how do you rate your pain sir?

Entomologist Justin Schmidt has developed a pain scale for stings.

Justin Schmidt found here

1.0 Sweat bee: Light, ephemeral, almost fruity. A tiny spark has singed a single hair on your arm.

1.2 Fire ant: Sharp, sudden, mildly alarming. Like walking across a shag carpet and reaching for the light switch.

light switch found here

1.8 Bullhorn acacia ant: A rare, piercing, elevated sort of pain. Someone has fired a staple into your cheek.

2.0 Bald-faced hornet: Rich, hearty, slightly crunchy. Similar to getting your hand mashed in a revolving door.

2.0 Yellowjacket: Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue.

Read about W C Fields’ ghost here

2.x Honey bee and European hornet: Like a matchhead that flips off and burns on your skin.

3.0 Red harvester ant: Bold and unrelenting. Somebody is using a drill to excavate your ingrown toenail.

image found here

3.0 Paper wasp: Caustic and burning. Distinctly bitter aftertaste. Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.

4.0 Tarantula hawk: Blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath.

image found here

4.0+ Bullet ant: Pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel.

And a couple more insect related stories to liven up your day.

In one horrific case in southern Africa, a man was attacked so relentlessly by honeybees that he had to jump into a river and hide beneath the surface. The bees continued to sting him every time he came up to breathe. The swarm was so dense he had to suck bees into his mouth and chew them to get any air. The attack went on for four hours, producing diarrhea, among other systemic effects, so that he was passing bees out one end while still ingesting them at the other. Finally, nightfall drew the bees back to their hive, and the victim dragged himself ashore. His face was literally black with embedded stings, and his hair was matted with dead bees. The doctors who treated him over the next few days counted 2,243 stings.

Stinging, says Schmidt, is a far more complex and paradoxical business than we might think. For instance, harvester ants, found from California to Florida, possess painful venom. In fact, one North American species has what Schmidt calls “the world’s most lethal arthropod venom.” And yet harvester ants are what American parents give the kids to play with almost every time they buy an ant farm. Luckily, these ants happen to be ideally suited for life in a plastic box, and they are so unaggressive that there’s little chance a child will suffer even a single sting, much less the hundreds needed to cause death.

image found here

Published in: on November 25, 2011 at 8:36 pm  Comments (56)  
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the debauched grandfather

On 4 July 1862, the maid at the prosperous Fleming household at Sandyford Place was brutally murdered.

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The Sandyford Mystery had two unlikely suspects, a debauched grandfather and a sailor’s wife. Old James Fleming lived with the corpse for three days while his family summered at their coastal villa. When investigators eventually arrived, they found that Jessie McLachlan, a twenty-eight-year-old mother who was a friend of the maid and a former employee at the house, had left three bloody footprints behind.

Grandfather Kirk found here

Old Fleming, who at eighty-seven was a hunched and balding figure with sideburns and a hooked nose, was a rustic who had turned to textile manufacturing. His son had “intimate” ties to the chief investigator. While that must have augured well for the elder Fleming, who collected rents for his son and attended church twice the Sunday after the murder, he also had Scottish law on his side. Scots Law is perhaps most famous for its third courtroom verdict—besides “guilty” or “not guilty” a jury may declare “not proven” and set a suspect free.

knives seized in Scottish courts found here

Even if all parties to a murder shared equal guilt, a suspect turned prosecution witness was guaranteed total immunity. In the end, Old Fleming was made legally white as snow: once a prime suspect with blood spattered on his nightshirt, the old man became the Crown’s chief witness in the murder trial of the hapless Mrs. McLachlan.

Witness for the Prosecution found here

Dozens of witnesses testified; floorboards with a bloody footprint, ripped up as evidence, were displayed before a rapt audience of fashionable ladies, reporters and city officials. McLachlan sat stoical in her white straw bonnet with ribbons and veil, her hands tucked under a black woolen shawl.

black shawl found here

Adam Gifford, gowned and bewigged advocate-deputy for the Crown, said to the jury “It will be my duty to ask a verdict against the prisoner, “Is the prisoner guilty or is she not guilty? Not, had she confederates?” While Old Fleming was indeed under “the gravest possible suspicion,” a crime by multiple parties was not at issue. “If guilt be brought home to one, it will not be enough to say, ‘Somebody else had a share in it.’”

“Lawyer’s Wig” mushrooms found here

The jury took fifteen minutes to find McLachlan guilty. Although the verdict was dramatic enough, next came “one of the greatest sensations in Scottish legal history.” Lord Deas, a judge known as Lord Death for his willingness to hang, allowed McLachlan a final statement. She stood in the dock, lifted her veil, and requested to have it read. For the next forty minutes, her lawyer told her story “amid the breathless attention of the court.”

On the night of the murder, she had visited her friend Jess McPherson. She found Jess in the downstairs kitchen with a drunken Fleming. His whiskey jug had run dry. He asked McLachlan to replenish it at a local pub. When she returned, Jess was lying in her bedroom moaning. She had resisted the drunkard’s advances, and now she had cuts about her face and there was a “large quantity of blood on the floor.”

image found here

McLachlan begged to go for a doctor, but Fleming made her swear secrecy on a Bible. In return “he would make her comfortable all her life.” She again began to leave, but hearing a noise in the kitchen rushed back to see “the old man striking” the maid with a “meat chopper.” Fleming cornered her: “If you tell you know about her death you will be taken in for it as well as me.” Dawn had arrived, and before she left, Fleming gave her a few pounds of hush money and silverware to pawn. It was to look like a robbery.

image found here

Lord Deas was unmoved, his mind having not “a shadow of suspicion” about Old Fleming. He put on his black cap and sentenced McLachlan to hang, directing that until then she live on bread and water and asking that God have mercy on her soul.

McLachlan’s eleventh-hour account in the courtroom hit the presses and galvanized the nation. Fifty thousand Glaswegians signed a petition. Old Fleming was so harassed that he fled to the villa. His family moved away from the city. Finally, new evidence put the verdict in limbo “until further significance of Her Majesty’s pleasure.” The queen’s pleasure was to commute the death sentence. In the fall of 1862, Mrs. McLachlan walked through the gloomy gates of Her Majesty’s General Prison at Perth for a “life” imprisonment, which meant fifteen years in those days. She was released in 1877.

image found here

Published in: on November 24, 2011 at 7:35 am  Comments (48)  
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flying a kite

A Letter to The Times from the Reverend Wilfred A Tighe:

“Sir, Aeroplanists should keep their eyes skinned for agents other than human at the earth end of a kite string. I have seen a horse flying a kite.

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It was in Hong Kong twenty years ago. The kite swooped into a paddock where horses grazed: the string snapped, leaving perhaps 30 feet of its length still attached to the frame work: the free end fell across the rump of a horse: a twitch of the tail secured (mysteriously) the string; the animal moved, felt the drag, moved faster, became frightened, began to gallop – and the kite rose and soared beautifully and in partnership with its flier round and round the paddock for almost a minute.

Alexander Graham Bell’s Horse Kite found here

Three others saw this with me; they are all alive today. For the benefit of the unkindly suspicious, this equine feat was observed during the last of three hard sets of tennis and more than two hours after a very light lunch.”

image found here

Published in: on November 22, 2011 at 6:54 am  Comments (37)  
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his defence was somnambulism

Recently I read Wisconsin Death Trip, a collection of late 19th century photographs by Jackson County photographer Charles Van Schaick, mostly in the city of Black River Falls, and local news reports from the same period. This is an extract of some of the text that accompanied the incredible photographs

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“Harry Davis, coloured, was convicted of burglary at Oshkosh. His defence was somnambulism.

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Christ Wold, a farmer near Poskin Lake, committed suicide by deliberately blowing off his head with dynamite. He put a quantity of explosive in a hole in the ground, laid his head over it and touched off the fuse.

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Henry Ehlers, a Milwaukee butcher, died from nosebleed. His nose had been bleeding for 9 days. He was 37 years old and had been a great meat eater.

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Mrs Johanna Soll of Fond du Lac, who had been an invalid for some years, recently expelled a big frog from her stomach. Her young son was with her at the time and his story is corroborated by the family physician.

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John Pabelowski, a 16 year old boy of Stevens Point, was made idiotic by the use of tobacco.

At Marquette, Mrs Nesbitt, a well known church worker, and Miss Kaufman, both having horsewhips, attacked a welder named Edward Patten, while he was at work in the Stevens factory. They claim that Patten had been slandering them.

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Mr G Drinkwine, father of Miss Lillian Drinkwine, who committed suicide a few days ago, attempted suicide at Sparta. He swallowed a large quantity of cigar stubs.

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Jack the Hugger, or James Moore who for more than 10 years has followed the occupation of waylaying lone women after sundown and hugging them then disappearing before assistance could reach them was caught and taken to the office of Mayor Hoskins. There after a rigid examination he admitted he had committed the offences of which he was charged. On the advice of the Chief of Police, he drew his final pay check and left for the north.

August and everything after

August Karl Gustav Bier (November 1861 – March 1949) was a German surgeon who pioneered the “Bier Block”.

August Bier found here

In 1898 he invented spinal anaesthesia, which involved a small dose of cocaine being injected into the cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the spinal cord. That was a great improvement on existing methods of general anaesthesia, but how effective was it?

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To find out, Bier decided to be anaesthetised himself. But things didn’t go as planned for Bier – or for his hapless assistant, Augustus Hildebrandt.

Hildebrandt was supposed to administer the cocaine but, thanks to a mix-up with the equipment, Bier was left with a hole in his neck from which cerebrospinal fluid began to flow.

Rather than abandon the effort, however, the two men switched places. Once Hildebrandt had been anaesthetized, Bier stabbed, hammered and burned his assistant, pulled out his pubic hairs and – presumably eager to leave no stone unturned in testing the new method’s efficiency – squashed his testicles.

image found here

Once the cocaine had worn off, the pair went out for a boozy dinner, despite their injuries. Both suffered terribly in subsequent days but, while Bier took it easy as he recovered, Hildebrandt had to stand in for his boss at work.

Bier went down in medical history while Hildebrandt is mainly remembered as the man whose testicles he tugged.

the best cure for painter’s colic

Christopher Logue is a British poet and author. He has also appeared in a number of films as an actor, most notably as Cardinal Richelieu in Ken Russell’s 1971 film The Devils and as the spaghetti-eating fanatic in Terry Gilliam’s 1977 film Jabberwocky.

image found here

One of his writing projects was True Stories, published in Private Eye Magazine. This is an extract:

“Miss Jennifer Walton was an art student. Usually she lived in London but sometimes she occupied premises in Hampshire. John Carter, a married man of 35, came to the door of these premises, knocked, and when Miss Walton went to see who was there he explained that he was not feeling very well.

Hampshire Regiment Training found here

Miss Walton invited him in and brought a glass of water. While drinking the water Carter told Miss Walton that he was suffering from painter’s colic. He finished the glass, lay down on the floor and asked Miss Walton to stand on his stomach.

image found here

“The best cure is a weight on the stomach” he said. Miss Walton stood on his stomach for a minute. “He told me I wasn’t heavy enough” she said. “I fetched a box but that wasn’t heavy enough either”. Feeling that she had done everything in her power to help Carter, Miss Walton suggested that the large man who lived next door might bring express relief.

image found here

“A large woman would be preferable” said Carter. “I fetched Mrs Stone from next door” Miss Walton continued “and we stood on his stomach together” After this Carter felt better.

Mrs Stone found here

The Magistrate bound him over for twelve months.

those mmmarrying mmmen

In 1923 a General Zakhari Mdivani appeared in Paris. As a Mohammedan chieftain of the Caucasus, he was recognized as a Bey or Prince by the Russian Imperial Court which acknowledged all Georgian “Princes” possessed of a pair of shoes, a stone house, a flock of sheep and a rifle. Prince Mdivani (pronounced Mmmdivani) had little money, but he had his jewels; five children, three boys and two girls, all very good looking.

Ceremonial Men’s Dress of the Russian Imperial Court found here

First to arrive was David, the oldest and shaggiest. At that time Gloria Swanson had just married a French Marquis. Pouting blonde Mae Murray, then at the height of her career, decided that she too could afford a title. She took as her fourth husband Prince David Mdivani. With David married, brother Serge, the handsomest, promptly arrived, to be snapped up by Pola Negri.

David and Mae found here

As husbands, the two Hollywood Mdivanis proved an expensive luxury. With the first pinch of Depression, Pola Negri decided to get rid of her handsome Prince Serge. While Mae Murray was pondering whether to divorce David, he and Serge struck oil back of her bath house in Venice, California. They organized the Pacific Shore Oil Co. with Mae Murray putting up most of the cash. After he bankrupted her, she divorced him on grounds of “extreme cruelty, unreasonable jealousy and hostility toward her guests” in 1933. He was then involved with French actress Arletty for a time but ended up marrying Oil heiress Virginia Sinclair. They divorced in February 1964 with her claiming mental cruelty and continual harassment. 

Serge and Pola found here

Divorced by Pola Negri, Serge’s second venture was to marry Chicago Opera Singer Mary McCormic. But the indisputably most successful of the marrying Mdivanis was Alexis, the youngest and last to arrive in the U. S.  Shrewdly, he avoided Hollywood, confined himself to the hard money fortunes of the East, and got himself married to Louise Astor van Alen, great-granddaughter of the late, great Mrs. William Astor. When she divorced him, Alexis, undaunted, drifted over to Paris, then had the inspiration of marrying Miss Barbara Hutton, heiress to the Woolworth store millions.

Alexis and Barbara found here

He and Hutton divorced in Reno in 1935 and he moved on to Baroness Maud von Thyssen-Bornemisza. In August 1935, while driving his Rolls Royce en route to Perpignan he died in a car crash. He had careened into a culvert, turned over five times and was pronounced dead on the spot. His passenger Maud was reported as only slightly injured but also as having bit her tongue off and was rendered permanently speechless thereafter.

Baroness Maud found here

Reluctant to see the Astor Van Alen millions disappear from the Mdivani clutches, Serge married his former sister-in-law, Louise, in February 1936, but died in March in a polo accident in Delray Beach, Florida when his pony fell and kicked him in the head as Louise stood on the sidelines.

William Van Alen found here

is it necessary?

A letter from the Ministry office asked: “Is it necessary for your employees to climb a 6 foot, glass topped wall to get to work?”

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Works manager Mr Terry Burrows thought the question amusing. So he replied: “The normal mode of entry for employees is by using the springboard provided, bouncing over the mill surround, climbing the outside of Dixon’s chimney, and descending inside the chimney and entering their place of work via the boiler house.” He ended his letter to the Department of Social Security: “Ask a silly question….”

Chimney found here

The letter was sourly received at the department’s offices in Carlisle. An official said: “Proper enquiries were instituted and there was no need for anyone to be flippant.” The department’s query was over an O H & S claim by an employee who injured his foot when taking a short cut to get to work by climbing over a wall.

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In Whitehall, the Department of Social Security said: “Speaking generally, the success of such a claim would depend on whether it was necessary for workers to climb the wall to get to work, and whether such a practice was prohibited by the firm. Every case is judged on its merits.”

(Published in the Daily Mail)

Waiting for the judge. More mug shots here

Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 7:51 am  Comments (44)  
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the man in the mustard coloured suit

Lydia Stahl was a secret agent who worked for Soviet Military Intelligence in New York and Paris.

Lydia Lunch (not Lydia Stahl) found here

She was born Lydia Chkalov in the south of Russia, married a landed baron in the Crimea, divorced him in Constantinople, took her degree of master of arts at Colombia and her doctor of law at the Sorbonne, was a polyglot who spoke English, French, German, Russian, some Finnish, and a few of the little Russian dialects, and had prepared a thesis in Confucuian culture from original sources. 

Confucius found here

In general, her spy work sounded like a dull post graduate course in French land and sea armament figures and French economic policy. As part of her lighter spy work, she also had a lover, Professor Louis Martin, code expert for the French Ministry of the Marine. He decoded in several languages, was a tall white faced, red haired, middle aged scholar whose chief complaint during the seventeen months he was in jail before being tried for espionage and acquitted on a technicality, was that the French jail contained no dictionary in Sanskrit.

French spy found here

Professor Martin lived for five years in a modest Left Bank Paris Hotel. For a man who was a spy, or even for a man who was not, the professor’s clothes were extraordinary: he affected a Wild West sombrero and vivid mustard coloured suits which made him noticeable to the whole neighbourhood, including the corner policeman. Although he supposedly spoke eight living languages, in all those five years he seldom said a word to anyone in the hotel.

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Though working for the Russian government, Lydia was sold out to the French government by a Finnish counterspy working for the Germans.

image found here

Published in: on October 11, 2011 at 7:54 am  Comments (46)  
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don’t let your husband go bike riding alone in San Francisco

Cordelia Botkin was the star of a sensational and lurid murder case in 1898

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Thirty-year-old John P. Dunning had a good life with a comfortable marriage, a young daughter and a job with the Associated Press bureau in San Francisco. However in September 1895, John Dunning’s life would take a dramatic turn when, while taking a leisurely bicycle ride, he spotted an attractive woman sitting on a bench.

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The estranged wife of  Welcome A Botkin, Cordelia Botkin was already 38 years old but still possessed a powerfully seductive charm. During the next two years, Dunning became a frequent guest at the Botkin house on Geary Street. Besides cheating on his wife, and on occasion Cordelia Botkin, Dunning began to drink and lose money at the racetrack. In early 1898, Dunning’s employer, suspecting embezzlement of company funds, fired him. His wife and daughter returned to Delaware to live with family while Dunning moved in with Cordelia who now resided at the Victoria Hotel on Hyde Street.

Hyde St San Francisco found here

Cordelia was thrilled to be living under the same roof with her lover, but her joy was short-lived. Dunning received a reporting assignment to cover the Spanish-American War. Before leaving San Francisco, Dunning had bad news for Cordelia: he missed his wife and daughter. When he completed his assignment, he would rejoin his family in Delaware. The affair was over. Cordelia did not take the news very well. In her mind the affair was not over, not by a long shot.

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Mrs. Dunning began receiving anonymous letters mailed from San Franciso, letters referring to her husband’s affair with an “interesting and pretty woman.” The letters were signed, “A Friend.” In August, Mrs. Dunning received an anonymous note signed, “With love to yourself and baby. Mrs. C.” The note was accompanied by a Cambric handkerchief and a box of chocolates.

chocolate sushi found here

After dinner on August 9, 1898, Elizabeth passed the mystery box of bonbons around to family and friends. A few of those gathered that evening passed up the chocolate while Mrs. Dunning and her sister, Leila Deane, helped themselves to several pieces. That night, everyone who ate the candy became sick. Mrs. Dunning and her sister, having eaten so much of the chocolate, became violently ill.

On August 20 Leila Deane died. The next day Mrs. Dunning passed away. Both women had suffered extremely painful and agonizing deaths. John Dunning, still overseas when he received the news, arrived back in Delaware ten days later. When he saw the anonymous letters, including the note that had come with the chocolates, he simply said, “Cordelia.”

NOT Cordelia Winterbottom found here

The uneaten chocolates were analyzed by a chemist who reported that they had been spiked with arsenic. Autopsies were not performed on the bodies because the physician in charge erroneously believed that the victims’ prolonged vomiting had cleansed their bodies of the poison. When presented with the basic facts of the case, a coroner’s jury ruled that the two women had been poisoned to death by the arsenic-laced candy which had been mailed from San Francisco.

arsenic poisoning found here

Police officers, bearing the key evidence—the candy, the paper it had been wrapped in, and the anonymous writings—boarded a train for San Francisco. The leading investigator, I.W. Lees, had been appointed chief of the San Francisco Police Department the previous year. An innovator, in 1854 Lees became the first American police administrator to regularly photograph arrestees. As a result, the San Francisco Police Department had a large rogues gallery. 

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Because the suspect vehemently proclaimed her innocence, Lees was forced to solve the case the hard way, by conducting a detailed, painstaking investigation. He began by tracing the arsenic to the Owl Drug Store where a clerk had sold arsenic, in June of 1898, to a woman meeting the description of Cordelia Botkin. Lees then questioned an acquaintance of the suspect who told him that Mrs. Botkin had expressed concern about having to sign her name when purchasing arsenic. Lees also spoke to a physician who had been asked by Cordelia to describe the effects of various poisons on the human body.

Owl Drug Store found here

Searching Mrs. Botkin’s room at the Victoria Hotel, he found wrapping paper, bearing a gold seal and a company trademark, that had enclosed the chocolates in the candy box. From this he learned that the bonbons had been purchased from the Haas Candy store. A sales clerk remembered the customer because the woman had wanted half a box as she planned to add her own, homemade chocolate. The clerk’s physical description of this customer matched that of Cordelia Botkin.

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To identify the person who had addressed the mailed package, and penned the anonymous letters as well as the note that accompanied the candy, Lees questioned document examiner Daniel T. Ames, considered the preeminent handwriting man in the country. When Ames analyzed and compared samples of Mrs. Botkin’s handwriting with the questioned documents, he confidently announced that she, to the exclusion of all others, had written the questioned material. Two other document examiners brought into the case agreed with his findings

Bill Gates’ handwriting analysis found here

Amid intense media coverage, the Botkin trial began in early December. Five hundred spectators were lined-up outside the courthouse door. Having pled not guilty, Cordelia Botkin, sat stiffly at the defense table dressed in black , holding a white lace handkerchief. She showed no emotion when the prosecution put John Dunning, a narrow-shouldered man with thinning hair, on the stand. Dunning admitted having an affair with the defendant as well as three other women in San Francisco. 

The defense had no choice but to put Cordelia Botkin on the stand, a move that thrilled the press and the millions of people following the case. Cordelia did not deny that she had purchased arsenic, explaining that she had used the poison to clean a straw hat. Following Botkin’s stint on the stand, the defense rested its case. 

hat cake found here

After four hours of deliberation, the jury returned its verdict: guilty, on two counts of first-degree murder. Cordelia could have been sent to San Quentin Prison to serve her sentence, but the judge, worried what would happen to her there, sent her to the county jail in San Francisco where, in exchange for sexual favors, Cordelia would come and go as she pleased. A few months after sentencing her, the judge saw Cordelia shopping in downtown San Francisco.

While Cordelia shopped, her lawyer appealed her conviction. The appellate court’s overturning of her murder convictions, led to a second, less sensational, trial. Once again, on the strength of the handwriting testimony, Cordelia was convicted and sentenced to life. Cordelia was transfered to San Quentin. On March 7, 1910, at the age of fifty-six, she died. The official cause of death: “Softening of the brain, due to melancholy.”

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