Here lies a man that was Knott born,
His father was Knott before him,
He lived Knott, and did Knott die,
Yet underneath this stone doth lie.

— Epitaph of John Knott, Sheffield, England

“My Dearly Departed”

London dentist Martin van Butchell always read the fine print. So when his wife Mary died in January 1775, he noted that their marriage certificate promised him income so long as Mary was “above ground.”

He enlisted a pair of local doctors to preserve her corpse, replaced her eyes with glass ones, dressed her in a lace gown, and put her on display in his window.

Eventually Butchell remarried, and his new wife objected to the display, so Mary was retired to the Royal College of Surgeons, where she slowly decomposed. In 1941, she was destroyed in a German bombing raid, faithful to the last.

Michael Malloy

In 1933, a group of four thugs came up with a gruesome way to make money. They took out three insurance policies on an Irish vagrant named Michael Malloy and killed him for the proceeds.

Well, tried to, anyway. Malloy proved to be almost unkillable:

  • They gave him unlimited credit at a local speakeasy, but Malloy just drank.
  • They substituted antifreeze for Malloy’s whiskey, but he just passed out.
  • They substituted turpentine for the antifreeze, horse liniment for the turpentine, and then rat poison for the horse liniment. No luck.
  • They served him a meal of raw oysters marinated in wood alcohol, then a dish of spoiled sardines mixed with carpet tacks.
  • They dumped him into a bank of wet snow and poured water on him.

None of this worked. Desperate, they ran him down with a taxi at 45 mph. This put him in the hospital for three weeks, but it didn’t kill him. Finally the trio waited until Malloy had passed out one evening, took him to a room and put a gas hose in his mouth.

That killed him, but they didn’t have long to enjoy the insurance money. Infighting among them led to rumors, and the police exhumed Malloy’s body and revealed the plot. One conspirator went to prison and the rest were electrocuted at Sing Sing.

Bog Bodies

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Celts killed each other. During the Iron Age, they’d stab, bludgeon, hang, and strangle their victims, then dump them in the sphagnum bogs that dot Northern Europe, sometimes with the ropes still around their necks.

We know this because the acidity of the bog water, the cold temperature, and the lack of oxygen have effectively prevented these corpses from decomposing. More than 700 bodies have been recovered, some as old as 10,000 years and some still appearing fresh enough to be mistaken for recent murder victims.

The “Grauballe Man,” above, was found in 1952 by a Dane digging for peat. His throat was cut in 290 B.C., but his body was well enough preserved to yield fingerprints. Why was he killed? Maybe ritual, maybe execution for a crime, maybe human sacrifice. Here’s one odd clue: Judging from their nutrition and manicures, the bodies appear consistently to have been from the upper classes.

So There


“The greatest smoker in Europe died at Rotterdam, and left behind him the most curious of wills. He expresses the wish in his last testament that all the smokers of the country be invited to attend his obsequies, and that they smoke while following in the funeral cortege. He directs that his body be placed in a coffin, which shall be lined with wood taken from old Havana cigar boxes. At the foot of his bier, tobacco, cigars, and matches are to be placed. And the epitaph which he requests shall be placed upon his tombstone is as follows:

Here Lies
The Greatest Smoker in Europe.
He Broke His Pipe
July 4, 1872.
Mourned by his family and
all tobacco merchants.

— Charles Bombaugh, Facts and Fancies for the Curious From the Harvest-Fields of Literature, 1905



Sorry about the photo. It’s a dog’s head, kept alive in the 1940s by an experimental Soviet device called an autojector, which pumped oxygenated blood through it. Reportedly this kept the head alive for hours — it would cock its ears at sounds and lick its chops when citric acid was smeared on them.

That ain’t all. If you believe the 1940 film Experiments in the Revival of Organisms, Soviet scientist Sergei S. Bryukhonenko drained the blood from a dog until it reached clinical death, left it in that state for 15 minutes, then connected it to the autojector. In the film, the heart and lungs resume functioning, and 12 hours later the dog is reported to be on its feet, barking and wagging its tail.

Is all this for real? The film’s authenticity is debated — some say it may show re-enactments rather than authentic experiments — but the research itself was well documented, leading eventually to modern heart-lung machines and a posthumous Lenin Prize for Bryukhonenko.


Canny sheep sometimes resist going down the slaughterhouse ramp to their deaths. So workers sometimes train a goat to go down first, triggering the herding instinct and solving the problem. The goat isn’t harmed and can be used over and over for this purpose.

It’s called a judas goat.

Spectral Evidence

In 1897, testimony from a ghost helped to convict a murderer. Zona Heaster Shue’s death was presumed to be natural until her mother claimed that her ghost had visited her on four successive nights and described how she had been murdered by her husband, Edward. When Zona’s body was exhumed, her neck was found broken, and a jury convicted Edward of murder.

That may be the last U.S. case of “spectral evidence,” but it’s not the first. During the Salem witch trials, if a witness testified that “Goody Proctor bit, pinched, and almost choked me” in a vision or dream, this would be accepted as evidence even if Proctor was known to have been elsewhere at the time.

“Justice has nothing to do with what goes on in a courtroom,” wrote Clarence Darrow. “Justice is what comes out of a courtroom.”



Another case of man’s inhumanity to elephants. Don’t even read this one. Seriously.

In 1826, the owners of a London menagerie decided to kill Chunee, their 5-ton Indian elephant. The animal had been docile for years — Lord Byron said “I wish he was my butler” — but he grew violent toward the end of his life, perhaps aggravated by pain from a rotten tusk. When, on a rampage, he killed one of his keepers, it was decided he was too dangerous to keep.

Unfortunately, Chunee wouldn’t eat poison. So a group of musketeers were summoned to his cage, a trusted keeper ordered him to kneel, and the soldiers began to fire volleys into his chest and legs. This continued for more than an hour, during which one witness reported that the sound of the elephant’s “agony had been much more alarming than that made by the soldier’s guns.” Even with 152 musketballs in him, the elephant continued to live, kneeling in a cage full of blood, so they had to dispatch him, finally, with a sword.

News of the slaughter inspired numerous poems and even a successful play, but owner Edward Cross sought a profit even in the animal’s death. He charged a shilling to see the body dissected; he sold the hide (which took nine butchers 12 hours to remove); and he put Chunee’s skeleton on display in his old cage — with the bullet holes in his skull clearly visible.

The 27 Club


What do Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Kurt Cobain have in common?

Each was an influential rock musician who had a meteoric rise to fame cut short by a drug-related death at age 27.

Also dead at 27: Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Peter Ham of Badfinger, “Pigpen” McKernan of the Grateful Dead, Gary Thain of Uriah Heep, Alan Wilson of Canned Heat, Jeremy Ward of The Mars Volta, Dave Alexander of the Stooges … and Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, for whatever that’s worth.