Wednesday, April 2, 2014

March 26: Torture Chamber Found in Basement

On this date in History .... March 26, 1987:  

Photo courtesy of
Philadelphia police respond to a 9-1-1 call and find a torture chamber in the basement of a former mental patient where three naked women were chained to pipes.  The true story would become the basis for horrific scenes in the movie, "The Silence of the Lambs".

Gary Heidnik was a mental patient and sex offender who had become a wealthy investor, driving a Rolls Royce and avoiding paying any taxes by becoming a self-appointed bishop of his own church. A sign hung outside the torture chamber home identifying it as a church.  

He was quite good at managing his "church" finances, turning $1500 into over half a million in about ten years.  Despite his wealth, he chose to live in the "seedier" parts of the city.

He killed one woman by putting her in a pit of water with a live electrical wire; another by starving her to death while remained chained to the wall; another by dismembering her, cooking and feeding body parts to the other captives. Attempts at escape were punished with screwdrivers in the ears or being suspended by the wrists for hours at a time.

Heidnik believed a man needed a lot of children and do achieve that, he needed to build a harem.  After his mother's death in 1970, he tried to kill himself at least a dozen times.

He received the death sentence and was the last person executed in Pennsylvania in 1999.

March 25: Viola Liuzzo shot by KKK

On this date in History .... March 25, 1965:

Viola Liuzzo, age 39, was killed by four Ku Klux Klan members. 

Liuzzo had left her home in Michigan to go to Selma Alabama to help with the carpooling effort to transport volunteers and marchers.  She had been watching news reports of the marches and, in tears, told her husband she had to go down south and help.

After dropping off some of the (black) volunteers, Viola’s car was approached by a car with 4 KKK members, who shot her in the head and shot up her car.  She died immediately. 

One of the men in the car was an FBI information and years later, under the Freedom of Information Act, Viola’s family discovered J. Edgar Hoover himself had begun a smear campaign against Viola’s character so as to distance the FBI from any blame for her death. After a mistrial, 3 of the 4 KKK members were found guilty in a federal court.  The informant went into Witness Protection due to threats from the KKK.

March 24: Exxon Valdez

On this date in History .... March 24, 1989:

The Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling between 11 and 34 MILLION gallons of crude oil, ranking as the largest oil spill in U.S. history. More marine mammals and seabirds were killed directly by the oil than in any man-made disaster ever. 

The incident prompted the 1990 Oil Pollution Act which called for tankers to be double-hulled, so that if the outer hull was damaged the inner hull would prevent oil from spilling out.  Major spills dropped by 2/3’s since this law was passed. 

The photo shows a portion of the oil-covered rock shoreline.

March 23: White Out Inventor is Born

On this date in History ..... March 23, 1924:

Bette Nesmith Graham is born. 

While her son would grow up with fame in his own right (the well known Michael Nesmith of “The Monkees) Bette’s fame came when she became the inventor of Liquid Paper correction fluid which became an office staple. 

As an Executive Secretary, Graham enjoyed the ease of the new electric typewriters, but like many others, felt frustrated by the inability to easily erase and correct typing mistakes.  Graham observed painters applying a thin layer of paint to cover some painting mistakes and used that idea to create Liquid Paper.  A blessing in disguise came when her boss at the bank fired her when her business began taking a lot of her attention. 

In 1979, she sold her company for almost $50M.

March 22: The ERA Amendment

On this date in History .... March 22, 1979:

The 7-year deadline to pass the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) expired with only 35 of the required 38 states ratifying the amendment. (Indiana was the last state to ratify with a single tie-breaking vote.) Congress extended the deadline to June 30, 1982. 

The extension was controversial and President Carter signed it while expressing doubt about proper procedure. The issue of the extension being unconstitutional went to the Supreme Court who, in October 1982, declared it a moot point since no other states ratified the ERA in the extension period anyway.

March 21: Collyer Brothers ... the original "hoarders"

On this date in History .... March 21, 1947:

Photo courtesy of
The phrase “The Collyer Brothers” becomes synonymous with “hoarding” when New York police break into the brothers’ home on the tip of a dead body being in there.  Unable to break the door down, they unhinged the door and removed it, only to find a solid wall of packed boxes and rubbish.  They eventually had to climb in through a second story window where they found Homer Collyer’s dead body. 

About 120 to 140 tons of garbage and trash was removed from the house, including over 25,000 books, pickled human organs in jars, 14 pianos, and a Model T chassis.  

Homer and Langley Collyer were smart and talented.  Both attended college.  Homer practiced law and Langley was an accomplished concert pianist and had even played at Carnegie Hall.  After their parents’ death, the brothers began to shut themselves up in their brownstone. Langley used his engineering degree knowledge to rig up booby traps because of some attempted break-ins.

Homer developed cataracts but the brothers decided with their doctor-father’s 15,000 medical books in the house, they could take care of Homer themselves.  They became more and more introverted.  Utilities were completely disconnected by 1928. Langley would fetch water for them at a pump in a nearby park.  They tried to heat the large home with a kerosene heater.

When police found Homer’s body, they suspected Langley had called in the anonymous tip and then fled.  But when Langley failed to show up at his brother’s funeral a few days later, police suspected he may also be dead. Homer was found just 10 hours after he died, which seemed to be too short of a time span for the smell of decomposition to filter through the hoarded home and generate a phone call to the police.

Eight days later, while clearing the house, Langley’s body was found, just ten feet from where Homer had died. The new theory was that Langley was crawling through one of the tunnels in the home and had tripped one of his own booby traps, causing debris to come crashing down on him and killing him on around March 9.  Because Langley was now dead, Homer, blind and helpless, starved to death about two weeks later.

The brothers are buried in unmarked graves. The home was torn down within the year.

March 20: Uncle Tom's Cabin

On this date in History ... March 20, 1852:

The book “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is published.  It was originally released in segments via the weekly newspaper “The National Era”.  The book was a runaway best seller, with 10,000 copies the first week and 300,000 copies within 3 months, and had a major influence on the way the American public viewed slavery. The book established author Harriet Beecher Stowe's reputation as a “woman of letters”. 

Levi Coffin Home, Fountain City Indiana
Photo courtesy of
It is said that the character “Eliza” was based on a slave that came thru the Levi Coffin Home, located in (my hometown of) Fountain City, Indiana.  In my research, many stations on the Underground Railroad also claim this same celebrity. 

In 1863, when Lincoln announced the end of slavery, Stowe danced in the streets.  

March 19: Nevada Legalizes Gambling

On this date in History .... March 19, 1931:  

Nevada legalizes gambling. 

During the Civil War, Nevada’s population exploded as people flocked to the area to mine the gold & silver found in The Comstock Lode. When the lode ran dry during the depression, population flight began.  Worried about the loss of residents, Nevada took “the drastic measure” of legalizing gambling and, later, divorce. Las Vegas had become the gambling capital of the world and today, gambling pays the lion’s share of tax revenues in Nevada.

March 18: Stamp Act is Passed

On this date in History ..... March 18, 1766:  

Parliament repeals the Stamp Act because colonists’ boycotts were hurting British trade, BUT …. passes the Declaratory Act which says Britain had full and complete legislative power over the colonies, and was copied word for word from the Irish Declaratory Act, which had placed Ireland in British bondage to the crown. Colonists feared the same fate & this British Act became another brick in the wall that was building toward an American Revolution.

March 17: John Pelham

On this date in History .... March 17, 1863:  

John Pelham, age 24, dies at the battle of Kelleysville while standing in his horse stirrups, crying out “Press forward, press forward to glory & victory!” Pelham was considered one of the greatest officers of the Confederate Army, his artillery precision unsurpassed. He left West Point just short of graduating to join the Confederate military.

Gen. Stonewall Jackson said, “With a Pelham on each flank I believe I could whip the world.” Many southern towns are named after him & Gen. J.E.B. Stuart named his daughter after Pelham. 

Pelham's greatest battle was at Fredericksburg where he confused a federal army of 120,000 men with his brilliant one-gun barrage from their flank. His contribution to the Confederate victory that day was a major one and General Robert E. Lee cited the part played by "the gallant Pelham" in his official report    (source: