Letting the Dead Rest in Peace

coffin torpedo grave robbers body snatchers

Grave robbery was not something that just showed up in Frankenstein stories. In the last half of the 19th century, human corpses were in high demand by medical schools, and the body snatching market grew in response. No one’s remains were considered off limits. Extraordinary measures had to be taken to protect the body of President Abraham Lincoln.  One notable person whose body was stolen was John Scott Harrison, the only man who was both the son of a US President (William Henry Harrison) and the father of a US President (Benjamin Harrison). Outrage over the theft of his mortal remains sparked the first landmark legislation to address the growing problem.

Not content to wait until the law addressed the issue, inventors put their minds toward creative ways to make sure the dead could rest in peace. In 1878 Phil Clover of Columbus, Ohio received U.S. Patent No. 208,672 for the coffin torpedo, a shotgun-like device to be placed on top of a buried coffin lid. Anyone who attempted to uncover the grave would be rewarded with a shotgun blast.

Coffin torpedo patent
Illustration accompanying Patent No. 208,672, for P.K. Clover’s Coffin Torpedo.

Clover’s invention was put to the test in 1881 in Knox County, Ohio, when three would-be grave robbers ended up needed graves for themselves after uncovering a coffin torpedo.

While grave robbery is no longer the problem it once was, it should be noted that an unknown number of coffin torpedoes are still out there, silently guarding any number of graves. Whether you have evil intent or simply go digging in the wrong spot, be aware that the next shovelful of earth you move might be your last.

Was His Birth a Clue to the Madness That Would Come?

John Hinckley Jr. Was born in a sanitarium
John Hinckley, Jr. and the two mental hospitals that served as bookends of his life.

John Hinckley, Jr. will be forever remembered as the man who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan on March 30, 1981. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC for treatment for narcissistic and schizotypal personality disorder and major depressive disorder.

In an ironic bit of foreshadowing, history records that 25 years earlier John Hinckley, Jr. entered this world in another mental health institution. He was born at Hardy Sanitarium, in Ardmore, Oklahoma. 

Get Out of Jail Free for $2

man spends almost five months in prison $2 bail

Aitabdel Salem spent five months in jail, waiting for someone to come up with the money to post bond. Little did he know that he could have walked for less than the cost of a large cup of coffee.

Salem was jailed in April 2014 on charges of attacking a police officer who arrested him for shoplifting. His bond was originally set at $25,000 on the assault charge and $1 for each of two accompanying minor charges. Salem was unable to come up with the $25,002, so he sat in his New York City jail cell, awaiting trial.

When prosecutors were unable to get an indictment for the assault charge, it went away, together with the $25,000 bail requirement. That left just the remaining two charges — and $2 bail — keeping Mr. Salem in custody.

So there he sat — for nearly five months. Salem claims his attorney failed to tell him about the change in his bail requirements. When he finally posted bail — in April 2015 — he was ordered to return to court the next month for a hearing. He failed to show up as scheduled and was arrested and put in custody — this time on $30,000 bail.

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Just Desserts for Treasonous Tarts

treason in sweden consists of throwing a strawberry tart

The first case of high treason in modern times came before the Swedish courts in 2001, and four traitors were identified. They were four boys, all aged 16 or 17. Their offense? They threw a strawberry tart at King Carl Gustaf, hitting him on the face.

The boys said they were protesting the monarchy and yelled “For King and Fatherland” as the king passed by. Although the king was surprised, he was unharmed. Queen Silvia, who was walking next to her husband, assisted in wrestling one of the boys to the ground.

The boys were fines between 80 days’ and 100 days’ income each (approximately $370).

So much for the days when treason against the crown cost the offender his head!

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Springtime at the Gallows

hanging judge death sentence Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales
photo credit: floral arrangements by Lyotta (http://lyotta.deviantart.com/). Used by permission.
Justice in the Old West was quick, decisive, and occasionally poetic. Witness this colorful death sentence issued in United States v Gonzales (1881), U.S. District Court, New Mexico Territory.

Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, in a few short weeks, it will be spring. The snows of winter will flee away, the ice will vanish, and the annual miracle of the years will awaken and come to pass, but you won’t be there.

The rivulet will run its course to the sea, the timid desert flowers will put forth their tender shoots, the glorious valleys of this imperial domain will blossom as the rose. Still, you won’t be there to see.

From every treetop some wild woods songster will carol his mating song, butterflies will sport in the sunshine, the busy bee will hum happy as it pursues its accustomed vocation. The gentle breeze will tease the tassels of the wild grasses, and all nature, Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzales, will be glad, but you.

You won’t be there to enjoy it because I command the sheriff, or some officer of the county, to lead you out to some remote spot, swing you by the neck from a knotting bough of a sturdy oak, and let you hang until you are dead.

And then, Jose Manuel Miguel Xavier Gonzalez, I further command that such officer retire quickly from your dangling corpse, that vultures may descend from the heavens upon your filthy body until nothing shall remain but bare, bleached bones of a cold-blooded, blood-thirsty, throat-cutting, chili-eating, sheep-herding, murdering son of a bitch.

It should be noted that despite frequent references to the contrary, this sentence was not handed down by Judge Roy Bean or Judge Isaac Parker — both known as “The Hanging Judge.”

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Not Really a Surgeon? What Was the First Clue?

Guzmangarza impersonated surgeon cigar iv bag
Carlos Guzmangarza (left) was convicted in 2016 of impersonating a surgeon — while smoking a cigar.
It never hurts to check the credentials of anyone who is going to be performing surgery on you. Just ask the San Francisco woman who asked Carlos Guzmangarza to perform a liposuction on her. As it turns out, Guzmangarza wasn’t a surgeon and never held a medical license; he was pretending to be a physician’s assistant by the name of Carlos Guzman. Continue reading