Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History

Explore the natural history of cannibalism in nature and throughout history in this fascinating and macabre new book by Bill Schutt.
Cannibalism A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt (Algonquin Books, 2017)

In his new book, author Bill Schutt explores some of the most bizarre examples of cannibalism throughout nature and history, ranging from the infamous Donner Party to spiders who feed themselves to their young. Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History bites into topics like sexual cannibalism, kuru and Mad Cow Disease, cannibalism in the Bible, mummy powder for medicinal purposes, and the consumption of human placenta.

From the book description:

For centuries scientists have written off cannibalism as a bizarre phenomenon with little biological significance. Its presence in nature was dismissed as a desperate response to starvation or other life-threatening circumstances, and few spent time studying it. A taboo subject in our culture, the behavior was portrayed mostly through horror movies or tabloids sensationalizing the crimes of real-life flesh-eaters. But the true nature of cannibalism–the role it plays in evolution as well as human history–is even more intriguing (and more normal) than the misconceptions we’ve come to accept as fact.

Bringing together the latest cutting-edge science, Schutt answers questions such as why some amphibians consume their mother’s skin; why certain insects bite the heads off their partners after sex; why, up until the end of the twentieth century, Europeans regularly ate human body parts as medical curatives; and how cannibalism might be linked to the extinction of the Neanderthals. He takes us into the future as well, investigating whether, as climate change causes famine, disease, and overcrowding, we may see more outbreaks of cannibalism in many more species–including our own.

Cannibalism places a perfectly natural occurrence into a vital new context and invites us to explore why it both enthralls and repels us.

Cannibalism book by Bill Schutt
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History is available right here.

Unsolved Mysteries is Still Fascinating and Chilling Nearly 30 Years Later

Thanks to the miracle of Amazon streaming video, Unsolved Mysteries is once again reminding us that the world is terrifying and full of psychopathic killers.
Unsolved Mysteries host Robert Stack
Robert Stack, host of Unsolved Mysteries, now streaming on Amazon

I was seven years old when the Unsolved Mysteries series began airing in October of 1988. It didn’t take long before the theme song, along with the ominous tones of Robert Stack’s voice, became synonymous with scary things: Murders, missing persons, UFOs, ghosts. For many of us, this show may have been our introduction to enduring mysteries like the D.B. Cooper skyjacking, the haunting of the Queen Mary, the Beale Ciphers, the haunted bunk bed, not to mention an endless stream of horrifying cold cases. We willingly gathered together around our flickering cathode ray tube televisions to be imbued with a Hitchcockian, Rear Window-esque sense of paranoia and dread.

“Perhaps someone watching tonight knows what happened, and can reveal the truth,” Robert told us. “Perhaps it’s you.”

Suddenly you realized that yes, your new neighbor does kinda look like that bloodthirsty convict with the 1970s Ron Jeremy mustache who escaped prison 10 years ago and remains at large to this day….

Unsolved Mysteries season 1 on Amazon
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Until now, if you wanted to relive those cherished anxieties of days gone by, you had to dig up one of the out-of-print DVD collections compiling episodes by type, i.e. Ghosts, UFOs, Psychics, Miracles, Strange Legends. A couple years ago, when I was trying to track down the episode about the haunted Tallmann house that happened so close to home, it was apparently going to cost me $140 for the disc on eBay.

However, the almighty gods of Amazon have now made these episodes available to us through streaming video right here to remind us why we should never leave the house, and instill terror in a whole new generation.

Praise be to Amazon.

Unsolved Mysteries

What was your favorite Unsolved Mysteries story?

Real Human Skull Found in Famous Carnegie Museum Diorama

Restoration of a 150-year-old taxidermy diorama revealed it contains real bones, including an unidentified human skull.
Arab Courier Attacked by Lions taxidermy diorama at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
“Arab Courier Attacked by Lions” taxidermy diorama created in 1876

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh always knew their most famous diorama, the “Arab Courier Attacked by Lions,” had real human teeth. The scene, which depicts a man riding a camel being attacked by two now-extinct Barbary lions, was created in 1867 by brothers Édouard and Jules Verreaux of the Paris-based Maison Verreaux company. In those early days of taxidermy, the bones of skulls of animal specimens were often used in the mount, as is evident in the lions and camel of Carnegie’s diorama, so the use of real teeth in a human mannequin isn’t very surprising.

Despite a persistent urban legend that the courier contained more actual human remains, the museum had no reason to suspect such claims. They hoped a CT scan during the restoration process would finally dispel the rumors.

But that wasn’t the case. The scan revealed the courier’s face was sculpted upon a real, complete human skull. Ethical questions were immediately raised about repatriating the remains for burial, but no identifying records have been found.

This isn’t the first time the work of the Verreaux brothers has been the subject of such macabre controversy. Another one of their specimens was reburied in October of 2000.

The head of the camel rider sculpted on a real human skull
Face sculpted on a real human skull in 1867

Established in 1803, Maison Verreaux was the earliest known supplier of natural history objects, leading expeditions around the world to collect specimens and sell them to various museums and institutions. In 1831, while traveling through Africa in what is now Botswana, Jules witnessed the burial of a Tswana warrior. He returned later that night to dig up the grave, taking the skin, skull, and a few other bones from the fresh remains. He mounted the skin and bones on a wire spine, used wooden boards for the shoulder blades, and then stuffed it with newspaper before shipping it back to France with a load of animal mounts.

Complete with raffia, spear, and shield, the warrior was on display in Paris for some time before ending up at the Barcelona world exhibition in 1888. Later he became part of a collection in the Banyoles museum, where he was displayed in a glass case and was known only as El Negro. He remained there until finally being removed in 1997.

Three years later Spain agreed to return the remains to Botswana. The warrior was sent to Madrid to be dismantled. They removed the glass eyes and other non-human additions. The skin, they discovered, had been treated with shoe polish at some point, causing it to crumble. Because of this, only the skull and other bones were returned to Africa for reburial.

El Negro of Banyoles
El Negro on display in a museum in Banyoles

Tracing the skull inside the Carnegie’s camel rider to a specific origin has been deemed highly unlikely, so it may never find its way home. The diorama will be on display in a new, more prominent position, with a new name: “Lion Attacking a Dromedary.”

Marilyn Monroe’s Grave Marker Goes Up for Auction

A bronze marker that once graced the granite face of Marilyn Monroe’s burial vault will be up for grabs next month.
The grave of Marilyn Monroe
The grave of Marilyn Monroe. Photo by Courtney “Coco” Mault/Flickr

The grave marker from Marilyn Monroe’s crypt is hitting the auction block next month. Well, not the marker, but one of them. Thousands of fans and tourists visit Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles every year to pay homage to the Hollywood icon, touching the bronze marker and leaving red lipstick prints. Over time this causes oxidation, so the marker has to be replaced periodically.

According to the Heritage Auctions listing, the plaque up for grabs was obtained by an employee of the cemetery when it was removed about 20 years ago in the 1990s. The front reads “Marilyn Monroe 1926-1962.” Engravings on the back, from the Gasser-Olds Company who produces all of Marilyn’s markers, reads “Make Two Patterns for Marge” and “415 Westwood.”

In November of 2016 this same marker was included in a sale of Hollywood memorabilia through Nate D Sanders Auctions, but failed to garner even a single bid. Maybe the $50,000 starting bid was a bit steep, but it was no doubt inspired by a similar sale the previous year. Marilyn’s original marker, which was replaced sometime in the 1970s, was sold by Julien’s Auctions to an unknown overseas bidder in June 2015 for $212,500.

Marilyn Monroe's grave marker
Grave marker of Marilyn Monroe c.1990s

Marilyn Monroe memorbilia regularly fetches high prices, including screen-worn dresses, autographed copies of Playboy, chest and pelvis x-rays, and more. But apparently even being in the vicinity of her remains comes with a hefty price tag. In 2014, a seller was looking to unload a plot near Marilyn’s on eBay for $659,000, discounted from his original asking price of $699,000.

Even stranger is the case of Richard Poncher, who bought the vault directly above Marilyn’s from her then-husband Joe DiMaggio during the celebrity couple’s 1955 divorce. On his death bed in 1986, Richard told his wife Elsie, “If I croak, if you don’t put me upside down over Marilyn, I’ll haunt you the rest of my life.”

Whether or not Richard was actually interred face down seems to be up for debate, but the book Biggest Secrets by William Poundstone relates a story that Poncher’s close friends waited until everyone had left the funeral, then flipped him over before the crypt was sealed to honor his wishes.

23 years later, In 2009, Elsie decided to move her husband and sell the vault on eBay to pay off the $1.6 million mortgage on their Beverly Hills home so it would be “free and clear” for their children. The description read, “Here is a once in a lifetime and into eternity opportunity to spend your eternal days directly above Marilyn Monroe.”

The crypt sold to an anonymous bidder for $4.6 million.

The grave of Richard Poncher above Marilyn Monroe

Beside Marilyn, the currently empty vault belongs to Hugh Hefner. He purchased it in 1992 for $75,000, though he never even met the “ultimate blonde,” as he called her, who helped launch his magazine with the very first centerfold spread in December 1953. Hefner was a Chicago native, and Marilyn was dead long before he made it out to California. In a 2012 interview he said, “I will be laid to rest in a vault next to hers. It has a completion notion to it. I will be spending the rest of my eternity with Marilyn.”

Other notable residents of Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery include Psycho author Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Bettie Page, Janis Joplin, Frank Zappa, and many more.

Online bidding for Marilyn’s grave marker begins February 27th at $10,000.

Drone Footage of the Ruins of Haunted Nocton Hall

Fly over the historic ruins of Lincolnshire’s Nocton Hall in this incredible drone video.

Before it was gutted by fire in 2004, the historic Nocton Hall was home to ghosts. It was originally built around 1530 during the reign of Henry VIII, whose fifth wife Catherine is said to have planted the chestnut tree on the property that still stands today. It was home to several prominent residents throughout the years, and served as a hospital for soldiers for much of the last century.

Over the years, members of the hospital staff have claimed to see the apparitions of various patients, a ‘Grey Lady,’ and a crying girl.

From Haunted History of Lincolnshire:

The ghost of a young girl was said to roam the halls and particularly enjoy haunting one bedroom within the building. Several staff who stayed in the room were awakened on separate occasions at exactly four thirty in the morning to find a young girl standing at the end of the bed. She was sobbing and speaking incoherently about a ‘devilish man’ who had ‘done this to her’. It is believed that this was the ghost of a young servant girl who lived in the house and was tragically murdered by the owner’s son after he had his way with her but then found out that she had become pregnant. This was obviously an inconvenience to the young master so he disposed of her.

Get a good look at what remains of Nocton Hall in this drone footage above by Theo Southee.