Tag Archives: History


A7In 1991, the mummified body of a 5,000-year-old murder victim was discovered in melting ice at a rock-gully crime scene high in the Italian Otzal Alps. Nicknamed “Otzi”, the estimated 45-year-old man and his possessions were incredibly well preserved. His skin, hair, bones, and organs were cryopreserved in time, allowing archeological researchers a phenomenal insight into human life in the Copper Age.

The frozen corpse also gave modern science the opportunity to forensically investigate and positively determine how Otzi The Iceman was killed.

A44On a sunny September day, two hikers were traversing a mountain pass at the 3210 meter (10,530 foot) level and saw a brown, leathery shape protruding from the ice amidst running melt-water. Closely examined, it was a human body which they thought might be the victim of a past mountaineering accident.

They reported it to Austrian police who attended the following day and quickly realized they were dealing with an ancient archeological site. A scientific team was assembled and, over a three-day period, the remains were extracted and taken to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Innsbruck.

B9Such an incredibly valuable find soon led to a jurisdictional argument between the Austrian and Italian governments and an immediate border survey was done, finding Otzi had been lying ninety-two meters inside of Italian territory. Italy gained legal possession of the body and artifacts, however in the interests of science and history, everything was kept at Innsbruck until a proper, climate-controlled facility was built at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy, where Otzi the Iceman now rests.

Many, many questions arose. Who was he? Where did he come from? How long ago did he live? And, of course, what caused his death?

Technological  advances over the past twenty-five years have answered some questions surrounding Otzi’s life and death and surely the next twenty-five will answer more. This, so far, is what science knows about the Iceman.

A6Otzi was found lying face down with outstretched arms in a protected, rock depression near the Finail Peak watershed at the top of the Tisenjoch pass which connects two forested valleys. The trench measured 40 meters (131 foot) long, between 5 and 8 meters (16–26 foot) wide, and  averaged 3 meters (10 feet) deep. For millennia, this area was covered by glaciers which, by the end of the twentieth century, had receded.

Four separate scientific institutes conducted C-14 radiocarbon dating on Otzi, equivocally agreeing he came from between 3350 and 3100 BC — more than 5,000 years ago. This was the oldest-known preserved human being; far older than the Egyptian and Inca mummifications or the corpses found pickled in peat bogs.

A8Something exceptionally unique about Otzi was that he was a “wet” mummy—an almost unheard of process for a cadaver of this age where humidity was preserved in his cells, unlike the intentional dehydration processes used in Egypt and Peru. As well, Otzi was perfectly intact and not dissected or embalmed by a funeral ritual. His entire body achieved a state of elasticity and, although shrunken, remained as in the day he died including vital clues stored in his digestive tract.

Researchers felt Otzi must have been preserved through a chain of coincidences. It was evident that no damage had been done by predators, scavengers, or insects so it was obvious that the body was covered by snow and/or ice immediately after death. Secondly, the gully lay perpendicular to the main ice flow, allowing the grinding action of the glacier to pass overtop. Thirdly, exposure to air and sunlight was only a brief period before being found by the hikers.

It was vital Otzi remain frozen to avoid an irreversible decomposition and remain intact to preserve his historical significance. This gave researchers limited ability to examine the cadaver as would be done in a conventional autopsy.

B3A thorough external exam was done in 1991 along with Xray radiography images. Notable was a cut to the back of the right hand which showed early signs of healing as well as breaks to the left ribcage, which had healed, and breaks to the right ribs which were fresh at the time of death. A depression in the skull was thought to be caused by the weight of ice compression and analysis of the only remaining fingernail found that the Beau-Reil Lines, which are like rings on a tree trunk, showed significant stress to his immune system in three periods—16, 13, and 8 weeks before death.

A46Other factors told of Otzi’s failing health—understandable for a 45-year-old in the Copper Age who’d then be considered elderly. He suffered from tooth decay, gum disease, and worn joints. What shocked the researchers were the amounts, designs, and placement of tattoos on Otzi’s body. There were 61 separate markings, all made by incisions and insertion of charcoal—not ink as has been used by other cultures for centuries. The locations were consistent with known acupuncture points as practiced for pain relief thought to be discovered by the Chinese two thousand years after Otzi’s existence. It seemed these markings were therapeutic, rather than symbolic.

Despite examination by many leading experts, no exact cause of Otzi’s demise was determined and it was speculated this old man may have fallen, injured himself, then succumbed to the elements. That was until new technology was developed.

A47One of the great challenges was to examine Otzi endoscopically—that is to look internally at his organs. Special high-precision titanium instruments were invented—steel probes that were inserted through tiny incisions in Otzi’s back. Using computerized navigational aids, the tools were guided to exact spots were evidentiary samples could be taken. This was recorded with a hi-definition camera and an entire 3-D map of the mummy’s thorax and abdomen was made.

Lung and digestive tract contents told a time-of-year travel story through the presence of thirty different pollens which entered Otzi’s body by the food he ate, the water he drank, and the air he breathed.

A48Most pollens were from trees and indicated he ingested them during a bloom in the late spring or early summer. The locations and digested states of different pollens in different sections of the stomach and intestines showed Otzi had made a climb from the valley floor to the top of the pass where he died within a twenty-four hour period. Pollens in the lower gastrointestinal tract were identified to low elevation trees and pollens in the upper GI were from higher elevation species.

So, it was known that Otzi had left the populated valley and headed for high country where he met his death. Speculation rose that he might have been fleeing some danger.

A3This theory strengthened in 2001 when new Xrays identified a small, flint arrowhead in Otzi’s left shoulder which was missed ten years earlier. A close examination of Otzi’s back revealed a two-centimeter slash and established the arrow’s path. He’d been shot from a rear and lower position.

In 2005, Otzi was put through a high-resolution, multi-slice CT scanning machine which enlightened the arrow wound. Clearly, the arrowhead had caused a one-centimeter gash in Otzi’s left subclavian artery which is the main circulatory pipeline that carries fresh oxygenated blood from the heart to the left arm. Such a serious tear would have caused massive internal bleeding and rapid death—probably within two minutes.

A49The CT scan showed something else. There was serious bleeding at the base of the brain which corresponded to the depression in Otzi’s skull. He’d suffered a serious head injury right at the time of death. With the cause of death now certain to be from a violent act of homicide, the prime question centered on the circumstances of how all this went down.

Researchers felt the answer may lay in the Iceman’s possessions.

A50Among the artifacts found on and around Otzi’s body were a copper ax, a flint dagger, a quiver with twelve blank arrow shafts and two completed arrows with stone heads. There was also winter clothing and supplies to support wilderness survival.

This speaks to motive, for if robbery was behind Otzi’s murder, it’s certain that the perpetrator(s) would have made off with these valuables. Glaringly missing was the shaft of the fatal arrow, especially in light of Otzi’s quiver arrows being perfectly preserved.

A51Egarter Vigl, a leading archeological expert on the Iceman, believes that the assailant tried to pull out the fatal arrow to destroy evidence, only to snap off the arrowhead inside. Vigl was quoted in the archeology magazine Germani, “telltale markings in the construction of prehistoric arrows could be used to identify the archer much in the way modern ballistics can link a bullet to a gun. The killer yanked out the arrow to cover his tracks. For similar motives, the attacker did not run off with any precious artifacts that remained at the scene, especially the distinctive copper-bladed ax; the appearance of such a remarkable object in the possession of a villager would automatically implicate its owner of the crime.”

I’d have to agree with Mr. Vigl and I’d like to add an observation of my own.

A33In the hundreds and hundreds of dead bodies I’ve examined as a cop and a coroner, I’ve never seen a cadaver with its arms outstretched in a hyperextended position like how Otzi the Iceman was found. This is absolutely unnatural and shrieks to me that someone placed the arms in that position after death.

I think it’s safe to speculate on what might have happened and here’s what Otzi’s crime scene evidence suggests to me.

A52The day before Otzi’s death, he was in a physical altercation down at the village on the valley floor where he suffered the cut hand and possibly the broken right ribs. This caused him to pack up and flee, climbing to the elevated pass where he was overcome by his attacker(s) and shot with the arrow from behind and below. This wound would have put Otzi into hemorrhagic shock and he would have quickly collapsed and internally bled out. Following his collapse, the murderer(s) went up and caved-in the back of Otzi’s head to finish him off.

I don’t think this happened in the gully. I’ve looked at the scene photos and can’t envision how Otzi could have been shot from below in that tight gully, which is what the forensic evidence clearly shows on the arrowhead’s track through the body—even if Otzi were bending over.

A53No, I suspect Otzi was shot elsewhere, dragged by the arms, dumped in the gully with all his possessions, rolled over to remove the arrow, and then covered with ice and/or snow to hide the crime.

After 5,000 years, the answers to “By who?” and “For what reason?” are unlikely to be known—despite what future technology might bring—and the murder of Otzi the Iceman will always remain a really cold case.

*   *   *

For a fascinating look at the entire Otzi story, including exceptional photos, visit the official website www.Iceman.it at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. Click Here


A6The 1845 expedition led by Sir John Franklin to find the Northwest Passage was one of the biggest disasters in exploration history. Despite being outfitted with the best provisions and equipment of the time, the entire complement of 129 officers and men aboard the British Royal Navy ships HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror perished in the wilds of the frozen north. It was the nineteenth century’s equivalent to having lost the International Space Station.

The cause of what truly led to the demise of the Franklin Expedition has fascinated historians and scientists for years, creating many theories based on scarce evidence. In 2014, the well-preserved wreck of the Erebus was found on the sea floor near King William Island in Canada’s Arctic. It’s discovery renewed interest in Franklin’s fate and a look through modern forensics tells a tale of how the ships’ cutting-edge technology probably snuck up to kill the crew.

First, a look at some history.

A8The Franklin Expedition was commissioned by the British Admiralty to do more than just find the elusive Northwest Passage. It was also a scientific venture to record the Arctic’s flora and fauna, map the terrain, observe magnetism and meteorology, inspect geology, and establish Commonwealth sovereignty in the north.

The voyagers were equipped with the finest navigation instruments and stocked with ample provisions to survive far longer than the planned three-year venture. The ships had been specifically refitted to withstand crushing ice pressures and upgraded with inboard steam engines to assist in turning through the maze of ice, as well as for the first time having an onboard desalination plant for turning seawater into fresh.

They debarked England on May 19, 1845 and made their first stop in Greenland to top off supplies. Already five crew members were ill and were discharged back home. The expedition departed and was last seen by other Europeans from two whaling ships in August in the vicinity of Lancaster Sound at the entrance to the Passage.

A9History shows the Franklin Expedition camped the winter of 1845-1846 on Beechey Island where later parties discovered artifacts and the graves of three sailors. When the Expedition failed to return to England in 1849—a year after planned—search parties were formed and a slight trail of clues was discovered to shed light on their fate.

The only document recovered was a note in a rock cairn on King William Island stating the ships had been ice-locked for nineteen months and were abandoned on April 22, 1848, three days before the note was written. It also advised that Sir John Franklin died on June 11, 1847 and that the remaining 105 officers and men were attempting to venture by land for a Canadian mainland settlement at Back’s Fish River. None made it.

Progressive searches over ten years found pieces of human skeletons and artifacts that were proven to have come from the Franklin party, however no mass death site was located and their final demise was attributed to starvation and exposure.

The Franklin story and explanation for what caused a perfectly outfitted expedition of experienced explorers who prepared for these exact conditions and time interval never strayed from public interest.

A10In 1981, a team of scientists led by Dr. Owen Beattie, a professor of anthropology, began a forensic examination of the Beechey Island wintering site, including an exhumation of the crew members’ graves in hopes of determining their cause of death. This is documented in the great book Frozen In Time – The Fate Of The Franklin Expedition.

What Dr. Beattie’s team found was truly remarkable—not just in eventual toxicology evidence—but in the incredibly well-preserved condition the bodies were in, given they’d spent over 135 years in the permafrost.

A4The team autopsied John Torrington, John Hartnell, and William Braine, concluding that pneumonia was possibly their primary cause of death, with tuberculosis maybe being a contributor. Otherwise, they appeared perfectly healthy. Malnutrition, chronic disease, foul play, or any form of accidental death was ruled out.

Being diligent, the team later ordered toxicology screening including a test for trace elements in the tissues, blood, bone, and hair. The results astounded them. All three sailors showed a presence of lead in amounts far, far exceeding normal levels. Braine, the last to die, showed 220 parts per million (ppm) in his hair, which is over one hundred times the acceptable level.

This led to a theory that the crew may have perished as a progressive result of lead poisoning with known side effects being a loss of cognitive awareness and the eventual inability for organs to function.

A11The team continued their search of the suspected southward trail of the doomed expedition and found considerable pieces of human skulls and bones which were anthropologically linked to European Caucasians, giving proof they must have belonged to the Franklin group. Every single bone contained an exceptionally high lead content. In total, the remains of thirty-two different individuals were identified. What became of the other seventy-five percent of the Franklin crew who abandoned the ships is a mystery.

Pursuing the lead poisoning theory, suspicion fell on the lead solder used in the tin-canned provisions of meat and vegetables which the ships stored. Inventory records show the Erebus and the Terror held over 8,000 tins of preserves each with a total weight of 33,289 pounds.

A12With the British being ones to keep meticulous records, the tin-can contract was documented to have gone to a London food processor named Stephan Goldner. The low-bid contract was awarded late in the Expedition’s outfitting process and Goldner’s company was under a huge rush to complete on time. To speed the delivery and to profit more, Goldner began using larger containers and slipped on the quality control.

Examination of the numerous discarded cans in the Beechey Island site’s garbage pile showed that the soldering on most cans was very sloppy with big gobs of solder spots on the interiors. It appeared Goldner’s greed and rush may have doomed the Franklin expedition.

A13However—digging deeper into the Goldner tin-can theory, it was recorded that Goldner had been providing the Royal Navy with lead-soldered canned goods for years before, and for years after, the Franklin fate and there were absolutely no reports of anyone suffering from lead poisoning anywhere within the rest of the British fleet.

Additionally, reports from the Inuit people who came in contact with the Franklin crew near their end  indicated the members were in starvation—half-mad and resorting to cannibalism. This was forensically corroborated by striation marks on many bones which were consistent with disarticulation and the mechanical stripping of flesh.

Curiously, it appeared that the crew was starving—desperately short of food in less than three years after embarking with stores that were capable of lasting five years, if properly rationed. Combined with the extremely high lead content in the sailors, it was evident something else was amiss.

A2Now, between 1818 and 1845 the British Admiralty instigated ten ship-borne Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, three of which Sir John Franklin was part of. These folks were no strangers to cold, harsh, and lengthy trips. After Franklin’s disappearance, thirty-six separate search expeditions were conducted into the Northwest passage. While a few men perished and a few ships were destroyed, none of these expeditions suffered such a total and devastating loss as did Franklin.

Clearly it was evident there was some unique and fatal flaw in the Franklin Expedition and it was thought it must have something to do with the lead.

William Battersby is a British Naval Architect who published a brilliant report titled Identification of the Probable Source of the Lead Poisoning Observed in Members of the Franklin Expedition.

A15Battersby identified what was different on board the Erebus and the Terror than on all other Royal Naval vessels, before or since. Remember, these two ships were refitted for this lengthy voyage into a harsh, frozen land and they carried with them new technology specifically designed for these two ships—a new infrastructure for desalination—for turning salty seawater into drinkable freshwater.

This was a complicated system as it was not just distilled, potable freshwater for consumption that the system was providing. It also produced freshwater for the engines’ steam boilers as well as making hot water for the ships’ heating systems.

A3And—you guessed it—the system’s entire plumbing was made of lead pipes soldered together with lead.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “Humans have been using lead pipes for plumbing since the days of the Romans and nobody’s been reported to have died from them.”

Hang on. There was something really unique going on aboard the Erebus and the Terror that affects how lead transfers from water into blood.

Here’s a quote from Battersby’s report:

The amount of lead absorbed by water from lead pipes or solders greatly increases where:

  • Water is soft, such as when freshly distilled.
  • An installation is new and has not built up a layer of scale. Scale insulates water in older installations from direct contact with lead.
  • Water is warm or hot. This dramatically increases the amount of lead which water can carry.

All these conditions applied to the installations in the HMS Erebus and Terror.

A17“Interesting theory, Garry”, you say. “I buy it was the pipes, not the cans, where the high concentration of lead came from, but how do you explain the starvation when there was ample canned food to go around?”

Great question and I think Scott Cookman might have answered it in his book Ice Blink – The Tragic Fate Of Sir John Franklin’s Lost Polar Expedition.

Cookman’s theory is that in Stephan Goldner’s greedy rush to drop quality control standards, he failed to cook the preserves at a high enough heat for a long enough time, thereby introducing botulism in a portion of the cans.

It falls into the facts that early in the voyage, five sick crew members were discharged and then three seemingly healthy, well-nourished sailors—Torrington, Hartnell, and Braine—suddenly up and died.

The theory continues that once the magnitude of the tainted canned-food scandal became apparent, the Franklin Expedition was solidly locked in ice and forced to exhaust the remaining stores of flour and beans—all which would be cooked in heavy-lead water.

Once the edible food stores ran out, the crew made a desperate, lead-poisoned and half-mad trek across land and probably perished, one-by-one, with the last of them insanely resorting to cannibalism.

What a horrific fate for the Franklin Expedition.


A31The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is the most famous event of the American Old West. That 1881 showdown between lawmen and outlaws is re-enacted each week, pleasing thousands of people. It’s a major tourist attraction in the desert town of Tombstone, Arizona. But something in the show went terribly wrong last week when one of the performers used live rounds instead of blank cartridges, sending another actor to hospital with a nasty gunshot wound and an aghast audience scurrying for cover.

I was surfing the net when a headline popped up: “Actor Shot in Old West Gunfight Re-Enactment”.

WTF? How the hell did that happen? I clicked the link. Here’s the article:

A3TOMBSTONE, Ariz. 19Oct2015 — An actor staging a historical gunfight in the Old West town of Tombstone was shot with a live round during a show that was supposed to use blanks, leading officials to call for the re-enactments popular with tourists to be put on hold.

The shooting happened Sunday afternoon during Helldorado Days as two performers from the Tombstone Vigilantes group re-enacted a gunfight in the 19th-century mining town made famous by Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the O.K. Corral. A bystander also was hurt but declined medical treatment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the actor’s guns fired live rounds, hitting a fellow member of the group, the Tombstone Marshals Office said. Ken Curtis fell to the ground and was flown to a hospital in Tucson, where he underwent surgery to remove the bullet. Curtis was listed in good condition Monday at Banner-University Medical Center in Tucson, hospital spokeswoman Elyse Palm said. She declined to give further details about his injuries.

At least two bullets struck nearby businesses, hurting a bystander, the Tombstone Marshals Office said Sunday. The woman was not seriously injured, Marshal’s dispatcher Dee Jackson said Monday.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAuthorities inspected the weapon fired by fellow actor Tom Carter and found one live round and five casings. “That indicated his gun was filled with live rounds prior to the skit,” the Marshal said. Tombstone authorities called the shooting unprecedented. The Marshals office says Mayor Dusty Escapule advised the Tombstone Vigilante group to suspend gunfight skits as the investigation plays out.

“Tombstone takes pride in the safety and security of its townspeople and tourists alike, and the citizens of Tombstone can be assured that stringent safety protocol will be enforced prior to allowing any further gunfight skits,” the Marshal said in a statement.

A9Tombstone, about three hours southeast of Phoenix, was once a bustling mining town in the 1800s that now has about 1,500 residents and mostly caters to visitors who come to see gunfight re-enactments and historical sites. The Tombstone Vigilantes were formed in 1946 and are dedicated to preserving and passing along Tombstone’s history to tourists who visit the town near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Whoa. Now there’s something you don’t read every day. I bookmarked the page. Hmm… Good stuff for DyingWords followers. They’ll wanna know more. Better get on this, but first I gotta find some history about the original gunfight.

Tombstone got its name appropriately. It really was the epitome of the lawless Wild West where everyone packed a gun—a good time and place to be in the undertaking business, as the Boot Hill cemetery proved.

Town of Tombstone, Arizona circa. 1880

Town of Tombstone, Arizona circa. 1880

There was a long-simmering feud between outlaw cowboys—Billy Claiborne, Ike and Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury, and opposing lawmen—Town Marshal Virgil Earp, Assistant Town Marshal Morgan Earp, and temporary Deputy Marshals Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday.

A12It came to a head at 3:00 p.m. on October 26, 1881, in a Tombstone alley near the O.K. Corral when about thirty shots were fired in thirty seconds. Billy Clanton and both McLaury brothers were killed. Ike Clanton, who’d repeatedly threatened to kill the Earps, claimed he was unarmed and ran from the fight along with Billy Claiborne. Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, and Doc Holliday were wounded. Wyatt Earp was unharmed.

Ike Clanton later filed murder charges against the Earps and Doc Holliday, but the lawmen were exonerated by a grand jury.

The O.K. Corral gunfight represents a romantic period in the American Old West when the frontier was an open range for outlaws—largely unopposed by lawmen who were spread thin and out-numbered.

A17No wonder the re-enactment’s so popular. I Googled some more. Who are these Tombstone Vigilantes that are so dedicated in re-creating the gunfights year after year? And how’d they get themselves into this pickle?

I found their website at http://www.tombstonevigilantes.com/. The Vigilantes have been around a long time. They’re a well-organized, highly-professional theater group. There are over forty volunteer members dedicated to preserving the fascinating heritage of Tombstone and they do more than entertain tourists with a play gunfight. The group hosts an annual toy drive, an Easter egg hunt, raise funds for the small animal shelter, donate to the food bank, and assist with the seniors meals-on-wheels program.


Seem like a right nice buncha folk. Certainly didn’t need this mess happening to them. I picked up the phone. I’ll call and see how they’re making out.

A25I talked with Tombstone Vigilantes Chief, Jeff Miller — Very pleasant man who was deeply concerned about the damage his organization’s reputation suffered. Understandably, he declined to comment on the cause of the incident and he told me the investigation is currently waiting for a Marshal’s report to the Cochise County District Attorney.

Chief Miller reminded me his group had an impeccable safety record in sixty-nine years of operation, although he conceded this was the first time they’d used live rounds in the show. And the Chief said the wounded man’s gunshot strike was in the “lower abdomen area” and was recovering “best as could be expected”.

A20I thanked the Chief for his time and then read some more internet reports. Seems actor Tom Carter was running late for the show. He forgot to unload the live ammunition from one of his six-shooters and failed to replace his revolver’s live rounds with blanks before taking the stage. One of Tom’s bullets got Ken Curtis in the nuts.

Well. Not so bad… Not like Ken’s a young feller with a family ahead of him. Mistakes happen. Like Chief Miller said, “Don’t overlook the impeccable safety record, till now. That’s what gets lost in all this.” He’s right. I’m sure the Vigilantes will grow from the incident and the show will go on.

And there’s more to the Tombstone Vigilantes show than just the gunfights.

A34One of the crowd pleasers is a mock hanging where they grab an unsuspecting victim from the crowd and put a lynch-noose around their neck. For ten bucks, the terrified tourist gets released with a framed souvenir photo that they can hang on their wall.

It’s all in good fun.

But I hope the Vigilantes are a bit more careful with their ropes than they were with their ammo.