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Status: Undetermined (the cryptogram is probably genuine, but it's meaning is unknown)
image Security expert Bruce Schneier has posted an interesting item on his blog. It's a scan of a cryptogram emailed to him by someone who claims the cryptogram was left behind by a man named David Rayburn, who killed his wife and stepson with a hammer and then hanged himself. It's been confirmed that this murder/suicide did occur, and it seems likely that the correspondent is telling the truth about the presence of the cryptogram at the crime scene, even though news reports didn't mention it. The question is, what does the cryptogram mean? There's a huge amount of debate about this on Schneier's blog. To me the most likely explanation offered so far is that it may be an encrypted password list. (The cryptogram was in a briefcase next to Rayburn's body, along with some CDs of child pornography.) But one person (named Alex, but I swear it wasn't me) posted an intriguing (though slightly sick and twisted) suggestion: "Maybe he was playing hangman with himself and lost."
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 02, 2006
Comments (4)
Status: True
image Two weeks ago a lot of people were linking to a story about books bound in human skin that can be found in many libraries, including the rare book libraries at Brown and Harvard. This is, apparently, quite true. Often the books are old medical works, with the skin coming from patients or paupers whose bodies were bought for research. The most gruesome book, owned by the Boston Athenaeum, is an 1837 copy of the memoirs of the highwayman George Walton, bound in his own skin.

Following on in this vein, Paul Collins has noted that Mark Gruenwald, a writer for Marvel Comics, had his cremated ashes mixed into the printing of a comic book, Squadron Supreme. This is absolutely true. A copy of this "cremain printing" is currently for sale on eBay. The seller notes: "The book is in good shape with a ding on the upper, left corner from falling off a table. I hate to part with Mark, but I'm real tired of telling him to get his ash off the table."

The only other way I can think of to incorporate a human body into a book would be to write it in blood, which I'm sure someone has done. Though maybe I'm not being imaginative enough. Perhaps one could make a book's spine out of human bone, the paper from hair and nails... the possibilities are endless.
Categories: Death, Literature/Language
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 24, 2006
Comments (15)
Status: Possible canine suicide?
Charles G. Jetchick was driving along, minding his own business, when suddenly a dog crashed through his window. It had fallen from an overpass. Police don't think it was thrown. Instead, they speculate the dog fell by accident while trying to avoid a car. The police officer commented: ""We've had rocks and other stuff like that fall off of overpasses. This would be the first dog we've had." The Anomalist, however, speculates that it might be another case of canine suicide... because like spontaneous human combustion, spontaneous canine suicide can strike at any time.
Categories: Animals, Death
Posted by Alex on Fri Jan 20, 2006
Comments (5)
Status: True
Big Gary forwarded me this urban-legendesque story about the mummified body of Johannas Pope, who was "found in a chair in front of her television set 2 1/2 years after her death." Apparently she had been left there by her family, who were honoring her wish that she not be buried. They had kept the air conditioner running on full blast, thereby slowing the process of decay. Must have had a huge electricity bill.

Coincidentally, also in the news is the story of Mirko Sartori, who kept the mummified body of his mother sealed up in his bedroom wardrobe so that he could keep receiving her pension check. He evidently was a bad son, since he didn't let her watch TV.

Update: The story of Johannas Pope gets even weirder. Apparently she didn't want to be buried because she believed she was going to come back to life. And apparently her family agreed with her, because they honored her wish, to the extent of engaging in an elaborate deception for 2 1/2 years to prevent people from finding out there was a dead body upstairs in their house: "Friends and relatives who visited were told Pope was upstairs, ill, Owens [the county coroner] said. Some yelled "hello" up the stairs."
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Wed Jan 11, 2006
Comments (9)
Status: Either a prank or a manufacturing defect
image When Angela Bolls bought an interactive Elmo book for her young daughter, Miranda, she had no idea what she would be exposing her daughter to:

Family members said 16-month-old Miranda Boll's new book, "Potty Time With Elmo," was supposed to teach an interactive lesson using voice commands. However, when the book's buttons are pressed, it reportedly says something it is not supposed to -- "who wants to die?" ... Bolls said she checked another copy of the same book and found that it says something completely different; "Who wants to try to go potty?" The company that makes the book said it has had several complaints concerning the book, according to the report.

So I guess some prankster with a dark sense of humor has been tampering with the potty-training books. That, or the books are satanically possessed. I actually don't think the mother should be complaining too much. That book could be worth a fortune on eBay.
Categories: Death, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Tue Jan 03, 2006
Comments (52)
Status: Urban Legend
image This has already been posted in the hoax forum, but it's too good to ignore. Reuters has reported on a Mexican urban legend concerning a mannequin in the window of a bridal gown store in the city of Chihuahua. Local rumor has it that the mannequin is really the embalmed body of the former store owner's daughter. The former store owner was called Pascuala Esparza. La Pascualita means 'Little Pascuala' (i.e. her daughter). According to the legend her daughter died from the bite of a Black Widow spider on her wedding day, so Pascuala embalmed her and stood her up in the window of the store. It definitely is an urban legend because it would be impossible to embalm someone and have their flesh be preserved that perfectly. For some reason, people tend to think that it's easier to preserve a body than it actually is. For instance, there's also the urban legend about a dead wife used as a coffee table, in which a guy seals his dead wife inside an airtight glass coffin which he uses as a coffee table. In real life, it's not that easy to preserve a corpse.
Categories: Death, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 21, 2005
Comments (46)
Status: Self-fulfilled prophecy
When Sandeep was born, an astrologer predicted that he would have a short life. Recently another astrologer, on TV, seconded this prediction. In despair (whether because of the second prediction, or for some other reason, is not clear), Sandeep took his own life, thereby fulfilling the prophecy. This isn't the only self-fulfillment of a death prophecy that I'm aware of. The more famous case was the prediction of the 16th century astrologer Girolamo Cardan, who foretold that he would die in 1576. Sure enough he did, though it seems probable he took his own life to insure the accuracy of his prophecy. Seems like an extreme way to prove a prophecy correct.
Categories: Death, Future/Time
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 21, 2005
Comments (5)
This is a request for help. The proofreader has been going through the manuscript of Hippo Eats Dwarf looking for errors. This is the final check that the book receives before it goes to print. After this, nothing can be changed. Anyway, in the final chapter of the book (about death), I include the following definition:

Xenacate, v.: To kill a TV or movie character off so completely that no chance remains of bringing her back from the dead. Inspired by the TV show Xena: Warrior Princess. Its occurrence usually indicates that the actor playing the character has lost her job under unpleasant circumstances and has no hope of being rehired.

The proofreader has pointed out that it would be good to name a character to whom this occurred. (And I suppose it would be best to name a character on Xena itself to whom it occurred... It must have occurred to someone on that show in order to inspire the term. Though, in a pinch, an example from any show will do.) So can anyone think of a character who has been xenacated? If I use your answer I'll send you a free, signed copy of the book once it comes out (which will be in about three months). I need the answer by Friday, or Monday at the latest.

Update: I ended up using the red-shirted characters on Star Trek as an example. So thephrog wins the contest. I should note that I pulled a bit of a bait-and-switch, because I decided to revise my definition of Xenacate by deleting the part about the actor getting fired. After reviewing the few uses of the term on the internet, I decided that wasn't part of the word's meaning. Instead, it means to get killed off and not return. In which case the red-shirted characters are probably the most famous example of characters who only exist to get killed off. (Though I was tempted for a while to use the guy from MASH, but decided he didn't fit as well with the new definition.)
Categories: Death, Entertainment
Posted by Alex on Wed Dec 07, 2005
Comments (88)
Status: Dwarf-eating hippo sighting
Peter Mount sent along a sighting of the Hippo Eats Dwarf story. (Not my book, the story itself.) It's turned up in a new book titled The World's Stupidest Deaths. I haven't seen the book, but this Australian review of it lists the tale as being among the stupid deaths it describes:

Other "stupid deaths" include:
AUSTRIAN dwarf and circus acrobat Franz Dasch, who was killed when he bounced on a trampoline into the yawning mouth of a nearby hippopotamus.
DAVID Grundman, of Arizona, who in 1991 fired two shotgun barrels at a giant cactus, causing it to crash down on him.

I assume the death is listed as a fact. (Incidentally, the guy who died when a cactus fell on him--that's a true story, but according to my information it happened in 1982, not 1991. It inspired the song Saguaro by the Austin Lounge Lizards.)
(And just to clarify, I think the Hippo Eats Dwarf story is total b.s., despite the fact that it's usually reported as being true--which is why I chose it as the title for my book.)
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 22, 2005
Comments (8)
Status: Documentary
A Dutch TV station, (I think it's a TV station), has an interesting documentary online about the Paul Is Dead hoax. The documentary is in English, but with Dutch subtitles. I had to select the Real Player option to get the video to play.

The documentary contains interviews with many of the key players in the events of 1969, including Russ Gibb (the Detroit DJ whose broadcast about the Paul is dead rumor brought it to the attention of a national audience), Tom Zarski (the kid who called Russ Gibb and told him to play Revolution 9 backwards), and Fred LaBour (the student journalist whose article first presented many of the clues to readers... LaBour is dressed as a cowboy in his interview because he's now a member of a western music group called Riders in the Sky). At the end of the documentary Russ Gibb claims to know a piece of information about the origin of the rumor that he's not yet willing to share with the public. Very mysterious. One can only speculate about whether he really does know something, or if he's full of it.
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 08, 2005
Comments (9)
Status: Art Project
The website of the SMA (Silent Movie Actress) Archive claims that:

We are a small and dedicated organisation based in Baltimore, USA. Our aim is the ‘resurrection’ of actresses from the Golden era of silent cinema. To do this we are securing a large body of quality genetic material from a variety of sources which is subjected to rigorous testing to ensure its validity. Samples range from small tissue and blood samples to full bones and several preserved organs.

Is this real? Well, the site it's located on,, is so elaborate that it would be easy to believe it was real. It delves into all kinds of bizarre aspects of "corporeal memorabilia," which is the trade in the body parts of dead celebrities. Now, I realize there definitely is a market for body parts of famous people (see Rasputin's penis). However, the elaborate corporeal memorabilia of the SMA Archive and everything else on is fictitious. It's the creation of artist Gregory Whitehead. He wrote a short movie called The Bone Trade about Walter Sculley, a (fictional) dealer in corporeal memorabilia. In the movie, Whitehead plays Sculley. (Also check out this mp3 file of Whitehead interviewing Sculley.) The website about corporeal memorabilia appears to be an outgrowth of the movie. For more weirdness by Whitehead, you can read his article in Nth Position Magazine about bibliovoria (people who love to eat books). (via The Presurfer)
Categories: Body Manipulation, Celebrities, Death
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 08, 2005
Comments (4)
Status: True
The Telegraph reports on the latest funeral practice in Sweden: freeze-drying the corpse of your loved one using liquid nitrogen, then shattering it into a powder, picking out any metal or plastic bits, and using the powder as mulch in a garden. Says Susanne Wiigh-Masak, the inventor of this technique: "Mulching was nature's original plan for us, and that's what used to happen to us at the start of humanity - we went back into the soil." It actually seems like a pretty good idea to me. A lot of people already strew cremains in their garden.
Categories: Death
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 29, 2005
Comments (27)
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