Archive for July, 2012

It’s a Gas

July 22, 2012

1963 was a memorable year for many reasons. Beatlemania was just beginning. Thousands marched on Washington DC for the cause of civil rights. John F. Kennedy was cut down by an assassin (or more than one assassin; take your pick of theories as to what “really” happened) in Dallas.
And on the very first morning of that exciting year, a mystery unfolded in the land Down Under, one that fascinated Australians for years to come and which would not be resolved for over forty years.
On that New Year’s morning, some kids were walking along Sydney’s Lane Cove River searching for lost golf balls. When they spied a man lying on the riverbank, they assumed he was sleeping off his New Year’s Eve and moved on without disturbing him. But when they came back the same way an hour later, the man had not moved, and now his face was discolored. He was clearly not just passed out, so the golf-ball hunters summoned the police, who quickly determined the man was very dead, and also found a second body not far away.
The dead were identified as Dr. Gilbert Bogle, 38, a physicist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and Margaret Chandler, 28, the wife of one of Bogle’s coworkers. They had last been seen leaving a party in the wee hours of that day.
Both victims were partly undressed, but somebody had covered them up: Bogle’s pants were laid over him along with a piece of old carpet, and Chandler was covered with a broken-up cardboard beer carton. There were no signs of trauma to the bodies, but there were minor scratches on them, and these together with footprints and kneeprints showed the two had wandered around in an apparent state of confusion before they collapsed. Vomit and excreta were also present, pointing to the possibility of their having been poisoned.
The story was widely covered in the Australian press. Aside from the mysterious nature of the deaths, there was also the titillating fact that both victims were already married to others, and that they had evidently been trysting at the riverside when they died. Sexy scandal sold as well back then as it does today.
Many theories were advanced as to what killed Bogle and Chandler, but the toxicology tests of the day showed no trace of poison in their blood. The case seemed doomed to remain unsolved forever.
But in 2006, an Australian filmmaker humorously named Peter Butt began researching the case, and he presented his findings in a documentary titled “Who Killed Dr. Bogle and Mrs. Chandler?”
The solution he proposed was simple and plausible. Butt had come to believe that the couple was overcome by hydrogen sulfide gas emanating from the polluted riverbed. For years before their deaths, residents nearby had complained of a rotten-egg smell that periodically hung about the area. A local factory that dumped its waste in the river was blamed.
H2S, as it’s known, smells strongly of rotten eggs at thirty parts per million in air; at fifty to one hundred ppm, it is sickly-sweet in smell. At one hundred ppm, it instantly paralyzes the olfactory nerves and is thus undetectable even though it soon causes breathing difficulty and upset stomach. At two hundred ppm, the gas quickly causes severe respiratory distress, and at a thousand ppm, one breath is immediately fatal.
Their were high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide in the bottom sediment of the Lane Cove River near where Bogle and Chandler died. Occasionally underwater turbulence would bring the gas to the surface and into the air. Since H2S is heavier than air, it tended to collect in low places, like the little hollow where the lovers had been. That was a still, calm night, and without a breeze to disappate it, the deadly gas would have settled over them like a blanket. They wouldn’t have smelled it at the high concentration, and by the time they began to feel sick time was already running out for them. They would have been confused due to the displacement of oxygen in their blood, making it difficult to find their way to higher ground and safety in the dark night. And so they succumbed to the noxious gas, and were found a few hours later.
And what of the fact that they had been covered up after death? Hindsight being 20/20, the credit, or maybe the blame, goes to a greyhound trainer who lived nearby and who exercised his dogs on the path very near where the bodies were found. This man denied using that path on the morning in question, but had told a track steward that he had in fact discovered the bodies and had covered them. He was known to be a prude, but his prudishness does not explain why he did not report what he had found, or come forward once he heard that somebody else had done so.
Another mystery is why and how Margaret Chandler’s purse was found by a young girl near the home of a relative of the dog-trainer many miles away.
Myself, I suspect the “prudish” dog-trainer was a bit too morbidly interested in the two half-naked people he’d found dead, and he may have taken the purse as some kind of grim souvenir. If so, it’s not surprising that he didn’t want to go to the police with what he’d found.

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Uniformly Dumb

July 13, 2012

We all say we want our products made in the USA, right? But honestly, how easy is it to actually find products made in the USA? Not easy at all. So difficult, in fact, that when you do find a tag proclaiming “Made in the USA” on a shirt or a toy or whatever, your reaction is one of great surprise, often followed by great skepticism.
A few of our elected officials are up in arms over the fact that the US Olympics team uniforms, the ones meant to be worn for the opening ceremonies and designed by Ralph Lauren, were manufactured in China. Harry Reid thinks the uniforms should be put in a big pile and burned. Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner concur. In fact, members of both parties and both houses of Congress have written angry letters to the Olympic Committee protesting the use of the China-made uniforms.
This whole thing makes me tired. These uniforms are made in the same country as the vast majority of all clothing worn by Americans is made. In fact, if Senator Reid will lean over and show us the tag in the back of his expensive shirt, I am willing to bet money I don’t even have that the tag is going to say “Made in China.” If it doesn’t, it is sure to say “Made in Some Other Foreign Country, Probably by Preteens Working 14 Hours a Day for Peanuts.” Count on it.
Don’t get me wrong, I want to see American products being made in America, but that isn’t happening right now, and fancy uniforms made only for this year’s Olympics are not all that important in the grand scheme of things. Yes, jumping on them and calling for them to be burned draws attention, but it doesn’t really draw attention to the larger problem. It draws attention to congresspeople wearing foreign-made clothes.
And it’s a pity that such a silly “issue” as Olympic uniforms is the one that Democrats and the GOP have decided to unite over. No wonder the country is in trouble.
Side note 1: We aren’t the only country outsourcing all our manufacturing jobs. A couple years ago my aunt went to Mexico and brought me back a pretty sundress she bought there. The label read “Made in Vietnam.”
Side note 2: My father received a pair of blue jeans for Christmas that were labeled “Made in Lesotho.” He was highly aggravated not just because his Levis weren’t as American as they seemed, but also because he had never heard of Lesotho before. We looked it up. It’s a tiny mountain country buried inside South Africa.
Now you know.

The Coldest Trail

July 4, 2012

In these days of instantly-accessible information, I am still occasionally frustrated when I am unable to find something out via Google. How soon I have forgotten the days when Google was just a silly kids’ word! How long ago were the days when if I wanted to look something up, I had to use an actual dictionary or encyclopedia, and if I couldn’t find it out in a book, I likely never would!
This is on my mind today because I have been trying to find out more about a brief item in an old Guinness Book of World Records. Vickie Davis was listed as the person who sustained the lowest body temperature ever recorded and survived. The Guinness write-up was very scant so I naturally turned to Google, where the info I found was what I will henceforth call scantalizing: scant and tantalizing. (You may use this word in your own writings and speaking, if you remember to attribute it to me. You’re welcome.)
Vickie Davis was two years old in January of 1956 when she and her grandmother were found unconscious and nearly frozen to death on the floor of their unheated house in Marshalltown, Iowa. The house had been ransacked, the oil stove had either gone out or been deliberately extinguished, and Vickie had been “criminally assaulted.” I thought at first this was a euphemism for sexual assault, but who knows? This info comes directly from a few badly-scanned newspaper articles of the period. Would they have released Vickie’s name if she had been molested in some way? No matter.
Vickie’s body temperature was between 59 and 60 degrees when she arrived at the hospital; her grandmother, identified as Mrs. Fred Davis, had a temperature of 74. Neither was expected to survive. But they did. Vickie, according to the newspaper accounts (which charmingly refer to her as “the little Negro girl”) apparently made a rapid and miraculous recovery, and is last heard from eating a good breakfast and singing the Davy Crockett song for her parents. Doctors did not even think they would need to amputate her frostbitten toes.
Mrs. Davis recovered more slowly, but she did pull through.
And there their story seems to end. I could not find any information as to what happened to them afterwards. If Vickie is alive today she’s in her late fifties, and probably doesn’t use the last name Davis anymore.
Nor could I find any information about whether anybody was caught for this crime. Mrs. Davis evidently was able to give the police and FBI some helpful information, and one newspaper story makes mention that the crime might be related to an earlier attack on “a Sioux girl.” The scanned article is such a mess I can’t tell whether they mean an actual Sioux girl or a girl who happened to live in, say, Sioux City, Iowa.
I certainly do hope whoever was responsible for this was caught and made to pay. Not bad enough they attacked a baby and her grandmother; they also had to leave them to freeze to death overnight when the temperature outside was near twenty below?
Goes to show that the “innocent” 1950’s, which of course were no more or less innocent than any other time period in history, were not immune to violent crime or generally crummy behavior. Innocence in this sense is all about selective memory and selective reporting.
Assuming this crime was never solved (and maybe it was; just because Google doesn’t have it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, right? I keep telling myself that) it is unlikely ever to be solved. But I bet it would have been solved fairly quickly if they’d had Google back in 1956.