How many of these lesser known grisly moments from history do YOU know?
Let’s start with a particularly disturbing one. Budd Dwyer was the 30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania. In the mid 80s he was accused of taking a bribe from a firm in California, who had been bidding for a contract to fix a taxing error. Though he maintined his innocence throughout the subsequent court case, Dwyer was eventually convicted and scheduled to be sentenced on 23 January 1987. So the media went suitably crazy when Budd called a press conference the day before, on the 22nd, with many expecting him to resign from office.
To a rapt audience a disturbed Dwyer began reading what was described as a “rambling polemic about the criminal justice system”, speculating about his own sentencing (which could have reached a maximum of 50 years in jail and a $300,000 fine). After restating his innocence, Budd suddenly stopped reading the prepared text, and began handing out letters to his staffers. He then proceeded to produce a revolver from his things. Telling the terrified crowd “please, please leave the room if this will… if this will affect you”, after an agonising 15 seconds Budd put the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. He died instantly.
The most tragic element of the story was to come years later, when the main witness in Dwyer’s trial admitted to lying under oath, effectively clearing Budd’s name.
Though he is suspected of taking part in the torture and murder of up to 60 women, David Parker Ray hasn’t reached the level of infamy as many other serial killers, owing to one fact: his actual confirmed victim count is 0.
Ray’s lair was a mobile home, which he spent $100k customizing to turn it into a moving torture chamber he called the “toy box”. Inside this, victims snatched from the streets would wake to find Ray ready to carry out the most heinous crimes imaginable.
Ray’s reign of terror continued until 1999, when one of his victims, Cynthia Vigil, managed to escape and alert the authorities.
Army Major Henry Rathbone, best known for trying to save President Abraham Lincoln from John Wilkes Booth’s assassination attempt (and getting stabbed in the process), also has a much darker, lesser-known phase in his later life.
Rathbone blamed himself for failing to stop Booth from killing Abe, and though his body survived the physical trauma of the stabbing, the health of his mind began to deteriorate. Eventually, on 23rd December 1883 (18 years after the assassination), while serving as a US consul in Germany, Rathbone’s tortured mind finally snapped. He stabbed his three children to death, and when his wife tried to stop him he shot her and stabbed her too, before turning the knife on himself. When police found him he was covered in blood and mentally unravelled. Unverified reports suggest that Rathbone was hysterically claiming to the police that there were people hiding behind the pictures on his wall.
Rathbone spent the rest of his life in an insane asylum until his death in 1911, 50 years after the assassination which put these tragic effects into motion.
Life was unarguably hard for June and Jennifer Gibbons, twins from Barbados who moved to Wales with their parents at a young age. Racist bullying and exile from school circles caused the girls to retreat socially, to the point that they only spoke to one another in a strange code. Though the sisters seemed to find an outlet in creative writing, their stories were dark, often focusing on young characters exhibiting bizarre criminal behaviour. This should have perhaps been a warning sign, as the sisters were eventually charged with a number of illegal activities themselves- arson among them- and were both committed to Broadmoor Hospital, an insane asylum.
But that’s not the end of the tragic tale. According to journalist Marjorie Wallace, the twins had a secret longstanding agreement that if one of the pair died, the other was supposed to get on with living normal life. During their time at Broadmoor this pact turned into an obsession, as the twins began to believe that one of them simply had to die. Then in March 1993, as the Gibbons’ were being transferred to a lower security clinic, Jennifer suddenly, shockingly, died. Though the cause of death was identified as severe inflammation of the heart, the unexpected nature of the inflammation- on a young woman with no history of heart problems- profoundly shocked the doctors.
And just as the sisters had promised each other, June began to get on with a normal life. She was even once quoted as saying, ìIím free at last, liberated, and at last Jennifer has given up her life for me”.
And finally, did you know that 3/4 million pet animals were killed by their owners in the UK in 1939? The mass cull came about when the recently formed National Air Raid Precautions Animals Commitee decided that in the coming years of expected purse tightening food rationing, pets would become an unaffordable luxury. A sinister pamphlet called “Advice to Animal Owners” was distributed across the Isles, which came with an advertisement for a specific kind of bolt pistol, along with the phrase “it really is kindest to have them destroyed”…
You can just imagine the outrage of pet owners upon reading the pamphlet, can’t you? In reality, there was no such thing, and within one week, 750,000 family pets “went on holiday”, never to return.
How many of these creepy historical figures do you know?