1935: The ‘shark arm murder’ mystery that shocked Australia

In honor of the 30th anniversary of Shark Week, I wanted to see if I could find a murder that involved this notorious predator.  Per usual, Google did not disappoint.  I’m a little sad that I had not heard this story before. On April 25, 1935, families crowded the beaches of Coogee, about 5 miles south (8 km) of Sydney in New South Wales, to celebrate Anzac Day, a day of remembrance for the anniversary of Australia and New Zealand’s first military action during World War I.  One of the places that was getting a lot visitors that holiday was the Coogee Aquarium and Swimming Baths. There was a 14-foot tiger shark on display that had been caught the week before. The shark acted like it was in distress and was thrashing about.  Then, in front of horrified onlookers, it threw up a human arm. In an effort to […] Read More

1959: A Holiday for Murder: The unsolved Walker family murders

One of Florida’s most brutal, unsolved murders occurred six days before Christmas in 1959. The entire Walker family, husband Cliff (25-years-old), wife Christine (24-years-old), son Jimmie (three-years-old), and daughter Debbie (two-years-old) were killed in their small home in Osprey on December 19th. There were hundreds of suspects, including the notorious killers made famous by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, but the case has gone cold. Cliff, Christine, Jimmie, and Debbie Walker. Christine and Cliff Walker and their two children had been out running errands the day of the murders. Christine was the first to return to their home, located on the cattle ranch where her husband worked as a hand. She was at the house long enough to put away the groceries before she was interrupted by an unknown assailant or assailants.  Although she ferociously fought her attacker(s) with her high-healed shoes, even staining the pumps with their blood, her efforts […] Read More

2016: The occultist rocketeer of the real-life Suicide Squad

Photo of Jack Parsons from a 1938 edition of the LA Times. Parsons pictured w/the replica bomb he built for the Kynette trial. Image from Wikipedia. Although the Suicide Squad is best known today as a movie about a fictional group of supervillains drafted by the government to undertake dangerous missions in exchange for commuted sentences, there was a real-life Suicide Squad at Caltech in the 1940s. As I read about the original Suicide Squad, I became fascinated with the life and death of its strangest member, Jack Parsons. Jack Parsons (2 October 1914-17 June 1952) was an explosives aficionado who worked at the rocketry research lab at Caltech, who also helped establish Aerojet and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Parsons’ devised rocket fuels that were the predecessors for the fuel that powered the NASA space shuttles, and made advancements in rocket propulsion, or jet propulsion, at a time when rockets were more […] Read More

1843: A 13th Century Guide to Forensic Anthropology

Names of human bones in Sung Tz’u’s The Washing Away of Wrongs, 1843 edition, edited by Ruǎn Qíxīn. Image from Wikipedia The oldest existing forensic science text is The Washing Away of Wrongs (also known as the Collected Cases of Injustice Rectified, or Hsi yuan chi lu), written around 1247 CE. Sung Tz’u (or Song Ci), who is considered to be the “Founding Father of Forensic Science in China,” wrote this text to help bureaucrats of the Southern Sung Dynasty navigate the complex inquest process, provide instructions on how examine a corpse, and determine cause of death.  This forensic manual predates the earliest European texts on the subject by hundreds of years. By the time The Washing Away of Wrongs was written in the mid-thirteenth century China had already been conducting forensic assessments for violent or suspicious deaths for centuries. Going as far back to at least the Ch’in Dynasty […] Read More

1800s: The vampire slayings of 19th century New England

The Vampire by Sir Philip Burne-Jones, ca. 1897. Image credit: Wikipedia The vampire myth originates in ancient beliefs in demons or evil spirits who feed on the blood and flesh of the living. Cultures all over the world have a version of a blood-sucking creature that returns from the grave to torment and feed on people. The creatures in these ancient myths eventually gave way to bloated folkloric vampires that spread disease and the charismatic fictional vampires that consume the living and give eternal life. In New England, in the 19th century, so many people believed that their dead family members were climbing out of their graves to kill relatives that the issue was addressed by incredulous academics and reporters in journals and newspaper articles. According to Paul Barber, author of Vampires, Burial & Death, there are two types of vampires: folkloric and fictional. Fictional vampires are supernatural creatures […] Read More

2015: A pharaonic murder mystery that was solved with forensic analysis

Forensic analyses of two Egyptian mummies published in the British Medical Journal in 2012 may have answered questions scholars had about the outcome of an ancient conspiracy against Pharaoh Ramesses III and the identity of a contorted mummy believed to be his “murderous son.” A team comprised of Egyptologists, geneticists, biologists, and paleoanthropologists conducted a forensic examination on both mummies that included an anthropological examination, CT scans, and DNA tests (Hawass et al., 2012). Ramesses III (1217 BC – 1155 BC) was the second pharaoh of the Twentieth Dynasty. Considered to the “last great king” of the New Kingdom, he ruled during a difficult time of economic instability and national turmoil caused by drought and war (Al Jazeera 2012). But his rule was cut short by treacherous acts committed by members of his own family and palace staff. Ramesses III had chosen Ramesses Amonhirkhopshef (Ramesses IV), his son with […] Read More

2015: 5 historical figures whose heads have been stolen

An iconic scene of the shadow of Count Orlok climbing up a staircase. Image from Wikipedia. The graves of famous people have been plundered for hundreds of years. Bodies and body parts have been stolen by guards trusted to keep corpses safe, scientists determined to study them, and even admirers with good intentions (i.e. Thomas Paine). Skulls are usually the part of the body that is the most sought after because of its scientific value or appeal as a trophy. Recently grave robbers looted the burial plot of the man who directed Nosferatu in 1922. On July 13th, workers at the Stahnsdorf cemetery discovered that the Murnau family plot had been disturbed. After a closer look at the grave, they found that the head of the famous director Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau had been stolen from his metal coffin (Smith 2015). Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (1888-1931) is the director of the […] Read More