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Hacked to Bits

Birds of a feather: Leatherface and Vitaly Zdorovetskiy (drafthouse.com)

Kudos to YouTube miscreant Vitaly Zdorovetskiy for posting what might be the scariest Halloween prank video of all time—The Chainsaw Massacre Prank.

You can watch the video by going HERE, but I warn you that it is pretty graphic. People with small children or chronic medical conditions may want to watch cartoons or cat videos instead.

The video is set in a parking garage and features Vitaly dressed as a chainsaw-wielding madman. His victim, who appears to be hacked to bits (hence my title), is actually Nick Santonastasso, an actor suffering from a genetic disorder whose symptoms include missing limbs.

In other words, what you see in the video is as far from reality as you can get. That doesn’t keep passersby from getting the proverbial shit scared out of them, though.

I hope you enjoy the video, which obviously went viral shortly after its release. And if you really like it, take a look at Vitaly’s behind-the-scenes video over HERE. It’s pretty interesting stuff!

More ISIS Horror

Sotloff during his final moments (WSVN)

Within hours of posting an article entitled Headlessabout a New York City man who decapitated himself in broad daylight in the Bronx recently—members of the Islamic State known as ISIS beheaded yet another American journalist: Steven Sotloff.

Sotloff was kidnapped by Islamic terrorists in 2013 while reporting on the war in Syria. And sadly, he worked only as a freelance reporter for several publications; this was not his full-time job.

A three-minute video just released by ISIS shows Sotloff moments before his head is removed from his body, which is shown in graphic detail. Fortunately, the video has been removed from major websites and should be nowhere to be found online. One can only hope this is true for the sake of his family and friends.

Sadly, this horrible video comes mere weeks after a video showing American journalist James Foley’s beheading surfaced. And as you might imagine, they both fueled international outrage… and understandably so. What a terrible way to die.

I’m not sure what ISIS hopes to gain from executing innocent people—especially journalists who are simply reporting the news and pose no real threat—but I’m also certain this won’t be the last disturbing video we receive from these extremists. My hope is that they realize just how counterproductive such measures are and find a new, constructive and non-violent way to address their issues.

In other words, I don’t think Allah or any other deity would appreciate the slaughter of innocent people, even if it is performed in blind obedience to a religion some followers obviously don’t understand.

More Middle East Horror

Foley and his ISIS executioner (ABC News)

Foley and his ISIS executioner (ABC News)

In 2002, American journalist Daniel Pearl was abducted by Pakistani militants and beheaded by Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Omar Sheikh, who was subsequently hanged for this gruesome crime. Pearl’s murder ignited a firestorm of retaliation by American forces and eventually resulted in the killing of numerous Al-Qaeda leaders.

Well, it looks like the Islamic State—the extremist group formerly known as ISIS—has followed Al-Qaeda’s horrific example and beheaded another American journalist, James Foley. After being abducted last November in Syria and reportedly held near Damascus, Foley appeared in a recent video with an ISIS executioner, who apparently hacked off his head on camera.

Fortunately, the video entitled “A Message to America” was removed from YouTube shortly after being posted there, but a transcript of its message went something like this:

“This is James Wright Foley, an American citizen of your country. As a government, you have been at the forefront of the aggression towards the Islamic State. You have plotted against us and have gone far out of your way to find reasons to interfere in our affairs. Today, your military air force is attacking us daily in Iraq; your strikes have caused casualties among Muslims.”

I share this only because I’m struggling to understand why beheading innocent people seems like the right approach for ISIS or any Islamic militants, for that matter. All it really does is piss off America and lead to more death and destruction, which these days come in the form of unexpected drone attacks. If death is their ultimate goal, then this certainly is an effective way of achieving it. They may label it as jihad, but it seems much more like suicide if you ask me.

Executed journalist Daniel Pearl (AP)

Another thing that boggles the mind—at least my mind—is this: Why in the world would any journalist volunteer to cover the Middle East? Are they as suicidal as the jihadists who eventually kidnap and murder them? Or is covering the Middle East considered “paying your dues” as a journalist—kind of like those rookie meteorologists forced to cover every hurricane while high winds and rain bombard them?

Whatever the case may be, the obvious answer to the question of peace in the Middle East is this: it will likely never come. As long as violence and murder supersede love and compassion, there may never be a lasting peace. America needs to realize this and do something it should have done long ago: get the hell out of there. Otherwise, I fear more innocent people—including the 20 journalists still missing in Syria—will pay the ultimate price.

And personally, I don’t care about Middle East news coverage if it costs more American lives. Do you?

Dem Bones

Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones, now shake dem skeleton bones.

Is dinner ready yet? I’m feeling a little malnourished (Jim and Carole’s Mexico Adventure)

Earlier this month, police in Brooklyn, New York were called to a 15th Avenue apartment building in Borough Park to investigate a strange, foul odor—and we all know what that means.

“I’ve never smelled something like that before,” long-time tenant Amin Ashrafov told authorities after detecting the overpowering stench.

The odor led police to the apartment of 28-year-old Chava Stirn, a young woman who shared the apartment with her 61-year-old mother, Susie Rosenthal. According to neighbors, Stirn refused to let anyone enter her apartment—forcing relatives to leave food outside her door—and strange noises could often be heard coming from her abode.

“When I listened, she was screaming,” resident Malka Lerner explained to investigators. “[She yelled] ‘I kill myself, I kill myself!’”

Apparently, this was enough for the cops, who entered Stirn’s apartment and quickly discovered the source of the foul smell. It came from the skeletal remains of her mother, who died roughly three years earlier. During this time, Stirn had been sleeping next to her mother’s corpse, sitting next to it at mealtimes and even dressing it up. Once her mother decomposed, she would prop up her bones on a pile of trash bags in the kitchen, pull a chair close and sleep there for the night.

“It’s a scene right out of Psycho,” an anonymous officer said later. “This is one of the weirdest cases I have ever seen.”

When officers questioned Stirn, she threatened to harm herself and was immediately taken for a psychiatric evaluation. An autopsy was scheduled to determine her mother’s cause of death, but as of yet no one knows what happened.

One thing is for certain, though: this poor woman has some serious mental issues. And I, for one, hope she gets the treatment she needs after such a dark and gruesome experience.

Killer in the Cab

Is Jason winking at me? (Georgetown Productions)

Is Jason winking at me? (Georgetown Productions)

Did you ever wonder what happened to the actor who played the masked killer Jason Vorhees in Friday the 13th Part II?

Me neither, but it’s actually kind of interesting.

His name is Steve Dash—not to be confused with Steve Nash of the L.A. Lakers—and in 1981 he was cast in the low-budget sequel to 1980’s Friday the 13th, the “slasher film” that inspired countless others and spawned a franchise that probably should have ended after the two films.

In an interview with WPBF 25 News recently, Dash explained how he came to don the bag with one eye hole—which is what Jason wore in the second film—as well as the hockey mask now synonymous with the character.

“I got hired because the guy that they hired to play Jason couldn’t do his own stunts,” Dash explained. “I was a stunt guy. When I did it… I figured, ‘Who is ever going to watch this thing?’ Had I known what I know now, 31 years later, I would have been Jason in every one of them.”

The man behind the mask, Steve Dash (MySpace)

The man behind the mask, Steve Dash (MySpace)

Instead, Dash appeared in 1982’s Friday the 13th Part III—producers replaced the bag over Jason’s head with a hockey mask since keeping the one eye hole in place was such a pain in the ass—and 1984’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter—which really wasn’t the final chapter since it was followed by seven or eight more films.

These days, Dash spends his time in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he can either be found golfing or driving a taxi cab. His masked-killer-slaughtering-horny-and-stupid-teenagers-with-a-machete days are behind him, but he still relives the role that scared so many people whenever someone needs a lift.

“The funny thing is, I usually don’t say anything to anyone until the end of the ride,” Dash confessed. Of course, this makes perfect sense since recognizing him from the Big Screen would be impossible… at least without the hockey mask!

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone! (Tahoe Paradise)

Happy Halloween, everyone! (Tahoe Paradise)

One of my favorite holidays—and by far the spookiest of them all (with the exception of maybe Valentine’s Day, which horrifies nearly every man I know)—is finally upon us: Halloween!

All over the nation, children are anxiously awaiting the final school bell so they can rush home, get into their costumes and start canvassing neighborhoods for candy and other delicious treats.

Incidentally, anyone planning to hand out fruit still has time to grab some candy and to avoid the tricks that will undoubtedly come once kids realize you gave them apples or oranges.

Rather than writing one of my usual posts—which would surely involve Halloween safety tips for trick-or-treaters and their parents (most of which are widely known by now)—I thought it might be nice to try something a little different. Here are some random facts about Halloween for your reading pleasure—with some commentary tossed in, just for the hell of it—followed by an original poem about All Hallows Eve by Richard Anderson.

I hope you enjoy them and that you all have a fun—and safe—Halloween!

JUST THE HALLOWEEN FACTS… AND OTHER SPOOKY TRIVIA

Ireland is believed to be the birthplace of Halloween and the tradition of Jack-O-Lanterns comes from an old Celtic tale that goes something like this: Jack was a stingy fellow who on several occasions managed to trick the Devil. As a result, he was forbidden entrance into either Heaven or Hell and was instead condemned to wander the Earth—waving his lantern to lead other people away from their paths.

All Hallows Eve is here... and the ghouls and goblins are coming! (Paul Harper)

All Hallows Eve is here… and the ghouls and goblins are coming! (Paul Harper)

In Great Britain, Jack-O-Lanterns were traditionally carved from turnips. When the practice reached America, however—where turnips were much more expensive—cheaper pumpkins were used instead.

Although some Christians I know refuse to celebrate Halloween because of its connection to paganism, the truth is that it celebrates the Christian holiday of All Hallows Eve and precedes another Christian holiday, All Saints Day, which takes place tomorrow.

Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween. Try saying that five times quickly!

Halloween was once a festival that celebrated the boundaries between life and death. For this reason, the symbolic colors of orange (strength, endurance) and black (death, darkness) have been used to commemorate it.

Trick-or-treating has roots in the medieval practice of souling when the poor would go door-to-door to pray for souls in exchange for food. And these days, companies that produce Halloween-related items—from costumes to candy—could not be happier. Each year, candy makers collect roughly $6 billion, while costumes alone produce an annual gross of roughly $3 billion!

After Christmas, Halloween is the second highest grossing commercial holiday.

The word witch comes from the Old English word wicce, which loosely translated means “wise woman.” In fact, the Wiccan were once highly respected people—not old, wart-faced hags who ride brooms and keep black cats as their familiars.

According to tradition, a person who wears their clothes inside out and walks backwards on Halloween is sure to see a witch at midnight. Give it a try!

Some of the signs for recognizing a werewolf include tattoos, a long middle finger, unibrows (i.e. one extended eyebrow instead of two distinct ones) and hairy palms. Damn it! Some of my friends might be werewolves!

Kids rejoice! Dentists, too! (Parent Dish)

Kids rejoice! Dentists, too! (Parent Dish)

The mask that terrified moviegoers in the Halloween films—worn, of course, by the crazed killer Michael Myers—was actually a cheap Star Trek mask of William Shatner, who incidentally was honored by its appearance in the horror franchise.

The largest Halloween party was in New Orleans and included more than 17,000 revelers; the largest pumpkin was grown by Norm Craven in 1993 and weighed a whopping 836 pounds!

Traditionally in America, the top three Halloween costumes for children are Princess, Witch and Spider-Man. Of course, expect to see Miley Cyrus and Kim Kardashian costumes this year, which are guaranteed to be even more frightening! 

HALLOWEEN

A gentle breeze rustling the dry cornstalks.

A sound is heard, a goblin walks.

A harvest moon suffers a black cat’s cry.

Oh’ do the witches fly!

Bonfire catches a pumpkins gleem.

Rejoice, it’s Halloween!

Richard Anderson, 1998

When Soccer Turns Deadly

Soccer hooligans the world over (courtesy of Pattaya Daily News)

Soccer—or football, as it is known to nearly everyone but Americans—is not an easy sport. It takes speed, skill, endurance and a strong sense of teamwork. I know because for years during my youth, I participated in recreational soccer leagues in my hometown. And though I always worked well as part of a team, I must admit that some of those other skills just weren’t there. This never caused me any problems because ultimately, I was only there to have some fun. Losing didn’t even bother me that much because deep down, I knew that I would never be a professional soccer player.

This didn’t stop me from becoming a huge fan of the sport, though. My father and everyone on his side of the family came from Argentina, a country known for its world-class soccer. Players like Diego Maradona, Jorge Crespo, Lionel Messi, Gabriel Batistuta and Daniel Passarella helped Argentina win fourteen Copa America titles, several Olympic titles and two World Cup championships, including the 1986 final where Maradona scored the infamous “Hand of God” goal to push his team past West Germany by a score of 3-2.

Watch any World Cup soccer coverage and undoubtedly someone will mention this fortunate event… fortunate for Argentina, I mean. The Germans likely cringe every time they think of it.

Maradona and the infamous “Hand of God” (courtesy of Bongarts/Getty Images)

Needless to say, soccer is now one of my favorite sports. I play it with friends or family members from time to time—usually at a family reunion, especially during visits to South America—but my favorite is watching it on television, specifically during the World Cup. I actually attended a few games when the WC was held in the U.S. back in 1994. A buddy and I drove down to Orlando, Florida and were lucky enough to watch the Netherlands and Morocco face off at the Citrus Bowl. We sat amidst a colorful crowd of Moroccan fans, cheered them on as we drank paper cups of beer, and consoled our new friends when the Dutch defeated them 2-1 in their final game of the tournament.

It was awesome. And I have loved soccer—pardon me, football—ever since. Hell, I even pull for the U.S. national team despite the sport never really gaining popularity here. Once we take it more seriously, though, I’m hoping we’ll be much more competitive.

Unfortunately—and like most other sports (if not all of them)—soccer has a dark side. The most obvious example of this is football hooliganism—the tendency for some soccer fans to behave in unruly, destructive and even violent ways. Sometimes this springs from a loss by someone’s favorite team and sometimes it results from little more than a rivalry. Whatever the reason, hooliganism has resulted in countless injuries and, in some cases, death. And in the end, it’s the fans that pay the price.

Of course, it isn’t just the fans that fall victim to soccer-related violence. Things can be just as dangerous for players and even referees. Just look at the case of Ricardo Portillo from earlier this year.

On April 27th, Portillo was refereeing a game for Fut International, a soccer league for Hispanic children in Taylorsville, a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah. At one point, he issued a yellow card to a 17-year-old player—citing him for an on-field infraction—and told the young man he would be ejected from the game if he received a red card for a second penalty.

Under normal circumstances, the presenting of a yellow card draws ire from players and fans, but it is normally expressed by a lot of screaming, flailing about and gesturing. Sadly, that was not the case for Portillo.

Ricardo Portillo (courtesy of AP)

Rather than arguing with the referee for a bad call, the young soccer player suddenly turned around and punched Portillo in the face. Initially, his injuries were thought to be minor, but that changed drastically when he went to the hospital later. Doctors discovered that Portillo had serious internal head injuries. He was in critical condition for a week before finally passing away the following Saturday night.

Ricardo Portillo was 46 years old and is survived by three daughters, all of whom live in Mexico. And though the young man who struck him was originally charged with aggravated assault, Portillo’s death resulted in upgraded charges. He is now being held in a juvenile detention facility and should have his day in court soon enough.

A similar attack occurred in the Netherlands this past December when three young amateur players—a 16-year-old and two 15-year-olds—assaulted a 41-year-old volunteer linesman and basically beat him to death. All three were charged with manslaughter, assault and public violence—and they will surely spend some time in jail—but I’m sure this provides little or no comfort to the victim’s family, who must now live their lives without him.

Both of these examples of soccer violence are tragic—and I truly feel for the families of these men—but nothing shocked me more than the news that came out of northern Brazil last week. And if you have not yet heard this story, I’m sure you will find it equally disturbing.

The incident happened during a June 30th soccer match in the Brazilian village of Pius XII. Referee Jordan Silva got into an argument with Linda dos Santos Abreu, a player for whom he had issued a red card. Abreu was outraged to learn that he was being ejected from the game, so he engaged Silva in a fist fight that, moments later, turned deadly.

For some reason, Silva had a knife with him and when the fight intensified, he pulled it out and stabbed Abreu in the chest. The young player was immediately rushed to the hospital, but no one could predict what happened next.

With some help from fans, members of Abreu’s family grabbed the 20-year-old referee, tied him up and started torturing him in plain view of everyone in attendance. Rumor has it that someone caught the attack on their cell phone, but I decided not to search for it out of respect for the victims of this terrible tragedy. And in a moment, you’ll know why the word “victims” is plural in the previous sentence.

A short time after Silva’s torture began, word got back to Abreu’s family that the young man made it to the hospital, but had been pronounced dead just before arriving there. This made a bad situation even worse and, in retaliation, members of the slain player’s family stoned Silva to death. I wish I could say that this was where this terrible situation ended, but sadly that was not the case.

Jordan Silva (courtesy of Facebook)

Abreu’s family then beheaded Silva, placed his head on a pike and dismembered his body… all in the middle of a crowded soccer stadium and with hundreds—if not thousands—of witnesses, some of whom even participated in this heinous act.

Needless to say, it was not very difficult for authorities to identify the suspects, most of whom were clearly visible on recovered footage from the fateful game. To date, at least one person has been arrested in connection with Silva’s murder and a number of others are being sought. None of this changes the fact that on this particular day, two people died for nothing more than a bad call on the pitch.

Ideally, sports allow us to exercise, develop skills, compete, play, interact with others, entertain ourselves, learn about sportsmanship and, when we’re fortunate enough, win. And for those of us who prefer not to participate regularly, there are always games we can watch online, on television or in our local communities. Being a spectator can sometimes be as entertaining as being a player, believe me.

The problem is that some people obviously take sports far too seriously. I would be lying if I said that I never lost my temper because the Steelers fumbled on the goal line or the Yankees gave up the losing run in the bottom of the ninth inning. And yes, violence has erupted on occasion, which basically means that I smashed something of mine that I regretted an instant later.

What makes me different—what makes most of us different—is that I would never wait outside the stadium after a game in which an NFL referee made a bad call that cost the Steelers the game, assault the official as he left for home and murder him in cold blood. Even if he pulled a knife and stabbed one of my favorite players on the field—better yet, one of my family members—my first instinct would not be to kill him… much less to kill, behead and dismember him.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to understand what could motivate someone to commit a crime as gruesome as the one in Brazil last week. I understand that what Silva did was horrifying, and no one would expect a referee to be carrying a knife—doesn’t anyone search these people? And I definitely understand revenge. If someone killed one of my loved ones like that, I would undoubtedly fill with rage and want to strangle the life out of them with my bare hands. I just wouldn’t. If anything, I would be in the ambulance hoping that my loved one survived the deadly attack. But if they died—and even if I wanted to go back and murder the referee—I simply wouldn’t. Hell, the authorities would have the attacker in custody by then anyway.

Don’t forget what soccer is all about (courtesy of Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

I don’t know what it is about sports that seems to bring out the worst in people. And no one has ever been worse than the individuals who butchered Silva, even if he deserved to be punished for murdering Abreu. The combination of passion, anger, sorrow and loss must blend with the crowd mentality to provide the spark, but there is obviously much more to it. Otherwise, nearly every sporting event would end in tragedy. In this case, security was definitely a factor since proper screening would have prevented Silva from even having a knife in the first place. Granted, security would not have helped those referees in Utah and the Netherlands—both of whom died at the bare hands of others—but it could have saved these guys.

Sadly, none of this can explain what happened in Brazil, and I won’t even bother to try. It may always be a mystery to me since—to paraphrase The Shadow—no one knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. What I do know, however, is this: soccer, football or whatever you want to call it is A GAME. Life will not end just because your team lost in a tie-breaker, your star player suffered a crippling injury or some referee made a bad call. If you get carded unfairly, bitch and moan with your team and accept that fact that sometimes, things just don’t go your way. Those are the breaks, people. Don’t ruin sports with bad behavior, hooliganism and violence—dismemberment included—because you win some and you lose some. Without losers, there could never be winners.

Have I used enough sports clichés, because I have a nearly endless supply over here?

Behind the Wall

Now I know why black cats are bad luck (courtesy of The Hellfire Club)

Despite warnings from friends and family members about the marketability of my college degree, I decided to major in English and loved every minute of it. Granted, my specializations were in journalism and creative writing, but I also enjoyed the literature classes I was required to take—with the exception of 18th century British literature, that is. Nothing could make that stuff appealing to me.

I may be biased because of my nationality, but American literature has always been my favorite. And there were few authors more interesting or intriguing than the father of detective fiction and master of the macabre himself, the infamous Edgar Allan Poe.

Long before writers like H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury and Stephen King came along to frighten us with their fiction, Poe set the standard for horror, mystery and suspense. There can be little doubt that he influenced these authors—not to mention countless others—through short stories like “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Cask of Amontillado” and my personal favorite, “The Black Cat.” That one scared the hell out of me the first time I read it, which must have been in grade school. And to be honest, it still creeps me out a little. I know because I just reread it before writing this post.

“The Black Cat” focuses on a man who was once happy but suddenly begins to slip into darkness. His relationship with his wife deteriorates—due to his “intemperate language” and proclivity for “personal violence”—and even his beloved cat Pluto suffers. One evening, the man returns home—“much intoxicated”—and grabs Pluto, whose first instinct is to bite his master’s hand in an effort to escape. Doing so throws the man into a blind rage and “the fury of a demon instantly” possesses him. Holding Pluto by the neck, he pulls a small knife from his pocket and uses it to gouge out one of the cat’s eyes.

The next morning, the man awakens to find his pet maimed, but recovering. Pluto avoids him at all costs, of course, but otherwise seems no worse for wear. At first, the man feels remorse for injuring the animal, but this is quickly replaced by “perverseness” and since he has tasted evil, he does so again by hanging Pluto by the neck from a tree limb. Presumably, this is when Pluto meets his ultimate demise.

A short time later—as the man is again sitting in the pub getting hammered—he notices a black cat that looks almost exactly like Pluto, save for a patch of white hair on its chest. Still feeling guilt over Pluto’s “murder,” he decides to take the cat home and his wife immediately takes a liking to it. Of course, this only serves to irritate the man further and before he knows it, he starts to loathe his new pet as much as he did poor Pluto.

Stranger still is the fact that this cat, like the one before him, is also missing an eye. Is it possible this is Pluto come back to haunt him?

Despite his ill will and obvious irritation, the cat grows fond of its master and starts to follow him wherever he goes, a fact that only serves to annoy the man more. Before long, he confesses that “evil thoughts became [his] sole intimates” and continues to slip into darkness, moodiness and, worst of all, misanthropy. His outbursts of fury intensify, but somehow his wife still manages to tolerate him—her being “the most patient of sufferers.”

One day, the man and his wife venture into the cellar for a “household errand,” followed closely by the cat. The presence of this unwanted guest again sets the man off and in another fit of rage, he grabs an axe and prepares to slaughter another feline when his wife interferes and grabs his arm. This only serves to enrage him further and instead of killing the cat, he buries the axe in his wife’s skull, killing her instantly.

Now he has a problem: what to do with his wife’s corpse. He knows the body cannot be removed from the house since his neighbors would surely see him. And though he toys with the notion of chopping her into little pieces—destroying each segment in his fire—he instead chooses to hide her within his cellar wall. After carefully removing bricks and making mortar to match what was already there, he seals his wife in her “tomb,” replaces the bricks and patches the wall so it doesn’t show “the slightest appearance of having been disturbed.”

Poe knew the evil in men’s hearts (courtesy of Court Jones)

Then he searches for the cat, but his efforts are fruitless: the animal has disappeared.

Days pass and despite several inquiries as to his wife’s whereabouts—as well as a search of his home by the authorities—no one suspects a thing. And for a while, the man is once again able to “breathe as a freeman,” content in the knowledge that his crime will go undiscovered.

On the fourth day after his heinous act, the police drop by unexpectedly to again search his home, this time more thoroughly. Without even breaking a sweat, the man complies and even guides the party through his home, completing the search in the very place he succumbed to his evil nature: the cellar. But his efforts to conceal his wife’s body were so successful that after only a few minutes, the investigators decide to end their search.

He has somehow managed to avoid suspicion and now appears to be in the clear. Unfortunately, a “phrenzy of bravado” overtakes him and he decides to brag about how sturdy his home is constructed.

“These walls are solidly put together,” he tells the officers as he raps on the wall with his cane. The gesture is intended to prove his point—and for a moment it does just that—but as the police are leaving, they suddenly hear a faint cry, much like the “sobbing of a child.”

The cry intensifies into a wail, but still the investigators have no idea of its source, at least not until the man swoons and staggers to the cellar wall. Within minutes, “a dozen stout arms were toiling at the wall” and there inside is the decomposing body of his missing wife. And sitting quietly on her head—with its “solitary eye of fire”—is the cat he never realized that he sealed in the wall!

Classic.

I recount this story because as I was perusing some of the news sites recently, I found an example of life imitating art—or life imitating Poe, I guess you could say.

Last December, 82-year-old James Nichols of Poughkeepsie, New York was found dead of natural causes in his home. Neighbors were concerned when they didn’t see him for several days and called the police, who entered the residence and discovered Nichols dead. Sadly, he had no family to speak of and thus, no one claimed his body. He was eventually buried in an unknown location by the Dutchess County Department of Community and Family Services. And since there was no executor for Nichols’ estate, a temporary administrator was appointed to handle his business.

Decades earlier—in December of 1985—Nichols’ wife Joann, an elementary school teacher, failed to show up for a hair appointment and seemed to drop off the face of the earth. Nichols called the police to report her missing, but despite several leads—including the discovery of the couple’s car in the parking lot of a nearby shopping center—Joann was never found. Her case remained open for years and officers reviewed it annually, but always with the same result.

She had simply vanished, or so everyone thought. Can you see where I’m going with this?

Joann Nichols was reported missing in 1985 and her body was found behind a false wall in her late husband\'s house.

Joann Nichols in 1985 (courtesy of the Poughkeepsie Police)

After Nichols’ death, contractors were brought in to clean his vacant home and behind a fake wall in the basement—or cellar, if you will—one of them made a gruesome discovery. Sealed inside a large plastic bin that had been wrapped in a plastic bag and sheet was… you guessed it… Joann’s “skeletonized” remains. Her hands were bound and a portion of her skull was missing.

Medical examiners were able to identify Joann from her dental records and later determined her cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the head. The missing part of her skull must have been a dead giveaway, huh? And even though he is dead and likely burning in a jet-fueled fire in hell, James Nichols is now the primary suspect in the case. Not that it matters much anymore.

What does matter is that after more than two decades, Joann’s family finally knows what happened to her so long ago. And they might have known sooner if, like the man from Poe’s story, Nichols had also owned a cat… preferably a black one.

Historical Horror: The Blood Countess

The Blood Countess: Elizabeth Bathory (property of Rebeca Saray, 2010)

Halloween is steadily approaching and all things spooky dwell in the darkness. Children ready their costumes, parents prepare their treats and everyone waits anxiously for the scariest day of the year. But even the most frightening slasher film or haunted house cannot compare with some of the horrors from history, including this terrifying tale from the 16th century.

Erzsebet (or “Elizabeth”) Bathory was a countess born in 1560 Slovakia and raised near the town of Vishine, just north-east of present day Bratislava. Her parents, George and Anna, were both Bathorys by birth, which made Elizabeth the product of inbreeding, a common practice among the European aristocracy at the time. The Bathorys were one of the most powerful Protestant families in Hungary. Among them were clerics, politicians, warlords and even royalty, including the Prince of Transylvania and future King of Poland.

As a child, Elizabeth suffered from seizures—most likely due to epilepsy connected to the inbreeding—and would sometimes lose control and go into a rage. She also witnessed atrocities committed by her family’s officers at their Transylvania estate. One story tells of a gypsy thief who was captured, sewn into the belly of a dying horse with only his head sticking out and left to die. For Elizabeth, grisly death and murder were commonplace. And they undoubtedly had an effect on her later in life.

At fourteen years of age, Elizabeth became pregnant to a peasant man and had to be isolated until her daughter was born. The child was given to a peasant couple to raise because Elizabeth had a different plan: she was to marry Count Ferenc Nadasdy and did so in May 1575.

Nadasdy was a soldier and was frequently away for long periods of time, leaving Elizabeth to manage the family estate, Castle Sarvar. She soon developed a reputation as a harsh master, behaving cruelly to her large staff—primarily young girls—and disciplining them endlessly to exert her authority. Bathory’s husband even joined her during his returns home, teaching her new and more sadistic ways to torment and torture her servants.

Sometimes, Elizabeth would stick pins into sensitive areas of her servants’ bodies, like under their fingernails or between their toes. In the winter, it’s said that Bathory would execute her victims by taking them out in the snow naked and tossing water on them until they froze and died. Rumor has it her husband even taught her a warm-weather version of this torture: the stripped woman would be covered with honey and left for the insects to devour.

None of this compared with what was to come.

Count Ferenc died in 1604 of an infected wound, the rumor being that it was inflicted by a prostitute he refused to pay. Elizabeth buried her husband and moved to Vienna, but she spent a great deal of her time at her castle Cachtice in Slovakia. Here she met Anna Darvula, a sadist who soon became her lover and helped Elizabeth commit some of her greatest and most disturbing atrocities.

One fateful day, a servant girl was combing Elizabeth’s hair and accidentally pulled it, leading the Countess to strike her. A few drops of blood fell on Elizabeth’s skin and she noticed that it seemed to reduce the signs of aging. According to several eyewitnesses, this was when Bathory began to kill her female servants and to drain them of their blood, which she allegedly bathed in and even drank. She was also known to bite servants’ flesh as she tortured them, a behavior that provided Bram Stoker with inspiration for his most famous character, Dracula.

Darvula died in 1609, so Bathory found a new accomplice and lover, Erszi Majorova, the widow of one of her farmer tenants. Majorova convinced Elizabeth to victimize noble girls as well as peasant girls, a move which brought the Countess too much attention. The King of Hungary eventually ordered her arrest and his troops raided the castle Cachtice. Inside, they found the bodies of Bathory’s victims—as well as some still alive and locked in cells—and allegedly discovered a register with the names of more than 650 people she killed. Elizabeth’s associates were arrested and later executed in gruesome ways—two had their fingers torn off with red-hot pincers before being burned alive, while a third was decapitated and tossed onto the same fire later.

Elizabeth Bathory was never convicted of a crime, but she did pay the price for her evil deeds. Bathory’s cousin, the King of Poland, had her confined to a room in Castle Cachtice with no windows or doors. There were only a few slits for air, as well as one for food and water. Bathory remained in this solitary room for three years and died in August 1614.

Now she bathes in the blood of eternal damnation, further proof that the “evil that men do” is always more frightening than Halloween fiction and horror films. Beware “The Blood Countess” as you venture out into the darkness of All Hallow’s Eve. She just might be waiting for you…

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