Stagger Lee Shot Billy, 1895

The night was clear and the moon was yellow
And the leaves came tumbling down

I was standing on the corner when I heard my bulldog bark
He was barkin’ at the two men who were gamblin’ in the dark
It was Stagger Lee and Billy, two men who gambled late
Stagger Lee threw seven, Billy swore that he threw eight
Stagger Lee told Billy, “I can’t let you go with that”
“You have won all my money and my brand new stetson hat”
Stagger Lee started off goin’ down that railroad track
He said “I can’t get you Billy but don’t be here when I come back”
Stagger Lee went home and he got his fourty-four
Said “I’m goin’ to the barroom just to pay that debt I owe”
Stagger Lee went to the barroom and he stood across the barroom door
He said “Nobody move” and he pulled his fourty-four
Stagger Lee shot Billy, oh he shot that poor boy so bad
Till the bullet came through Billy and it broke the bartender’s glass.

Lordy, what a great song. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve listen to it or played it on the guitar. It just never gets old.

On this day in 1895 (some say it was Christmas Eve, others say it was Christmas Day) the events that spawned an iconic American song went down. So did young Billy Lyon who was shot and killed by Lee Shelton, a cab driver and pimp who went by the moniker Stag Lee. Apparently they had been drinking, gambling, and arguing politics. Stag Lee apparently shot Billy in the stomach, took his hat, and walked away. He was quickly arrested, and then tried, convicted, and sent to prison where he died in 1912. There was nothing special about this murder, just another shooting on the mean streets of St. Louis, but it was the stimulus for many songs that recounted the events of that day.

Stagger Lee, also known as Stagolee, Stackerlee, Stack O’Lee, Stack-a-Lee, and many similar names, has become an icon in the history of blues and rock ‘n roll. It is estimated that over 400 versions have been recorded over the last century, each with its own take on the story.

The version that most people know is the 1959 recording by Lloyd Price, which contrasts starkly with the version recorded by the great Mississippi John Hurt in 1928. It has also been recorded by The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Johnny Otis, The Grateful Dead, RL Burnside, Keb Mo, and many others.


Posted by on December 24, 2009 in Interesting Cases, On This Day


On This Day: The “In Cold Blood” Murders

Holcomb Kansas is one of those places you’d miss if you blinked. A small farming community in America’s heartland, it was not prepared for what happened 50 years ago on the night of November 15, 1959. It was a town where murder was an unknown word. A town where people got up and went to bed with the sun and never worried about locking their doors. A town where children could walk to school and nothing bad would come their way. A town where the Clutter family became part of American criminal history.

By all accounts Herb Clutter was a hard-working, decent man. He lived in a modest home on a working farm with his wife Bonnie and their two teenage children, 16-year-old Nancy and 15-year-old Kenyon. Mr. Clutter apparently hired transient workers from time to time to help out around the farm and this act of kindness led to his family being massacred on that dark night.

Clutter Home


After the family had turned in for the night, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith entered their world. It seems that Hickok. a recent prison parolee, had heard a rumor from a fellow inmate that a man named Clutter had a safe stuffed with money. That wasn’t true, but Hickok believed it to be. He recruited Perry Smith into his murderous scheme in which he repeatedly said that they would leave no witnesses. They didn’t.


Perry Smith (Top) and Dick Hickock

Once in the home, they cut the phone line and tied up the entire family, each in a separate room. They demanded that Herb Clutter open his safe. Mr. Clutter said that he had no safe and did not keep money in his house. They didn’t believe him but their search turned up nothing except for one of the children’s piggy bank.

Hickock then told Smith to kill the entire family. He first attempted to cut Herb Clutter’s throat but this didn’t go well. He shot Clutter with a shotgun and then moved from room to room killing the rest of the family. Smith and Hickock were ultimately captured and brought to trial with the major forensic evidence against them being a bloody boot print.



Truman Capote, fresh off his success with Breakfast at Tiffany’s, read about the case in the newspaper and decided he would write an article for New York magazine on how these brutal murders affected a small town America. He went there, along with his longtime, childhood friend in Monroeville, Alabama Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird), to investigate the story.


Lee Medal ceremony

Harper Lee receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

The murders not only turned the town of Holcomb upside down, they also affected Capote so much that the article became a novel and the novel transformed literature. It would be the last novel he ever completed.

Capote was an arrogant and self-absorbed jerk but he was a great writer. He boldly stated that his book based on this murder, which he titled In Cold Blood, would revolutionize the way novels were written. He was right. It created an entirely new genre. He called it faction. Today we would call it creative nonfiction.

In Cold Blood


The book created great controversy on several fronts. Many were dismayed that Capote used fictional elements in what was a true crime story. He was accused of manipulating the facts for his own purposes. Kenneth Tynan, in his review for The Observer, went further. He accused Capote of using Smith and Hickock for their information about the killings but then did not help them with their defense as much as he should have. He felt that Capote actually wanted the pair executed so he would have an ending to his story. This controversy remains unsettled.

In Cold Blood is without doubt one of the best crime novels ever written and at the same time one of the best true crime stories you’ll ever read. If you have not read it do yourself a favor. The story is compelling, the writing even more so.



On This Day in History: Edgar Allan Poe

True! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe


Maybe it’s because I’m a cardiologist, but this short story has always been special to me. As is old Edgar, a master storyteller if there ever was one.
On this date in 1849, at the very young age of 40, the world lost the true father of the mystery novel. God bless thee, Edgar.

Poe Museum


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Posted by on October 7, 2009 in On This Day, Writing

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