Archive for the ‘Pictures’ Category

Messes (Writer’s Block)

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

“I had to educate him that there was no such thing as writer’s block, that writers write when they write, and when they don’t, they don’t.”

“When you’re at odds with yourself, it’s hard to create.”

- Anthony Kiedis, Scar Tissue

On October 10th, 2007, a semi-trailer truck was driving down US 425 in Monticello, Arizona, en route to Wal-Mart.  The driver’s assignment was simple: arrive at the Wal-Mart, load the store’s expired meat into the trailer, and continue on to the designated place of spoiled flesh disposal.

However, because this was not the vehicle’s first stop of the day, it was already hauling more than 500 pounds of decomposing animal entrails, hides, pig heads, and outdated processed meat.

There is no law or regulation requiring a load of this kind to be covered.

For a reason unbeknownst to officials, prior to his arrival at Wal-mart the driver slammed on his brakes.  The contents of his trailer shifted forward, spilling blood and guts over the top and onto the highway.

The road was closed for a half-hour as bystanders watched in disgust while a 15-man crew cleaned up the filth.

Quite a mess, I’m sure.

A few years earlier, in January, 2004, a 56-foot, 60-ton sperm whale died after breaching on the southwestern coast of Taiwan.  Researchers were determined to perform an autopsy and use the carcass for educational purposes.  It took 13 hours, three large cranes, and 50 workers, but finally the mammal was loaded onto a tractor-trailer to begin its journey, bound for the Shi-Tsau Natural Preserve.

While passing through the city of Tainan, gasses built up to a critical level in the deceased whale, and it exploded.

The bursting whale splattered blood and entrails over surrounding shops, bystanders, and cars.

Residents and shop-owners put on masks and tried to clean up the disaster.  Despite the explosion, enough of the whale remained to allow for examination by marine biologists.

Again, quite a mess.

In the same degree, I’m feeling like quite a mess lately.  It’s a calm disarray, and I strive to harden myself and keep very quiet.

Also, my birthday is next week.  I just can’t seem to grow up where it matters.

Rotten meat en route to Wal-Mart (above)

Exploded whale on street in Tainan (below)

“I shouldn’t have found that your lips I still taste in my head.” (The Story of Armin Meiwes)

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

A little over 10 years ago, German computer programmer Armin Meiwes (right) posted an advertisement on the Internet.

The post stated that he was “looking for a well-built man, 18 to 30-years old, to be slaughtered and then consumed”.  Bernd Jurgen Brandes (below, left) answered the ad.

On March 9th, 2001, the two men met at Meiwes’s isolated farmhouse in Rotenburg.  There the men made a pact.  Meiwes would cut off parts of Brandes’s body for Meiwes’s consumption, while Brandes was still conscious. It was agreed they would film the entire episode.

Eventually, after Brandes consumed 20 sleeping pills and a significant amount of Schnapps, the two men prepared to cannibalize.  They started with Brandes’s penis.

Brandes insisted that Meiwes attempt to bite Brandes’s penis off.  This proved to be a difficult task, so Meiwes used a kitchen knife to complete the severing.

Harald Ermel, Meiwes’s lawyer, told 60 Minutes, “[Brandes] wanted to experience pain that was so bad it would kill him – pain that would destroy him. Obviously, he yelled. He was standing at the table and he sprang backwards. The blood was spurting out, and after 30 seconds, he stopped yelling, and said, ‘It doesn’t hurt any more.’”

Brandes apparently tried to eat some of his own penis raw, but could not because it was too tough and, as he put it in the video, “chewy”. Meiwes fried the penis in a pan with salt, pepper, wine and garlic.  He then fried it with some of Brandes’s fat, but by then it was too burned to be consumed. He chopped it up into chunks and fed it to his dog.

However, the wound wasn’t enough to kill Brandes, and Meiwes hesitated over what to do next.  He read a Star Trek adventure book for three hours while Brandes lay bleeding in the bath. (Meiwes’s bathtub, right.)

In an interview from his jail cell, Meiwes said, “At that moment, I didn’t know what to do. I asked myself whether I should pray to the Devil, or God? And I asked God for forgiveness. Then I took the knife, grasped it in my hand, and after hesitating some more, I cut his throat with it. Then in the slaughter room, after he was dead, I separated the head from his body [by slicing away the neck muscle and twisting the head off where the spinal cord met the skull]. I hung him from the ceiling. Then I removed his organs and cut him in half. I poured hot water over the two halves and washed the body.”

He videotaped the entire thing.

After preparing his meal and pouring himself a glass of fine red wine, Meiwes began to eat.  “The first bite was, of course, very strange,” he said. “It was a feeling I can’t really describe. I’d spent over 40 years, 30 years longing for it, dreaming about it, and now I was getting the feeling that I was actually achieving this perfect inner connection through his flesh,” he said.  (Meiwes’s dining room, below left.)

“Flesh tastes like pork, but stronger,” Meiwes continued, “more substantial, although I don’t think that other people would have noticed a difference, had they eaten it. It tasted really good.”

Over a period of months, he consumed more than 40 pounds of Brandes’s flesh.  He also tried to make flour from grinding his bones.  All the while, Meiwes continued searching the Internet for more willing victims. Eventually, in December 2002, a young Austrian student became suspicious and alerted authorities. Five months later, dozens of police swooped on Meiwes’s farmhouse to search the property.  They found 15 pounds of meat in the freezer (below right) underneath some pizza boxes.

“What kind of meat do you have in the fridge?” a policewoman asked Meiwes.

“This is just normal meat, animal meat,” he responded.

“You know, I’m a housewife,” she said.  “I know this is not normal meat.”

The case posed a legal dilemma. There is no German law against cannibalism and Brandes was clearly a willing victim. Meiwes was initially convicted of manslaughter in 2004 and sentenced to only 8.5 years in prison. But a retrial in 2005 convicted him of murder and he was sentenced to life in jail.

“Today I know that what I did was wrong.  That this can never be the right way,” Meiwes said in his 60 Minutes interview. “The wishes, the fantasies you have, that these can never ever be fulfilled. And everything that you dream about will only ever remain a dream.”

During the raid of his farmhouse, police also found the videotape of the killing. It was so shocking that they have locked it away, never to be released.

Lori & George Schappell

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Forty-nine year old twin sisters Lori and Dori Schappell hated the rhyming names their parents gave them, so Dori, a country singer, legally had her name changed to Reba (after her hero Reba McEntire).

These days, Reba prefers to go by the name George.

While George enjoys making country music, sister Lori is an award-winning bowler.

And though they are twin sisters, Lori and George Schappell have only seen each other by using mirrors.  This is because they are craniopagus conjoined twins (joined at the head), and their heads face opposite directions.  The women share bone, vital blood vessels, and 30% of their brain (the frontal lobe and the parietal lobe).

The executive functions of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress unacceptable social responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events. Therefore, it is involved in higher mental functions.  The frontal lobes also play an important part in retaining longer term memories which are not task-based. These are often memories associated with emotions derived from input from the brain’s limbic system.  The frontal lobe modifies those emotions to generally fit socially acceptable norms.

The parietal lobe plays important roles in integrating sensory information from various parts of the body, knowledge of numbers and their relations, and in the manipulation of objects. Portions of the parietal lobe are involved with visuospatial processing.

Conjoined twins are a once in a 100,000 ocurrance.  They develop from a single fertilized egg.  Twins normally begin to separate into distinctive individuals 13 days after fertilization.  With conjoined twins, that separation fails.

They have argued that two minds can exist in a single fused brain.

Lori works part-time in a hospital laundry but frequently takes time off for her sister’s concert dates.  They live in an apartment in Reading, Pennsylvania, with George’s pet turtle and pet Chihuahua, who is paralyzed in the back legs and moves around on a wheeled device designed by George.  Each twin has her own private space.

“We’re different in every way,” Lori said. “Even when we bathe, I like to do it in the morning… George likes to do it at night.”  (They use a shower curtain as a divider so that the twin who isn’t bathing can avoid getting wet.)

Lori’s part of their apartment is disorganized; George’s is neat. And they respect that division of territories.

“Twins do what the psychologists call ‘individuation’,” says Dr. Alice Dreger, a bioethicist and medical historian at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.  “It means that they unconsciously develop aspects of difference between themselves so that they’re able to have distinct identities. Those things allow them to develop individuality even within the space of sharing a body together.”

Lori says she has had boyfriends throughout her life. George doesn’t interfere.

“She can’t see us, anyway,” Lori said. “If we’re on a date, she will bring something along that she has to do, or else she’ll read. She totally blocks us out.”

While Lori is able-bodied, George suffers from spina bifida, a developmental birth defect that has caused her to be four inches shorter than Lori.  There was no wheelchair that suited George’s unique condition, because to move around, she must be raised to her sister’s height to avoid excessive strain on Lori’s neck and back. The only thing on wheels that was the right height was a bar stool. Using this as the foundation, George designed the wheelchair that she currently uses.

Lori wheels her sister around on this specially made chair and spends most of her time standing.

When asked whether their lives were more or less complicated than other people’s lives, Lori said, “Less.”

If one died before the other, they say, the survivor would choose separation — but only under that circumstance.

Why I Need a Spacesuit (The Apollo 1 Tragedy)

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011

During a launch simulation at 6:30 p.m. on January 27th, 1967, a significant voltage transient was recorded on the Apollo/Saturn-204 spacecraft.

  • voltage (noun) – The rate at which energy is drawn from a source that produces a flow of electricity in a circuit; expressed in volts.
  • transient (adjective) – Lasting only for a short time; impermanent.
  • transient voltage – A time varying voltage value. Transient says that the voltage value changes, especially from a steady state, to a new value, then back again.

Beginning at 6:31 p.m., the crew – Command Pilot Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Senior Pilot Edward H. White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee – gave the first verbal indication of an emergency.  A fire in the Command Module was reported.

“Fire, I smell fire,” Chaffee reported.

Two seconds later, White was heard to say, “Fire in the cockpit.”

After twelve seconds, Chaffee yelled, “We’ve got a bad fire! Let’s get out! We’re burning up! We’re on fire!”

Some witnesses said they saw White on the television monitors, reaching for the hatch release handle as flames in the cabin spread from left to right and licked the window. Only 17 seconds after the first indication by crew of any fire, transmission ended abruptly with a scream of pain as the cabin ruptured after rapidly expanding gases from the fire overpressurized the Command Module.

  • overpressure (noun) – A transient air pressure, such as the shock wave from an explosion, that is greater than the surrounding atmospheric pressure.
  • atmospheric pressure – The force exerted on you by the weight of tiny particles of air (air molecules).  Although air molecules are invisible, they still have weight and take up space.
  • Earth’s atmospheric pressure is about 14.7 psi (pounds per square inch).  The Apollo overpressurized to 29 psi.

The Apollo hatch could only open inward and was held closed by a number of latches which had to be operated by ratchets. It was also held closed by the interior pressure, which was higher than outside atmospheric pressure and required venting of the Command Module before the hatch could be opened. It would have taken at least 90 seconds to get the hatch open under ideal conditions. Because the cabin had been filled with a pure oxygen atmosphere at normal pressure for the test and there had been many hours for the oxygen to permeate all the material in the cabin, the fire spread rapidly and the astronauts had no chance of getting the hatch open. No chance.

Spacecraft technicians ran towards the sealed Apollo, but before they could reach it, the Command Module ruptured.  They were repeatedly driven back by the heat and smoke.  Many feared that the fire might set off the launch escape system atop Apollo.  There were also fears the fire might ignite the solid fuel rockets in the launch escape tower above the Command Module, likely killing nearby ground personnel.

Roughly 5 minutes after the fire had started, technicians succeeded in getting the hatch open.  By that time the flames in the Command Module had gone out and the astronauts had perished, probably within the first 30 seconds due to smoke inhalation and burns.

As the smoke cleared they found the bodies but were not able to remove them. The fire had partially melted the astronauts’ nylon spacesuits and the hoses connecting them to the life support system. Grissom’s body was found lying mostly on the deck. His and White’s suits were fused together. The body of Ed White (whom mission protocol had tasked with opening the hatch) was lying back in his center couch.  Chaffee’s job was to shut down the spacecraft systems and maintain communications with ground control. His body was still strapped into the right-hand seat.

It became apparent that extensive fusion of suit material to melted nylon from the spacecraft would make removal very difficult. For this reason it was decided to discontinue efforts at removal in the interest of accident investigation and to photograph the Command Module with the crew in place before evidence was disarranged.  Photographs were taken, and removal efforts resumed at approximately 12:30 a.m. on January 28. Extraction of the crew took about 90 minutes and was completed about seven and a half hours after the accident.

The name Apollo 1, chosen by the crew, was officially assigned retroactively in commemoration of them.

After the Apollo 1 tragedy, the Apollo & Skylab A6L spacesuit was upgraded to be fireproof and given the designation A7L.

In preparation for the new year, I’ve considered investing in one of these suits for personal use.  This would be to my benefit in that I’ve started playing with Fire again.

Sometimes I can feel her eyes on me.  She’s even showing up in nightmares.

I don’t want to get burned.

The Myrtles Plantation & Oleander Poisoning (Angola Prison Reprise)

Friday, December 17th, 2010

I finally made it to the Angola Prison Rodeo this past October.  It was absolutely amazing.

About three-quarters into the two-hour drive from New Orleans, somewhere in St. Francisville, I saw a sign for the Myrtles Plantation.

“What’s that?” I asked Adrienne.

“You don’t know about that place?  It’s haunted, and it’s a bed and breakfast,” she said.  “You can stay there.”

She went on to tell me the story of Chloe, the most famous ghost said to haunt the estate.

In 1817, the Myrtles Plantation was owned by Judge Clark Woodruff and his wife Sarah who resided there with their two young daughters.  One evening, a household servant named Chloe was caught eavesdropping on Clark’s business dealings, and this wasn’t the first time.  As punishment, the Judge cut off one of Chloe’s ears.

Chloe feared further punishment of being sent to the fields to work with the rest of the slaves.  She devised a plan to bake a cake poisoned with oleander leaves for the Woodruff’s.  Once the family became sick, she would redeem herself by nursing them back to health.

Oleander is one of the most poisonous plants in the world and contains numerous toxic compounds, many of which are deadly to people, especially young children.  Reactions to oleander poisoning are evident quickly, and ingestion can cause both gastrointestinal effects (nausea and vomiting, excess salivation, abdominal pain, and diarrhea that may or may not contain blood) and cardiac effects (irregular or erratic heart rate).  Extremities may become pale and cold due to poor or irregular circulation, and the central nervous system may also be affected.  (These symptoms can include drowsiness, tremors or shaking of the muscles, seizures, collapse, and even coma that can lead to death.)

Unfortunately for everyone, Chloe’s plan backfired.  Only Sarah and her daughters ate the cake, and in a matter of hours all three were dead.  The other slaves, afraid that Clark would punish them for harboring Chloe, beat her, hanged her, and finally drowned her in the Mississippi River.

Since her death, the ghost of Chloe has reportedly been spotted at the Myrtles.  Although historical record does not support the story of Chloe and the Woodruff girls, it is the most popular tale among visitors and employees.

There are more murders said to have taken place at this historic building since its construction in 1796, all resulting in paranormal activity still taking place to this day.  Additionally, it is believed that the house was built over an Indian burial ground, and the ghost of an Indian girl is said to roam the plantation.

In any case, I plan on going to the rodeo again, and when I do, I will stay a night at the Myrtles Plantation.

Myrtles Plantation (above), Oleander (below)

My New Clock (And The Final 2004 Entry)

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Every year is getting shorter
Never seem to find the time.

- Pink Floyd, “Time”

And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time
And it’s time, time, time that you love
And it’s time, time, time.

- Tom Waits, “Time”

I knew this would happen.

I could hear the clock from my bedroom, ticking on the floor of the den where I had neglected it since my trip to visit Andrea over a month ago.

Still, I moved it into my room.

Aesthetically it’s a great clock, and lately I’ve been wanting to change things  – I want to redecorate while ridding myself of the unnecessary.

But I cannot decide if the constant tick-tock is aggravating or soothing.

There’s the masochist in me, wanting to deprive myself of a peaceful journey into the sandman’s terrain, getting off on being driven crazy by the sound of this machine hard at work while I lie awake with my internal dialogue as its accompaniment.

On the other hand, it comforts me with its distracting tick-tock.  The sounds divert my attention from thoughts that make me cringe, from fantasies that will never be real, and from scenes replaying in my mind that I wish had never occurred in the first place.

Like so many things, I can’t decipher what level of disgust or adoration I have for this clock.  It’s just another noise in my head, and my mind spends hours wondering if it’s ticking towards something or ticking away from something.

It must be ticking towards something.  Towards my fucking head exploding.

The need for more redecorating is weighing on me.  But I think the clock has made me realize that I want to change other things.  Things that only I can see.

The inner workings of this clock have been operating audibly and flawlessly for years, while my inner workings have been functioning silently and insufficiently.  This needs to change.

It’s time.

The final entry from my 2004 journal is below, entry # 10.

(Entry # 9)

(In black ballpoint pen, printed handwriting:)

04.14.04

This is stupid.  In my old journals, which I am now reading (they are giving me nightmares) I would write down everything honestly.  Every thought and every feeling.
I love him.  Not forever maybe, but right now.  And I am a nerd and I am nothing and it’ll never happen because that is how it always happens for me: Not at all.

My new clock (below)

Intermission (The Death of Sam Cooke)

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Cupid, draw back your bow and let your arrow go
Straight to my lover’s heart for me
Cupid, please hear my cry and let your arrow fly
Straight to my lover’s heart for me
- Sam Cooke, “Cupid”

On Thursday, December 10th, 1964, 33-year old Sam Cooke (right) introduced himself to 22-year old Elisa Boyer (below) at Martoni’s, an Italian restaurant off Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood.  Although Boyer understood that she was in the presence of the Sam Cooke, people at the restaurant said she did not seem star struck.  The two acted like old friends.

After several drinks, they left together in Cooke’s red Ferrari and drove to a nearby club on Santa Monica Boulevard called PJ’s.  Cooke was a regular at the club.  He ordered drinks and made the rounds, saying hi to friends and acquaintances.  At about 2 a.m. (and highly intoxicated), Cooke and Boyer got back into his Ferrari.

No one besides Cooke and Boyer knew the nature of their plans upon leaving PJ’s, but considering Boyer’s reputation with men at Sunset Strip hotspots, along with Cooke’s reported uncontrollable sex drive, it is not unreasonable to assume that the couple went in search of a bed.

They passed a number of hotels and motels during their 17-mile drive.  Boyer later said he drove fast and recklessly.

They ended up at the Hacienda Motel in south-central Los Angeles.  The Hacienda didn’t get a lot of customers in red Ferraris. It was a $3-a-night dive on South Figueroa Street – the sort of place where the desk clerk kept a pistol handy.

Fifty-five-year old Bertha Franklin (right) was working the overnight shift at the motel that evening when she checked in Cooke and Boyer around 2:35 a.m.

Although Boyer later claimed that she demanded Cooke take her home prior to their arrival at the Hacienda, Boyer indicated no distress to the clerk.

Franklin pointed out that per motel policy the couple had to check in as husband and wife, so Cooke signed in as “Mr. and Mrs. Sam Cooke”.  He apparently had no qualms about using his real name, and he paid for the room in cash.

Boyer claimed that when she and Cooke got inside of the motel room, he became aggressive as he stripped her to her underwear.

“I started talking very loudly: ‘Please, take me home,’” Boyer later told police. “He pinned me on the bed. He kept saying, ‘We’re just going to talk.’…He pulled my sweater off and ripped my dress…I knew he was going to rape me.”

At some point Cooke went into the bathroom to relieve himself.  When he emerged, Boyer was gone, as was most of his clothing and his wallet.  According to Boyer, when Cooke stepped into the bathroom for a moment, she quickly grabbed her clothes and ran from the room. She claimed that in her haste, she had also scooped up most of Cooke’s clothing by mistake.

Boyer then ran to the motel manager’s office and pounded on the door, but Franklin did not answer because she was on the phone with the hotel owner, Evelyn Carr.  So Boyer, in fear that Cooke would find her, fled to a nearby pay-phone and called police.  Her call was logged in at 3:08 a.m. “Will you please come down to this number. I don’t know where I am. I’m kidnapped,” she told police.  She said she had escaped in her underwear and stopped in a stairwell to dress.

Meanwhile, Cooke, dressed only in a sports jacket and shoes, jumped in his car and sped around to the front of the motel to try to find Boyer. In his drunken rage, he assumed she had gone back to the office.

“Where’s the girl?!” he yelled as he pounded on the office door.

Franklin, who was still on the phone with Carr, went to the door and said she didn’t know.  Cooke kicked his way through the door and grabbed Franklin by the arms.

“We got in a tussle,” Franklin told police. “We fell to the floor. I tried to bite him through that jacket.”

Franklin broke free and fetched the .22 pistol she kept on hand. She pointed it at Cooke and squeezed the trigger three times. One of the shots pierced his heart.

According to Franklin, his final words were, “Lady, you shot me!” before mounting a last charge at her. She said that she then beat him over his head with a broomstick before he finally fell, mortally wounded by the gunshot.

The motel owner, Carr, was an earwitness to the shooting. She listened in as Franklin put down the phone and went through the ordeal with Cooke.

After hearing the shots, Carr hung up and phoned police at about 3:15 a.m. “I think she shot him,” Carr said.

Police cars, with sirens wailing, raced to the scene, and officers found Sam Cooke dead. His Ferrari was still outside the office, the driver’s door open and the engine running.

A few minutes after police arrived, Elisa Boyer walked up and presented herself as Cooke’s victim.

Police found a bottle of Scotch in the Ferrari. They also inventoried Cooke’s property: a wristwatch, a money clip with $108, and some loose change.

A thin wallet in which Cooke carried credit cards and his driver’s license was never found.  Witnesses at Martoni’s said he had a wad of perhaps $1,000, but that money was never recovered either.  Police searched Boyer’s purse but found only a single $20 bill.

Boyer’s story of what happened the night of Cooke’s death has been called into question because of Cooke’s missing money, and the fact that only a month after Cooke was shot, Boyer was arrested for prostitution at a Hollywood motel after agreeing by phone to have sex with an undercover cop for $40.  There was speculation over the possibility that Boyer may have gone willingly to the motel with Cooke, then slipped out of the room with Cooke’s clothing in order to rob him, rather than to escape an attempted rape.

However, such questions were ultimately deemed beyond the scope of the investigation, whose purpose was to establish the circumstances of Franklin’s role in the shooting, not to determine precisely what had transpired between Cooke and Boyer preceding the event.  Also, when an attorney hired by the Cooke family tried to inquire about what Boyer did for a living, the prosecutor responded, “We are not concerned with the occupation of the girl.”

Police officials testified that both Boyer and Franklin had passed lie detector tests.  The jurors took 15 minutes to rule the shooting justifiable to “protect life, limb and property.”

Cooke’s family still believed there was some sort of cover up and that evidence was suppressed.  They maintained that there was a conspiracy to murder Cooke and that the murder took place in some manner entirely different from the three official accounts.

They hired a private investigator who uncovered the following information: (1) Cooke had dated Elisa Boyer three weeks prior to his murder despite the fact that numerous people warned him about her colorful past which included prostitution, and (2) Bertha Franklin had a .32 registered in her name yet she killed Cooke with a .22.

Additionally, singer Etta James revealed in her book, “Rage To Survive”,  that when she viewed Cooke’s body in the funeral home he was so badly beaten that his head was decapitated from his shoulders, his hands were broken and crushed, his nose was smashed and he had a two inch bump on his head.  These injuries were never explained, and some found it hard to believe that a 55-year old woman could inflict these types of injuries.  (Cooke, as police found him, above.)

In 1979 Elisa Boyer was found guilty of second degree murder in the shooting death of her boyfriend.  Bertha Franklin moved to Michigan and died 18 months after Cooke’s passing.

No concrete evidence supporting a conspiracy theory has been presented to date.

It is rumored that Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys later bought Cooke’s red Ferrari.  Wilson was a huge Cooke fan, and supposedly he would drive around in the car and listen to Cooke’s records.

I’m also a huge fan.

A Major Life Experience (and the Story of Dr. John R. Brinkley’s Cure for Low Libido)

Monday, October 4th, 2010

“Dude, you had a major life experience,” Justin said.  “Where the F is the blog?”

“I did?” I asked.  I assumed he was talking about our time in Europe, but I felt like being a jerk.  “What was my major life experience?”

“Amsterdam with me,” he replied disappointedly.  “I thought it was special.”

“Wrong,” I said, “but I’m sure you’ve been wrong before.”

“Yes, I have,” he confirmed.

Dr. John R. Brinkley wasn’t a doctor at all.  Although he had spent three years at Bennet Medical College in Chicago, he’d never graduated.  He called himself a doctor on the basis of a $500 diploma he had purchased from the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City, Missouri.  And as absurd as it sounds, in the early half on the twentieth century this piece of paper gave him the right to practice medicine in Arkansas and Kansas, among other states.

Additionally, it was this man who invented a medical procedure that not only made him a multi-millionaire, but also killed a countless number of patients.

It all began in 1918 when Brinkley opened a 16-room clinic in Milford, Kansas.  A farmer came in to complain about a decline in his sex drive.  Brinkley recalled his previous job as house doctor at the Swift meatpacking company in Kansas.  While there, Brinkley was amazed by the vigorous mating activities of the goats destined for slaughter.

So, Brinkley jokingly told the farmer that what he needed was a pair of goat glands.  It’s disputed whether the farmer then begged Brinkley to do the operation, or if Brinkley paid the farmer to go along with the experiment, but in any case, Brinkley went ahead with the operation, charging the man $150 (over $2,000 in current value).

Within weeks the farmer was back to thank the “doctor” for giving him back his libido. And when his wife gave birth to a baby boy, the satisfied farmer spread the word about Brinkley. Soon Brinkley’s business was booming.  He began promoting goat glands as a cure for 27 ailments, ranging from dementia to emphysema to flatulence to acne. The testimonials poured in and so did the money. Brinkley was charging $750 (over $8,000 currently) per transplant, and he could barely keep up with the demand.

The procedure itself was simple.  The patient would check into Brinkley’s private hospital.  The “doctor” would collect his fee, and then escort the patient to the rear of the building where he/she could choose the goat of his/her liking.  The animal was castrated on the spot and its testicles placed inside a slit cut in the man’s scrotum or in the abdomen of the woman (near the ovaries).  Then the incision was swiftly sutured.

If all went well, the placebo effect would kick in after a week or so, and Brinkley would have another success on his hands. If rotting goats’ testicles or gangrenous incisions brought death to his patients, as a licensed doctor Brinkley could sign their death certificates.

Brinkley’s fortune fed his appalling taste. At the height of his success, in the mid-1930s, Brinkley owned three yachts, a vast mansion with his name picked out in the garden in flashing neon lights, and a two-story pipe organ played by a man from Graumann’s Chinese Theater.  His admiration for Hitler was reflected in his swimming pool, which he had tiled with miniature swastikas.

It was also around this time, between 1930 and 1941, that Brinkley was sued more than a dozen times for wrongful death.

In 1938, Brinkley’s long-time nemesis, Morris Fishbein, editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association and a man who made his career exposing medical frauds, published a two-part series called “Modern Medical Charlatans” that included a thorough repudiation of Brinkley’s career, as well as exposing his questionable medical credentials.  Fishbein wrote:

Without anything resembling a real medical education, with licenses purchased and secured through extraordinary manipulations of political appointees, and with consummate gall beyond anything ever revealed by any other charlatan, Brinkley… continues to demonstrate his astuteness in shaking shekels from the pockets of credulous Americans.

Fishbein was trying to force Brinkley into a showdown, and it worked.

The “doctor” sued Fishbein for libel and $250,000 in damages (over $3.8 million in current value).  The trail began in Texas on March 22, 1939.  A few days later, the jury found for Fishbein, stating that Brinkley “should be considered a charlatan and a quack in the ordinary, well-understood meaning of those words”.  Brinkley’s licenses to practice medicine were stripped.

The jury’s verdict unleashed a barrage of lawsuits against Brinkley, by some estimates well over $3 million in total value. Also around this time, the IRS began investigating Brinkley for tax fraud. He declared bankruptcy in 1941.  Soon after his bankruptcy, the US Postal Service began investigating him for mail fraud.

On June 20th, 1941, Brinkley suffered a coronary occlusion.  On August 23rd, a blood clot in his leg which resulted in amputation five days later.  On September 1st, heart failure.  On September 23rd, the US Postal Service slapped him with a $12 million mail fraud suit.  On December 22nd, another heart failure.  Finally, on May 26th, 1942, he died at his home in San Antonio, Texas.

His house, commonly called the Brinkley Mansion, still stands today at 512 Qualia Drive in Del Rio.  It is considered a Texas Historic Landmark.  I would like to go see it someday.

Brinkley Mansion (above), Dr. John R. Brinkley (below)

Things That Drugs (Allegedly) Make People Do

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

On May 21st, 2010, Jarrod Wyatt, 26, and Taylor Powell, 21, decided to enjoy some mushroom tea.  As the psychedelic drug took effect, the men became preoccupied with the notion that the end of the world was near, and that soon there would be a final struggle between God and the devil.

They thought that a tidal wave was coming.

Hours later, Sgt. Elwood Lee was dispatched to meet a man who had reported a stabbing.  The witness, a friend of Wyatt and Powell’s, took Lee to a nearby house.  It was there that Lee found Wyatt, naked and covered in blood, standing over Powell’s mutilated body.

“I killed him.  Satan was in that dude,” Wyatt told Lee.  Wyatt was convinced that Powell was the Devil.

“At one point,” Lee said in court, “[Wyatt] asked if we were God, or if we were God coming to save him.”

After cuffing Wyatt, Lee took a closer look at Powell’s body.  The majority of Powell’s face had been removed and an eyeball lay strewn across the room.  There was an 18-inch incision in the chest from which his heart was ripped out.  The victim’s tongue was also cut out and cooked in a wood burning stove along with the heart.  Wyatt told investigators that he cooked the body parts because he was fearful Powell was still alive and he “needed to stop the Devil.”

A lawyer representing Wyatt has claimed the wild mushrooms caused him to act in such a violent way and that he had no control over his actions.  “My client was trying to silence the devil,” said James Fallman, Wyatt’s defense attorney.

Wyatt has been charged with first degree murder, aggravated mayhem, and torture.  He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.  However, prosecutors argue that the act of removing Powell’s heart, tongue, and face took enough time to prove evidence of intent.

Prosecutors added the torture charge because Powell was still alive when his heart was removed.

Jarrod Wyatt (above)

Weegee

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

“Oh, you like to take pictures of dead things, too?” Aunt Heather asked me.  She had noticed the photo of dead birds being used as the background on my iPhone.

“I do,” I replied.  I’m like the Weegee of dead bird photos, I thought.

Weegee (derived from the phonetic spelling of Ouija) was the pseudonym of Arthur Fellig.  His family moved to New York City from Poland in 1909, when he was just 10-years old.

Fellig left school at age fourteen to help support his family. His first job was as an assistant to a commercial photographer. He also obtained extra money by taking street portraits.  In 1918, Fellig was employed as a darkroom technician in Lower Manhattan.

Then, in 1935, Fellig left his job and attempted to make a living as a freelance photographer. By tuning his radio to the police frequency and monitoring their calls, he often beat authorities to the scene of a crime.  This resulted in grotesque images of murder victims, car wrecks, and the public’s reaction to such tragedies.  He even had a complete darkroom in the trunk of his car.

Fellig sold his pictures to newspapers, and in 1938 he became the only New York reporter with a permit to have a portable police-band shortwave radio.  Since then, his photographs have appeared in multiple exhibits at the Museum of Modern Art.  Books of his work have also published.

In unrelated news, I have a new mole.  “Whoa, you should really get that looked at,” Ryan told me.

The other night I dreamt that it grew to cover the entire left side of my face.  It was quite hideous.

Photograph of a murder victim taken by Weegee (above)

One of my photographs of a dead bird (below)